Located in Seine-et-Marne, the Château de Fontainebleau is known as one of the most beautiful castles in France. I had seen it once before when I was still in kindergarten, so I didn’t have any precise memories of it.
With Amélie, we chose to visit it in January. Read what we saw, liked or not, as well as some general information about the castle of Fontainebleau.
The Château De Fontainebleau: A Brief Presentation of Its History
The castle of Fontainebleau is a royal castle. It’s sometimes called “Palace of Fontainebleau”. This means that kings have lived there. Its construction began in the 12th century. Louis IX and Philippe le Bel have notably participated in the improvements over the centuries.
However, the castle of Fontainebleau is often related to François 1er. He modernized the building and gave it the typical Renaissance and classical style.
The following kings continued the evolution of the castle. Henry IV enlarged the place with several new wings.
Although he preferred the Château de Versailles, Louis XIV liked to visit Fontainebleau. He worked on the renovation of the gardens.
However, the renewal of the Château de Fontainebleau occurred with Napoleon Bonaparte. From 1804 onwards, he fitted out new apartments, staged shows and the château de Fontainebleau even became the central location for his political decisions.
He spent the last days of his reign in Fontainebleau and attempted to commit suicide there. He also made a famous speech before abdicating.
For these historical reasons, the two most prominent people in the castle are François I and Napoleon.
Where is the Château de Fontainebleau?
The castle of Fontainebleau is in Seine-et-Marne, about an hour’s drive southeast of Paris.
Its exact address is Place Charles de Gaulle – 77300 Fontainebleau.
Visit of the Fontainebleau Castle
Things to see with a standard ticket
The entrance ticket is currently €13 at full price. This standard entrance gives you access to the Grand Apartments and the Napoleon I Museum.
The access of gardens and the canal is free. So even without a ticket, you can walk around.
If you have financial difficulties, you should know that the French history is not inaccessible. Indeed, the visit of the Fontainebleau castle is free every first Sunday of the month, except in July and August.
There are often many people on these days, so it is better to book online your free tour.
The Château de Fontainebleau: more than 1,500 rooms
The number is impressive. The castle has nearly 1,500 rooms. Not all of them are visible with a simple entrance. However, you should be prepared to be dazzled.
The Grand Apartments include the royal chapels, the royal apartments, the papal apartment, the Renaissance rooms, the Napoleon I apartment, and the 19th-century galleries.
Several minutes per room are necessary to fully admire the furniture, the gilding… Just a little advice: look up. The ceilings are extraordinary. Slices of life are painted above you!
With Amélie, our favorite is undeniably the Royal Chapel of the Trinity (“la Chapelle de la Trinité”). You can see it at the beginning of the visit from above, and then you can enter it later during the rest of the tour. Every inch is a work of art.
Obviously, as I love French history and the life of Napoleon I, I appreciate seeing so many objects dedicated to the Emperor’s life. The Napoleon I museum is an excellent complement.
The Garden of the Castle and the Grand Canal
Wear your best shoes because you will walk a lot of kilometers if you decide to visit all the gardens, all the courtyards and the Grand Canal. With Amélie, we walked more than ten kilometers in a day.
The gardens are behind the castle. There are 130 hectares of parks and gardens. The Carp Pond (“Etang des Carpes” in French) and its pavilion are particularly famous. On sunny days, it is possible to rent a boat and sail on the pond.
The Grand Parterre is popular with tourists, especially children, who have a huge area to run and play. At the beginning of the visit, after the main entrance of the castle, you walk through the small English garden which is more intimate.
The Diana Garden (called “Jardin de Diane” in French) is less crowded because you have to take a different entrance to get there. The statue of Diana the Huntress is the centerpiece of this garden.
Unfortunately, most of the statues in the gardens were covered in winter for protection reasons. It was impossible to see them.
In the gardens and other outdoor spaces, you can also admire the Courtyard Oval (“Cour Ovale”), the Baptistery Gate (“la Porte du Baptistère”), the Courtyard of the Uffizi (“la Cour des Offices”), the Courtyard of the Fountain (“la Cour de la Fontaine”) and, upon arrival, the Courtyard of Honor (“la Cour d’Honneur”) and the Horseshoe Stairs (“l’Escalier Fer-à-Cheval”). But once again, the month we’ve chosen to visit Fontainebleau was not the best because this staircase, which often represents Fontainebleau, was under renovation and entirely hidden by a large tarp…
You have to cross the street to see the Grand Canal, an engineering feat. It is possible to walk around it for several kilometers. This is what we did. The place is quiet with walkers and joggers.
The Castle Store
The castle’s store can be seen after your visit. It is not a big shop, but you can find small goodies to offer, as well as expensive collectors’ items or books to improve your knowledge of the castle.
In addition to the history of the castle, you have a great choice of products related to Napoleon.
Most of the products can also be purchased on the official castle website.
Possible add-ons for a more complete visit
If you wish to have an audioguide during the visit, you have to pay an extra €4.
The Fontainebleau castle also houses a Chinese museum. We did not visit it and the hostess at the desk did not even suggest it. I discovered it while reading the castle’s website for the writing of this article… The price of the Chinese museum visit is €3.
There are a few guided tours that last between 30 minutes and 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Other add-ons are possible such as the visit of the Petits Appartements, the imperial theater, the Turkish boudoir, ephemeral exhibitions, concerts… Look at the Fontainebleau castle website before your visit to see all the available options for the dates you are going.
As these visits are only available as guided tours, the tickets are limited and it is best to book several weeks in advance, especially in summer.
When to visit the Palace of Fontainebleau?
Opening hours of the Fontainebleau Castle
The current opening hours of the castle are:
- 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April to September
- 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October to March.
For the castle, a 2-hour visit is recommended.
The courtyards and the gardens, which are free to enter, have other schedules:
- 9a.m. to 5p.m. from November to February
- 9a.m. to 6p.m. in March, April and October
- 9a.m. to 7p.m. from May to September.
Entrance is allowed until one hour before closing time.
Our advice: visit the Castle in Spring!
We chose to come in January to be able to visit the castle in peace. And we’re right! In most rooms, we were alone or with another couple. You can read the signs, take pictures and visit without stress. It’s a real comfort.
This time is also convenient for avoiding school groups. Outings are often scheduled at the end of the year.
However, if winter is a good time for the museums and apartments of the castle, it is not the same deal with the gardens. The best time is in spring. The plants grow and the colors are various. At the same time, you don’t have the crowds of summer tourists yet.
So, if we had to do it all over again, we would visit the Château de Fontainebleau between mid-March and mid-June.
Where to sleep when visiting the Palace of Fontainebleau?
There is no lack of hotels around the castle. You have several price ranges. For economical and practical reasons, we stayed at the Campanile hotel.
If you come early enough, there is still room in the parking lot of this hotel. Everything is within walking distance since the castle is only a few hundred meters away. It wasn’t the best hotel we’ve stayed in, but it was sufficient for our needs.
Where to park to visit the Château de Fontainebleau?
Free parking is rare and quickly taken over. If you are staying overnight, the best thing to do is to look for a nearby hotel with a parking lot.
Otherwise, there are several paying parking lots (Napoleon parking lot, Place d’Armes parking lot, Château parking lot…).
Another alternative is to park further away, then take the bus. There is a bus stop right in front of the entrance of the castle of Fontainebleau.
Where to eat around the Castle?
The central area of Fontainebleau has a lot of restaurants. We spent two days there and went to two restaurants: the Franklin Roosevelt, which offers excellent value for money, and a “Crêperie” further from the center.
For lunch, we preferred to take sandwiches and eat them in the castle gardens. With such architecture in front of our eyes, the meal is very pleasant.