The first and only other time I visited France was in 2003 on a trip with some other people from my high school. It was fine. We were only in the country for a few days and we were bound to various pre-planned tourist trips. It was fine. We did go to Versailles, though. I remember it being big and nice but not particularly exciting: it’s an old palace with some old art and some gardens. Cool? Not really. I also recall us only being there for two hours or so, a limited amount of time in between destinations.
What a shame, I thought to myself while at Versailles a week ago, because a day trip to the former palace is one of the best things you can do while visiting Paris (and France in general). People may gripe that it’s too touristy and annoying—but I assure you it is worth the trip. Once you past the winding, disgustingly long line at the entrance, you are in for a full day of activity if you allow yourself to.
Once inside, quickly pass through the downstairs of the house tour: you can always come back inside later, as we made the fortunate mistake of during our visit. I say this because you want to spend the majority of your day roaming the gardens. They’re the real reason for the visit.
First, there are the pretty fountains and rad installations, this go around from Anish Kapoor. More on this later. These gardens are a marvel but aren’t quite the best of the best: they’re all for show. By the time you make it to the tip of the The Grand Canal, you’ll actually be starting your trip.
Start by grabbing a nice nineties feast in the empty La Petite Venise. You will wish that someone gives the place a makeover—And it desperately needs one.—but it’s a great energizer, bathroom break, and booze stop before a long ass hike around the grounds. You can also stop into the adjacent boutique so that you don’t have to stop again for your gifts. The shop is pretty meh but it does have the requisite Versaille memorabilia that make good gifts.
Then, onward! If you’d like to rent a bike to roam the grounds, you can grab one from a station near Le Petite. This is a great opportunity for covering the most ground in the shortest amount of time. Most of the bike areas are shaded so you probably won’t be a sweaty mess. It’s nice! Or, you could walk, which is what we did and what I suggest if you plan to take on The Grand Trianon.
The Grand Trianon is where it’s at. This mini-Versailles and glorified “country home” for the royals is a Versaille within the Versaille with gardens that actually feel wild and many hidden sculptures, fountains, and natural scenes. Unlike Versailles proper, everything in The Grand Trianon is ready for you to get up close and personal with. You could basically walk into a fountain and no one will care. It’s great—and there aren’t a lot of people here either since most tourist only make it to the tip of The Grand Canal. This place also requires a separate ticket entirely, one that most people pay for without knowing they did. So, go here.
From here, head on to Petite Trianaon. You can’t go in here but you can walk around these gardens. If you’re savvy, you can take a secret path near the chapel and take a peek in the windows: you’ll see Versailles behind the curtain, which includes lots of room full of junk and you will realize how costly and crazy it must be to upkeep such a large garden. It’s great to put things into perspective, you know?
Now you are in the main attraction: Marie Antoinette’s Estate. She’s the only reason why most people visit, right? Right. So, stomp around her grounds! Walk past the milky jade stream to The Temple Of Love in The English Garden. Wander down the road to some weird ass country village that was the Queen’s Hamlet. Beyond this, you’ll find the best part of Versailles: a fucking farm and French petting zoo.
This was just the best part: a fucking zoo farm something. No one realizes these animals are here—since it’s so far back in the property—which means you get front row seats to extra furry French rabbits, weird and ornate French chickens, fat fucking French pigs, French goats and French sheep and French cows—and even a French dog. The map you get will lead you astray here as you realize it is not to scale: that’s fine. Point at a building in the distance and forge a path toward it—and head back to the tip of The Grand Canal.
This is the second best part: you can rent a row boat and tour the canal. Only a handful of people actually do this and, really, only a handful of people make it beyond the initial enclave of the Canal. For less than 20€, you can row around for an hour and go from tip to tip of the canal, which is what we (Well, I.) did since I wanted to be sure to make it to the other end of the Canal. It was worth it. My hands were fucked for a few days from massaging oars for an hour but, hey, it was worth the view and the aquatic cool down. If you are fine with rowing, you are going to love this.
From here, take in all the Kapoors (or whoever is installed on the grounds). Kapoor brings a wonderfully bizarre energy to the grounds since all of his works are gaping holes, signs of masculinity that are so ridiculous and appropriate given all the Louises of Versailles ridiculous assertions of power by building that ground: the hyper-masculinity of the artwork seems well suited for the space. Works like the aggressive whirlpool that is Descension will envelop you while Sky Mirror allows you to take a view of yourself and the world around you. Then there is Sectional Body preparing for Monadic Singularity that, yes, maintains his man madness but allows you to wander around within it, to touch it and to encounter its oddity: it’s a giant read hole in the middle of a lush field. The color plays here are great.
Now, make your way to Versailles proper before leaving. Tell a guard that you accidentally exited and you’ll then exit and make your re-entry through a lineless main gate. So long as you make your way before here by 5:30P, you will be able to tour the upper floor of the Versaille which includes the sanctuary, the king’s bedroom, various giant art rooms, and—of course—the Hall Of Mirrors. It will be a packed tourist mess of smells and sweaty people but, hey, you get to see absurd French opulence at its finest.
Versailles is a great reprieve from Paris. It’s a brief break from urbanity and gets you out of the city without actually going that far. The train is affordable (But confusing.) to get here and there is literally something for everyone on the grounds: you can be artsy, you can be athletic, you can be lazy, you can be posh—you can do it all. That’s why Versailles is the best.