Les Fêtes Galantes at the Palace of Versailles in France is an annual costume-required event that started in 2014. It’s a formal ball styled to mimic the grand events held during the height of the French monarchy. Typically held the last Monday of May a “quality Baroque costume” is required and is the only time you’re allowed to enter the palace in costume. (The Grand Masked Ball, which also requires a costume, only occurs in the gardens.) Approximately 600 people attended in 2019 when we went and tickets come in 4 tiers with different price points and activities included. We had an amazing time, learned a lot, and felt we could pass on some info to you if you’re interested in going!
Before the Fetes:
- Buy your ticket early. The higher tiers and more desirable activities (like dancing lessons) sell out quicker and have smaller inventory than the cheaper ones. In 2019, tickets went on sale in September. The dates for the next Fetes will be announced on their Facebook page, and on their Twitter.
- What tier ticket should you get? Here’s the chart we made for 2019 that showed the price breakdown and what was included. Depending your priorities it may be worth your while to secure seating or an earlier admission time to see the palace before it gets crowded. The Doge tier was new so we imagine that these prices and included activities aren’t set in stone.
- Hotel or commute? We highly recommend being in Versailles at least a day early. Trying to arrive the day of the Fetes can be stressful and potentially problematic if there are transit delays. (One year there was a surprise dignitary visit that shut down a bunch of roads around Paris and caused huge traffic problems.) It’s a lot safer to arrive a day early and not risk missing or being late to the event. Also, since it ends at midnight it was a no-brainer for us to stay overnight in Versailles as well.
- Book your hotel early so you can get one within walking distance. We stayed at the Hotel le Versailles which is literally across the street from the palace and there are a few others in the area that are equally close. We didn’t want to deal with fitting ourselves fully dressed into an Uber/taxi so being able to walk back and forth was a must. It was a great hotel with large rooms, helpful and friendly staff, and a breakfast buffet available for a separate fee.
- Want professional photos? We found Marie Calfopoulos through Yelp and hired her to shoot us around the city of Versailles prior to the event. We highly recommend her! Doing a search for “Paris/Versailles engagement photographer” or “Paris/Versailles travel photographer” can help you find other professionals. Many of them speak English and are open to working with tourists.
You’re not allowed past the palace gates in costume before the Fetes, but in hindsight we could have scheduled our shoot to coincide with the early entrance to get some photos in the courtyard. We don’t believe they were checking tickets until the entrance into the palace proper.
There was also a photographer doing portraits inside the palace for a fee that you could reserve in advance. The palace itself has staff photographers and videographers, so if you’re lucky you may end up in their official gallery as well. We did hear of a previous attendee who provided a costume and bought a ticket for a photographer to follow them throughout the night too!
- “Quality Baroque Costume” is open to interpretation. It was probably a 50/50 split between people who rented vs. made their costumes and we saw everything from massive handmade robe de cours to a very grand lolita outfit. Obviously don’t show up in a cocktail dress, but don’t worry if your costume is completely historically accurate!
- Comfortable shoes are a must. Even with the reserved seating for higher tier tickets (King & Queen and Doge levels) you’ll be on your feet quite a bit and your dress will probably be long enough that no one will see them much anyway.
- Be mindful of your dress if it has a train. Moving around the palace can get cramped and not everyone is aware of their feet; we experienced getting our trains stepped on and saw several women experiencing torn stitches from people inadvertently stepping on their dresses!
- Consider putting your costume in a carry-on if you’re flying over. Losing your luggage on a flight is one thing—muggle clothes are replaceable! Losing your costume for a costume-required event is a whole other headache! We were all able to fit our gowns into standard sized carry-on luggage and we packed our wigs into our checked bags. Vacuum bags, the kind your roll up to get the air out and not the ones that require an actual vacuum, were especially helpful in getting the bulk down in our quilted petticoats.
- Weather can vary that time of year. We got lucky in 2019; it didn’t rain and it was overcast so we weren’t sweating in our gowns or dodging raindrops, but in previous years we’ve heard reports of it being really warm or having to deal with a downpour. Keep that in mind while you decide what you’ll be wearing and how to possibly deal with any situation!
- Bring your own travel steamer and a sturdy hanger. We’re generally wary of hotel irons with our costumes so we purchased inexpensive travel steamers on Amazon. Hotel le Versailles uses those hotel-only hangers that don’t completely come off the rack, so it may be helpful to you to bring your own hanger so you can hang your costume for steaming/airing out.
- Most, if not all, of the staff speak English. Super helpful when you can’t find where your buffet or next activity is. Of course, it’s always polite to ask if they speak English first rather than assuming: Parlez vous anglais?
- Arrive early. You’ll be able to walk through the main gate before your actual start time (Judy and Cheryll got in at about 6:45pm) so you can take advantage of the courtyard for photos before the big crowds come in. This is especially helpful if you go as a group where people buy different tier tickets, just walk into the courtyard together and you can get group photos while it’s still light outside.
- Keep your ticket handy. After you check in and get your wristband keep your ticket in an easily accessible place. Staff will review it before your reserved activities to let you in.
- Your pannier pockets can be lifesavers. We carried painkillers, small bottles of water, make-up for touch-ups, even a spare pair of flip-flops in ours! Security will check any bags, but didn’t ask anyone to empty out their panniers. You will be asked to go through a metal detector but literally everyone was setting it off so that wasn’t a big deal.
- Expect things to run both late and on time. The VIP King & Queen entrance ran late, but the dance lesson started on time. It’s France, c’est la vie!
- Want photos without the crowds in the Hall of Mirrors? Once they start letting everyone up the staircase into the palace make a beeline for the hall. Most people will be browsing all the rooms prior to the Hall of Mirrors so you’ll be able to take photos before everyone shows up.
- Arrive early for reserved concerts. There isn’t enough seating for everyone so if you don’t want to stand during the performances try to arrive 10-15 minutes before to secure a seat.
- Feel free to pass on an activity you reserved in favor of wandering around, taking photos, eating, drinking, etc. The night goes by very quickly and it’s impossible to do everything. Besides the reserved activities, we saw a fortune teller, a “priest” taking confessions, card game tables where you could learn a game played during the time period, a version of 18th century pool, and a throne you could take pictures on. We inadvertently missed some of the activities we were promised with our tickets, but we didn’t feel like we missed out on anything as a whole—there’s that much to do!
- The buffet. It consists of unlimited champagne, wine, water, juice, soda and savory hors d’oeuvres with bite-sized desserts that come in towards the end of the night. We found the food to be quite good! Keep in mind that the buffet areas are not close to the Hall of Mirrors and they won’t let you bring anything out of those rooms to snack/drink in the rest of the palace.
- Scheduling. You’ll have to mind your own time if you want to make sure you get to all the things included in your ticket. They don’t make announcements when things start and navigating the palace can take a while when everyone’s inside.