The Palace Versailles, it’s hard to image the grandiose of the French kings residence. Pictures do not do justice to the vastness, opulence, and acres of manicured gardens. If you have a few days in Paris and want to visit one of most renowned palaces in Europe, this is worth a day trip. Versailles will take a full day to visit, and while it can seem daunting, given its size, we have a few tips based on our many visits to make your trip easier.
Chateau de Versailles
Skipping the Lines at the Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is very busy, especially during high tourist seasons (July-August). More than 10 million visitors stroll the gardens every year, so it’s easy to lose your patience in the sea of tourist.
Having your ticket in hand will not allow you to skip the security line. What you skip with a ticket in hand, is the line for your ticket, which is usually much shorter than the security line. In the high season, the line for security can be over an hour and ½ or more. You will be in a queue outside, in the courtyard. Expect to be in the weather and waiting a while.
Tour buses tend to arrive by 10 or 11, so try to get to the Palace early in the morning before it opens or later in the afternoon.
Private tours are pretty much the only way that you are going to skip the long security lines at Versailles. For about $40-$75 per person you can discover the Palace of Versailles with a guide, then have time to explore the gardens on your own. Note that entrance to the gardens and Marie Antoinette’s Estate are usually not included in the price. If you are not big on group tours, you can always use this as a way to get in, then lose the tour guide and go at your own pace. We recommend Rick Steve’s iPod download for an excellent audio tour. We do not, however, recommend taking a 4-hour tour (including travel time) offered by some travel companies. You will feel rushed, and miss out on the best parts of Versailles and the opportunity to see some of the most magnificent gardens in France.
The Paris Pass is our recommended way to see the Palace of Versailles on your own. It’s by far the most convenient, especially if you are spending a few days in Paris. Be warned; however, you will pay an additional fee for the garden on Tuesdays, Saturday, Sundays, holidays and during the high season. If there is a show or other event in the garden, there will be an admission charge.
Order your Tickets Online
If you don’t want to book a group tour or get a Paris Pass, your next option is to buy your Chateau de Versailles tickets online before you go. This way you will avoid waiting in one of the two long lines at the main palace entrance.
We highly recommend that you eat a large breakfast or lunch before you enter Versailles. You are going to be there a long time, so you want to make sure you have had a hearty meal to keep you energized. It’s best to pack water, snacks as well as sunscreen and sunglasses.
Speaking of water, you will want to bring some with you while you stand in the security line. Water is sold from stands in the gardens, but not at the chateau entrance. It’s best to have a few bottles with you so you have something to cool off with while you wait in the security line.
Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and a sweater or jacket for evenings. It’s typically chiller in Versailles than Paris.
Food lines tend to be long, so plan ahead and bring a picnic and enjoy lunch in the garden. You’ll have to check your bag at the Palace, but you can bring it into the gardens.
*Due to security threats in France the Palace is applying strict security measures. This means that you CAN NOT carry large baggage with you (exceeding 55x35x25 cm). Additionally, some entrances have been closed. You must go through the security check. As is the case in many museums, be aware that metal-frame strollers are not permitted in the palaces.
Know the Times
Each area of Versailles opens at different times during the day. Make sure that you check the times online before you go to avoid going to a location that is closed. Additionally, while the gardens are open most days, the Palace is closed on Monday along with Trianon Palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate.
Note that there are certain days when fountain shows take place on site and due to construction, not all the fountains are functioning.
In the winter the gardens are free because there are no flowers, the statues are covered, and the fountains are empty.
Do Not Underestimate the Scale of Versailles
Many first time visitors will look at a map of Versailles and think they can walk the palace and then take a leisurely stroll to see the Trianon Palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate. I’m telling your right now; you are going to be hard pressed to walk all of this in one day! The maps will fool you into thinking that once you get to the Grand Canal, you can simply walk to see the outer buildings. It’s at least a 50-minutes’ walk from the palace to the heart of the Domain de Marie-Antoinette. And remember this is after you have stood in the security line, then toured the palace. We highly advise if you are wanting to see the Trianon Palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate that you do one of the following:
Rent a Golf Cart (Electric Vehicle)
This method of transportation is the most expensive, but the fastest way to see the gardens. At 1-hour minimum at 30€/hour then 8€50 per additional quarter hour this option can add up. The carts come with music and commentary through speakers, but at times they can be hard to hear. Also, be aware that the cars are restricted to certain areas of the garden, but you will be able to see key areas with this option.
Rent a Bike
Once you get to the Grand Canal, you can rent a bike for 7.50€ an hour, or 17€ for ½ a day. This option gives you the most freedom to explore the gardens effortlessly and cheaply. Make sure that they give you a lock and chain so you can protect your rental bike.
Take the Tram
This fast looking, but very slow-moving tram leaves from behind the Chateau. It departs from the North Terrace and takes you to and from the Estate of Marie-Antoinette (Petit Trianon), Grand Trianon and Little Venice. Typically, the lines are very long for the tram. At the cost of 7,50 € at the full rate or 5,80 € at the reduced rate, it’s a good option for arriving at your destination that is cost efficient.
For more information on transportation while at Versailles and activities see this site.
The Stinky Bathroom Facilities
Go to the WC before you head to Versailles! If you have to go once you’re in the Palace or gardens, you could be waiting a long time.
The all of the tourists, including yourself, will be shuffled through the main part of the chateau to walk through a series of rooms, including the King’s Bedchamber and the coveted Hall of Mirrors. Once you enter, there is no going back. You have to keep going room to room as there is not much room and everyone else wants to move forward. If anyone is going to have a meltdown it’s here. There are no bathrooms and no places to get a drink of water, so make sure you have prepared before you enter. There are bathrooms by the ticket check.
The facilities in the garden at the entrance, especially for woman are in my opinion, limited and in meager condition. Many have flooded toilets at times and no toilet paper. There are 8 restrooms located throughout the gardens. The busiest being near the entrance and the Grand Canal. A good tip is to have a pack of Kleenex as well as some anti-bacterial wipes to clean your hands.
Eating at Versailles
While there are places in the Palace of Versailles to eat, the food is meager from our experiences. You’ll find sandwich and drink kiosks as well as restaurants. For a sit-down meal, the most convenient place is La Flottille, located in the gardens at the end of the Grand Canal.
In town (on the street to the right of the parking lot) there is a line of restaurants including a McDonald’s. Expect the McDonald’s to be busy as its right outside of the train station. However, an assortment of appealing restaurants can be found along the line Rue de Satory. Use these places for refueling as well as a nicer WC. For a special lunch or dinner, reserve a table at Gordon Ramsay au Trianon at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Additionally, as mentioned before, you can always opt to pack a picnic for lunch. Remember that you will need to check your bag if you are going to the Palace. There is a checkroom at the main entrance where you can check your bag
I hope these tips make your visit to Versailles go smoothly and you take the time to wonder the gardens in peace and not stress. There is so much about Versailles that I love, and can’t cover in this one post. However, I hope to add more posts soon about the history, the rooms you will see and more tips and tricks from my experiences.
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