What would Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles be without its French garden? Bring your map of the Estate and let yourself be guided. In the hands of gardener André Le Nôtre and his assistants, walks, parterres, statues and fountains were created to make the gardens of Versailles a work of art in their own right.
Duration of visit
Allow for 2 hours. The gardens are open from 8 a.m. to 5.30, 6 or 8.30 p.m..
View detailed times
Every season, but avoiding days when the Musical Fountains Show or Musical Gardens are being held.
(these take place most Tuesdays, Fridays and weekends between March and October. In this case, follow the Gardens and Groves itinerary).
The fountains are switched off, the groves closed and the statues covered in the low season to ensure optimal conditions of conservation.
Access to the gardens is free except on days of Grandes Eaux Fountain Displays or Musical Gardens.
A garden in the French style for the Sun King
Starting in 1661, Louis XIV embarked on the vast project of creating his estate of Versailles. Work on the gardens developed in parallel to the transformation and enlargement of the Palace, over a period of more than forty years. The Sun King was closely involved in the creation of his gardens and followed the plans of his gardener, André Le Nôtre. The latter, in charge of a colossal site, tamed the surrounding woods and marshes, and levelled the land to transform Louis XIII's small garden into an immense garden in the French manner. In this style, which was highly prized in the seventeenth century and derived from the fashion for Italian gardens, the omnipresence of symmetry and order illustrates the domestication of nature by man. Plants as architecture and series of sculptures, together with the hydraulic systems concurred to make the gardens the settings for festivals and for taking promenades, as well as a clear reflection of royal power.
As proof of his attachment to his gardens, at the end of his reign Louis XIV wrote Manière de montrer les jardins de Versailles (‘How to show the gardens of Versailles’). You can find this text in the educational resources of the Palace of Versailles. Louis XIV’s promenades were also the subject of numerous paintings, such as the one painted by Etienne Allegrain in 1688.
Download or take a map of the Versailles Estate from one of the information desks at the Palace or at the Palaces of Trianon.
On the map of the Estate, the various areas of the gardens are annotated with a number which appears between square brackets [no.] along the itinerary.
The Orangery and Leto's Fountain
From the Palace, you reach the gardens from the Princes’ Courtyard. Cross this first terrace and observe the patterns of the formal garden of the South Parterre , below you, in the distance, there is the Lake of the Swiss Guard. Descend by crossing the South Parterre to enjoy a new viewpoint, this time of the parterre of the Orangery  and its motifs of volutes. Built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1684, the Orangery is home to nearly 1,500 orange trees, lemon trees, palms and other species.
Go back towards the Palace to reach the Water Parterre  aat the foot of the Hall of Mirrors. This parterre consists of two large rectangular pools in which the light is reflected as from a mirror. At the corners of the pools, the statues are allegories of the rivers of France: the female ones are of tributary rivers and the male ones of rivers that reach the sea. At the Water Parterre, if you turn your back to the Palace, you face the Grande Perspective designed by André Le Nôtre.
Observe the effect of visual surprise planned by the king’s gardener…
Start from the facade of the Palace and walk between the two pools of the Water Parterre in the direction of the Grand Canal. Let yourself be surprised by the features you discover as you walk along: the Grand Canal, Apollo’s Fountain, the Great Lawn and, finally, the parterre and Leto’s Fountain. Like a symmetric axis, the Grande Perspective crosses all the gardens and the Park. The optical effects and desire to surprise are characteristics of the French-style garden that the king’s gardener mastered to perfection.
Go down as far as Leto's Fountain , taking the central stairway or lateral ramps.
In the iconographic programme of the gardens of Versailles, the characters of Greco-Roman mythology and their adventures serve to embody values and illustrate ideas. While the sculptures of the heroes and gods of antiquity have a decorative purpose, they also make it possible to convey messages, in particular to the members of the Court. Louis XIV identified himself with Apollo, god of the sun and of the arts, which he embodied through the statues in the gardens.
In 1689, Jules Hardouin-Mansart completed Leto’s Fountain, one of the centrepieces of the Grande Perspective. The sculpted marble group of Leto and her Children dominating amphibians and peasants of gilded lead, illustrates an episode from the childhood of Apollo, narrated by Ovid in Book VI of Metamorphoses. Leto, the mother of Apollo and Diana, persuaded Jupiter to punish some peasants who were preventing them from quenching their thirst by transforming them into frogs. A wide range of skills were called into play to restore the fountain in 2013.
Following the line of the Grande Perspective, go to the beginning of the Great Lawn . Look for the “King’s Viewpoint”, from where you can take in the four basins of the Seasons just by turning your head: Flora (34 – Spring), Ceres (36 –Summer), Bacchus (31 – Autumn) and Saturn (30 – Winter). It’s a little tricky but well worth the effort! Then continue along the length of the Great Lawn.
The Great Lawn
The Royal Way is also called the “Great Lawn”, because of the turf strip that runs along the middle. It measures 335 metres long by 40 metres wide. It was laid out under Louis XIII, but Le Nôtre had it broadened and added twelve statues and twelve vases, placed in symmetrical pairs.
The gardens of Versailles constitute a work of art in their own right, but one that is constantly evolving. Their maintenance is undertaken by a team of gardeners with know-how passed down over the centuries. The art of pruning topiaries (bushes), yews of geometrical forms, is still done today as it was during the reign of Louis XIV. There are 700 topiaries in the gardens of Versailles, of 67 different shapes!
At the beginning of the Great Lawn, you can head left towards the refreshments centre at the Girandole Grove, where there are also some toilets.
Half-way along the Great Lawn, turn left into the Winter Walk. This leads to the Saturn Fountain  dedicated to winter, with a statue of gilt lead by François Girardon. Continue along this path to the Mirror Pool .
The Mirror Pool and King’s Garden
The Mirror Pool faces five avenues marked by four imitation classical statues, including one of Apollo, and today lies opposite the King's Garden . Under Louis XIV, the Mirror Pool lay at the end of a large pool called the Isle of Love, or the Royal Isle, which was used to try out models of warships. Neglected during the revolutionary period, it was filled in 1817 by order of Louis XIII and replaced by the King’s Garden, an enclosed garden laid out in the English manner, and planted with superb species, most of which were sadly destroyed in the storm of 1999.
Now head for Apollo's Fountain .
God of light, Apollo is given the task by Jupiter of bringing sunlight to all the countries of the Earth. Apollo’s Fountain once again illustrates the solar myth used to underscore the splendour of King Louis XIV. The monumental group made of gilded lead evokes the sunrise: the chariot of the god Apollo emerges from the water drawn by four horses, surrounded by four tritons blowing conches.
This fountain marks the limit of the gardens before the Park. At the Little Venice Gate, you will find many services on offer (refreshments, toilets, a mini-train stop, rental of bicycles, boats, Segways® or electric vehicles...). You can also reach the Trianon Palaces and the Estate of Marie Antoinette in 10 minutes from here on foot or in just a few short minute by electric vehicle.
The walkways between the groves
Walk between the groves towards the Neptune Fountain . While the parterres are open and accessible spaces, the groves are small salons of greenery, concealed by leafy palisades and only to be discovered at the turn of a walkway. There are fourteen of these enclosed gardens at Versailles, all different to one another, and all served as a setting for royal entertainments.
At the crossroads of the walks, you will see the Flora Fountain  and Cérès Fountain , which with the Bacchus  and Saturn  Fountains seen earlier, constitute the cycle of the four seasons.
Statuary and Mythology
The gardens of Versailles contain no less than 400 statues, making them the largest open-air sculpture museum in the world! The sculptures along the walks are made of marble, while those in the fountains they decorate are often of gilded lead or metal. Very different to the geometrical shapes of the planted areas they adorn, these sculptures, commissioned by Louis XIV and made by the greatest artists of his time, portray numerous characters from Greco-Roman mythology, and are identifiable by their attributes. Here, on a carpet of flowers with four winged cupids, Flora is crowned with spring flowers; as for Ceres, crowned with ears of wheat, she is accompanied by three winged cupids on summer harvest wreaths.
The Water Theatre
Louis XIV and André Le Nôtre left their successors the task of preserving the gardens of Versailles. Over the centuries, decisions have been made and changes effected. Today the question arises of managing the gardens and maintaining them, especially since the storm of 1999 which severely damaged the Estate. While for the small Park, choices tend to opt for a return to the form it was in under Louis XIV, one of the groves has been redesigned in a contemporary manner.
Created between 1671 and 1674, the Water Theatre Grove is one of the richest to have been designed by Le Nôtre in Versailles, hosting a stage and terraces surrounded by complex fountains. After its destruction by Louis XVI, Louis XVI, what remained was simplified. In 2011, a competition was launched to give a new lease of life to this abandoned grove. The project chosen was that of landscape artist Louis Benech, associated with visual artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, which invites the visitor to a vision imbued with dance and inaugurated in 2015. Three sculpture fountains in glass beads revive the choreographies written by Raoul Auger Feuillet for Louis XIV. Now the king dances once again – on water – in a grove, one of the spaces set aside for entertainment during his reign.
Now go back to the large Neptune Fountain .
The Dragon Fountain and the Neptune Fountain
The circular pool is the Dragon Fountain , and depicts one of the episodes from the legend of Apollo: the Python serpent-dragon killed by an arrow by the young Apollo. The reptile is surrounded by dolphins and cupids armed with bows and arrows, mounted on swans. The main fountain throws jets of water twenty-seven metres into the air, and is the highest of the fountains of Versailles. Next to it, the great Neptune Fountain was built between 1679 and 1681 under the direction of Le Nôtre. Between 1736 and 1740, Ange-Jacques Gabriel slightly modified the layout of the fountain and added three groups of sculptures: Neptune and Amphitrite, Proteus and the Ocean God. The new fountain, inaugurated by Louis XV, aroused admiration for the number, the size and variety of the water jets playing on the lead sculptures. There are 99 water jets powered by an extraordinary hydraulic system.
The know-how of Versailles’ keepers of the fountains
Channelling water into the gardens of Versailles was a real challenge for the Sun King’s hydraulic engineers. The network that was created marked a milestone in technical prowess, and is based on the force of gravity and the use of a number of reservoirs located in the town and at various points of the gardens. Thanks to the skills and craftsmanship of the artisans of the period, still perpetuated today, this network still feeds the 55 pools and fountains in the gardens and even today makes it possible to put on a show created under Louis XIV, that of the Grandes Eaux Fountain Display.
When you leave these fountains, you can go in two directions. You are near the Neptune Gate, which enables you to leave the Estate next to the town of Versailles, or reach the Palaces of Trianon and the Domain of Marie-Antoinette in 20 minutes on foot. Or you can go back towards the Palace by following the so-called Water (Infants’) Walk, whose name derives from the use of the words “marmots” to indicate small children. This walk eventually leads to the Nymphs of Diana Fountain, to the Pyramid and then to the North Parterre . Close to the Palace side of the Pyramid, you will find the only covered picnic area , which is reserved in the first instance for school groups.
Parcours “Jardins et bassins”
At this point, you can enjoy a well-deserved lunch break or refreshment!
Several catering services are available throughout the Estate.
Picnics are not allowed in the gardens of Versailles. Picnics are also permitted in the Park on the Saint Antoine Plain (in the direction of the Trianon from the Palace), and at the Lake of the Swiss Guard (opposite the Orangery, outside the Estate on the town side down Rue de l’Indépendance Américaine or on the Park side via the Sailors’ Gate).
Extend your visit!
If you still have half a day or time for another visit: go on a voyage of (re)discovery of the gardens or the Trianon Palaces and the Estate of Marie Antoinette.
If you only have an hour or two: come and discover the Ladies' Apartments, take the opportunity to visit one of the temporary exhibitions, or follow the contemporary art itinerary or visit the Coach Gallery.
To find out the best time to visit the Palace, see the peak hours table.
Caution, please take care to avoid pickpockets inside and outside the Palace.
In the rooms, photographs without a flash are permitted, but selfie sticks are not allowed.
Some items (large bags, suitcases, backpacks, umbrellas, strollers, baby carriers with metal frames...) are not allowed in the rooms and can be left at the cloakrooms.
Before the Palace... there used to be a mill! The Palace and grounds can be windy and draughty so bring something warm, even in summer.
Make the most of your discoveries
Take a guided visit to learn more and see some rooms that are closed to the public on self-guided tours!
For the visit to the Palace, the audioguide in 11 languages is free. The audioguides can be collected at the start of the Palace tour. Their content is also available through the mobile app.
After more than three years of restoration work, the Queen’s State Apartment is being reopened to the public, providing a great opportunity to revisit three of the Palace of Versailles’ key female characters: Marie-Antoinette, who lived in the Queen’s State Apartment, Marie Leszczynska and Madame de Maintenon.
From the 4th of May to the 3rd of August 2019, the Upper Stone Gallery of the Palace of Versailles will be presenting a unique collection of architectural projects, which were developed for the Palace and its gardens between the 17th and 19th centuries.