Versailles was, hands down, my favorite part of France. Built in the 1600s, the regal palace served as the home base for King Louis XIV and his court. In more recent times, the Treaty of Versailles (which marked the end of World War I) was signed there. Today, the gold-gilded palace, complete with its resplendent Hall of Mirrors, is every bit as stunning as it would have been hundreds of years ago.
An hour from Paris by train, Versailles is a wonderful day trip destination.
How to get there from Paris: Taking a train is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get to Versailles. Hop on the metro line closest to your hostel and then switch to the RER C train line. The RER C train line ends at the Versailles-Rive Gauche train stop, which is where you want to exit for Versailles. The palace entrance is a short five minute walk from the train station, and there are plenty of signs to point you in the right direction. You can also rent a car and drive there yourself, which will take around 30-40 minutes.
How to get a ticket: You can purchase a ticket online or when you arrive. The basic ticket (around $17) will only get you into the Palace, while the Passport ticket (around $27) will get you into the Palace, gardens, and palaces of Marie-Antoinette and Trianon.
Take the audio tour: Once you arrive, pick up free audioguides from the kiosk in the main entrance. Available in 11 languages (French, English, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Korean, Polish, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, and Japanese), the audioguides give a comprehensive overview of each room, as well as important events that took place there. Some people pay guides to give them personalized tours, but I don't think it's necessary.
Walk around the gardens: You have to pay extra to enter the gardens, but it's well worth the price. Be sure to grab a map of the grounds--there are 230 acres of gardens at Versailles, so it's easy to get lost. Dotted with beautiful fountains, sculptures, manicured trees and shrubs, and flowers, the gardens can easily take a few hours to explore. The road from the Palace of Versailles to the Grand Trianon winds through grassy meadows and pastures dotted with sheep and cattle. It's a perfect little taste of the French countryside.
Visit Marie-Antoinette's estate and the Grand Trianon: Although the Palace of Versailles is the main attraction, you'll want to visit Marie-Antoinette's estate and the Grand Trianon, which Louis XIV built for his mistress. They aren't quite as over-the-top as the Palace of Versailles, but both chateaus are beautifully designed and oozing with history.
Eat lunch in the town of Versailles: There are several cafes on the grounds that sell pastries, sandwiches, and salads, but it's far more fun to venture into town and eat at a hole-in-the-wall cafe. The town of Versailles is located right next to the Palace, so you can easily walk there in less than five minutes. Brimming with flowers and quaint buildings, Versailles is a charming, old-fashioned French town.