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4 nights in Paris - skip Versailles?

I'll probably be in Paris, in january, for 4 days, from London. I'm a huge history buff, so Versailles would be a sure hit, but, in 4 days, I think my schedule will not be relaxed enough to devote a full day to Versailles. I already cut some places I wanted to go, but time will not allow (Saint Germain and the Archaeological Museum, Senlis, Chateaux de Chantilly, Provins (the one it hurted me more so far), Reims). Logic would demand that I cut Vincennes Castle too, but I really don't want to. I know it sounds absurd, to consider cutitng Versailles in order to go to Vincennes, but I want to know there and this forum showed me a very important thing: I need to prepare my itineraries for me, not for my friends that will stay at home.

Then again, Versailles is a very, very important place in history, but contemporary and modern (the Treaty of Versailles basically shaped our actual world), so, my major question is: considering that I'll go in the winter, and that I would not want to venture the garden more than 5 minutes even in the summer, can I visit just the main palace in half day? Like, departing form Paris at 7 or 8 AM and returning around 2 PM? I know I'll be missing the secondary palaces, but they're really secondary for my goals. I want to know if it's doable or it's a dream.

FYI, here's what I'm planning (since I'll come from London, I'll not have jetlag issues):

D1
M - Arc to the Orsay through the Place de la Concorde to the Orsay (I'm not a huuuuuuge art fan. I like the classics, I have a mild interest in impressionsts and I hate modern art. I'll go to the Orsay more to see the beautiful architecture and Monet/Van Gogh highlights. Quick, 1h tops)
A - Invalides

D2
M - Ile de la Cite (Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle and the Conciergerie)
A - empty

D3
M - Vincennes Castle
A - Musee du Cluny, Pantheon (resting place of a major part of french history) and the Arenes (I know it's not the most preserved roman place in the world, but it's interesting enough for a peak)

D4
Louvre (I'll be with the PMP, so I can make breaks if I get overload)

D5
Departure

If Versailles is doable as a half day, I can change spots in this itinerary, preparing a more relaxed afternoon somehow. If not, I can find something to do. Maybe I can go to Saint Germain in the end, or Saint Denis, to see even more royal heritage.

Posted by
3318 posts

"...I'm a huge history buff, so Versailles would be a sure hit...I'm not a huuuuuuge art fan...my itinerarie's for me, not for my friends...". That being said (by you), my suggestion (heresy I know) is to skip the Louvre. With transportation time included, Versailles can easily take three quarters of a day to all day -- even without the gardens. Visiting the Orsay is, in my opinion, a must do. It should be seen just for the architecture even it there were no art there at all. But it does have some of the greatest impressionist art I've ever seen. Take a bit of time while there and check them out -- you might just enjoy it.

Posted by
2499 posts

In order to squeeze something else into your schedule you might want to carefully check the winter late opening hours of the 2 art museums you have on your list and rework your schedule. At least in the summer, Musee d'Orsay is open until 9:45 PM on Thursday nights (closed Monday) and the Louvre is open until 9:45 PM on Wednesday and Friday nights (closed Tuesday). We have also eaten at the lovely cafes at both museums in order to get more accomplished during our day and not spending a couple of hours at a separate restaurant.

Posted by
24 posts

I thought about skipping the Louvre, but there are some parts I want to see, specially the medieval Louvre (I saw a great itinerary on the Louvre website, going down from the medieval pits all the way through the highlights and the Napoleon III apartments) and the Egyptian and Roman collections (yes, I'll see a lot of those at the British Museum, as well, but you can't go wrong with ancient statues, can you?), and, of course, the obvious highlights (I admire Da Vinci a lot, and The Coronation of Napoleon is the most pretty canvas I ever saw on my art classes in high school, also with historic importance, considering it represented the first break on religious legitimization on a major power in centuries. The same applies to Liberty Leading the People). But, I was taking for sure that the Louvre would not do late openings during winter, but I just saw on Louvre's website that this ain't true. Maybe I'll be able to push it in one afternoon/night, but I would need to fit a light activity on the morning (definitely not the Ile de la Cite). I can't answer for sure right now how I would fit this, maybe going to Vincennes on said morning and the Cluny on the other day...seems workable, but I'm usually wrong when I think about these things without longer consideration. And yes, I'm going to the Orsay mainly because it seems like a heck of a beautiful building, and it's already included on PMP, so what the hell. Maybe I'll be surprised and spend more than a hour there, after all, surprises are a nice part of any trip.

Posted by
2466 posts

Chateau de Vincennes was built mainly as a prison and is a monolith of a building.
You can take the Metro to the end of the line, take a little walk to the chateau and be out of there in about 1 hour or up to 90 minutes, if you're really interested. Check the opening times for the chapel there - sometimes it's closed.

I'd prefer to see Versailles as a half day trip even if you skip the gardens.

I would recommend getting a Museum Pass either at the airport or at the first un-busy museum you visit.

I'd also recommend staying longer than you think you will in the d'Orsay. Go early in the morning and have the place almost to yourself.

You could easily go on D2 to see Saint-Denis.

Posted by
113 posts

Totally doable especially if you make use of the Night openings for the Orsay and/or Louvre. Did many of the same sights and more, very leisurely in 5 nights last October. Versailles opens at 9. Take the 40 min train ride and short walk to arrive with your ticket when it opens, leave about 2 home easily by 4 Take in the Orsay on a Thursday til 9:45 or Louvre on Wed or Friday Evening til 9:45.
Both museums were very empty during the open evenings. Almost no security lines at either. I would suggest getting the museum pass and alleviate waiting in ticket lines at Louvre, Orsay and Versailles.

Posted by
2466 posts

On D2, you could go into the Crypte underneath the parvis de Notre Dame, if you're interested in how the city and it's religion were constructed and organized.

Posted by
24 posts

I love military history, chexbres. That's why, among other things, I took a whole afternoon just for the Invalides and the castle I'm looking forward the most to see in the UK is Edinburgh (with Dover as a close second). My true desire was be able to do the "triple crown" of french royalty (Vincennes, Palais de la Cite and Versailles), considering all the impacts french history had in the world. Short version, yes, I want to go to Vincennes. Being a monolith building makes it even better, in a way, and the proximity to Paris appeal even more. Considering the night openings (I was very sure that this was just a spring-to-fall feature only, it's great to see it's year round in some attractions), I think I can re-write some things.

2/1
M - Vincennes Castle
A - Musee du Cluny, Pantheon, Arenes

3/1
M/A - Versailles
Late A (E) - Louvre

4/1
M - Ile de la Cite
A - Saint Denis
Late A - Arc de Triomphe
E - Orsay

5/1
M - Invalides
A (E) - Louvre

Posted by
2466 posts

Just one question - you can't be permitted in the Palais de Justice unless you have official business there.
There really isn't much else to see on Ile de la Cité except government buildings that you can't access.
I don't believe you can access Hôtel Dieu, either.
Just so you know...

Posted by
11738 posts

My thoughts:

Invalides is like the Louvre. You can't really see it all. Pick a particular period that interests you. If you just want to see Napolean's tomb, you don't need more than a half hour. I never knew so many suits of armor existed, let alone in one place.

The three things you have on the Ile de la Cite are about right. The line for the Conceirge can be really long, hopefully not in January. The line for Notre Dame moves quickly, even if there is a long line.

I'd skip Vincennes Castle. I was warned but went out there anyway. There just isn't much to see. You can go into a nearly empty chapel and see a few rooms in the keep. Most of the castle is filled with archives of government agencies, so almost everything is closed to the public. I would much prefer to spend the time going to St. Denis.

I liked Arenes. It doesn't require a long visit. I picked up a picnic lunch and sat in the seats watching kids throw an American football around on the floor. It was a nice afternoon in September and the seats were populated (not crowded) with many locals eating their lunches.

Versailles is too much for a half day. The ride out there, plus the walk from the train station to and from the palace, is a half day without seeing anything. I think it's better to think of it as a full day. Maybe you will get back to Paris in time to see a sight; better not to plan for it.

Posted by
433 posts

My daughter and I saw Versailles and the Louvre in one day, the same as your updated plan. It was a foggy day in December and there was no crowd. The palace is a short walk from the train station. I enjoyed the palace and have an amazing picture of hall of mirrors with very few people. The statues in the garden are covered in winter but we enjoyed a nice, cold walk and skipped the outlying buildings. You can spend a full day but it's not necessary. The evening at the Louvre was also great, no line to get in and no crowds even seeing Mona! Plus walking around Paris at night after it closed was an added bonus.

Enjoy the trip!

Posted by
596 posts

I agree that without the gardens, Versailles is an easy half-day trip. It doesn't take long to get there, and if you are willing to get there early and get in line 30 minutes before it opens, you cam be one of the first ones in and it is really pleasant that way. It really depends on your priorities, but even though I only had 4 nights, Versailles was a must do for me. We actually took another full day out of the city to do a day trip to the Loire Valley, which no one would recommend we do. But, we loved it. Sure, there is a lot more to see in Paris than we saw, but we know we will be back. The nice thing about Versailles is you don't really have to plan it in advance, you can decide how you feel when you get there. Have a great trip!

Posted by
4499 posts

Versailles can EASILY be done in a half day if you are mostly skipping the gardens. It's a 30-40 minute ride there, 10-15 walk to the entry, tour chateau, quick check of the formal gardens in winter, return. Plan to be there at opening.

Posted by
484 posts

we were just at Versailles and if the queen's quarters are still under renovation then you can see this the palace in about 1 hour. It was not as grand or as awesome as I thought it would be. Luckily, we did the bike tour around the grounds. The other sites on the grounds were more interesting. The train trip will take most of your time.

Posted by
1609 posts

If you love military history you may want several hours at the Invalides. I was surprised how interesting the displays were. If you don't like art you may want to skip the Louvre. The Orsay is more interesting architecturally and the paintings are wonderful.

Posted by
12099 posts

Hi,

You are in to the history....deep? Then see the Invalides and Versailles. See the Battle Galerie at the Château Versailles...Yorktown, Rocroi, Austerlitz, Jena, etc. I went to the Tomb of Napoleon the first time, was there defintely more than 30 mins when you peruse carefully the roll call of battles, of course the victories, and see the tomb of Duroc.

On the military history: I suggest seeing Fontainebleau, see where the Emperor Napoleon said "Farewell to the Guard" in the courtyard. Imagine at least 800 if not 1,000 troops stood there.

Now, if you still have time, take a trip out to Meaux, 35 mins by train to see the huge war museum...big, extensive, I spent basically the afternoon there. Basically, you have a bad time constraint. If you had a rental car, see the Napoleonic monument to Napoleon's victories over the Allies in Feb 1814 at Monmirail, Vauchamps, etc on the route of the quatre victoires.

Posted by
2466 posts

There is a sound-and-light show at les Invalides at night, that's pretty interesting.

Posted by
24 posts

I'm really looking on my budget right now, to see if I can press 2 more days. Even considering Versailles as a half day trip, there are so many things being cut...my motto is "Expect the best, plan for the worst", so I really need to see if I can add 2 more days in the Paris region without jeopardizing my previous plans, but I'm feeling a large need of improving those 4 days. I think I'll be able, if I cut some flamboyant weekend trips from London (I'll be going for a language course there, for 1 month. At first, I was planning for one long trip every weekend, but, if I drop this, I may be able to pay the remaining 2 days in Paris. York, Dover, Cardiff, Bath and Portsmouth from London will be cheaper for me than Istanbul, Berlin and Budapest, and I'll be able to say that I know a large amount of the UK, considering I'll still spend one weekend in Edinburgh). I'll need to look into this, specially considering Paris is an expensive city (although the PMP is amazing).

I heard about the Invalides. To be honest, is the place I'l looking forward the most since I knew I would be able to go to London. If I had one day in Paris only, that's where I would go (a heresy, I know, but I can't help myself). That's why I want to go there on a day without "heavy" sightseeing, I want to dedicate as much time there as I can (the same applies to the IWM. Although I'll be able to visit there more than once, the same with the British Museum and British Library). Fred, much appreciated this input about Meaux. I never heard about this museum, and it's very close to Paris (you can reach it by RER, according to Rome2Rio. Cheap, too). When you think about WWI in France, it's impossible not to focus on Verdun and the Somme (I was in love with a museum in Péronne), but, considering both are too far to treat as a day trip, I didn't focus on it. The website is lovely (from the little french I can read, of course) too. Also, the lecture on the French-Prussian War seems exciting, it's not usual to see. I always held Provins and Reims as the quintessential day trips from Paris to me (I want to take my girlfriend there someday, as a wife. If so, I'll need to change it to Giverny. She was in love with the pictures, but that's a whole other thing), with Caen close behind (even if the Memorial is expensive, a tour through the beachheads and the preserved bunkers must be near perfect. Saint Malo has a wall, corsair history and is a great place for an overnight, but don't have good hostels, so the costs are prohibitive for me), but this museum at Meaux intrigued me. If I add 2 days, indeed, I need to go to Saint Germain, Fontainebleu (It was right behind St. Germain on my plans. I mean, Napoleon planned the majority of his assaults there, the defeated Grand Armee marched through its roads after the defeat at Russia...a lot of heritage) and, most likely, decide between Provins, Reims and, now, Meaux...if I can.

Posted by
2466 posts

If you want to take weekend trips to France, you just look for Eurostar specials. Normally, they begin before the London sales period.
Or, check prices on the SNCF website around 90 days before you want to go.
You can get great deals if not travelling during rush hours.
Arras is accessible by train, and has a very moving cemetery and museum.

Posted by
3807 posts

We finally did Invalides on our 3rd trip to Paris - my rule now is only one war related museum per trip (it can get a little overwhelming - I have also said no more dinosaur bones...I've had enough!). I'm not a huge war buff (obviously) but found the displays at Invalides very interesting. Looking at the time stamps on my photos, we spent about 3.5 hrs there and only did maybe 1/2. We did Napoleons Tomb, or course, the section with all the armour and the WW1 and 2 section. We also grabbed lunch there. The WW2 section kinda got to me the most - especially when you watched the videos about the concentration camps.

Posted by
12099 posts

Hi,

Historically, you can compare the museum at Meaux with that of Peronne, as regards to coverage, presentage, breadth, depth of analysis, etc. The compare IWM in London's refurbished, extended coverage on WW1.

Now, if you have the time, or drop something to put in another Napoleonic site, there is the Napoleonic Museum in Fontainebleau, ca 35 mins from the Château (if you know the way), ie Rue St Honaire. It covers military history and art. If you ask the curator to play Napoleonic music as part of the atmosphere, they'll oblige....fantastic. They did that for me. The last time I saw the museum it was all in French....good practice for reading French.

Posted by
11738 posts

Versailles depends on what you're interested in. If you're really only interested in the palace, and you get there early to avoid lines, you can get through it quickly and catch a train back into town.

My philosophy, if I'm all the way there, I want to see the Trianon palaces, Marie Antoinette's farm and at least some of the gardens as well as the palace. You have already paid admission and waited in line. I'd rather plan a longer stop than only see part of it so I can get back into Paris quickly. When am I going to be back to see the rest?

I can see, however, the entire place is too much walking for a lot of people - especially if it's a hot day or they had to wait in a long line. It's not a short walk to see the whole thing (or even a lot of the whole thing).

Posted by
12099 posts

Hi,

If you are at Giverny and have a rental car, you do know that you are close to Rommel's HQ in 1944 for Army Group B at La Roche Guyon. The two towns run parallel to each other. The castle on the hill overlooking the town was the site. I went there in 1999. Part of the castle was set aside as a museum to 1944 and the war seen from the German side.

Posted by
24 posts

Fred, I'll not rent a car, at least not in this trip. Money-saving aside (I read the french love some road tolls), I'm not exactly an experienced driver here in my own country. I plan on renting when I return to Paris, though, I'm setting on stone that, if I marry my actual GF, we will go to Paris and Venice on our honeymoon, since it's her dream. In this scenario we would go to Giverny. But, the public transportation seems...doable. Not easy, one change, but doable for Rommel's HQ (and, since I'll not go to Normandy to see a bunker on the Atlantic Wall, it would be a poor man's substitute). The problem is, again, time. Meaux is close enough to go in a morning, and even it would need a tight schedule. It's a shame that I need to improve my english, France has so many options for trips within the country. But, then again, so does the UK. I mean, I don't think I'll have the time for all the cities I want to visit within the UK, the same as France, in the end...

Brad, I agree about seeing everything that interests you. But the secondary palaces interests me a lot less. Considering a limited amount of time, you need to sacrifice things. Again, it would interest my GF a lot to see those, but myself, not so much. With a limited amount of time, you need to optimize your schedule. That's why I asked if I could see the main palace (which is, considering my interests, what I really want to see) in half a day or, 3/5 of one. If I couldn't, I would not go at all. Since I spoke of Giverny, it's another example: a place I wouldn't want to go, going alone, but my GF thought it was the prettiest place she ever saw a picture. I would take her to Musee Rodin, to Vaux-le-Vicomte, to a Seine cruise, Pompidou...it's a completely different trip. If we had a car, my place of choice would be Verdun, Metz and Strasbourg; for her, along the Loire Valley. If we went south, I would prefer Arles and Nimes; her, Provence and small villages. We want the same things, but on different degrees (except scenic views. I really don't care if the backdrop is green or gray, I see green mountains everyday on my way to work. She definitely loves it). I went on an unnecessary rant here, but the point is: even if I was going with a whole week, or more, I would see both Trianon just for the sake of seeing it. With a limited amount of time...no.

Posted by
12099 posts

@ Alan...When I went to La Roche Guyon, I was lucky enough to be driven there for the expressed purpose of seeing the HQ for Army Group B in 1944. Like elsewhere in France I don't think public transportation goes out there from Paris, maybe one bus per day, just like going out to Gravelotte (the Prussian-German military cemetery and war museum ) from Metz.

Posted by
24 posts

Yes, Fred, that's a huge limitation. But I want (doesn't mean I think I'll, though), one day, to return with a car just to do the Verdun-Metz-Luxembourg-Sedan route, passing along the Maginot Line (crossing it to go to Luxembourg, yes). The same would apply to the Normandy, specially Caen and Bayeux (with a car, no reason not to extend to Saint Malo). I know Sedan doesn't have a lot of things, but I think the ambient...it would be similar to setting foot in Waterloo, or Verdun, or Volgograd. Places that changed the world for good. Hell I'm thinking about spending extra money in order to go a weekend to Brussels instead to closer places in the UK mainly to go to Waterloo (other things interests me in Brussels, too, like the Military Museum and the EU Parliament. Off-topic, I know, but I'm curios about seeing it. And I always like to go to a museum focused on the city I'm in. It helps to put a lot o things in context). But I don't think I'll be able to do this. If I actually manage to save money again to go alone, I would need to fight a desire to go to Berlin, Rome, Athens, Istanbul, Warsaw, or to the other side, Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo, Granada, Porto, Lisbon...not an easy battle. If I travel with my GF, there's not a chance that I'll be able to convince her to ditch Alsace, Provence or the Loire Valley in order to go to a tour focused heavily on 3 wars. I mean, it wouldn't be fair to her, I wouldn't like if I went to Europe and my companion just dragged me to Bilbao, to see modern art. A good compromise would be driving along the Provence, but that's a whole other thing. The point is: even if I had time, I know public transportation in France goes "just" to the main hubs (and are expensive on some trips. Lyon and Marseille are 2 good examples), so, even if I had a lot of time, I would need a car to hit those hidden highlights.

Posted by
12099 posts

"...Sedan doesn't have a lot of things." I would suggest quite the contrary. I almost (and had planned on ) went out there as a day trip from Paris this time but lazied out in the end, one reason all the more to get to Meaux. Remember, Sedan was the perfect example (among others operationally) of a Kesselschlacht. You can still see the ramparts and other remnants. The place was fought over four times, 1870, where Emperor Napoleon III was taken prisoner along with 100,000 troops, 1918, 1940, and 1944

I see you have a case of indecision (who doesn't?) as I did on the trip. Well, go to Waterloo. More was done for the 200th anniversary. I saw Waterloo only once, so far. That was in 1984, spent the entire afternoon and early evening there, get a rental car or be motorised so that you see all the various sites, Quatre Bras, Ligny, Charleroi, trace the route from there to Waterloo....allow yourself two days.

Posted by
12099 posts

@ Alan...You mention Peronne in an above post. The problem with that place is that the train does not go out there, no station. I was lucky enough , sort of, to be driven when I got to Peronne, BUT only had 15 mins prior to its closing at 1700 hrs. So, I decided against it. To get there you could get to Albert by train, then take a taxi. Albert has a WW1 Museum, was there early in the evening one time but the museum had closed. Albert was the site of the British HQ, both, as you know, Albert and Peronne were in the path of the 1918 Kaiserschlacht. I would suggest going to Saumur, west of Tours, for the French Tank Museum. (Musee des Blindes) You mention "overloaded."..simple,... go back for some more.

Posted by
1462 posts

If you can avoid the days off around New Year is January the best time of the year to visit Versailles regarding the palais. It will know the least number of visitors, so you will be lesser annoyed by the crowds with always that part that is only half interested in what they see and with a bit of luck there is just a handfull of people in the hall of mirrors. My experience in January a few years back. Buy the tickets in advance at a FNAC store or for instance online and you only need to go through security, with in my case just a waiting line of a few persons. Making a tight planning more easy.

Best time is I think early in the morning or more at the end of the day what I did, but hard to estimate how much time you will going to spend inside the palais before closing time. The gardens were not that attractive as the statues where covered to protect them against frost. Nevertheless the wheather was bright and the low sun shined directly in the hall of mirrors, so perfect for a visit.

Once their website had a complete overview of the whole year about the attendacy level, even during parts of the day. But as I see it is now limited to a few months, using that little date pull down menu. http://en.chateauversailles.fr/

To see everything it makes sense to come back, especially with your level of interest

Posted by
26 posts

I know you've had a lot of replies, but...here's mine :)
We just came back from our trip and did Versailles in half a day. The gardens were closed off to us due to the musical fountain shows; I had been to them before (without going to inside the chateau). I love the gardens, but in winter they won't be at their best. We did not spring to go to the Trianon. That would have made it longer. However, even with pre-purchase of tickets, we waited in the line to get in for 30-35min as we went later in the day (we knew this would be the case) The line moves constantly-- it's just long.
If it's important to you and eclipses some of the "things I know I should see but am not as excited about," then by all means, go :) It's a unique place, and gives you a chance to look at a different facet of French history that brings the other places into focus. I also would say make sure to see the medieval foundations of the Louvre and take that angle when visiting it, since it was a fortress and then a palace that Louis XIV sort of blew off in favor of building Versailles! Be a fun way to link the two. Also check out Napoleon III's apartments for a sort of bookend to the narrative of the Louvre's history (if you can find them in there!)
--Shelbey

Posted by
24 posts

I appreciate everyone's help, really. I had a change of plans about my course, I'll probably go one month early (in november), without flexibility to add a 5th day, so I'll go to Paris as a long weekend trip from London (4 days). Good news about this is that I'll probably going to be able to add another weekend trip to Berlin, but that's a whole other thing.

I'll probably use the late itinerary I had, considering the main chatêau in 3/4 of a day. I think it'll do.

Again, I appreciate everyone's insights. 30 replies is a lot on this forum, I'm kind of honored haha

Posted by
12099 posts

@ Alan....Museums on the history of the "German" Army are located in several cities in Germany: Koblenz, Ingolstadt, Rastatt, Lüneburg, Dresden-Neustadt, Munster/Oertze

Posted by
42 posts

Yes, skip Versailles. I was there in March as part of the Paris in 7 Days tour and even if the gardens hadn't just been plowed in preparation for planting, they would not have held a candle to Giverny or Villandry. We went to Versailles and the Louvre with the same great local guide and she made a point of showing us how similar the architecture is of both buildings so, in my opinion, neither the building or the gardens are worth half a day.

Go to the Cluny only if you must see the tapestries.

The stained glass in St Chapelle is fantastic.

Consider an hour at the Arc de Triomphe.