In 1632, King Louis XIII commissioned a small, intimate hunting lodge on the limits of the Versailles forest. Four decades later, Louis XIV, the Sun King, abandoned Paris for Versailles, bringing the entire court with him, and hiring the renown landscape architect André Le Nôtre to design a royal garden such as the world had never seen. These remarkable grounds forever revolutionized garden design and today outshine the palace in their importance. In this 4-hour excursion from Paris we will join a historian to tour the magnificent gardens of Versailles and the exterior of the Palace.
Louis XIV's vision for Versailles actually began with the gardens, conceived by André Le Nôtre, the landscape architect responsible for the magnificent gardens of Châteaux Vaux-le-Vicomte, Fontainebleau, and Chantilly ( if you'd like to learn more about these sites we'd recommend our Custom Tour of Paris
). By 1682, Versailles would become the seat of the French court and government, the gardens acting as a theater for the Sun King’s absolute monarchy and elegant backdrop for some of the most important events in the country’s history. Arriving at Versailles, we will visit the gardens, taking in the carefully manicured hedges, reflecting pools, and artfully carved statues. We will dissect Louis XIV's powerful solar myth which led to Le Nôtre's conception of these gardens, and contributed to the decorating scheme of the State Apartments. We'll note the important interplay of water and sculpture that makes these gardens one of the most important sites of open-air sculpture in the world. For more on architecture in Paris, consider our Notre Dame Tour: Paris Gothic Architecture
or Paris Architecture Tour: The Making of Modern Paris
Hunting Lodge to Palace
We will study the architecture of the palace from the exterior only. Here, we will talk about the château's successive architectural evolutions during the reigns of Louis XII to the 19th century. When Louis XIV ordered an expansion, he adding additional wings, the marble court, and the famous Hall of Mirrors to the existing structure. While the 18th and 19th centuries brought much change and renovation to the interior of the palace, the exterior of the château and the gardens remain largely unchanged from their 17th century origins, making them a prime example of the luxury and ambitious desire of the French monarchy before the 1789 Revolution—explored further on our French Revolution Tour Paris
. Our walk normally ends at the door of the château, where we are free to enter independently. For a full tour of the Versailles estate and the interior of the palace please see our Versailles Tour: Full Day excursion from Paris
In the company of an art historian, we will immerse ourselves in the lavish narrative of Versailles, using these phenomenal gardens as our focal point. Reflecting on our journey through Louis XIV's gardens, we will draw our final conclusions on the role of Versailles in maintaining the image of the French Kings. As our tour comes to a close, we will come away with a better understanding of how Le Nôtre's designs were a departure from established landscape design of the time, and link this to our understanding of the Louis XIV's commitment to maintaining his image as the Sun King.
Miscellaneous Notes About Our Tour
This excursion does not include the interior of the palace; however, it does provide the background for an independent visit of the inside of the château at the end of the visit. If you choose to enter the palace independently at the end of our visit please let us know and we will help pre-purchase the tickets. Unless you've booked a transfer back to Paris with us, your guide will provide clear instructions for your return trip to Paris on the train.
We visit the interior of the palace on our Versailles Tour: Full-Day Excursion From Paris
, Versailles Tour: Half-Day Excursion From Paris
and our Versailles Tour for Kids
, pending palace availability. If you are interested in one of these options please request this in your trip notes when booking and we will reach out to you with further details.
During the summer (April 1-October 29 2017), there is either a music or a fountain show on Saturdays, Sundays, Fridays and Tuesdays. You can enjoy the musical gardens on Tuesdays and Fridays from July 2nd-October 25th 2019 and the musical fountain shows from April 6th to October 27th. During these days, the groves are all open. On the other days of the week, they are not open, nor are the fountains on.
What is included in the cost?
The price of the tour, expert guide, hotel pick-up and transfer from Paris to Versailles as well as the entrance to the Gardens and the Palace. We'll purchase individual passport tickets for you which will allow you to visit the interior of the Palace and the Trianon Estate on your own at the end of the tour. Your guide will have them on hand. Please note that your guide will not be able to give you a tour of the interior of the Palace. If you'd like to visit the palace with a guide please book our Versailles Tour: Full-Day Excursion From Paris
or Versailles Tour: Half-Day Excursion From Paris
Where does the tour end?
Unless you've booked a return transfer to Paris with us, the tour will end in Versailles. You can take the train (RER C) or a taxi and return to Paris at your leisure. Your guide will help you with directions. If you've booked a return transfer from Versailles to Paris with us, your driver will drop you off at your hotel.Will the fountains be on?
The fountains are on only on Saturdays, Sundays, and some Tuesdays in high season (April through October). On other days of the week and in low season, the fountains will not be on.
I see you offer a half-day and full-day tour as well. Which is better?
We don't necessarily recommend one over the other. The Half-day tour offers an introduction to both the palace and the gardens allowing you to explore the rest of the grounds independently after the tour. The Full-day tour offers an in-depth visit of the whole Versailles estate and includes the palace, the gardens, the park, the Petit and Grand Trianons and the Queen's Hamlet, as well as a local lunch (at your own expense). And the Gardens tour offers an in-depth tour of the gardens and the exterior of the palace allowing you to visit the interior of the palace on your own at the end of the tour.
Can we take the train instead?
Yes. However, the RER C performs badly in terms of punctuality and the trains are often delayed or crowded. Please note that the time to travel from Paris to Versailles is longer than by car, which means that you'll spend less time with the guide on site. Note that RER train tickets (approx. 10€ round trip per person) are not included in the price of the tour. It is a good idea to have some cash on hand for these or to purchase them in advance of the tour.
Can we meet the guide in Versailles?
Yes. Please contact us in advance of the tour to discuss the logistics of the tour and we will update your itinerary with a meeting point in Versailles.
Is this tour wheelchair accessible?
Please contact us to discuss in more detail your mobility concerns so that we can best advise. We can arrange a car service for visitors with mobility concerns. We don't recommend using public transportation to travel to and from Versailles. Not all of the RER stops are wheelchair accessible.
Is this tour appropriate for children?
Yes. Our expert guides have experience working with children and can tailor the tour to your needs.