I know, I know. Aside from the Eiffel Tower, Versailles has got to be the ultimate Parisian tourist trap. But it’s like the Eiffel Tower in that it’s one of those things that you just have to go see because, hey, you’re in France! We’re all allowed a few touristy moments on vacation.
So what’s the best way to see Versailles while interacting with as few other tourists as possible? Get. There. Early.
I can’t stress this enough. I first visited Versailles while studying abroad in France four years ago, and the crowds almost ruined the experience. The lines were insane. And once you got inside, everyone was packed like sardines behind velvet ropes, phones whipped out and held aloft on selfie sticks, which meant you had to push and shove your way to the front to see whatever it was that was attracting so much attention, a task that takes several minutes, all to realize the thing everyone is clamoring to see is a desk that belonged to Louis XIV’s third-favorite mistress.
But this time? It felt like the chateau was ours.
We arrived at Versailles 20 minutes before it opened, with our tickets already purchased from Paris’ extremely helpful Office of Tourism. Buying tickets in advance means you can skip the ticket line and go straight for the door, plus the entry fee is cheaper, and the helpful tourist agents offer helpful directions on how to navigate the trains to get there.
There was still a small crowd, but on the way out, a line wrapped all the way around the exterior of the gate, stretched back through the courtyard, and down to the main road — all just the line for the ticket office, not even the entrance. So, yeah. Get there early.
Now that we had avoided the main crowds, we could stroll through the palace, home to French royalty from the “Sun King” Louis XIV up until the French Revolution. Back in the day, this was the social scene for French aristocracy. Originally a hunting lodge in a swamp, Louis XIV decided to transform the lodge into a magnificent palace to showcase his power and love of the arts. Soon, Versailles became the center of court life, with daily routines such as watching the king wake up and get dressed. Courtesans who kissed up to the king got some nice perks, and that’s saying something considering they lived in this gorgeous place!
One of the most famous parts of the chateau is the Hall of Mirrors, one of Louis’ crowning jewels of his prized palace. He would host extravagant parties or welcome foreign dignitaries in the hall.
Versailles was also a place of intrigue. Some of these glass panels acted as doors to passages behind the wall, and there are many anecdotes of French aristocracy eavesdropping on others’ conversations from behind the walls.
The other highlight of Versailles is the gardens. Louis had them designed to seem as though the gardens and fountains stretch out to the horizon, signifying his widespread power. It would take hours to walk the entire gardens, but you can get around faster by renting a golf cart for the afternoon, available at the garden entrance.
There are breathtaking fountains, statues, and courtyards big and small, and beautiful sitting areas where you can take it all in. Wandering the gardens, it’s easy to see why so many people were willing to kiss up to the King. Heck, I’d probably do the same if it meant a stay at Versailles.