Paris is a big city – one of the largest concentrations of urban sprawl in continental Europe. I’ve briefly mentioned Versailles in my roundup of Paris daytrips, but the area of Versailles deserves a little extra special attention. This isn’t a terrible area to base your stay actually – West Versailles hotels are very reasonable and perfect if you don’t mind a brief train ride in exchange for some cost savings.
Here are some highlights on things do in the area, including the famous Palace of Versailles.
The Palace of Versailles is perhaps one of the most famous Royal residences in the world, and for good reason as it is certainly one of the most ornate. Save yourself a few euros and buy your ticket online, but do opt in for the audio guide – it has a wealth of information about all areas of the palace, as well as the outside gardens and adjacent buildings, so you won’t want to miss that. Also plan on getting here first thing in the day – you’ll have a wait no matter what, but the queues in the midafternoon are terrible and you risk not getting in or having to rush.
Like your classic Royal suite, saying the rooms in the Palace of Versailles are lavish is an understatement. They were extraordinary for their time, and after awhile you’ll tire at the endless displays of wealth. One room though never fails to disappoint – the Hall of Mirrors. I’ve seen it twice, and both times I was awestruck. The mirrors reflect and make the room feel twice its size, as well as helping to amplify the light bouncing off the long line of chandeliers and other delicate decor surrounding the room. It’s truly amazing.
The town of Versailles itself is often all but overlooked – visitors get off the train, get in the queue for the Palace, listen to their audio guide, and get back on the train as quickly as possible. That’s a shame as this town is really enjoyable as an opportunity get a feel for smaller French towns without having to stray so far from Paris.
The area is full of amazing architecture from the contemporaries of the Palace of Versailles, including the Town Hall, which a friend of mine calls Petit Versailles (a.k.a. “the little version of the Palace”). There’s also a beautiful church (the Notre Dame) and as well the municipal library, which will inspire you to check something out of your library at home straight away.
The nice thing is you can explore all of these places at your leisure. No queues, no ranting, and no slow shuffling around hordes of tourists. The pace couldn’t be more different.
One popular thing to do in Versailles is to visit the Palace, then walk into town and grab some snacks from the grocery or bakeries (there are several you’ll see off the main road), then head back to the gardens around the Palace for a picnic. That’s a great option if you can find a good spot – the crowds sometimes spoil the fun.
One other terrific idea if you have the budget as well as the time is to book yourself for a table at La Veranda. It’s a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, and while I’m not a fan of Gordon himself, our meal at La Veranada was superb. The menu is bistro style, with mains running around 25-30EUR. That is pricey, but so is anything in Paris, so I think it’s good value considering the setting.
Afterwards, if you’re staying in the area or have time before heading back, an evening stroll is a must. The Parisians who live here just view the Palace as their not-that-special neighbour, so you’ll be one with the locals in enjoying the Palace’s fantastic outdoor space.
Posted : Monday, January 10th, 2011 at 12:56
Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Seattle, Washington. When not soaking up the Pacific Northwest lifestyle or enjoying life on the road, he is spending time hanging out on his own travel lifestyle magazine, Sharing Travel Experiences.