Louis XIV made Versailles the highlight of his reign by transforming his father’s hunting lodge into one of the most majestic palaces in Europe, but also by transforming the modest garden that then surrounded it. In the hands of gardener André Le Nôtre and his assistants, the parterres and groves, statues and fountains took shape and made the gardens of Versailles a work of art in their own right, and one still appreciated as a whole on the days of Grandes Eaux Fountain Displays. A wander through these gardens invites you to discover the work of Le Nôtre and understand their layout and symbolism through a selection of viewpoints, groves and fountains.
Duration of visit
Allow for 3 hours. The gardens are open from 8 a.m. to 5.30, 6 or 8.30 p.m..
View detailed times
The Grandes Eaux Fountain Displays or Musical Gardens take place most Tuesdays, Fridays and weekends between the end of March and the end of October.
Outside these dates, the groves are closed; please follow to the Gardens and Fountains tour.
Access to the gardens is charged on days of Grandes Eaux Fountain Displays or Musical Gardens, and there are several options:
- If you benefit from free admission to the Palace and the Trianon Estate, or you do not wish to visit these:
buy a ticket for the Musical Grandes Eaux Fountain Display or for the Musical Gardens (access only to the gardens and the event of the day)
- If you do not have free admission to the Palace and the Trianon Estate, and you do wish to visit them:
Buy a 1 or 2-Day Passport (complete access to the Estate: gardens and event of the day, Palace of Versailles, Trianon Palaces and the Estate of Marie Antoinette).
A French Garden for the Sun King
Starting in 1661, Louis XIV embarked on the vast project of creating his estate of Versailles. Work on the gardens proceeded in parallel with 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 Notre. 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. With 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 groups of sculptures, together with the hydraulic systems used for the pools and fountains concurred to make the gardens the settings for festivals and for taking promenades, but also 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 Étienne Allegrain in 1688.
Take a map of the Grandes Eaux Musicales or Musical Gardens, available at the entrance to the gardens.
This map highlights the different areas of the gardens, offering alternative itineraries and gives the timetables of fountain displays and music.
The Water Parterre and the Grande Perspective
On entering the gardens, you will see the South Parterre on your left. André Le Nôtre arranged the gardens of Versailles around two axes: north-south and east-west. The second, called the Grande Perspective, crosses them like a geometrical line. The optical effects and desire to surprise are characteristics of the French garden that the king’s gardener mastered to perfection and exploited in Versailles, especially in this perspective view.
Beneath the facades of the Palace facing the gardens, there are three large open areas: the parterres , that of the South seen on entering, that of the North and in the centre the Water parterre. The latter consists of two large rectangular basins in which the light is reflected as though from a mirror. At the corners of the basins, 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 Garden, 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 Latona’s Fountain. Like a symmetrical axis, the Grande Perspective crosses the whole of the gardens and the Park. Latona’s Parterre is best seen from the top of the steps leading to the lower gardens, allowing a view of the shrubberies designed by Le Nôtre and restored in 2013.
To reach the Ballroom Grove, do not go straight down, but come back a little, go past the Daybreak Fountain and take the walk between the stone wall and the hedge. The wall on your left is part of the Orangery, built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1684, and housing approximately 1,500 orange trees, lemon trees, palm trees and other species. Take the first right, and again immediately right for the first entrance into the Ballroom grove.
The Ballroom Grove and Latona’s Fountain
While the parterres are open and accessible spaces, the groves are small salons of greenery, concealed by leafy palisades and which are only discovered at the turn of an avenue. There are fourteen of these enclosed gardens at Versailles, all different to one another, and all of them served as a setting for royal entertainments.
Created by André Le Nôtre, the Ballroom or Rococo Grove, was dedicated to dance, an art the Sun King particularly delighted in trying for himself. The water cascaded over the rococo tiered centrepiece, millstones and shells of Madagascar, while visitors could sit on the leafy steps. The dancers would take their places on a small island in the middle of the grove, now gone, while the musicians were located above the tiered water centrepiece.
Leave the grove by the other entrance, go down the aisle, turn right at the crossroads to arrive at Latona's Parterre and go up to the pool via the lateral ramps or between the steps.
Selected to establish 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 Latona’s Fountain, one of the centrepieces of the Grande Perspective. The sculpted marble group of Latona 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. Latona, 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.
Straight on, follow the Great Lawn in the direction of Apollo's Fountain.
The Great Lawn and Apollo's Fountain
At the very 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 (Spring), Ceres (Summer), Bacchus (Autumn) and Saturn (Winter). It’s a little tricky but well worth the effort!
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.
Then continue down 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 end of the Great Lawn, you arrive at Apollo's Fountain. God of light, Apollo is given the task by Jupiter of bringing sunlight to all the countries of the Earth. This basin 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.
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.
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.
The Enceladus, Apollo’s Fountain and Water Theatre Groves
With Apollo’s Fountain in front of you and the Palace behind you, go to your right down the walk with tall trees. Walk along the hedge until you reach the Enceladus Grove.
This octagonal area of greenery, bordered by a gallery of trellises, shelters a pool from the middle of which emerges Enceladus. During the struggle between the giants and the gods, Enceladus tried to reach Olympus by erecting a mountain. In retaliation, Jupiter buried him beneath his creation, Etna. The victory of the king of the gods over the pride of the giant can be interpreted as a warning from Louis XIV to his subjects.
Walk around the pool to leave the grove by the other entrance, and take the first left to reach the Flora’s Fountains and, further on, Ceres’ Fountain.
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. These two fountains form a cycle of the four seasons with those of Bacchus and of Saturn.
From the Ceres basin, go back to the south-east grove, where a winding path leads to the Grove of the Baths of Apollo.
The Grove of the Baths of Apollo
During the reign of Louis XVI, a replanting campaign of the gardens was launched in order to preserve them. The king chose to keep the paths and the French-style groves of his ancestor but yielded to the fashion for English-style gardens, in certain areas that were very damaged or required too much maintenance. This was particularly the case of the Grove of the Baths of Apollo.
In this grove, the straight paths and geometric shapes of the French garden have given way to slopes and winding trails. Everything contributes to give the impression of a plant kingdom left free and wild. Man, however, subdues nature here too, down to the creation of a small lake and a grotto, housing sculpted groups of Apollo and the horses of the sun.
The Water Theatre Grove
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, those 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, 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 one of the spaces set aside for entertainment during his reign.
When you leave this grove, you have three possibilities. Going up to the right, you can reach the Palace, with the halt of the mini-train and the rental point for electric vehicles. Alternatively, going down on your left you can reach the Neptune gate, which enables you to leave the Estate next to the town of Versailles, or to go to the Trianon Palaces and the Estate of Marie-Antoinette in 20 minutes on foot.
Parcours “Jardins et bosquets”
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.
To find out the best time to visit the Palace, see the Frequently Asked Questions.
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
Download the "Gardens of Versailles" app with the “Master Fountain Engineers” route (age 8 and older; duration approx. 1 hour) or the "Enigmas of Versailles" app with the “Weddings at Versailles” route (age 8 and older; duration approx. 1.15 hours). These apps will provide you with an original way to discover the secrets of the gardens!
From 19 November 2019 to 15 March 2020, the Africa and Crimea Rooms will play host to the “Versailles Revival” exhibition, looking at how, between 1867 and 1937, the Palace ignited passions for Versailles in its Ancien Régime version as it underwent an extensive programme of restoration and refurbishment.
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