Plan Your Best Trip Ever to the Historic Palace
Palace of Versailles, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Versailles, France. Photo by Tripscholars
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Feeling a little stir crazy like the rest of us during Covid imposed stay-at-home orders? Wishing you had a little more square footage and a nice garden to enjoy at home? Let’s take a virtual vacation to the world’s largest royal domain and find out if the grass is really greener at the Palace of Versailles.
Whether you are planning your real life dream vacation to Paris with a day trip out to the palace and want to make the very most of your time there, or you want to enjoy a virtual vacation from home, learn more about planning your perfect trip to the Palace of Versailles.
Plan a Dream Trip or a Virtual Vacation to Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is the architectural wonder that Louis XIV created to press his belief in the divine right of kings on his subjects. Prior to Louis XIV, the nobility held greater power in the decentralized nation. Louis used the jaw dropping opulence of the palace, along with his understanding of human nature, to help create the modern French nation. He enticed and forced the nobility to give up much of their power in order to court both him and their own egos at the palace.
Louis XIV cleverly created a pecking order of access to himself based, in part, on the nobles living much of the year at the palace. There were ornate protocols and required French-made clothing that kept much of the aristocracy in debt and trapped in often-times small quarters on the grounds. As the ornate formalities and lack of privacy increased, the royal family also began to feel trapped within the extraordinary palace and made other buildings to escape to on the grounds. This finally culminated in the Queen’s Hamlet, a mock and idealized mini village Marie Antoinette would escape to while the people of the real hamlets and cities of France suffered the deep despair that ignited the French Revolution.
So for many of us, wishing we had a bigger place to wait out our time at home, we can remember one of my favorite quotes from my sister, “The grass is only greener because there is more s**t over there!” At least we don’t have groups of people watching us use the toilet or give birth, and modest as our quarantine spaces are, at least they are ours.
Why Plan Your Trip to Versailles?
Planning your dream trip to Paris in the distant future? Preparing for a trip later this year and deciding if you should give a day to the palace when there is already so much to see and do in the city itself? The Palace of Versailles is a fascinating place to explore. It has been a key location for many major events in history. If you want to make the most of your time at the palace of the Sun King, invest before you go to learn all about one of the most important locations in Europe.
You’ll know why Louis XIV built the Hall of Mirrors and the significant events that happened there. You can walk through the halls where the idea of the modern European state was born and feel the profound impact of history in real time. And, you’ll understand the role the people played in the history of the encyclopedia, opera, ballet, fashion, as well as the French and American Revolutions.
Why plan your trip to Versailles? You’ll learn more and have fun doing it. The more you learn, the more you will know the locations on the royal grounds you want to visit and why. Anyone with the funds can be a tourist at the palace and take some beautiful photos. But, if you want to plan the perfect trip, be a well-researched traveler and understand the significance of the palace and grounds when you visit.
Start With a Tour
Let’s start with a tour of the Palace and Gardens! You have plenty of choices available. If you have an authorized VR headset, we recommend Versailles VR: The Palace is Yours. made as a collaboration between The Palace of Versailles and Google Arts and Culture. Without a VR headset, you can still plan your perfect trip to Versailles utilizing the official app of this famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy it from home for your virtual tour, and be sure to have it installed if you go in person. That way you can save time instead of standing in the long line to rent a headset.
Learn More About the Palace
Watch Discover The Palace of Versailles Documentary to learn all about the palace and its history. It is an extended tour of sorts with a focus on the art, architecture, engineering marvels, fountains, and gardens of the palace. Stories from the history of the palace are interwoven throughout and explain the transition under the Sun King, to the fleeing of the royal family during the French Revolution, to its role in the Napoleonic Era and beyond.
Or, curl up with a copy of King of the World, The Life of Louis XIV, by renowned historian Philip Mansel. He will take you far outside of Versailles to see Louis XIV’s reach across the globe and history. Marvel at the genius of the young king as he nurtured the arts and trade, fostering his growing power. Lament at his efforts to ostracize the Protestants leading to the Huguenot diaspora. Recognize his zeal for power in the fact that he left France bankrupt at the end of his reign. This is a book for the curious.
Indulge in the Extravagance
Are you intrigued with what the Sun King did and why he did it? Indulge in this skillfully acted and lavishly portrayed drama inspired by (but not strictly based on) the life of the young king as he comes into his own. Versailles is the most expensive series ever produced in France and it shows, not only through the talented cast, but also in the costumes and sets.
I live in Seattle, but am originally from much sunnier climes and I try to stay warm and dry in the winter time. I kept this series as my treadmill show so I’d stay motivated on some of those dark and dreary days. Or, you can enjoy this as a late night show once kids are in bed (there is a lot of sex and violence).
One of the things I enjoy about historical fiction is how it keeps my mind wondering. This show was no different and it inspired me to look up plenty of questions: Was there really a female doctor in the court? What was the relationship between Louis XIV and William of Orange? Or with the Pope? You’ll have plenty to inspire further research.
I found the show through the BBC documentary, The Real Versailles with Lucy Worsley and Helen Castor, which they produced when the show first premiered on BBC Two. If you don’t yet know these two, they both make history even more fun and interesting. In this documentary, they parse what is history and what is fiction in the Versailles series. And if you enjoy their take, there’s lots more available on the BBC.
Living History at Home
From here, there are so many things you can do to enjoy some living history at home. Start by having 20-30 dishes prepared for a meal and invite your friends and family to come and watch you eat. Be sure to use your hands and not trust the newest tool at the table — the fork!
Since none of us actually have the 324 people required to make and serve a single one of the king’s meals, we can learn all about this, and much more, by reading the historian Aurora Van Goeth’s blog, Party Like 1660, Titillating tidbits from the court of the Sun King.
After reading, you may want to have a Sun King inspired meal with your fanciest serving pieces, your cloth napkins folded into ornate shapes, and your well spiced dishes presented and arranged beautifully on your table!
While enjoying your feast, be sure and entertain yourself as the Sun King did by listening to one of the composers he nurtured. Lully, Master of the King’s Music and considered the founder of French Opera is a perfect choice. Bartje Bartman’s Youtube channel includes the sheet music for a lot of classical music and is an inspiring way to experience it.
Louis XIV was one of history’s greatest patrons of the arts. You can follow your meal by reading or watching one of Moliere’s influentials plays — perhaps the masterful Tartuffe, which was banned after being performed at Versailles.
For The Kids
Puss In Boots, Cinderella—have you ever noticed the dramatically different societal roles the characters in these stories have by changing their clothes? We have Charles Perrault to thank for bringing these stories to life. He originally published them with the subtitle, Tales of Mother Goose. Perrault is now most well known as the oft-credited founder of the modern fairy tale. He was also an advisor to Louis XIV and even advised him to include 39 fountains throughout the gardens, each representing one of Aesop’s fables.
Know that these stories and images are not the Disney-fied versions and may be more than some young children will enjoy. But, many older kids will benefit from using these tales to talk about the cultural forces at work in this historic period (and by extension, their roles in illuminating modern social issues). In later articles we will dive into some of the countless activities that can spring from exploring fairy tales. For now, consider comparing the originals with our modern versions, and also with similar stories from other cultures. And for the youngest kids, enjoy snuggling up and reading or watching the tamed down versions.
A Hidden Treasure at Versailles
One of the reasons it is so valuable to do research before trips is so you don’t miss important sites like the Tennis Court of Versailles. The court is within walking distance from the rest of the estate and it played a pivotal role in the French Revolution. On June 20th, 1789, this is where members of the Third Estate (the peasants and bourgeoisie) took the Tennis Court Oath, and pledged “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established.“
Before this date, the Estates-General had been called by Louis XVI to address the deep debt of the nation. The Three Estates each had an equal vote, but because the nobility and clergy voted together, the votes of the rest of the populace were nullified. When banned from the meeting, the Third Estate met at the Tennis Court instead. This set into motion events that led to the Storming of the Bastille three weeks later; the adoption of The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen two months later; and the other significant events of the revolution.
Now, with a solid understanding of this location, your visit can be profound and you’ll understand the significance of the hall.
Discover the Impact of Versailles in the Modern Age
The Treaty of Versailles, the most significant of the treaties that ended World War I, is also worth a deep exploration prior to a visit. A great place to start is with the BBC’s podcast, The History of The Treaty of Versailles, in Five Future Wars. It is presented by Bridgette Kendall, a former BBC journalist who now heads Pewterhouse, Cambridge.
Kendall explains the players at the table and their interrelationships with one another. She soberly outlines how decisions agreed to in the Hall of Mirrors over 100 years ago, shaped future wars in Germany, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Poland, and Iraq.
When our family visited Versailles, we only had half a day and, if you do your research about how to plan a trip to Versailles using other travel websites or books, you’ll see that the lines to enter (and to rent your headset) can be prohibitively long. One way around this is to book a tour, but the tour times didn’t match up with our schedule. There is another solution that took some digging to find, but that is totally worth it.
Skip the line to Versailles by enjoying a lovely meal at Cafe Ore instead! When you are done, ask the staff (at the elevator below) to use their entrance to the site. You go in at the front of the security line and start your tour, the whole entrance taking only a few minutes rather than hours. Be sure you have your entrance ticket before you do this! There are many ways to get it ahead of time. We were able to use our Paris museum pass.
Cafe Ore offered a very tasty breakfast within the palace, with views out onto the courtyard and the many people waiting in the l-o-n-g line! The full meal was around €15, but some people in our party ordered a small meal. So it was less than the cost of many of the tours and we got to eat, which we needed to do anyway. Even though the restaurant was mostly empty for our meal, I recommend making a reservation in advance to be safe. Plan to use this tip to enter the secret entrance of Versailles when you visit!
Our Trip To Versailles
A last note on why it’s so important to take this time to plan before you travel to Versailles. After years of dreaming of bringing our kids to France, we were finally able to do it, but we packed so much into our vacation that we didn’t have much time left to visit Versailles. Fortunately, before we left, we had studied extensively about how to plan a trip to Versailles so we knew what spots we wanted to see in the short time that we had. We enjoyed family debates at the dinner table comparing Louis XIV to Alexander the Great. We understood the symbolism throughout the palace and grounds, and we knew the myths that inspired the fountains in the gardens.
This visit wasn’t crossing something off of our bucket list, it was a profound experience in real time. Most of the resources listed here are free or very inexpensive, yet they helped to create a priceless experience.
And now, we would love to learn from you! What are some of the resources you have enjoyed as you learned about Versailles? Please share them below and add them as resources to our library so other travelers can benefit from your experiences.