One of the best things about Versailles is that almost all of the rumors are true. The stuff that went down here would make you think, “Noah, get the Boat”. Ritual human sacrifice, poisonings, devil-worshipping nobles’n lords on drug binges, prisoners being used to test hot air balloons, queens giving birth with an audience looking into the, eh, « eye of the storm », crooked priests taking bribes to drop a diss on some Duke during the Sunday sermon, and even assassins sent from Venice, because, mirrors. Versailles’ history is as absolutely bonkers as the whole place is stunning.
The only untrue story I have ever found that persists like herpes in Montparnasse is that Mozart composed « Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star » for Marie Antoinette in her music room in the Queens Hamlet. Nope, but lazy tour guides love to tell that story. I’m a history geek so I checked and as much as I wished it was true, that story is a hard no. Also, the Champagne coupe was not modeled after the left breast of Marie Antoinette (who THINKS of these things???).
Versailles is the legendarily sumptuous palace among the Royal Domain; a vast forest, manicured gardens, the famously over-the-top Château, as well as a charming small town just south-west of Paris. It housed the French kings and government until the French Revolution of 1789, after which it became a museum of history and then for a while, Napoleon’s country house. He didn’t want to stay in the actual castle and start to give the rabble the revolutionary chop-chop tingles again, so he stayed only in the Grand Trianon, a sort of mini palace on the grounds of the domain. He had his table set up in the long marble arcade to plot his boneheaded invasion of Russia while enjoying summer breezes.
Now you can enjoy the paintings and sculptures it exhibits with all the glitz and glam that comes with royalty and an aggressive appropriation of common funds. There are 2,300 rooms adorned in glittering gold, beautiful stone archways and columns, marble checkered floors, and an actual hall of mirrors. This was a big deal back in the 1600s. Only the Venetians possessed the knowledge of mirror making and almost no one alive at that time had ever seen their reflection in a real mirror. Back then, polished metal had to do the trick. Needless to say, the makeup game was elevated with the introduction of mirrors (no wonder the starving peasants revolted and stormed the place).
There’s also a massive manicured garden and miniature forested groves with surprises around every corner, including sculptures and a sea-themed grotto, for when you want some fresh air. There’s almost definitely going to be a sea of tourists, but don’t let that stop you from pretending you’re a princess.
The usual advice is to go during the off season, but we know you want to visit when the weather’s nice, so get your tickets to the chateau in advance here. We recommend going later in the day as the gigantic tour buses roll in first thing in the morning and pack the house. The 4pm entry is the time to go in my opinion. See the market and the trianons (mini palaces that were a kind of getaway from the stifling nature of court life for the royals. Remember the giving birth in public thing? They are about a half hour walk or ten minutes by the petit train) in the earlier part of the day, then do the castle last. Just make sure to get the timed entry to avoid the lines and don’t be late for your time slot. Get ready for one of the most opulent (and historic) palaces in the world and savor witnessing right where it all went down.
Here is all you need to know:
Address —Place d’Armes, 78000 Versailles, France
Metro —Versailles-Rive Gauche (RER C)
Neighborhood — Versailles
Nearby — Gardens of Versailles, Grand Trianon, Royal Opera of Versailles, Versailles Cathedral, Hall of Mirrors, Royal Chapel, Versailles’ Markets