The Palace of Versailles, known in native French as Château de Versailles, for me tells the story of royal French grandeur at its very finest, of gold dripping from every surface, art crammed into every corner, and of the bearers of revolution howling at its gates for the heads of King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette – the last traditional monarchs in residence.
Located only 20km southwest, or under an hour’s train ride, from Paris, Versailles is a definite, unarguable must-see for any visitor to the City of Love. But, there are some ways to visit the palace’s majestic grounds than others.
I visited Versailles as part of a tour booked through my hotel, and boy was it a mistake. It was my first time overseas and thus I decided to trust what had to be expert advice on behalf of the concierge that was kind of his job right? So not right.
The tour wasn’t horrible, I’ll give it that, it was just incredibly boring. Our tour guide was your stereotypical example of an apathetic, creepy Frenchman who rushed through the palace in an attempt to avoid the admittedly crowded halls, and then only gave us half an hour to explore Versailles’ extensive gardens. If you know anything about Versailles, you know this is an impossible task.
Thus, I left Versailles with regrets, a few blurry photos, and an intense desire to spread the word about how easy it is to get to Versailles without a tour group. Why hadn’t I done that in the first place!
From one disappointed wanderer to the next, read on for the top reasons why you can visit Versailles without a tour group, and why that might just be a better option.
1 – There’s a train that stops right outside, and it’s kind of fancy
Paris has a very comprehensive public transport system as the Metro can get you just about everywhere within the city. There are also a few train lines, named the RER, that run from the city centre to the suburbs, one of which, the RER C, runs directly to Versailles.
There process is fairly simple, even more uncomplicated if your accommodation is lucky enough to be close to a metro station that also runs on the same line as the RER C, and is by far the cheapest option to get to Versailles. I’ve found a comprehensive guide to getting there here, so I won’t go into too much detail.
If you need further convincing look no further than the interior of the train that will take you to Versailles:
Pretty dang fancy right! There’s just nothing like getting into the spirit of Versailles’ decadence before you even step foot inside.
2 – Do what you want, when you want
If there’s one thing I find grating about tours is the constant pressure or commands to be interested in something else, to be ushered into a new room, and see only what the tour guide or tourist company wants you to see.
Maybe you’re like me and want to spend 10 minutes staring at how decadent a ceiling is, or want to wait a few minutes for the crowd to disperse so you can get a better look at a sculpture, while the rest of your tour is already in the next room and waiting for you to catch up. Sound familiar? If you travel solo there’s no need to worry about any of that, unless you have a companion with a particularly short attention-span of course.
Versailles is one of those destinations that just need a great amount of time to really explore and delve into its rich and long history in order to appreciate it to its fullest. Plus, this way you get to see what you want to see, not what somebody else thinks you should see. That’s the whole reason we travel, right?
3 – The Gardens of Versailles are a day trip in themselves
Covering over 800 hectares of land, designed and maintained in the classic French Garden style, the Gardens of Versailles are one of the world’s many wonders, and deserve to have as much time spent in them as any wanderer wishes.
My number one regret from my disastrous tour was that I never got to see even a quarter of Versailles’ extensive gardens. From the meticulously manicured lawns, carefully designed flowerbeds, and hundreds of uniquely-engineered fountains, it is easy to get lost in the Gardens of Versailles.
Don’t forget to visit Marie Antoinette’s estate, consisting of everything from the Petit Trianon to the Queen’s garden, while you’re exploring Versailles and see where one of history’s most infamous Queens went to escape from the pomp and rituals of courtly life.
Of course this whole blog post is strictly my opinion, and based on my own personal experience. However you decide to tackle the regal majesty that seems to ooze from Versailles’ every extensive decoration the real point of this post remains the same: it’s your choice, travel how you like to! (And watch out for apathetic tour guides, they’re the worst).
Have you been to Versailles or are planning to go there soon? What was your favourite part or what are you looking forward to the most? Let me know in the comments down below, I love hearing what you have been up to!