Whenever I visit Paris, I tend to stay in Paris. With so many things to see, do and eat, I am fairly happy to spend all of my time traipsing through the capital. It was different this trip round though, when I decided that I really ought to venture forth to visit one of Europe’s most popular tourist attractions, the Palace of Versailles.
Before stepping in through the golden gates, you have to be worthy. How is that tested? By this…
We were pretty shocked as we walked through the late morning fog to find that the solid, dark mass seen from a distance was indeed a snake queue of people! It took us 3 hours of waiting in the cold, so I’d recommend bringing a book of sorts to pass the time. Also, break the solo travel theme for this one and go in a pair or more because it comes in handy for (1) starting to queue in line whilst the other goes to the buy the tickets and (2) holding your place in the line while the other goes to find hot food and coffee for a mid-queue snack (especially in winter!).
We were relieved when we finally made it through the ticket collections, striding quickly past the courtyard to seek comfort from the cold.
Audioguide headsets are included in the price of the entry ticket, so be sure to queue up for these as they make the experience a lot more meaningful. After waiting for 3 hours, what’s another 5 minute wait?
One of the first rooms (and one of the grandest!) the set tourist route through the palace takes you by is the Chapel. Check out the beautiful frescoes on the ceiling.
We were soon shoved and pushed through to the royal apartments. And no, I’m really not exaggerating when I say shoved and pushed because obviously the 3 hour queues of people before and behind us were all now in the same confined space, going through the same route, listening and stopping to the same track on the audioguide.
It honestly wasn’t the most pleasant experience one can have, but I tried to focus at the beautiful frescoes whilst meditating the crowd and noise away.
One of the most famous rooms in the Palace is the Hall of Mirrors, the central gallery. The main feature of this hall is the seventeen mirror-clad arches that reflect the seventeen arcaded windows, with each arch containing twenty one mirrors. Aptly named indeed to gorgeous effect, especially when you consider the views of the Versailles Gardens from the windows.
As expected, there are lots of paintings and artwork dotted around the palace. One of the most famous is the Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David. It is a formidable piece of art, with gigantic dimensions of 6.21 m × 9.79 m. This painting is actually a replica of the original which was housed here but later moved to the Louvre Museum. Something rather interesting I learnt about the painting is that it isn’t a true to life painting, with certain aspects of it made up in accordance to Napoleon’s wishes. One such character of fiction is Maria Letizia Ramolino, the mother of Napoleon (seen here in the middle seat of the first stand) who didn’t actually attend the coronation due to family issues.
By this stage of the tour, I was keen as anything to get out of the confines of the palace walls and into the expansive Gardens of Versailles.
Unfortunately, days are short in winter and we didn’t have nearly as much time as we would’ve liked to explore the beautiful grounds. The network of water fountains and sprinklers were also dormant for the winter, which is a bit of a shame as it is one of the highlights of the gardens.
It is clear that winter isn’t the best time to visit the palace grounds, but I am glad to have now visited this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage attraction. Located so near to Paris, Versailles makes a great day trip and is easily accessed through the RER or SNCF trains, which can both be caught from central Paris.
I’ve got one tip for all you guys looking to visit the Palace (and for the future me). If you’ve got the budget, sign up for an easy access tour group to help you beat the ridiculous lines. It will be worth it!