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The gardens at Versailles

Home > Paris > Escape the City | Free | Gardens | Parks | Walks
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published December 29th 2014
The Sun King's fabulous gardens open free - acres of space for all to explore. The gardens at Versailles are expansive, magnificent, well-laid out and well-tended. Commissioned in 1661, replanted in 1992 and devastated by storms in 1999, these gardens are a fantastic resource for all nature lovers, from joggers to birdspotters, families on an afternoon stroll to those taking in all aspects of the palace complex.

Entering by the right hand side of the palace you can breeze right in and enjoy the space (although there are other gates around the complex). You're confronted by a grand vista of the sweeping slope down to the grand canal.

versailles, gardens, paris
View down to the grand canal


At the start of this great waterway lies the Fountain of Apollo, a complex piece designed by Charles Le Brun, cast between 1668 and 1670, gilded and placed to shine in splendour in the gardens.

versailles, gardens, paris
The Fountain of Apollo


The sweeping parterres which form the wings of the garden break out into myriad avenues and groves. Many of these might be closed, but frequent side paths take you into maze-like botanical constructions, where the plants themselves are imposing, and channel you towards surprise installations in their centres.

versailles, gardens, paris
Path into a grove


The grounds are extensive, and you may find yourself needing facilities. There are formal constructions such as gift shops and even a watersports club, as well as toilets, and stalls selling baked potatoes or mulled wine in the autumn, and more seasonal fare at other times of year.

versailles, gardens, paris, mulled, wine
Mulled wine in the gardens


This garden includes less formal areas too, and as you wander you stumble across gentle paths winding across the lawns, and trees strewn around.

versailles, gardens, paris
A less formal pathway


On entry you're warned that the parks are large. To be fair, if you're reasonably fit , it's easy enough to get by on foot; you're unlikely to walk more than a kilometre before stopping. The journey is worth the effort as you get a chance to savour the surroundings. If, however, you do want to speed up the travelling, or are not in a position to walk so far, you have several choices. Possibly most fun is the small train which potters around.

versailles, gardens, paris
A train to take you around the gardens


You can hire mini buggies. You must produce your driving licence to do this, and they're not cheap, but they give you the freedom to explore the park at your own pace. If you don't have much luggage, you can also hire a bicycle, which would let you speed around the flat spaces and still enjoy the fresh air motivated by your own efforts.

versailles, gardens, paris
Buggies to drive around in


As you head back to the main palace there are more stunning fountains reflected majestically in the still pools. The Water Avenue includes both the Dragon Fountain and Neptune Fountain. The latter has an amazing 58 jets and 147 hydraulic effects, ready to surprise you with its water output. Statues have been set down by Louis XV, rare examples of his effects between the better known Louis XIV and Louis XVI.

versailles, gardens, paris
Neptune fountain and estate


Moving from the Water Avenue towards the house is the pyramid fountain. Behind these, the South Parterre includes landscaped box trees, an orangerie with 1080 trees and Swiss pond.

versailles, gardens, paris
Pyramid fountain


Keep an eye open for the wildlife, finally, as sharp eyes will spot all kinds of birds, mammals and insects enjoying these gardens too!

versailles, gardens, paris
Jackdaw in the autumn trees


Next to the house is a wifi spot letting you download the app for the gardens. This will help to enhance your appreciation of the gardens and help you orientate yourself better. Clear free maps will otherwise help you find your way around, and visit the paid sites enclosed within the gardens, whether the striking Grand and Petit Trianon or the rustic hamlet farm.

The gardens are free to enter and you will find plenty of joggers running around the park. With its broad, long boulevards and glorious avenues over reasonably flat terrain, I can't imagine a more beautiful place to get some exercise.
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Why? France's royal park for free
When: depends on the season, check the website
Where: Versailles
Cost: free
Your Comment
There is nothing better than finding a mulled wine cart in the middle of winter while exploring an unfamiliar city!
by Laura Turner (score: 2|476) 1055 days ago
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