During our girls’ weekend trip to Paris together with my friend, we had a clear mission – no tight itinerary, no big plans, no shopping (say what?!). Instead, we were to have some quality time together, stroll around the city taking all the time we needed, and just enjoy stress-free moments at the cafes. Besides all this, I did have one wish. I really, really wanted to see Versailles, as that was the only big attraction in Paris I had not yet seen. Last time in Paris we did not have time to visit the palace, and I was rather annoyed by that afterwards.
Luckily, my friend was eager to see the palace too, so on our last morning, we hopped on the RER-train and took off to see the palace. After only some 30 minutes of travel from the centre, we hopped off at Versailles Rive Gauche station. The main gates of the palace are only some hundreds of meters away from the station and trust me, you basically can’t get lost here. The stream of people is constant. Plus, there are tons of signs pointing towards the palace on every street corner taking care you’ll find the palace easily.
Immediately after the first glimpse of the palace walls, there were no doubts – the palace was huge! After having the first proper look at the palace, it was clear that it was something pretty impressive. The massive complex with a beautiful facade and huge gardens was just beautiful. And the people. There were just tons of them. This being without a hint of exaggeration. Versailles gathers between 5 and 6 million visitors each year, so that makes over 20.000 visitors a day, bearing in mind the palace is closed on Mondays. So yes, there are hundreds, if not thousands of people around throughout the year.
Versailles is the second most popular attraction in Paris, right after the Louvre. Naturally, the Eiffel tower, Arc de Triomphe nor Notre Dame can be included on that list, as no-one really can say how many people see those from the outside. Once you arrive at the palace, it is pretty clear why it is so popular. Known also as a UNESCO world heritage site the palace is one of he largest ones in Europe with over 700 rooms. Unarguably it is one of the most beautiful ones too. Just like the Schönnbrunn palace in Vienna, this too was built as a hunting lodge originally. Louis XIII had it built during the 17th century and the palace served as a home to the rulers all the way until late 18th century before it was turned into a national museum in the 1830’s.
Unlike on our trip to the Schönbrunn palace in June, I was happy just visiting the gardens and not going for a tour inside the palace. (must admit, after seeing the queues, I was even more convinced I did not want to go in). Being build over the course of 40 years, the gardens are pretty massive, and pretty breathtaking. When I say massive, I really mean that. The gardens are spread over an area of 800ha. Just to give you something to compare it to, New York’s central park is only 340 ha, so we are not talking about just a few roses around a tiny fountain here.. Like said, the palace is truly amazing, but I must say, at some points it almost felt like the palace was out shadowed by its own gardens.
A few hours will pass in a glimpse of an eye in the gardens and once you feel your feet getting tired, it is easy to stop for a drink in the cafes around the garden. Also, behind the main garden opens up a lake, where it is nice to just sit down, relax and enjoy the beautiful views over to the palace. You can even rent a rowboat here if you wish.
The gardens that spread around the massive palace are an interesting mixture of gardening skill feats. Every time you get to the end of one alley, where you have been looking around in awe, there is an even more amazing sight waiting for you just around the corner. The gardens seem endless. And all this was just in the main gardens – we did not even get to Marie Antoinettes’ estate or to the Grand Trianon as the main gardens kept us that occupied. If we had wanted to do a proper tour around the entire area, we would have needed a full day which, unfortunately, we did not have.
It is not always that you get what you are expecting, but honestly, Versailles ended up being everything I dared to hope for, and even more. Being around 30-minutes train ride away from central Paris, it sure is not as easily accessible as, say, the Eiffel tower, but it sure is worth the visit. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I was not too thrilled about the city itself, but going a bit further away from the center, all the hustle and bustle was gone, and despite the ridiculous number of visitors in Versailles, I was actually rather surprised how relaxing the atmosphere here was. It really was a relaxing environment to spend a few stress-free hours, before heading back to the city. So if you are looking for that spot where to escape the chaotic city, but still do not want to loose those precious moments in Paris for anything other than sightseeing, go to Versailles.