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Palace and Park of Fontainebleau

By Jami

What is the Palace and Park of Fontainebleau? 

The Palace and Park of Fontainebleau is a stunning Italianate palace from the 16th century, built on the site of an earlier (12th century) hunting lodge. It’s most comparable to Versailles but it sees fewer visitors. It was initially built by King François I as he attempted to create a vision of a “new Rome.” It was a favorite of many French kings so the palace saw updates and expansions throughout its life.

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The park surrounding the palace is huge, with formal gardens as well as extensive forest.

Text: Palace and Park of Fontainebleau, France. Images: above, an ornate interior; below, the front of the palace.
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Why is Fontainebleau a UNESCO World Heritage site? 

Fontainebleau is a UNESCO site for two reasons. First, its collection of art is remarkable. The works done for this palace, many produced by Italian artists, influenced art in France and all over Europe. The art and sculptures commissioned for the palace make it unforgettable to visit.

Second, it was a palace of French royals for more than four centuries, so many significant events took place there. Most interesting to me on my visit, the palace was a favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte, so he set out to make it a spectacular residence. Fontainebleau is the palace where he held a meeting with the Pope to be named Emperor and where he abdicated the throne at the end of his reign. 

The central entrance to Fontainebleau Palace with its curving double staircase.

What can you expect on a visit to Fontainebleau? 

When you visit Fontainebleau you’ll see two main things:

First, the chateau. In the chateau, you’ll walk through several rooms. They’re all over-the-top in terms of the artwork on walls and ceilings and can start to run together. While the whole palace is interesting, the Chapel of the Trinity is particularly ornate. Napoleon’s throne room is another highlight. It’s set up how he had it and you learn a bit more about his empire and reign.

Also, there is a beautiful horseshoe staircase as an entrance to the chateau. It makes the walk up to the palace a grand one, like a scene out of a princess film.

Second, if you still have energy, you can stroll the palace gardens. The site was originally a hunting ground so the surrounding area remained wild for much of its life. Now, it’s a beautiful park to spend time in that is very different from the feel of the gardens at Versailles. 

Take a small-group guided tour or a private tour of Fontainebleau. Or see the palace from above on a hot-air balloon ride.

An extremely ornate interior with a bed and a massive cover above the bed. All walls and ceiling decorated, gold trim and a chandelier.

Is Fontainebleau Palace and Park worth visiting?

I enjoyed my visit to Fontainebleau. It showcases a different part of history than the other chateaux in the country. Plus it’s always interesting to see how the different locations showcase their particular piece of history.

If it’s your first trip to Paris, Fontainebleau isn’t for you. The only exceptions are if you truly dread the crowds at Versailles or if you can’t get tickets to enter Versailles.

On a repeat trip to Paris, however, move Fontainebleau to the top of your list. 

Throne on a raised platform backed by curtains.

What sorts of travelers would like Fontainebleau?

Travelers who don’t like crowds would love Fontainebleau. It’s a beautiful palace like Versailles (also a UNESCO site) but with a fraction of the visitors. Versailles can be overwhelming and Fontainebleau was a nice change up. Walking around an elaborate royal home with few others around is a special thing. 

If you love art or the history of France, Fontainebleau delivers for both!

A direct view down a straight garden walkway to the central entrance to the palace.

Tips for visiting Fontainebleau 

The palace is large. Plan for about two hours to make your way through the building. Go early enough to have time to explore the grounds if you’d like to. It’s not a site that is easily rushed through.

Wear comfortable shoes. It’s a long day of walking and standing.

There is a video guide available when you purchase your ticket, and it’s worth it. It ties easily to the numbers in each room, so it’s easy to tell where you are on the tour and skip ahead if you’re getting tired.

Stay in accommodations in Paris and visit Fontainebleau for the day, or else spend a night or more in the small town of Fontainebleau instead. Here is an acccommodations map of Fontainebleau:

Where is Fontainebleau? 

The address is 77300 Fontainebleau, France.

By car: To reach Fontainebleau from Paris takes about an hour and a half, driving south on the A6 or N104.

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If you’re traveling by car, take a look at the village of Provins, also a UNESCO site, not far away.

By public transportation: From Paris Gare de Lyon, take the R bus or the TER to the city of Fontainebleau. After arriving in Fontainebleau take the 1 bus toward Les Lilas and get off at the “Chateau” stop. The bus is very easy to find after you arrive in Fontainebleau. 

For more information about Fontainebleau, its opening hours and admission fees, see its official website

Have you been to Fontainebleau Palace? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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