Top Things to See and Do in Versailles, France

The immense royal palace and gardens are the major draw in Versailles
The immense royal palace and gardens are the major draw in Versailles | © Kamira / Alamy Stock Photo
Nicola Simonetti

Versailles, just outside Paris, is a majestic French city with deep royal roots, renowned internationally for its palace and gardens. The journey from the French capital can be made in under an hour – and to discover a rich history and some of the country’s most spectacular architecture, it’s well worth the trip.

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1. Palace of Versailles

Historical Landmark

Palace
© Château de Versailles / Thomas Garnier
The Palace of Versailles, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is one of the most popular attractions in Europe. It was constructed in 1623 and transformed and expanded by Louis XIV – today, it is a stunning example of 17th- and 18th-century French architecture and art, with many rooms to peruse. The well-preserved palace, which is open every day, is most celebrated for the extravagance of its apartments, which are adorned with gold, crystal and precious gems. Online reservations are recommended for large groups.

2. Gardens of Versailles

Historical Landmark, Building, Museum, Park

Palace of Versailles, France, Europe
© Arch White / Alamy Stock Photo

Waltz around the dazzling accompaniment to the Palace of Versailles, the Gardens of Versailles, to make like French royalty of bygone centuries. The gardens, covering 800ha (2,000 acres) of land with sculptures, rare flowers and greenery, was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1979, so its meticulously manicured lawns and grand fountains are in good nick. Plan your visit during the summer, when water shows are performed every evening.

3. Grand Trianon

Architectural Landmark

Grand Trianon
© Château de Versailles / Thomas Garnier
The Grand Trianon, constructed at the request of King Louis XIV, is a small palace on the grounds of Versailles that served as a place of refuge for the monarchs. Kings would wine and dine here (without having to follow the strict etiquette of the court), while the private park and thick enclosure of forest provided an escape from the outside world. The palace is now used as a French Republic presidential residence to host foreign officials. Walk around the Baroque-style château before heading out to its geometrical gardens to enjoy the orange blossoms.

4. Royal Opera of Versailles

Building

opera r
© Château de Versailles / Thomas Garnier
The Royal Opera of Versailles, designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, is in the north wing of the Palace of Versailles. It is constructed mainly of wood – a design feature that is thought to play a key role in generating excellent acoustics. The opera house can accommodate up to 1,200 spectators at its performances, including ballet, orchestral pieces and classic theatrical opera. Plus, it also serves as a ballroom – magnificent chandeliers and traditional ballroom dancing generate a fairytale atmosphere.

5. Versailles Cathedral

Cathedral, Church

Mass in St Louiss cathedral, Versailles.
© Godong / Alamy Stock Photo
Versailles Cathedral, a French national monument, is Versailles’ pre-eminent Roman Catholic church. It was constructed as a simple parish church, with its first stone laid by Louis XV in the mid-18th century; it suffered through turbulent times during the French Revolution, but it was finally consecrated as a cathedral in 1843. Now, it stands as the seat of the Bishop of Versailles. You can see numerous period paintings at the Baroque-style cathedral.

6. Hall of Mirrors

Architectural Landmark

château de Versailles, Thomas Garnier
© Château de Versailles / Thomas Garnier
The Hall of Mirrors, in the Palace of Versailles, served as a daily meeting area for the king and queen, whose apartments were attached via a passageway. More than 350 mirrors decorate this hall, with 17 mirror-decorated arches reflecting gilded and arcaded windows to create an extraordinary spectacle of gold and crystal. This is a popular Versailles stop-off, so get here early to avoid the large midday crowds.

7. Royal Chapel

Architectural Landmark

/France, Yvelines, Chateau de Versailles, listed as World Heritage by UNESCO, the Royal Chape
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
Construction of the Royal Chapel, in the Palace of Versailles, was completed in 1710. It became the inspiration for many other European churches, thanks to its colourful marble flooring, large sculptures and illustrious paintings. In French monarchy, the king was supposedly chosen by God, and the monumental pillars and exquisite altarpieces all nod to this. Today, the chapel is often used as a venue for musical concerts or hired out for private events.

8. Notre-Dame de Versailles

Architectural Landmark

The Church of Notre-Dame de Versailles, situated a few minutes from the central market and the Gardens of Versailles, was built as a place of worship in 1686 to serve the needs of the growing town. The building is among the smaller of the Versailles landmarks, but it is an example of grand Neoclassical architecture, and home to sculptures by Pierre Mazzeline and Noël Jouvenet. The church once registered all marriages, births and deaths of the French royal family, and it has been classified as a historic monument since August 2005.

9. Petit Trianon

Park

Le Petit
© Château de Versailles / Thomas Garnier
The Petit Trianon, housed within the park of the Grand Trianon, was created almost a century after its predecessor, and designed for noble mistress Madame de Pompadour. The Petit Trianon later became a shelter for royal Marie Antoinette, who used it as a refuge from her courtly responsibilities. Wooden decor, rich embellishments and grand marble columns characterise the Petit Trianon, which is surrounded by four charming and diverse gardens.

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