We all knew that when we visited Versailles we would be in for some big crowds. At the same time, I think we all had a similar rationality. Since we were visiting in early March, the crowds really couldn’t be that bad, right? So, although we had plans to get there early, we were also a group of five university-aged girls. This meant that getting ready in the morning was always going to take a bit longer than it really should have.
In the end, we left our rental apartment in Montmartre around 9:30. From there, we made our way to the nearest RER station to catch the train to Versailles.
Even though we had left later than planned, I still had my fingers crossed that the crowds were overhyped. I told myself we would be totally fine not getting to the palace before 11am. When we reached the RER platform, my stomach dropped and all of those hopes immediately went down the drain.
The platform was packed.
I wasn’t even sure if we would get on the next train, there were so many people there. When a station employee announced that the train was short and we should all move down the platform, there was a mad dash to get to a desirable spot. At this point, I was absolutely certain that there was no way we were getting on that train. Our day at Versailles was veritably ruined.
Somehow, we managed to squeeze onto the train. We even got seats by some sort of black magic. From there, I spent an hour looking out the window and trying to distract myself from the fact that Versailles was going to be packed. Fresh off of traveling to Panama and Loch Ness in their off seasons, I was not looking forward to this.
When we arrived at Versailles-Châteu station, it was a race against all of the other passengers. We all wanted to be the first in line to enter the castle. It was perhaps a ten minute walk from the station to the palace, and the entire time my heart was pounding in my chest.
Finally, the castle was in view. For a brief moment, I thought that there was no line at all. Then, I saw it. The line stretched d all the way from the entrance across the courtyard and then wrapped around again. I was pretty sure we were never going to make it through that line.
A few of us took our spot in line while the others went off to figure out if there was any other way to get in. At this point, I was reserved to our fate, but the others were still optimistic. As it turned out, you didn’t need a ticket to get into the gardens. Not only that, but since it was still early enough in the day there was practically no one there. It was at this point that hit with a stroke of genius hit us.
Instead of visiting the castle first and then exploring the gardens like everyone and their mother planned to, we would explore the gardens first and then visit the castle in the late afternoon once everyone else was gone.
Spoiler alert: it worked like a charm.
We eagerly left our spot in line and made a beeline for the gardens. Suddenly, my entire body felt lighter. I released all of the tension of being around so many people. For the first time that day I was actually able to enjoy myself. Of course, it also helped that the gardens were absolutely beautiful.
From the main terrace entrance to the gardens we went down a flight of stairs and turned right. There, we found a lush paradise that, dare I say it, was fit for a king. And best of all? I had literally never seen pictures of this part of the garden before. I was ecstatic.
We spent at least an hour wandering our way through the different Alées, chasing after a cat, and even finding a secret passageway through the trees. I was pretty sure I was in heaven.
Eventually, we did find our way to the famous part of the Versailles gardens, but we didn’t stay long – even though they were pretty damn crazy.
Getting to the Estate of Trianon
At this point, I was on a mission. Ever since we started planning our trip to Paris all I had been talking about was seeing Marie Antoinette’s peasant hamlet. I was obsessed, and I absolutely required that we make our way there next.
The only downside? It was a good twenty five minute walk just to get to the entrance. We briefly considered renting one of the golf carts that venders were hawking out, but eventually came to the conclusion that we could easily walk it, considering that:
- We all walk way more than that on a daily basis, and
- It was our third day in Paris and we were already broke.
So, we set off. It was actually a pleasant walk, and twenty five minutes later we found the gates of the Petit Trianon.
Although we could have continued on from the entrance through to Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon, we decided to come back later, after we had seen the hamlet. Instead, we went back outside and into the gardens. There, we popped a squat on the steps of the Love Monument both to give our feet a bit of a rest after walking so long and to munch on our picnic lunch.
This quickly became my favorite part of Versailles. The sun was shining down on us, the food we had brought was delicious, and the view was absolutely beautiful.
Eventually, we had to leave my favorite place, though. So we got up and did our best to find the Queen’s Hamlet. We may have gone a bit of a roundabout way, but eventually we ended up there, and I was so friggin’ happy.
The Queen’s Hamlet
I just love the story about how this place came into existence. Marie Antoinette commissioned the peasant village so that she could ‘enjoy the charms of country life’, and it totally lived up to all of my expectations. The cottages were charming, the animals were cute, and all of it was just so extra.
We spent a good amount of time wandering through the village, laughing about the story, and, most importantly, talking to the animals. We even named one of the goats Napoleon, because he was tiny and ruled over everything from his spot on top of an overturned barrel.
Eventually, we worked our way back to the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s other non-Palace-of-Versailles residence. Louis built her this small chateau so that she could escape the pressures of the court. Of course, it was still pretty lavish, and we enjoyed the fifteen minutes that we spent strolling through its rooms.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump across the way from the Petit Trianon lays the Grand Trianon.
Although we weren’t able to find this out during our visit to the Grand Trianon, the pink marble palace was a sight to behold. It had more sitting rooms, bedrooms, and grand halls than any one mistress could possibly need (of course she wasn’t the only one to live in the Grand Trianon – it also housed various other dignitaries through the years, including Peter the Great and Napoleon).
The Château de Versailles
Finally, it was time to make our way back to the Chateau. Although we did stop for ice cream on the way, for the most part we walked quickly. We only had about two hours left until the chateau closed and we weren’t sure how long it would take to visit (or how long the line would be).
When we reached the entrance, however, it took everything we had in us not to do a major happy dance. There was absolutely no line. We were jumping for joy as we realized that we had made the best decision of our lives that morning.
On the way back, the gardens were significantly more crowded than they had been that morning. Our decision to do the gardens first meant that we got to have them almost completely to ourselves. The same was true for the castle in the afternoon. Of course, there was still the odd Chinese tour group and late arrival, but the palace was by far less crowded than it would have been in the morning. And we didn’t have to wait in line. We just couldn’t believe how smart we were.
I actually ended up liking the gardens and Estate of Trianon far more than the Palace itself. Maybe it was because it was the end of the day and we had already seen so many amazing things, but I was pretty unimpressed. Sure, it was a cool palace, but there were also a lot of things that were similar in it to every other palace I had ever seen. I probably would have been pretty disappointed if we had waited in the hour long line to get in.
After we finished taking all of the mirror selfies we could in the Hall of Mirrors, we exited the chateau to make our way back to the Versailles train station. With the late afternoon sun beating down on our backs, we were so ready to collapse onto the train seats and nap all the way back to Paris. It had been a long day, but so, so worth it.
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