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Visit the Gardens of Versailles
The Gardens of Versailles are a key component of the Royal Residence of Versailles. Arguably one of the most beautiful gardens in Ile-de-France (and the world!), the Gardens at Versailles are the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of Paris.
Most people visit the Versailles Gardens as part of their visit to the Versailles Estate. They are already tired of the château visit (and the crowds), and they don’t have much time left. The truth is that Versailles Gardens are so beautiful, and with so many things to see and do that they can be a destination by itself.
In this post, we tell you all about the Versailles Gardens: what to do and what to see, with a map to help you pinpoint all these Versailles spots.
Plan Your Trip to Versailles
The Versailles Estate
The Versailles Estate covers a surface of 800Ha, and it is divided into different areas:
- Palace of Versailles
- Trianon Palaces and Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet
- Formal Gardens (known as Petit Parc)
- The Grand Canal
- Park (known as Grand Parc)
You can move through the different parts of Versailles by bike, except in the Petit Parc, where you can only walk or use the electric cars available for rent at the water parterres.
Access to the Versailles Gardens:
- From the Palace, through the Cour des Princes (on the left side of the Palace)
- From Boulevard de la Reine, through the Queen’s Fence, then the Neptune Fence (north)
- From the Grand Canal, through the Petite Venise Fence (east) and Ménagerie Fence (west)
This article covers only the formal Gardens of Versailles (Petit Parc), but you can navigate to other parts of the Versailles Estate from this post.
History of Versailles Gardens
For King Louis XIV, the Gardens of Versailles were as important as the Royal Palace. That’s why in 1661 commissioned André Le Nôtre to design the layout of the gardens and decoration.
André Le Nôtre was the most famous landscape designer of the time, creator of the French-style garden’s typology. Amongst his most famous works, we can find the Gardens of Château de Chantilly, the Gardens of Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, or the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, just to name a few.
For such an important project, André Le Nòtre had the best team ever: Jean-Baptiste Colbert – superintendent of the King’s buildings – did the site and construction management; Charles Le Brun – the King’s First Painter – designed the statues and fountains; and there was also Louis XIV, who liked to supervise the works and all the details.
The works to build the most magnificent gardens out of a land occupied by meadows and marshes were titanic and lasted forty years. Thousands of men, sometimes even entire regiments, took part in this immense project.
But perhaps the main challenge was the water supply in a place far from any water source. To solve the problem, the King’s engineers invented the Machine de Marly, which transported water from the Seine River to Versailles through a network of wheels, pumps, pipes, and an aqueduct. At that time, the Machine de Marly was known as the Eighth World Wonder.
The Royal Promenade
The King’s promenades in the gardens, especially in the Petit Parc, were incessant, and we know that it was his delight to show the gardens to his visitors, taking them personally round the parterres, displaying the extent of the views, and explaining the beauties of the sculptures and the fountains.
To visit the gardens, Louis XIV imagined a tour guide, and he wrote it personally: La Manière de Montrer Les Jardins de Versailles (the way to show the Gardens of Versailles).
From the Palace of Versailles to the Apollo Fountain, this document is a tour guide and a technical manual to manage the fountains’ water display. It especially allowed the hydrant men to open the fountains as visitors approached and close them as soon as they could not see them. One needed to be very close to the King actually to see the fountains work!
The King used to do this Royal Promenade on foot, or in his old age, in a small chariot, and often these promenades would include a concert or a ballet in one of the grooves, a collation served by lamplight, and the spectacle of firework illuminations by the Grand Canal.
You can read or purchase the Royal Promenade online, and it is interesting to do it as a self-guided tour, following the King’s steps and reading his comments at each stop.
Shows at the Gardens of Versailles
From October to the end of March, the Versailles Gardens are free to visit, and there are lesser crowds. But some of the grooves are closed, and the fountains don’t work.
The best time to visit Versailles Gardens is from April to the end of September, when the days are longer, the gardens are in full bloom, and all the grooves are open to visitors.
During this time, you can also see the shows in the gardens: Versailles Musical Gardens, the Musical Fountains Show, and the Night Fountains Show.
There’s an entrance ticket to the gardens, and you can buy the Gardens of Versailles tickets alone or in combination with other parts of the Versailles Estate (click here for the best Versailles bundles).
LES GRANDES EAUX MUSICALES (THE MUSICAL FOUNTAINS SHOW)
Explore the gardens and grooves while listening to Baroque music and watch the fountains’ water display with special effects.
Days: Tuesdays (some dates), Saturdays, and Sundays.
LES JARDINS MUSICAUX (VERSAILLES MUSICAL GARDENS)
Wander through the Gardens of Versailles while listening to the beautiful sounds of Baroque music. This show does not include the fountains’ water display.
Days: Tuesdays (some dates), and Fridays.
LES GRANDES EAUX NOCTURES (NIGHT FOUNTAINS SHOW)
At night, fountains and groves come alive with colorful and dramatic lighting effects. The show ends with a grand finale, a fireworks display in front of the Grand Canal.
Days: every Saturday from the end of June to the end of September, from 8.30 pm to 11.05 pm. The final fireworks start at 10.50 pm.
Versailles Gardens Map and Top Sights
The Gardens at Versailles are a key component of the Royal Residence, and they surround the Palace on three sides. The Gardens follow the French-style garden’s typology, an open system of axial pathways extending as far as the eye can see and punctuated with flowers and low hedges, flower beds, small streams, large lakes, and fountains.
Today, the Gardens of Versailles provide the perfect location for a stroll out of the capital. However, it takes quite a while to see the Versailles Gardens in detail, so it may be a good idea to have a plan of what areas you wish to visit.
These are, in our opinion, the Versailles Gardens’ main sights, all marked on the Gardens of Versailles map here below:
1. La Grande Perspective
The Gardens of Versailles are organized around two axis, north-south, and east-west. The east-west axis is also known as the Grande Perspective.
The Grande Perspective starts at the Palace and goes through the water parterre (the two water basins at the foot of the Palace), Latona Fountain, the Royal Way, Apollo Bassin, and the Grand Canal.
The Grand Canal’s layout at Versailles spans a very long distance (3 km) with a relatively little difference of level (30m). The result is a flat vision with excessive optical shortening.
To compensate for the visual shortening of distant parts and achieve an impression of grandeur and dynamic balance, Le Nôtre used the technique of anamorphosis or metric distension: the farther away the geometrical figures are, the longer and wider need to be. To do this, all the elements of this Grande Perspective are placed within two angular sectors that determine their design. The result is spectacular!
Fountains and other water features play an essential role at the Gardens of Versailles. They are part of the gardens’ layout and decoration, but they are also a sensory pleasure, as the sound of running water is very relaxing.
The Gardens of Versailles without the fountains running is half of the fun, like a good meal without salt. So if you are going to visit Versailles only once in your life, do it during one of the Versailles Fountain shows to see the Versailles Gardens as its best.
There are many fountains and water features in the Versailles Gardens. However, the top three fountains that you should not miss are Latona Fountain (#2), Apollo Fountain (#3), and Neptune Fountain (#4), and they are marked on the map of Versailles Gardens.
The Grooves of Versailles
The Grooves of Versailles Gardens are delimited spaces (sometimes secluded spaces) designed as open-air saloons for court entertainments. These grooves are adorned with fountains, vases, and statues, and they introduced an element of surprise or fantasy within the Gardens of Versailles.
There are different kinds of grooves, and it is fun to get lost and explore as many grooves as you can. Most of the grooves – the most secluded ones – are closed during the wintertime, and they only open during the garden shows. If you want to see most of the grooves, visit the Versailles Gardens in spring or summer.
What are the best Grooves in Versailles? We especially like the Queen’s Groove (#5), the Colonnade Groove (#6), or the Enceladus Groove (#8), while some people prefer the most spectacular Apollo’s Bath Groove (#7). All these grooves, except the Queen’s Groove, are closed in the winter.
And there you have it, the best of Versailles Gardens, map and best tips included, for a wonderful visit to the Gardens of Versailles.
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