Chateau de Versailles
Chateau de Versailles is probably the most famous of all the French chateaux. It is immense, opulent, and represents everything you imagine a French royal palace should be.
The site was originally a hunting lodge built by King Louis XIII in 1624 when the town of Versailles was a long way from Paris. The lodge was expanded into a palace over the centuries and in 1682 the French Royal Court was officially moved from Paris to Versailles.
The main chateau itself is 67,000m2/721,180sq ft and has 2,300 rooms. The chateau is set in the 800 ha. Gardens of Versailles which also house a number of other buildings including two smaller palaces.
The chateau is probably most famous for being home to Marie-Antoinette and Louis the XVI and as the location for the start of the French Revolution and is perfect for a day trip from Paris.
What to see
The chateau is simply outstanding. If you are only going to see only one chateau in France then this is probably a good contender.
The chateau itself will take several hours to walk through. On busy days (peak holiday times, weekends and Tuesdays) it can be best to leave the chateau until the end, but make sure you leave enough time to do it properly. There is an audio guide (available in English) included with your entry ticket.
The formal gardens of the main chateau are considered to be one of the finest examples of formal French gardens. Designed by Andre le Notre, the most famous of French landscapers the formal gardens are immaculately laid out with beautifully manicured trees, fantastic fountains, and a range of geometric shapes. The gardens are probably best viewed from the top floor of the chateau (or from Google Earth) but when walking through them you can imagine what it would have been like to in the palace.
The Grand Canal is in the public gardens and more information is available here.
The Grand Trianon was built by King Louis XIV in the 1680's as a place for him and his family to escape the royal court which was housed in the main chateau.
The smaller Petit Trianon was originally built by King Louis XV in the 1760's however its fame relates to Marie-Antoinette who was given the palace after her marriage to King Louis XVI. She extensivelly remodelled the place and the gardens and the Petit Trianon gives an interesting insight into the style and preferences of Marie-Antoinette.
Not to be missed is the Queens Hamlet in the grounds of the Petit Trianon. Marie-Antoinette had a full size English Country village built where she and her friends would play as milk maids and the like.
The Petit Trianon and the Grand Trianon are accessible by foot (15 - 20 minutes walk from the main Chateau) or by tourist train from the bottom of the chateau's gardens.
There are a number of ticket prices available which include different parts of the chateau.
Things to do
How to get there
The easiest way to get to Chateau de Versialles is by the RER C line.
Take the C line (the yellow RER line) from anywhere in Paris (Gare d'Austerlitz, St-Michel Notre-Dame, Musee d'Orsay, Invalides, Pont de l'Alma, Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel) in the direction of Versilles. The train will say either Versailles Rive Gauche or Chateau de Versailles. Be careful catching this train because not every train heading in this direction through Paris goes to Chateau Versailles. YOU DO NOT WANT TO CATCH THE RER TO VERSAILLES CHANTIERS. The Chateau de Versailles stop is the last stop on the line. It makes sense to buy your return ticket as soon as you exit the train at Versailles or at the same time as your ticket to Versailles as the line for tickets at the end of the day can be quite long. All trains leaving The Chateau de Versailles station go to Paris.
You cannot use the Paris Metro T+ ticket to get there. You need a zone ticket.
When you exit the RER station the road in front is Avenue du General de Gaulle. Turn right and walk for one block. The first road you come to is Avenue de Paris. Turn left and the Chateau entrance is in front of you.
There are two offices that allow you to buy tickets before you get to the Chateau itself. One is on Avenue du General de Gaulle almost across from the RER station, the other is the tourist office as you enter Avenue de Paris. These offices charge a small premium (between 1 - 2 Euro) but the lines are often a lot shorter than the line at the chateau. You can also buy tickets online before you go.
Approximate Distance from Paris: 20km/12.4mi
Time to get there: about 30 minutes on the RER plus 5 minutes walk.
Transport Method: RER C line to 'Versailles Rive Gauche'
Approximate Price: Entrance to the chateau is from 15 Euro per person, RER is 3.25 Euro per person each way
Worth: A whole day. Get there early and plan to stay the whole day.
Website: http://www.chateauversailles.fr (available in English)