It is impossible to resist Versailles, a city steeped in history that attracts almost 10 million visitors each year. Just a short train ride away from HEC Paris, the RER C line not only takes you to Versailles in 10 minutes, it also transports you back to the 18th century. With its carriages decorated to look like rooms of the Versailles Chateau, you will feel as if you are sitting beside Marie Antoinette herself. Here is a list of must-dos and hidden gems that are favorites among HEC staff and students.
1 Chateau de Versailles
There is a reason the Chateau is number one on this list. Get lost in the endless rooms filled with exquisite paintings and handcrafted furniture, and make sure to pick up the free audio guide not to miss details such as how the King never slept in his own bed!
Must-sees around the palace are the Hall of Mirrors, where you get a taste of the residents’ decadent lifestyles (it is also where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1918 ending World War I), and the Hameau de la Reine, a rustic hamlet used by Marie Antoinette to escape the burdens of court life.
Good news for EU residents under 26. Access to the Chateau is free for you all year round. The Chateau is also free on the first Sunday of every month between November and March. Otherwise, tickets start at 12€. If you want to beat the (often lengthy) queues, we recommend booking your tickets in advance.
If the decadent lifestyle of the bourgeois captures your heart, attend the chateau’s annual Grand Masquerade Ball. Sip champagne dressed in petticoats and powdered wigs and you’ll understand why court life was so decadent. See photos from the 2018 ball here.
If Marie Antoinette’s famous words “qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (“let them eat cake”) are ringing in your ears as you leave the chateau, there are numerous patisseries in the city to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Angelina’s in the chateau gardens offers an indulgent choice of pastries and desserts. Make sure to try the hot chocolate, which was first introduced in France at the wedding of Louis XIII in 1615. The chateau also boasts a mini Ladurée, world famous for its macarons.
3 Marché de Notre Dame
If the tearooms don’t tickle your fancy, head to the Marché de Notre Dame. There you can buy incredibly fresh produce that’s perfect for a picnic at the chateau’s gardens. First established by Louis XIII in 1634, the market has played a significant role in the city for centuries. You will find stalls overflowing with everything from cheese to fish to flowers.
4 Gardens of Versailles
With picnic firmly in hand, head to the gardens of Versailles. With some 800 hectares of land, there are plenty of beautiful fountains, sculptures and hidden corners to keep you entertained for hours. If you haven’t brought your walking shoes, consider renting a bike (from 6.50€) or a golf cart (from 34€) to cross the grounds. If you prefer a more leisurely pace, boats are available to hire from 13€ –but be sure to bring a friend to help with the rowing! The gardens are free to enter year around except during shows such as the Musical Fountains Show and Musical Gardens Show.
5 Fireworks at the Chateau
On Saturdays throughout the summer and into September, the Musical Fountain Show is held during daylight hours, followed by a glorious fireworks display that can be heard all the way from HEC Paris. Watch the lights dance in the fountains in time to music then the fireworks light up the sky above the chateau.
6 Performances during “Le Mois Molière”
During the month of June, theatre performances take place in various spaces throughout Versailles. With over 300 performances covering different genres and aimed at all age groups, you are sure to find a performance to make you laugh (or cry!).
If theater doesn’t call out to you, the Centre de Musique Baroque organises free musical events every Thursday in the Royal Chapel of the Chateau de Versailles. Each Thursday is a different theme.
7 Eating Out
After exploring Versailles all day, there is nowhere better for sophisticated French dining than the Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay au Trianon. Celebrating? Try the elegant seven-course prestige menu carefully selected by Ramsay and his executive chef Frederic Larquemin–but make sure to reserve early!
La Table du 11 also boasts an exquisite five- or seven-course tasting menu in the evening with each course presented more beautifully than the last.
A la Ferme, another gem of Versailles, offers authentic and delicious French cooking in a rustically styled restaurant, perfect after a long day of walking around the Gardens and exploring the markets.
Versailles has much to offer, no matter the budget, making it the perfect weekend escape. The Chateau also offers a One Year in Versailles Card which, for only 50€, gives you a year of access to the estate, all temporary exhibitions, and discounts for many of the things included in this article such as 7% off at Angelina’s and 20% of boat hire. Make the most of this beautiful city that is right on your doorstep!