Paris is one of the most popular and most-visited cities in the world, and is a place where you can easily spend a week or more and still not see/do everything. BUT, if it's your first trip to Paris and you have more than a few days there, chances are you will be tempted to plan at least one day trip out of the city.
And the most popular day trip from Paris is definitely to visit the Palace of Versailles.
Versailles is located about 30 kilometers outside of Paris. The former royal palace is now surrounded by the charming city of Versailles, but the whole place began as a small country hunting lodge used by King Louis XIII to escape the city life of Paris in the 1600s.
The palace was transformed by Louis XIII's son and successor, King Louis XIV (the Sun King), in the mid-1600s, being expanded into the sprawling, gold-coated palace with more than 2000 rooms that we know today. The palace was the official royal residence of the kings of France from 1682 until the French Revolution in the early 1790s.
You absolutely can go to Versailles on your own by taking an RER train from Paris and pre-booking a Versailles entrance ticket. But this is one of those outings that I really, truly feel is best done with a guide – because Versailles is huge, and can be overwhelming on your own.
Versailles tour by bike
On our own trip to Paris, my husband Elliot and I opted to book a full-day bike-based tour to Versailles that ended up being one of our favorite experiences of our entire trip!
We booked this tour with Boutique Bike Tours, which includes a quick train ride to Versailles, a guided tour of the palace, a guided walk around the gardens and fountains, time to shop for lunch at a local market, a picnic alongside the Grand Canal at Versailles, plus time to visit the Petit Trianon and Queen's Hamlet.
It sounds like a lot to fit into just one day, but the beauty of doing this tour by bike is that none of it felt rushed!
Here's a more detailed look at this Versailles tour:
Getting to Versailles from Paris
Our tour actually began in Paris, where we met our guide at Gare Montparnasse (the Paris-Montparnasse train station). This was great, as it meant we didn't have to navigate getting to Versailles on our own. We were provided with train tickets, and traveled as a group on the fast train to Versailles – we were at the Versailles train station in about 12 minutes!
Once we arrived, it was a short walk to the spot where we picked up our bikes.
The bikes used on this tour are comfortable cruisers with a vintage look, and things like helmets and child seats (and even kids' bikes) can be provided on request.
Palace of Versailles
We cruised through the town of Versailles up to the entrance to the Château de Versailles. Here our guide Clara gave us an overview of the history of Versailles, and also laid out the plan for the day.
While some versions of this tour do the gardens and picnic first and END with a guided visit to the Palace of Versailles, our group did things the other way around, and went into the palace right when it opened at 9 a.m. Being with a licensed professional guide meant we got to skip the long ticket and entrance lines and enter the palace through a separate group entrance with no wait at all.
The palace was fairly empty first thing in the morning, and Clara took her time guiding us through all the opulent rooms and sharing (sometimes scandalous) stories about various members of the French royal family.
We saw dressing rooms and bed chambers, a chapel, and of course the famous Hall of Mirrors during our tour – which of course is only a tiny fraction of the 2300 rooms inside the grand palace.
Clara said the palace would have cost the equivalent of BILLIONS of dollars to build – and I believe it. No wonder the French people were so fed up with the aristocracy by the time the French Revolution began.
Gardens of Versailles
After our tour inside the palace, we spent about an hour outside in the Jardins du Chateau de Versailles. The gardens cover a staggering 2000+ acres, so even with an hour we only saw a small portion of them.
(And note that you don't bike in the gardens – this part of the tour is all on foot, so wear good shoes!)
We visited on a weekend, meaning all the garden's fountains were on, accompanied by baroque music (the fountains run every Saturday and Sunday from April 1-October 29, as well as every Tuesday from May 2-June 27).
It is pretty incredible to think that they engineered all these intricate fountains in the 1700s, but did not have indoor plumbing!
Versailles market shopping
From the gardens, we got back on our bikes and rode back into the center of town. There, we visited the Place du Marche Notre-Dame, the local market that dates back to the 1800s. We did a cheese tasting, and then had some time to shop for things for our picnic lunch.
This was an unexpectedly fun part of the day!
Armed with baguettes and cheese and some stealthily stashed bottles of wine, we got back on our bikes and headed back into the grounds of Versailles.
Grand Canal picnic
We rode our bikes along the Grand Canal, within a large park that's free for anyone to visit. We chose a spot along the water and set up our picnics, with blankets provided by our guide.
We enjoyed our lunch spreads in the sunshine as we watched people in little row boats paddle around the large canal. As with most meals in France, nothing was rushed.
After lunch, we got back on our bikes and rode to the Le Hameau de la Reine, or Queen's Hamlet inside the Trianon Gardens. This part of Versailles is much less visited than the main palace and gardens, meaning it wasn't crowded at all even on a busy weekend.
The Trianon Gardens include the Petit Trianon, which is a small palace that was built in the 1760s by order of Louis XV. The rumor is that he built it for his long-term mistress Madame de Pompadour.
When Louis XV died and Louis XVI took over, Louis XVI gave the Petit Trianon and its gardens to his wife, Queen Marie-Antoinette. It was Marie-Antoinette who expended the gardens and built the fairytale-esque “village” of the Queen's Hamlet, which she escaped to often with her children.
We didn't visit the Petit Trianon, but did spend time walking around the gardens and Queen's Hamlet, as our guide Clara told us lots of stories about Marie-Antoinette.
Back to Paris
After the Queen's Hamlet, we rode a bit more through the park surrounding Versailles and back into town to the train station. We got our return train tickets, and were back in Paris before dinner time!
Both Elliot and I agree that this was an excellent day trip, worth every penny of the price!
Versailles bike tour FAQ
The tour we did is the “Versailles: Food & Palace Bike Tour” with Boutique Bike Tours. The full-day tour includes train transport between Paris and Versailles, use of a bike for the day, guided visits to the Palace of Versailles and the gardens, and more.
They think of everything on this tour, from providing heatsets inside the palace to picnic blankets along the Grand Canal. (They'll provide rain ponchos in bad weather, too!) And the guides are all fantastic. (Book the same tour here.)
The tour we did costs EUR 145 ($150-$160 USD) per person.
YES, I definitely think this Versailles bike tour is worth it. Not only do you get to spend the day with a knowledgable licensed guide, but you also get to see so much more than you would if you were just visiting on foot. (Versailles is HUGE, and having a bike really helps you see more of it.)
Versailles is almost entirely flat, so the bike riding is fairly easy. You do have to ride on the road for a short while at the beginning and end of the tour, but otherwise you're riding mostly on park trails.
In total, you're maybe on a bike for a couple hours throughout the entire day. As long as you can comfortably ride a bike, you can probably manage this tour!
Along with a tip for your guide, you'll also need to pay for your picnic lunch at the local market in Versailles. You can spend as much or as little as you want (but in general you can get bread, cheese, meat, and fruit for a very reasonable price!).
Again, you can book this exact tour here. (And again, note that the exact order of when you'll see things may vary depending on the day you visit.)
(If, however, a bike tour sounds awful to you but you'd still like to do a guided tour of Versailles, another option would be this afternoon tour of Versailles with transport from Paris, or this skip-the-line palace tour that requires you to get yourself to Versailles.)
READ NEXT: 5 Days in Paris: The Perfect Paris Itinerary for Your First Visit
Is this a way you'd like to experience Versailles?
Be the first to comment