Visiting the Versailles gardens brings to mind an idyllic stroll through lush gardens under a sunny sky. But what if you decide to visit Versailles in winter? Your experience might turn out to be a little bit different. This guide contains all of the tips and info you need to plan an awesome winter visit to Versailles whether or not the weather cooperates.
In our case, we picked a freezing, rainy day to visit Versailles. (I tested it out in the most miserable winter weather possible so you don’t have to!) It wasn’t ideal, but we needed to use our transit passes that included zones 4-5 to get from Paris to Versailles and they were expiring that day, so we were kind of locked in regardless of the weather. If you have any flexibility, I would highly recommend visiting Versailles on a slightly nicer day so that you can really enjoy the gardens. You can’t always be picky with the weather, especially in winter, but if you can swap your plans around I’d go for it. The good news is that touring the inside of the palace is delightful in any weather.
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Getting to Versailles from Paris
We did a day trip to Versailles from Paris, so we took a train in first thing in the morning. We almost made a mistake that would’ve led us to the wrong station but sort of accidentally corrected ourselves along the way by making another mistake. Who said two wrongs don’t make a right?
Figuring out how to get to Versailles from Paris can be a little tricky because the RER train line has different endpoints so not all trains take you to the stop for the Chateau de Versailles. You want the RER C line (yellow) that ends at the stop called Versailles Chateau Rive Gauche. Check the signs carefully to make sure you get on the right train. This station is only a few minutes on foot from the entrance to the palace, and it drops you off about two blocks from the front gates. The other trains go to different stations, including another one with Versailles in its name that is further away and requires a much longer walk or a bus trip. If you do it right, the journey will take around an hour depending on where you begin. (We were staying near the Eiffel Tower.) Versailles Chateau Rive Gauche will be the last stop on the line, so you can just relax and ride it to the end.
We were using the public transit feature on Google Maps to navigate all of our Metro/RER trips, and this distinction wasn’t really apparent in the app. We initially ended up on the wrong train – the one that would take us to the other Versailles stop – without realizing it, thinking that it was heading to the Versailles Rive Gauche stop. A local man struck up a conversation with us on the train and he kind of tried to explain the distinction to us, but we didn’t quite understand what he was saying. A few minutes later, a stop was announced for Viroflay Rive Gauche, which sounded like what we wanted to our non-French-speaking ears, and we got off the train only to realize that we were still nowhere near the palace. Fortunately, the next train was only a few minutes behind it. While we were waiting, I reexamined the maps and realized that it was actually going to work out better because it was the one we should’ve been on in the first place, and it would take us to the right train station for Versailles Palace. It was then that what the guy on the first train had been trying to tell us clicked. I’m sure he thought we were total idiots, but in the end, we got to our destination with minimal delay and were ready to start reveling in the absurd opulence of the Chateau de Versailles.
If you’d rather have someone else handle the logistics for you, check out one of these tours that include transportation from Paris:
Entering the Chateau de Versailles
Versailles Palace is definitely impressive as you approach the front gates. I can only imagine how much more magnificent it would’ve appeared to visitors back when it was first built. We’re used to all sorts of fancy architecture and other wonders of the modern world, but back then it must’ve been even more stunning. Those golden gates are a sight to see.
We used our Paris Museum Passes to enter, so we didn’t have to wait in line to buy a ticket. The lines weren’t too long on the winter morning we visited, but I know they can be crazy during busier seasons. It’s also possible to reserve timed tickets on the Versailles’ website for an extra cost if you’re paying for admission separately.
Tour tickets come with a free audio guide in a language of your choosing. In parts of the building, it’s supposed to be activated automatically based on your location, but mine was a little spotty at first. Once we got to the rooms that required you to enter a code to start the description, it worked fine and offered a lot of insight, especially in the royal family’s private rooms. It’s worth noting that maps are handed out in the first room you enter through, but you apparently have to ask at the guest services counter for one because they weren’t set out anywhere. I ended up having to run across the courtyard in the rain to grab one once we realized that we had missed our only chance to get one.
Highlights of Versailles Palace
I specifically remember seeing a picture of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles one day in my AP European History class back in high school and instantly falling in love with it. I’d been wanting to visit ever since, so I was ecstatic when we finally set foot in it. The mirrors are definitely showing their age a little, but it’s easy to imagine the hall filled with music and ladies wearing fabulous ball gowns. What a sight it must’ve been back when it was in its heyday.
I also liked the rooms belonging to the princesses we went through toward the end of the tour. I found it very interesting to see how their public and private lives were blended. As fun as it sounds to be royalty, I definitely could’ve lived without that aspect of the life.
Eating at Versailles
By the time we finished wandering through the palace, we were starving. There’s a food counter and a restaurant in the palace, and we decided to go for the full service restaurant. It’s located in an area that used to belong to one of the queen’s ladies in waiting. The restaurant was really cozy and quiet except for the American couple blasting a CNN broadcast on one of their phones. We had delicious sandwiches and hot tea in the lounge. I was expecting it to be more expensive, but it really didn’t cost any more than other restaurants in the city.
The counter service place is also great for a quick snack. They had several sandwiches, soups, and salads on the menu, or you can just sit and have a drink there. I wanted to try some of the amazing pastries on display, but we decided that we were too full so we headed out into the cold to explore the gardens.
Versailles gardens in winter
Once we were done eating, it was time to head out to see the famous gardens of Versailles. Luckily, the rain had mostly let up, although it was still freezing and windy. We found a little tram that would take you around the gardens for a few euros. I thought it was overpriced since it wasn’t actually a scenic tour, but my mom and sister wanted to ride it. The route skirts around the outside of the gardens, and we saw one fountain, but not much else. It made a couple stops, and I suggested hopping off at the one at the end of the lake so we could walk back up through the more scenic area.
After getting off of the tram, I realized that buying a return ticket from the back of the grounds was way cheaper than paying at the front (you have to buy a full round trip ticket there). If you’re interested in taking the tram, I’d recommend walking down to the lake from the back of the palace and then getting a return ticket to ride back up to the front. It will save you quite a few euros.
Visiting Versailles in winter helps keep the crowds down, but the downside of it is that all of the statues were wrapped up to protect them from the weather. The topiaries and manicured shrubs were still pretty, but we felt like we missed out on a little bit of the atmosphere. If you’re very interested in the Versailles gardens, winter is not the time to visit.
If I ever come back in more pleasant weather, I could easily spend most of a day wandering the Versailles gardens. I’d love to get a rowboat and take it out on the lake and just relax in the sun and the beauty of the surroundings. However, the freezing drizzle that day made the gardens decidedly less enticing, so we walked back to the palace pretty quickly. I was fascinated to discover that my little sister apparently hates topiaries though, so it wasn’t completely unpleasant.
We did the palace tour, ate lunch, and visited the grounds in about four hours. I would budget most of a day to do it in better weather if you’re planning on exploring the gardens more thoroughly. After adding in the travel time to get to Versailles from Paris, it could easily be a full-day excursion. It would be perfect to do on the day the Louvre or Musee d’Orsay are open late because you can get back to Paris, eat dinner, and then go explore the art museums.
If you’re visiting Versailles in the winter, don’t forget these items:
- A travel umbrella in case you run into rain like we did.
- A packable down jacket – it’ll keep you warm outside in the gardens without being too bulky for inside the palace.
- Warm, waterproof boots. I’m obsessed with these (The pattern I have has been discontinued, but the black and white is sharp too.) because they’re waterproof and warm and ankle height and not hideous. They’re basically the perfect winter travel shoe and now that I’m writing about them I kind of want to order three more pairs in case they stop selling them all together so I’ll have enough to last me a few decades.
Check out more great things to do in Paris here:
- The Best Time to Visit the Eiffel Tower
- 3-Day Paris Power Itinerary
- Is the Paris Museum Pass Worth it?
- Sainte Chappelle: Paris’ Hidden Gem
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