Palace of Versailles

10 Spectacular Things to See & Do 

Versailles Palace: 13 Spectacular Attractions for You to See

Wondering What to Do at Versailles?

The Palace of Versailles (Chateau de Versailles), conveniently located just outside of Paris, is the most spectacular castle in Europe and belongs at the top of your "must-see" bucket list for the City of Light. 

No other place in the world can match Versailles Palace's combination of dazzling beauty, historical significance, and over-the-top extravagance.  Once you see it, you probably won't feel surprised to learn that Louis XIV put France on the road to eventual bankruptcy and revolution when he decided to transform a simple hunting lodge into a residence worthy of the Sun King, as he liked to be known. 

Within the Palace, fully-restored rooms such as the King's and Queen's sumptuous apartments, the soaring Grand Chapel with its breath-taking vaulted ceiling and golden pipe organ, and of course the dazzlling Hall of Mirrors give you plenty of reasons to linger while you soak it all in - plus there's lots more to see inside, as well as elegant restaurants where you can relax over a meal and savor Marie Antoinette's favorite drink: chocolat chaud (hot chocolate).

But the Palace, magnificent as it is, forms just one small part of the chateau's immense 2,000+ acre estate you can explore today.  Two other smaller châteaus, immense gardens filled with numerous statues and fountains, a mile-long body of water called the Grand Canal, and even a replica of a small French village created for Marie Antoinette and her friends.  

There are also 21st century pleasures for you to enjoy: paddle boats in the Canal's basin, concerts, art shows, and musical fountain shows, including a beautiful illuminated version with fireworks on Saturday nights.

Musee d'Orsay, from the ground floor up; the museum's entrance stairs are under the clock
Gate to Versailles

And so here's the challenge when visiting Versailles:  with so much to see and explore, how do you choose what to prioritize if you don't have time for everything? 

We can't answer that question for you because everyone has different preferences - but we have put together a list of 13 fantastic things to consider. 

Want do see and do them all?  Plan to spend 2 or 3 days here.  Otherwise, choose the ones you like the most!

Top photo:  Palace of Versailles

The 13 Most Fantastic Things to See at Versailles

1.  The Dazzling Hall of Mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors, Versailles' magnificent ballroom
The Hall of Mirrors, Versailles' magnificent ballroom

To experience the mesmerizing interplay of colors, light, and shapes on canvases by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists, head straight to the galleries on the museum's 5th level where you'll find room after room filled with stunning masterpieces. 

2.  Marie Antoinette's Apartment

Still lifes of flowers in vases painted by Cezanne (the two on the left) and Monet (right)
Still lifes of flowers in vases painted by Cezanne (the two on the left) and Monet (right)

These are the paintings that rightfully make the Orsay famous, as the crowds of fans surrounding the photos demonstrate, so for some paintings - almost anything by Van Gogh, for example - you'll need patience to get a good view. 

But the effort is worth it. 

3.  The King's Apartment

Starry Night Over the Rhône, painted by Vincent van Gogh in 1888
"Starry Night Over the Rhône," painted by Vincent van Gogh in 1888, the first in a series of paintings in which he attempted to capture the color of light at night even as he succumbed to psychotic episodes culminating in severing part of his left ear with a razor, spending time in psychiatric hospitals, and fatally shooting himself in the chest with a revolver

No matter how many times you may have seen photographs or prints of these paintings, the experience of viewing the originals is so much better.  A camera can't adequately capture the nuances of color, reflections of light, and the 3-dimensionality of brush strokes on canvas you'll see in real life. 

The Orsay's lighting is superb, and the museum lets you to get up close to these masterpieces without risking the embarrassment of setting off the alarm system. 

4.  The Royal Chapel

Gustave Caillebotte's 1875 painting The Floor Sanders
Gustave Caillebotte's 1875 painting "The Floor Sanders" ("Les raboteurs de parquet") combines the realism and subdued tones approved by the French Academy with the use of light and and more naturalistic poses (note how the workers appear to be chatting with each other) favored by Impressionists

Today, Impressionist art in no way seems radical or even innovative because we're used to it - it's part of our cultural landscape.  Even if we don't view Renoirs or Monets on a daily basis (and how many people do?), we see their influence in colorful, light-filled images on greeting cards, advertisements, and Instagram.

But when Impressionism burst upon the Parisian cultural scene in the early 1860s after a group of young French painters including Monet, Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille plus the somewhat older Édouard Manet rebelled against the rigid constraints of "Academic" painting then in vogue, the establishment artists felt rocked to their core.

5.  Versaille's Art   - SUSAN

Renoir Seascape
Renoir Seascape

For over 3 centuries, the French Académie des Beaux-Arts defined what art should look like by blocking "deviant" artists from showing their work at the prestigious annual Salon de Paris art show, a source of coveted prizes, commissions, and publicity.

The Academic style favored by the Academy favored realistic depictions of historical or mythological scenes, preferably in mostly dark colors often topped with a yellowish-brown glaze. 

In contrast, Impressionist artists embraced brighter, lighter colors with spontaneous (vs controlled) brush strokes to create subjective "impressions" of landscapes and contemporary life.  

Renoir Seascape
Renoir Seascape

7.  The Royal Opera House

Inside the Royal Opera House at Versailles - Photo credit:  Tanya Hart
Inside the Royal Opera House at Versailles - Photo credit:  Tanya Hart

Unsurprisingly, the Academy barred most of the Impressionists' work from being shown at the 1863 Salon, but after Napoleon III (who had seized power and appointed himself as Emperor in 1851) looked at the rejected paintings, he decreed that the public should judge. 


8.  The Gardens

La Carmencita by expatriot American artist John Singer Sargent, painted in 1890
"La Carmencita" by expatriate American artist John Singer Sargent, painted in 1890; although Sargent identified with Realism, elements of Impressionism shaped much of his work after 1880

Unsurprisingly, the Academy barred most of the Impressionists' work from being shown at the 1863 Salon, but after Napoleon III (who had seized power and appointed himself as Emperor in 1851) looked at the rejected paintings, he decreed that the public should judge. 

La Carmencita by expatriot American artist John Singer Sargent, painted in 1890
"La Carmencita" by expatriate American artist John Singer Sargent, painted in 1890; although Sargent identified with Realism, elements of Impressionism shaped much of his work after 1880

Even with Napoleon III's intervention, the first Paris exhibition of Impressionist art did not take place until 1874 when 30 artists banded together to put on their own show.  Most critics panned it - but the public loved it because they felt it resonated with modern life.

9. The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal  
The Grand Canal  

One reason why Impressionist art remains so popular today is its accessibility.  We don't need art history expertise to appreciate the joie de vivre in the interplay between light and colors. 

10.  Musical Fountains Shows

Night Fountains show at Versaille's Grand Canal - Photo courtesy of Yann Caradec
Night Fountains show at Versaille's Grand Canal - Photo courtesy of Yann Caradec

By the time Impressionism reached its peak around the mid-1880s, artists were already pushing its boundaries as the Post-Impressionism movement emerged. 

Artists initially continued to focus - mostly - on real-life subjects, but they applied their paint thicker, choose more vibrant and less unnaturalistic colors, and played with shapes, often deliberately distorting or changing "reality" and sometimes using geometric and abstract forms. 

11.  Grand Trianon Palace

Pavilion at the Grand Trianon
Pavilion at the Grand Trianon

Look closely, and you can see the beginnings of Cubism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and Surrealism as the 1890s gave way to the 20th century and ushered in what we regard as the modern art period. 

Louis-Philippe I's family room at Grand Trianon during his reign as King of France from 1830-1848
Louis-Philippe I's family room at Grand Trianon during his reign as King of France from 1830-1848

Look closely, and you can see the beginnings of Cubism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and Surrealism as the 1890s gave way to the 20th century and ushered in what we regard as the modern art period. 

12.  Petit Trianon Palace at Versailles

Flower gardens in front of Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon - Photo credit: Herbert Frank
Flower gardens in front of Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon - Photo credit: Herbert Frank

Look closely, and you can see the beginnings of Cubism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and Surrealism as the 1890s gave way to the 20th century and ushered in what we regard as the modern art period. 

Flower gardens in front of Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon - Photo credit: Herbert Frank
Music room in Petit Trianon during Marie Antoinette's residence - Photo credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

Look closely, and you can see the beginnings of Cubism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and Surrealism as the 1890s gave way to the 20th century and ushered in what we regard as the modern art period. 

Flower gardens in front of Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon - Photo credit: Herbert Frank
Temple of Love at the Petit Trianon

Look closely, and you can see the beginnings of Cubism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and Surrealism as the 1890s gave way to the 20th century and ushered in what we regard as the modern art period. 

13.  The Hamlet

This Art Nouveau dining room paneling and furnishings made in 1900 by French sculptor and cabinet-maker Alexandre Charpentier uses only plant and flower decorative elements
The rustic Flemish-style mill house (the mill wheel is on the other side) and lavender garden in Marie Antoinette's Hamlet in the park of the Château de Versailles - Photo credit: Alexandre Breveglieri

Although best known for its art collections, the Orsay Museum's Decorative Arts collection of furniture and decorative items, especially for the Art Nouveau period with its flowing lines and organic shapes based on nature, is unsurpassed. 

How to Visit the Palace of Versailles - Susan

Here's our "cheat sheet" to all the best ways to experience the Orsay:

Guided Museum Tours

What's the best way to experience the Orsay Museum? 

To get the most from your experience, book a tour led by an expert guide.  Here are the best current tours:

Guided Bike Tour

  • Paris Highlights & Secrets - If you want to see the Orsay Museum (and other top Paris sights as well as some hidden gems from the outside only and hear interesting stories about them from your knowledgeable guide while biking through the city, this is the tour for you!  Book now

Skip the Line Tickets

Combo Skip-the-Line Entry Tickets

More About Versaille Palace's History

Musée d'Orsay occupies a former train station, Gare d'Orsay, built within a two-year time period for Paris's Universal Exhibition in 1900.  The station showcased the first world's first electrified city rail terminal, and served as the arrival and departure point for destinations southwest of Paris - you can still see the names of these cities and towns written across the front of the building.   

In addition to 16 tracks and other infrastructure related to train operations, the building also included a 370-guestroom luxury hotel at the southwestern corner of the building which continued operating until 1973.  

Although the hotel no longer exists, you can (and should) visit the hotel's grand Belle Époque restaurant, now called Le Restaurant, and see the glamorous crystal chandeliers and elaborate gilded and painting ceiling and walls.

Advances in technology soon resulted in longer electric trains, making the station obsolete for long-distance runs due to its too-short tracks.  By 1939, it could be used only for shorter suburban trains.

At that point, the station became the proverbial "cat with 9 lives" as it served as a mail depot during World War II, an exchange center for war prisoners, a film set, a city parking lot, a storage site, a temporary auction house, a vaudeville theatre, and a pop-up exhibition center.

In the end, preservationists prevailed.  Permission to tear down the station in order to build a large international hotel on the site was denied in 1971, and within a few years, plans were underway to transform the space into a museum focused on art from 1848, cut-off for the Louvre, through 1914, where Centre Pompidou begins.  

The new museum opened to rave reviews on December 1, 1986 and its collections and popularity have grown ever since.

Palace of Versailles Fun Facts - ISABEL - Add 1 - 5 more

(list 5-9)

  • The beautiful golden gates you pass through when you enter the Palace grounds are a copy of the originals, destroyed during the French Revolution.
  • xxx
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  • In addition to becoming the center for much of France's best art, Versailles Palace boasted over 100 libraries containing more than 200,000 books and manuscripts, according to a post-Revolutionary inventory.  The palace even became a museum for a few decades starting in 1837.  Today, you can still see three of these libraries in the Royal Chambers - but most of the books are now fake.  The originals were moved to the National Library.  Although much of the art is now in the Louvre Museum,
  • Although much of the palace's furnishings were removed and sold after the Revolution, the French government decreed in 1962 that all items originally belonging to Versailles be returned from other museums throughout France.  An ongoing effort to acquire furniture and other objects from private collections continues today, as does the restoration effort to replace wall coverings and other ornamentation.  So when you tour the many rooms of the palace now open to the public, most of what you'll see (except for the books) is original and almost exactly like it was on October 6, 1789 when Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and their son fled from the angry mob of Parisians who stormed the palace demanding bread.
  • Not sure if this is a "fun" fact about Versailles - but among all those rooms filled with gold and silver furnishings, priceless tapestries, and art during Louis XIV's reign, there were no bathrooms, no toilets, and certainly no modern plumbing or effective sanitation system for the 7,000 - 10,000 people who lived and worked there.  Only a few hundred of the top nobility had chamber pots, and chambermaids typically dumped the contents out the nearest window - so imagine if you happened to be standing below it.  Everyone else relieved themselves in communal latrines or wherever convenient - under stairways, in secluded halls or a momentarily unoccupied room, or perhaps outdoors.  You had to be very, very careful about where you stepped - and not become overwhelmed by the stench.  Something to think about when you use the clean, modern toilets available throughout Versailles today!
  • Sanitation began to improve under Louis XV, great-grandson of Louis XIV.  In 1738 he installed a flush toilet ("water closet") imported from England that dumped water from an overhead tank into the toilet and then down into drains, which eliminated lingering odors from his apartment - although most of the castle continued to reek from open latrines still in use elsewhere.

FAQs:  Chateau de Versailles - ISABEL - add 1-3 more if you want

Q:  How many people visit Versailles each year?

A:  Over 8 million during a typical year.  For context, Versailles attracts the second highest number of visitors in the Paris region, placing it behind the Louvre Museum and ahead of the Eiffel Tower.

Q:  How large is the Estate of Versailles?

A:  The Palace of Versailles and its grounds cover 2,014 acres.

Q:  How much did Versailles cost to build?  

A:  No one really knows due to the difficulty of 1) calculating the cost of materials and labor during that time, and 2) performing accurate currency conversion from the 1600s to present day value.  

But estimates by experts range from about $3.5 billion (in 2020 U.S. dollars) to perhaps as much as 100 times that amount.  Yes - that's a staggering $350,000,000,000, or about one third of a trillion dollars at the high end. 

The expendures, along with other disasterous losses to Great Britain during the Seven Years' War, destroyed the country's finances. 

You can draw a straight line from the excesses of the absolute monarchs to the bankruptcy of the French government in 1788 to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.

Q:  How long did construction take?  

A:  Construction of Versailles began in 1661 and by 1682, expansion of the former hunting lodge progressed enough to enable Louis XIV to move his Royal Court plus the entire French government to the new palais.  However, additional construction and renovations continued up until the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789.   About 36,000 workers contributed the effort during the century-plus construction period.

Q:  How many rooms does the Palace of Versailles have?  

A:  When Louis XIV moved in:  Around 700, plus 67 staircases and about 1,250 chimneys.  Worth noting:  despite all those chimneys, the palace was notorious for being punitively cold during the winter - so cold, occupants claimed, that glasses of wine placed on tables would freeze before they could be drunk. 

Today, after expansions that continued up to 1789:  Around 2,300 rooms.  And, you'll be glad to know, ongoing updates have included an effective heating system.

Q:  How many people lived at Versailles during Louis XIV's reign?  

A:  During Louis XIV's tenure, the main palace could accommodate about 5,000, including servants, although another 2,000 - 5,000 worked there in the French government offices.  Another 17,000 soldiers and servants occupied annexes and quarters in the nearby town of Versailles.

Q:  xxx?  

A:  xxx

Versailles Visitor Information: Tickets, Hours, Location, & Map  BOTH

Ticket Information - SUSAN

At this time, all tickets must be bought online.  If you book a guided museum tour, your ticket will be included.

Admission is free to all visitors under 18 years old, EU citizens (or long-term residents) between 18 and 25 years old, and holders of a valid Paris Museum Pass (who must also reserve a date/time online).  

See the "How to Visit" section above for more options

Schedule

Days open:  Tuesday through Sunday
Days closed:  May 1, December 25, all Mondays
Hours open:  9:30 - 18:00 Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday - Sunday; 9:30 - 21:45 on Thursday
Last admission:  45 minutes before closing

Musée d'Orsay Address & Public Transportation - ISABEL

Location:  1, Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 7th arrondissement 
Metro:  Line 12, Solférino station
RER C:  Gare du Musée d'Orsay station

Map Showing Musée d'Orsay Location - SUSAN


Things to Know Before Your Visit - ISABEL

  • The Orsay Museum is wheelchair accessible, and loaner wheelchairs are available. 
  • Free priority admission for disabled visitors and accompanying person is available upon presentation of proof of disability (usually at Entrance C, but check signs on the day of your visit).
  • Due to security considerations, suitcases, backpacks, and travel bags must be smaller than 56 x 45 x 25 cm (7.9 x 7.9 x 15.7 inches).   You may leave them in the cloakroom if space is available; otherwise, the cloakroom is restricted to objects not allowed in the museum areas.
  • Once you leave the museum, you can't re-enter with the same ticket.
  • SUSAN - Plan to spend about 2 hours here if you want to see only the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections, and 3-4 hours if you want to see the Special Exhibits and some or all of the other art.  If you opt for lunch at either of the two main restaurants and do a traditional 3-course meal, count on another couple of hours for that.  If your goal is to see the museum's most famous pieces and learn a little about them without spending at least half a day here, do consider one of the efficient 2-hour guided tours.

Where to Stay near Versailles Palace - SUSAN

List 3 - then link to Where to Stay Near Versailles article

The upscale 7th arrondissement near Musée d'Orsay offers you a wonderful base for your Paris visit, close to numerous museums, historic churches where you can hear classical concerts, superb shopping, and wonderful places to eat.  Here are several excellent choices within a 10-minute walk:

  • Hotel de Varenne - Charming 4-star boutique hotel with a secluded garden close to Musée d'Orsay, the Rodin Museum, and the Eiffel Tower
    Book best deals
  • Hôtel de Lille- Lovely 4-star boutique hotel in a fantastic location near the Orsay, the Louvre, the Seine River, surrounded by wonderful restaurants
    Book discount deals
  • Hôtel Montalembert - Excellent 5-star boutique hotel in Saint Germain de Prés near museums, the Bon Marché luxury shopping complex, and numerous small boutiques and antique shops
    Find best rates

Want more ideas?  Check out:


Map Showing Paris Hotels

Use this Paris hotel map to find more hotels near Musée d'Orsay - add your travel dates to see best rates:

Booking.com

More ways to save on Paris hotels & apartments

More Famous French Palaces & Chateaus to Visit - SUSAN

Explore the Orsay's storied Saint Germain neighborhood - home to famous artists, writers, jazz clubs, and fabulous boutiques and restaurants - on these fun tours:

Chocolate & Patisserie Walking Tour through Saint Germain - See the neighborhood's famous art galleries, boutiques, and passages as you enjoy pastries, macaroons, and chocolates at 8 tasting stops on this 3-hour small-group or private stroll.  Book now

Charming Nooks & Crannies Bike Tour - On this small-group bike tour, you'll ride through Saint Germain des Prés, the Latin Quarter, the Marais and other fascinating neighborhoods as you take in famous sights as well as serendipitous discoveries on quiet back roads.  Book now

Jazz Walking Tour with Live Concert - Start in Saint Germain with visits to famous cafes popular with jazz musicians, learn about the Paris jazz scene from your guide, and continue to a Latin Quarter club.  Cross over the Seine, and enjoy a light meal, concert, and perhaps champagne at Le Duc des Lombards club.  Book now