With all the great things to do in and around Paris, it is understandable that the Château de Compiègne remains relatively marginal in the visitor statistics. Nevertheless – especially for anyone interested in Napoleon III and the Second Empire – it is a very worthwhile outing.
To get to Compiègne, you take the TER regional express train from Paris Nord station. The journey takes forty minutes to an hour depending on the train. You can plan your trip on the TER Picardie web site.
From the Compiègne station, it is a 25 minute walk to the Château. It is a pleasant itinerary, over the Oise River and through the center of town, past the sixteenth-century town hall, restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Of course, there are also taxis and buses.
The ticket allows you to visit the apartments of the Château de Compiègne on your own. You will see the rooms occupied by Napoleon I and his family, and those occupied by Napoleon III and his family, with much of their original decoration and furniture (including a little chair for the Imperial Prince). One can easily imagine how the spaces looked and felt during the famous fall séries of the 1850s and 1860s, when anyone who counted in France was present here.
To visit the actual museum, you need to follow a guide. Be sure to check in when you arrive for the times of the visits, If you need the visit in English, it would be best to check ahead of time about availability.
The museum has a wonderful collection of art, including the official portraits of Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, sculptures by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, and many other fine pieces. In a separate area, there is a collection of the personal possessions of Napoleon III and his family, including the vest the Imperial Prince was wearing in Zululand on June 1st, 1879, punctured by the assegai that killed him.
Behind the Château, there is a very pleasant garden designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, and behind that a large wooded park. The garden contains a number of sculptures, although the best pieces have been moved to the Louvre. There is also a flower garden that is quire remarkable during the flowering season.
You can find more information, as well as information on temporary exhibitions, at the Château de Compiègne web site.