If you are in town for Paris, I recommend venturing outward and spending a day in Giverny and a day at Versailles. As much as I adore Paris (and hopefully will finish compiling my Paris notes soon!), there is also so much to see outside of the city. Giverny and Versailles are top of the list, both due to the ease of getting there as well as the refreshing perspectives they give. I did this trip over a weekend as a solo traveler, and it was one of the most memorable weekends during my time in Europe!
Wander the lush gardens, blooming florals, a quiet mansion and the famous water garden where the great Impressionist master Monet spent a great amount of time painting in deep contemplation. Stroll the lovely cobblestone streets of Giverny and Vernon. Then on a separate day, take in the lavish splendor of The Palace of Versailles. Explore the golden chandeliers, tapestries, furniture, with the famous Hall of Mirrors elevating that sense of grandeur even more.
About this Trip
If you are already staying in Paris, it’s easy to incorporate this into your travel plans. Both Giverny and Versailles can be easily reached by train from the Saint-Lazare station. I personally travelled in from London, and stayed at the lovely Caulaincourt Square Hostel, a bohemian-styled hostel conveniently located within a 20 minute walk from the station, making it really easy to just hop on the train and get going.
Getting to Giverny
The easiest way to get to Giverny is to pre-purchase train tickets online via sncf connect. Look for train tickets from Paris (Saint-Lazare) to Vernon-Giverny. I purchased my round-trip tickets for about 30 euros at the time, and the train ride lasted about an hour. It’s a really scenic ride, so if you can, board the train early to secure a nice window seat.
Once you arrive at Vernon-Giverny, the Monet gardens is still a bit far out. Fortunately, there is a bus that travels between the station and the Monet gardens, and you can purchase tickets on board. It’s really straightforward once you get to the station, but refer to the bus shuttle section here for the detailed timetable.
In terms of timing, I recommend departing before 9 am so you can get to the Monet Gardens when it opens and avoid the crowds. I purchased a returning train ticket for around 6pm, although I recommend returning earlier, as there’s already plenty of time to explore the area during the day, and a lot of shops, museums and restaurants were closed by 5pm, so I had to spend a lot of time wandering the empty streets of Vernon before my train arrived (it was fun though!)
Getting to Versailles
There are many different ways to get from Paris to Versailles. You can take the RER C train to the Chateau rive Gauche train station, or take the L train line from Paris Saint Lazare to Versailles Rive droite. Tickets can be easily purchased at the train station and the trains arrive frequently, so there is no need reserve tickets in advance. For me, The train ride was just under one hour from Saint-Lazare, plus a 10 minute walk from the station to the actual Palace of Versailles. It’s a very easy trip.
Before visiting the palace, make sure that you reserve your ticket online on the official Palace of Versailles ticketing website here. Online reservation is now mandatory.
Day 1: Foundation Monet, Museum of Impressionism and Vernon
Rue Claude Monet
Once you get off the train at Vernon, take the shuttle bus (as mentioned above) to get to the Monet gardens in Giverny. Upon arriving, walk and explore Rue Claude Monet, a street filled with lovely coffee shops, restaurants and cafes, to catch a quick break. I enjoyed a quiet lunch (duck breast with a glass of white wine) at Les Nymphéas, a restaurant located right near the Monet gardens. It’s overall a nice way to settle into the scene.
I’m sure you have seen or heard of the numerous impressionist works by the father of Impressionism, Monet. In the last 30 years of his life until 1926, Monet lived right here in Giverny. His estate had elaborate gardens with thousands of flowers, where he mixed daisies and poppies with rare varieties of florals, and had roses climbing over the iron arches. The gardens were his great source of inspiration, as Monet believed in the importance of surrounding himself with nature and painting outdoors.
Get a first hand experience of the gardens by visiting Foundation Monet, where you can walk around the gardens, go inside the Monet residence and view the artist’s studio.
Be sure to go across the road to explore Monet’s famous water garden, where you get to see the Japanese bridge, oriental plants, and the pond full of water lilies he adored from South America and Egypt. It’s also where he produced a great number of beautiful works, include the famous Water Lily series.
Everything is just so peaceful and beautiful here. Spring and summer times are particularly charming, with the colorful, blooming florals all around. For more info on visiting the gardens and the foundation, check out the foundation’s website here.
Musee Des Impressionnismes Givery
Right next to the Monet gardens is the Museum of Impressionism, which houses many Impressionist masterpieces and explores the art movement’s history. Here, explore not just works by Monet, but also beautiful paintings by other Impressionist artists such as Caillebotte, Bonnard and Signac. There are also curated exhibits happening throughout the year.
The museum itself is not super big, but you can definitely spend an hour or more viewing the artworks in detail. It’s a great addition to the Monet gardens, and certainly a nice way to relax and enjoy the afternoon.
Once finished with touring the Monet gardens and the Giverny area, take the bus back to Vernon (where the train station is) and explore the streets of this peaceful, quiet town right on the bank of the Seine river. It’s dependent on how much time you have to spare, but if you do have the time, walk across Pont Clemenceau and check out the Old Mill of Vernon and the Tourelles Castle.
Musée Alphonse-Georges-Poulain is another small yet charming museum to visit. It’s a local institution in an old French house, with a quaint courtyard. It’s a really quiet place to meditate on the history of this town as well as explore connections with Impressionist art.
On the other side of the Vernon station, visit Chateau de Bizy. Built in 1740, this is a magnificent castle features a water garden evoking the baroque splendors of the 18th century.
I concluded my day trip by walking into a local bar and ordering a glass of wine as I waited for the train to arrive. Despite language barriers, a few of the local residents were excited to chat and invited me to sit with them. We had a great time getting to know each other, before I returned to Paris.
Paris Night Life
With the evening to spare, spend time enjoying the night life in Paris (if you have the energy). As I was travelling solo, I decided to visit Bab Ilo, a local jazz club. It’s located in a downstairs room, with unique decor and a great cocktails menu. It’s a hidden gem with a very intimate and friendly vibe, welcoming groups, duos, and solos alike. I definitely recommend checking it out if you are in the area!
Day 2: The Palace of Versailles
As the formal royal residence renowned for its architectural grandeur and political history, the Palace of Versailles is perhaps one of the most popular destinations in the world. You definitely have to be prepared to wade through some crowds, especially at the more famous sites such as the Hall of Mirrors. It may also be nice to book a professional tour to learn about Versailles in detail, though it’s certainly optional. I visited the palace solo, and had to pace myself to see everything there! Below are a the highlights worth exploring:
A grand palace with beautiful ornaments, elaborate rooms, refined courtyards and gardens, the Grand Trianon was commissioned by Louis XIV in 1670 to get away from the arduous royal life. It stands as the architectural hallmark of the Palace of Versailles.
Explore the royal apartments which includes the Mirror Room and the Chapel Room, the Peristyle that connects the two wings of the Grand Trianon, the State Apartments and the Emperor’s Private Chambers, with numerous rooms that bring you back in time to experience the former glory of the royal residence. For more details, definitely check out all the Grand Trianon highlights here.
The Petit Trianon
This is my favorite spot. The Petit Trianon is a Neoclassical style château built in 1762, known for its lavish interiors laced with refined taste for objects and furniture. In 1774, the 20-year-old Louis XVI gave this château to none other but his 19-year-old Queen Marie Antoinette, for her exclusive use and enjoyment.
Here is where you can appreciate Marie Antoinette’s taste for fine things. From lavish cutlery sets (including the famous “pearls and cornflowers”) in the Silverware room, to wood paneling by Honoré Guibert, and turquin blue marble fireplace by Jacques-François Dropsy in the main dining room, lush and golden details are thoughtfully placed every where.
The Royal Palace
As the highlight of it all, the Royal Palace is considered as one of the greatest achievements in French 17th century art. The Palace contains some 2,300 rooms and is absolutely an impressive work of architecture, art, and time. It’s overwhelming to explore it all, but some of the major highlights include the famous Hall Of Mirrors, the Gallery Of Battles, the Empire Rooms and the Royal Chapel. Every turn of the corner is impressive, so savor the time you have here. The crowds can also make it overwhelming, so be sure you are also mentally prepared for that!
Gardens of Versailles and Other
Head outdoors to explore the perfectly maintained, intricate gardens of the palace. Then, as you exit the grounds of Versailles, explore the streets and the many lovely restaurants and cafes. There’s plenty of them along Rue de Satory, and spend some time relaxing before heading back to Paris. For me, this is when I wrapped up my trip and started on my journey straight back to London.
I personally really enjoyed this short trip out of Paris to Giverny and Versailles. It’s also why I decided to make it my first Europe post! It’s a perfect mix of beautiful countryside gardens with the magnificent grandeur of the royal palace, and you really get to explore all the wonderful scenes the world has to offer.