I’m just realizing this now, but I kind of have an obsession with castles….
So no, Versailles isn’t exactly a castle, but a palace is close enough. And it has always been at the top of my bucket list. The insane extravagance and beauty of the estate has always been something I wanted to see in person.
Once we had the dates of our trip booked around the marathon, however, I wasn’t sure we would be able to fit it in. You absolutely need a full day to visit Versailles and between our original travel plans, the expo, and the marathon, the only full days we had were Saturday and Monday… and the palace is closed on Mondays.
A general rule of thumb is also that you aren’t supposed to walk a quarter of a billion miles the day before you run a marathon.
#YOLO <– A feeling I think Marie Antoinette would agree with
We ended up booking a bike tour anyway. The more and more I thought about it, I decided I would be pretty crushed if I didn’t get to see Versailles.. I mean, there are always more trips, but the bike tour I found sounded perfect for us and I knew we would find some other way to avoid taking it easy anyway… so I might as well spend it doing something I really want to do.
And it ended up being THE. BEST.
We booked through Bike About Tours and our guide was named Rick. There are a handful of other bike companies in the area that offer basically the exact tour, but I was so happy with our guide that I can’t recommend them enough!
Rick was a hilarious tour guide and very down-to-earth. He knew his facts inside and out, but also was great about being very laid back and telling us about his life as an expat from New York.
We met the tour group in front of Notre Dame Cathedral at 8:45 am and then rode as a group on the RER train that took us on a 40-ish minute ride into Versailles.
Once there we picked up our bikes and rode over to a little market to buy the food we needed for a picnic.
We got about 45 minutes to shop in the market, get some breakfast, and then meet back at the bikes. Rick pointed out places that they recommend for baguettes, wine, etc, but let us go off on our own. I was very thankful that there was no hounding for us to buy from certain vendors like we had experienced on tours in the past.
We bought a bottle of wine (duh), 2 baguettes, a couple pastries, 2 cheeses, and 2 types of meat. And a crepe, of course 😀
After we bought our items, we loaded up our baskets and we were off to Versailles. EEEEE!!!
We entered through the gardens first, rode through some cobblestones, and then parked our bikes.
We had to pay to enter the Versailles gardens (not included in the Museum Pass we had) and from here we saw the infamous Bassin d’Apollon fountain, La Colonnade with the “Abduction of Persephone”, a dancing fountain and a few other remote gardens.
The same gardens ticket also gets you into the gardens directly behind the palace, AND Marie Antoinette’s estate. So, definitely worthy of the $10.
Now, even though you have to pay to enter the gardens and buy a 2nd ticket to enter the actual estate, the rest of the area (which is HUGE) including the Grand Canal is open to the public.
I really could NOT get over is how many people were out running/walking/cycling around in the public area of Versailles. SERIOUSLY. ‘Oh, yeah, that big ol’ palace? I blow snot rockets there every Saturday. NBD.’
Once we were finished in the gardens (we saw a lot, but it was still only a small portion!), we grabbed our bikes, and headed over to the Grand Canal.
There was no rain, but the day was pretty dreary. I can only imagine how beautiful it would be on a sunny day once everything has bloomed. It was also kind of awkward sitting on the ground to eat, but I absolutely loved it. I had a freaking picnic at Versailles. With wine. And cheese.
Afterwards Rick took us through Marie Antoinette’s estate which was her home away from home to escape palace life.
The area was just beautiful. It is exactly like a little storybook land.
Once we finishing touring the estate, the Temple of Love, and Petit Trianon (small palace where Marie Antoinette often lived), we road back to the bike storage and dropped off our bikes. Rick walked us back to Versailles and here we were on our own.
It was now about 4:30 pm and it was just time to enter the estate… And absolutely no line!
My only semi-complaint about the tour is that after a full day, we were kind of exhausted touring the actual estate. However, I know the crowds are far better in the late afternoon and we already had exploring the gardens out of the way. Plus, hitting the gardens first meant we were the only people in certain areas. It made the estate seem even that much more expansive.
There were so many rooms to see that we ended just passing through so many of them (lots and lots of art), but lingering in the main attractions –
Hall of Mirrors-
Marie Antoinette’s room-
Once you walk through the palace, you exit into the gardens:
We then headed back to the train.. after all we did have a marathon to run in about 14 hours.
I would have preferred to linger a little more (and man, I wish it had been a beautiful sunny day!), but it was still bucket-list-check-off-worthy! You really need 2 days to fully explore (1 day for the estate, 1 day just for the gardens!).
Now: Neuschwanstein versus Versailles?
I loved both. And it is like comparing apples to oranges. Versailles was stunning and its sheer grandeur is incredible: the gardens, the art, the history! However, I will say that Neuschwanstein had more items/rooms of just draw-dropping intricate beauty… more gold, more jewels.. plus not to mention the magnificent views of the castle and surrounding it.
Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors:
Marie Antoinette’s bedroom:
King Ludwig’s bedroom:
Dinner was simple. We planned on going out, but we were exhausted. We ended up just eating the happy hour food in the hotel’s lounge. Cheese, small finger sandwiches, assorted charcuterie, and champagne <– the meal of champions.