21km (13 miles) SW of Paris, 71km (44 miles) NE of Chartres

The grandeur of the Château of Versailles is hard to imagine until you are standing in front of it. Immediately, you start to get an idea of the power (and ego) of the man who was behind it, King Louis XIV. One of the largest castles in Europe, it is also forever associated with another, less fortunate king, Louis XVI, and his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, who were both forced to flee when the French Revolution arrived at their sumptuous doorstep. The palace’s extraordinary gardens, designed by the legendary landscape architect André Le Nôtre, are almost worth the visit on their own.

Don’t feel you have to see everything. For many, a visit to the palace is enough culture, and a nice relaxing stroll/picnic/nap in the park is a great way to finish off the day. To escape the hordes (and they’re intense at Versailles), my favorite spot is Marie Antoinette’s Estate, where—hidden from the palace—you’ll get a more bucolic taste of life during the Ancien Régime, thanks to the quaint garden, the pretty Trianons (mini-palaces), hamlet, and other small buildings. You won’t be alone, but you won’t be elbow-to-elbow with crowds.