So, let's say you're in Paris. And it's all a bit overwhelming. And you just think, "Ehhhh, it takes effort to get the train that goes out to Versailles and it will probably be incredibly crowded and it's hot and I can do so much right here and crepes."
All of that is true.
But, if you don't go to Versailles, then you'll regret it and you'll miss out. Because even if, by the end of the day, you're sweaty and have blisters, you'll have been to Versailles and you get it. Because you can't understand that Versailles is Versailles! until you see it.
For one, Versailles (the palace complex, not the town...) is absolutely gigantic. You've heard that, I know, but until you're walking from the main "porch" down past all the fountains and hedged gardens, past the man-made lake, up through the tree-lined promenades, through the Trianon palaces (the retreat away from Versailles which was, in itself, meant as a retreat) and their gardens, and to Marie Antoinette's little Disneylandesque peasant village - well, that's about 45 minutes at a good clip with no stopping. There's a reason you can rent golf carts at Versailles.
Beyond the size, of course, is the architecture - the ornate, lovely architecture, Not just of the palace itself, but of the detail that went into the landscape too. Having been there, I'd be interested to hear anyone's recommendations about the film that just came out, A Little Chaos, about the landscape architects (and romance and France and period costumes) of Versailles.
And speaking of films, that's another reason to go! Films and books now make more sense. Or at least you can place it all in your mind. We watched the Kirsten Dunst Marie Antoinette right after going to Versailles the first time and it made me like that movie 50,000 times more because you knew exactly where everything was happening and could really imagine it.
Anyway, here's the breakdown, to get to Versailles you take a train about 40ish minutes out of central Paris and then a ten minute walk to the front gates. You will most likely need to stand in line, even if you already have your Paris City Passes (highly recommended) to get through security. But then you can head into the palace or choose to go through the gardens or out to the Trianons first.
You're going to be exhausted by the end of the day and every part is amazing, so I'd just choose to go wherever the crowds are thinnest first.
To the pictures!
The second time we went to Versailles was on the epic European Tour I took my parents and sister on in the summer of 2014. Going in June was much more crowded than the first time we went in September, but it had its upsides too.
One being that we had someone to take a picture of us in the crowded Hall of Mirrors instead of doing that awkward hold-camera-out-as-far-as-you-can-and-just-get-our-heads thing.
But the real big reason to go in the summer (and on the right days of the week) is so you can see the fountains! They weren't running in September when we went, but holy moly, make sure you're there to see them! Allllll 30+ of them, all featured in unique hedged enclosures with different fountain...uhhh... spraying....designs (?) and statuary. It's kind of amazing.
Then off to the Trianon Palaces - designed as a getaway from the bustle of the giant palace of Versailles. Their relative simplicity and cozy sizes in more relaxed, wildflower gardens are just perfect. I didn't really appreciate them the first time we went (because my feet were super tired by the time we got there and back), but the second time, in June, I was just completely in love with the Trianons.
It's the farthest you can get from the palace (purposefully) so I hope you bring a picnic lunch with you because you need to rest at this point to survive the hike back through the promenades, gardens, palace courtyard, and town to get back to the train station for your 40 minutes back to Paris.
Or, you know, you can actually be sane and ride around on the little trams that run between sights. But, where's the fun in that?
Long and short, go to Versailles. It takes a whole day. And it's worth it.