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Is Versailles a must-see?

My family (me, wife and 12 YO son) will be with RS BOE 14 Days starting on June 8 in Paris. We are planning to arrive in Paris on June 6 in the afternoon.

We are considering to visit Eiffel Tower and take a Seine boat ride in the evening. Is there any particular company for recommendation?

Also, a visit to the Palace of Versailles is an option. Is it really worth or is it better to stay in Paris visiting other places in the city? We've never been to Europe as well as Paris. What are good activities for first-timers like us? Or, even if it's quite distant, would it be good to visit Mont Saint Michele?

Posted by
134 posts

The eiffel tower is not what I would choose to visit first in Paris, la Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame de Paris, Ile Saint Louis, Madeleine, Opera, Saint Michel area, Place Vendome, obelisque le Grand Palais, le Musee d'Orsay.
Versailles is important in order to understand the French history and how it developed to the French Revilution.

Posted by
697 posts

The Seine boat ride is a wonderful idea. Quite a few start at the base of the Eiffel Tower. You will get a nice view of the Eiffel Tower as well as many other iconic sights in Paris from the boat. I've been up to the top a couple of times but whether its a "must see" or not is up to you. The views are beautiful but there are other places you can get the same or better view (the top of the Arc de Triomphe and even Tour Montparnasse both have wonderful views). Versailles is beautiful and well worth a visit but if you only have two days in Paris I would recommend staying in the city instead. Also Mont Saint Michel is too far away from Paris. In the city, Notre Dame is a must see and also the Louvre, in my opinion. There are many more sights I would consider must see in Paris but that would be a good start with limited time. Check out Rick Steves Paris guidebook for ideas of what you might enjoy the most. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
333 posts

You've GOT to see the Eiffel Tower, holy cow! I recommend a picnic lunch (weather permitting) on the spacious lawns in front of the tower. It's up to you to decide if it's worth the cost of going up in it (there's a restaurant in there as well). When my daughter and I went a few years ago we were content to sit on the lawns and bask in it's glory. When I go back in the spring I plan to pay to go up in it- hopefully at night.

check out Viator dot com and type in London and Paris. It will show you tons of mini tours and day trips you can take. Many of the things you can also do independently, but sometimes it's worth the cost to let somebody else worry about transportation and parking and such. Should you choose to visit Versailles, they offer a tour there. There are also other companies for such things, but I personally used viator for London and Paris (and Amsterdam) and was pleased enough that I'm using them again for my trip in the spring.

If you're in Paris, I'll bet your son would love a trip through the catacombs! (you can also do that through viator) The website will also give you an idea of what things cost and how long they take, even if you choose to do the same things on your own. Whenever you get the choice to buy "skip the line" tickets to something, its probably worth the cost to do it! The line at the catacombs can easily be 3+ hours long. The line for the Lourve can also be eternal- and the Lourve is a must see!

When I plan my trips I usually plan one-two things per day (unless it's a day trip package) depending on length. That's more than plenty to keep you busy!

Posted by
68 posts

I would stay in Paris, if possible in the hotel that the tour is staying in or nearby. This will allow you to get to know the area a little bit. Versailles is easily accessible by train if you are interested in going there. I went on a bike tour of the grounds of Versailles that was nice and would be interesting for your son, the interiors are interesting from a historic perspective but it can get really hot and packed with tourists. It's not my favorite place, but if you are interested it's a good trip.
The night that you arrive I would not plan anything strenous due to jet lag. I think your son would be interested in climbing the Eiffel tower, there can be lines so check the guide book on how to avoid these. I wouldn't schedule any tickets for the day that you arrive as plane travel can come with delays and you don't want to miss something (or be a sleeping zombie) for this. I think that your plan of a Seine cruise is great. I picked a boat from the operators around the tower, I think that they are similar unless there are recomendations in the book. The Eiffel tower lights up at night, my favorite thing to do in Paris is take a bottle of wine (or a bakery picnic) and watch the tower and the surrounding hubub for a couple hours at night. There is a park and several places to sit and watch everything around you.
Have a wonderful trip

Posted by
5648 posts

Versailles is the grandest, most ornate palace in Europe. It makes for a great visit, and the vast, lush gardens with fountains are somethgin to behold! Marie Antoinette's cute little "farm village," on the grounds but a little distance from the palace (we rented bikes on site and rode out there) is interesting, and you can feed the fish - somthing your son might get a kick out of. If you're not that keen on past kings' and queens' big house and gardens, though, it might not be a must-see for you.

If you're on the Ile Saint Louis in Paris, be sure to get Berthillon ice cream from one of their shops there.

Posted by
2251 posts

We've been in Paris twice and have skipped Versailles so far. I know it's there and someday it will be great to see, but I wouldn't do it when I have just come off a flight and have a day and a half.

Have a nice dinner, long walk and take the Seine cruise, then get some rest.

For Sunday my suggestion would be to go and see a couple things not in your tour, for example go up to Montmartre for the morning-on that Sunday there will be a Paris Walks tour which meets at 10:30 at Abesses Metro station, it's really a great way to see Montmartre and it ends at the Sacre Coeur.
You could go early to the Vanves Flea Market in Montparnasse beforehand, quite interesting and fun.
Or...go see Pere Lachaise Cemetery, or do some window shopping on Boulevard Haussman and Galleries LaFayette, see the Opera Garnier while you're there. I don't see that Le Marais is on the itinerary-a fascinating area with a ton of old history and new trendy shops, go to Jacques Genin for real hot chocolate-melted to order.

Take the opportunity to sit in a park or two, and have a great trip.

http://www.paris-walks.com/summer-walks.html

Posted by
9928 posts

To me there are so many neat things in Paris that I would stay in Paris and skip Versailles this time as your time is limited. Your son might enjoy the Army Museum and Napoleon's Tomb in addition to things others have mentioned. If anyone has an interest in archeology, I also enjoyed the archeology exhibit that is located on the plaza in front of Notre Dame on the far end from the front doors.

In my view the seeing Eiffel Tower is a must especially with a 12 year old. This iconic structure is so astonishing to me because it is much bigger than you imagine while managing to have the lacy look as well. I am not keen on going up in it altho many are. If your hotel for your first night is in the 7th/Rue Cler area where Rick's tours often stay, do walk over there your first evening just to stroll down the park area in front of it. If you can manage it at the top of the hour (starting at 8PM I think) the lights twinkle and it is just perfect. There will be hundreds of people out there sitting on the lawn, eating, drinking, partying.

You all are going to have a really wonderful time on this trip! It will make memories for a lifetime.

Posted by
68 posts

The catacombs are awesome but creepy. I went right away in the morning (30 minutes before they opened) and didn't have to wait in line. It was well accessable by metro I think. The line can be long! I brought my bakery breakfast and ate while I waited for them to open. They give you an audioguide thing, or you could go the tour route. I would look at pictures before you go as it's a little bit weird to some people.

Posted by
3714 posts

Mont-Saint-Michel is almost 4 hours each direction by fast TGV train and bus. That's way too far to do in one day.

I agree with everyone else who says to stick to Paris and be sure to see the Eiffel Tower after dark. From the official La Tour Eiffel website (http://www.toureiffel.paris/en/everything-about-the-tower/the-illuminations.html): "Every evening, the Eiffel Tower is adorned with its golden covering and sparkles for 5 minutes every hour on the hour, while its beacon shines over Paris."

Pack a picnic, get there in time to see it in the daylight, then watch as it gets dark. Do a Google images search for "champs de mars picnic" to see other people doing this. We will probably never go up in the tower, but we thoroughly enjoyed standing under it and gawking at the astonishing structure.

I also agree that you should skip Versailles. I could whine on about our visit on a supposedly slow day at a supposedly slow time of day during the first week of June, 2012. Suffice it to say that we chose not to shuffle through the palace with the thousands of others, nothing was blooming in the gardens, it poured rain and the grounds were a quagmire.

You can have a much better time in Paris itself doing something that won't be covered by the RS tour. You already have some great suggestions from others.

I recommend having your son do some research on his own about what he would like to do. Our son took his two older daughters (10 and 12 at the time) to Paris for a few days last year. The younger one was really into the trip, including doing some planning and choosing. The older one, not so much. Needless to say, the planner and chooser had more fun and has better memories than the one who was just along for the ride.

Posted by
11292 posts

A great view of the Eiffel Tower is from the Trocadero, and it's free! I also love the view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

You will be getting Ricks' Best of Europe guidebook before your tour, which should have details of boat tours. I liked the Vedettes du Pont Neuf, which uses smaller boats than the more famous Bateaux Mouches; there's also a third company which I haven't used, but another poster here said was the best of the three.

Here's the Vedettes du Pont Neuf website, which a discount ticket available for advance purchase: http://vedettesdupontneuf.com/home/

Posted by
1845 posts

I think a boat ride down the Seine is great! Just keep in mind that June 8 it will not get dark until very, very late at night, maybe later than you would all stay up- it is dusk about 10:00pm. Also, I didn't care myself about going up the Eiffel Tower but my daughter wanted to, and I have to say, it was awesome! We stayed up there a couple hours. We love Versailles, but it is an all day adventure. I wish you could go, but it may not be worth time the time and effort, especially when still dealing with jet lag. It might be better to just wander around and see a museum or go to Luxembourg gardens. You could always do a Paris Greeter- a private tour for a couple hours based on your interests.

Paris is amazing! Have fun!

Posted by
134 posts

Something I don't understand quite is that you say your tour is starting on 8th in Paris but you are arriving on 6th. So you are there 2 days before the tour starts, is that it? What is organized with the tour? Will you still be in Paris on 8? Do you want to do special things that are not included in the tour?

Posted by
11613 posts

How can you be in Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower? It looms over everything!

I would take a trip to Chartres (if it's not on the tour) rather than Versailles.

Lots of Seine boat ride companies, prices are just about the same, I think.

Mont St-Michel would be a place to spend a night or two, in my opinion, rather than try to make it a daytrip from Paris.

Posted by
11450 posts

I would see what is most important to you and your child.. and not on the tour( some people have suggested places you will see on the tour.. so check the daily itinerary so you don't double up) .

I have taken my 11 yr old dd to Paris.. as well as my 13 yr old son( my hubby took our 14 yr old ) We chose to do one on one visits with our kids.. ( smart me got to take the first child,, then hubby took second.. ha ha.. having three kids.. I got the next trip.. so got to take two trips with kids)

I personally think you and your child would love to do a Fat Tire Bike Tour.. the night one INCLUDES a cruise on the Seine.. And , if you really want to see Versailles.. then they do a bike tour there.. its not cheap, but its fun, easy, and you will visit a market , buy picnic goodies and sit at the foot of the canal with an amazing view of the palace and munch away.. before entering the busy palace. The palace will be VERY crowded.. like heaving.. so do consider long and hard if you want to see it ,, or just think you should see it. Remember.. on the BOE tour you will be inside other chateaus.

I agree with poster who suggested Invalids Army Museum.. all my kids loved it.. and I have now been to it four times.. its a lovely museum.. never crowded,, good ac,, and its interesting for kids.. armour, battle axes, swords, etc,, not like a typical art /painting /sculpture museum.. which many kids do not enjoy very much. However.. that said.. my kids also enjoyed Louvre, and Orsay.. ( but we had more time then you and you will see Louvre on tour)

If you elect to do a boat tour on your own its easy.. they leave every hour or so.. you can check out the weather and buy tickets same day or just before boarding.

Mont St Michel( you are correct that it is pronounced "Michelle" but it is spelt "Michel" ) .. unfortunately is out.. while physically possible, its a LONG day.. it should be best done as an overnight.

You are going to have an amazing time on the tour.. really..!!

Posted by
9928 posts

@ FlorenceinToscana, the OP has indicated they will be on Rick's 14 day Best of Europe tour. Here is a link to the itinerary for that tour.

http://www.ricksteves.com/tours/europe/europe-14-days

The official part of the tour is only 1 full day in Paris plus an afternoon, so most people recommend coming to the starting point of a tour prior to the tour starting as there is so much to see.

Posted by
117 posts

I echo the suggestion already made to check what's included on your tour first so that you don't double up.

For me, I would most definitely go up the Eiffel Tower while the sun is still up, and then do the same at the Arc de Triomphe after dark. Then a stroll down the Champs Elysees and finish off the day with your Seine cruise in the evening. The next morning I'd do Rick's Marais walk or Montmartre walk. Or if you're up for it, do both -- one in the morning, and after a nice Parisian picnic lunch, do the other in the afternoon. In my opinion, coupled with the walking and museum visits on your tour, this will give you a well rounded sampling of the City of Light. On our trip, we had three days and chose to skip Versaiiles this time. But that's us.

Hmmm, does your 12 year old like walking? Perhaps that's a dumb question on my part considering you're taking the Rick Steve's tour? :)

Whatever you decide to do, you will have a blast!

Posted by
11450 posts

Note.. on the tour it includes Notre Dame, St Chapelle, and the Louvre.. AND a Museum Pass and a free afternoon.. so if you plan on visiting the very busy Orsay Museum.. do that then.. since you will have the pass and that means you can skip the long ticket line there ( you will still line up for security but that is much better then the ticket line)
Also.. the last night in Paris with the tour.. you have it free.. use the Museum Pass to go up the Arc De Triomphe!!

Posted by
4 posts

Versailles to me was a great place to visit. It is only takes about an hour to get there. I wasn't a fan of touring all the rooms it was waaaay too crowded and after a while they ALL look alike. But, the GARDEN and grounds are a must see!!! You can rent a boat for the man made lake which is huge! Also there are several eateries hidden behind the shrubs. Go early and spend about 3-4 hours there then head back to Paris. The Eiffel is a must see at least once. When you are ready to leave, don't wait for the elevator to get back down...walk the stairs!!! I have taken the the dinner cruise every time I've been to Paris. I've enjoyed Bateaux Mouches. Have fun!!!!

Posted by
34 posts

Wow, folks, thank you so much for your inputs. While I was away for busy works, you've poured great comments here! ^^

OK, now the opinions are divided about Versailles. Some people love it and recommends to visit there while others point out to the short time I have and the fact that it would take a whole day... What should I do?

About the Seine boat ride, everyone seems to like the idea. But which company is good for us? I've learned of three - Bateaux Mouches, Bateaux Parisenes and Vedettes du Pont Neuf. Are they pretty much same?

Eiffel Tower is another YES from everyone. We'd like to visit there. The tickets are not on sale yet for the dates we're there.

I didn't know that the museum pass given from the Tour can be also used for Arc de Triomphe. We'll definitely go in there then.

Thank you for all your information and comments. I'd welcome more recommendations and comments. Thanks. ^^

Posted by
101 posts

The 2 times I have been in Paris, I have enjoyed the Seine river/Eiffel Tower dinner cruise - no waiting in line to go up in the Eiffel Tower. Versailles is amazing but we had trouble finding the correct train to get there. It is probably better to see on another trip. The Rodin garden has "The Thinker" which your son might like from the movie "Night at the Museum".

Posted by
11450 posts

My thoughts re:Versailles. Do you or the family have an interest in the history of Versailles?
I do.. and even my kids did , 11 yr old dd had read a bunch of stuff on Marie Antionette , and my son had just covered the French Revolution in school ( and was delighted to inform me " that's where the Swiss guard were slaughtered ").. but, many people do not ( like my friend, who after tramping through the palace for an hour I finally asked " do you know who lived here?" answered "no, some royalty I guess" did not) .

As I said.. you will see the inside and outside of a chateau on the tour( think you guys see Neuschwanstein don't you?) .. and just for a taste of the over the top opulence of the inside of Versailles.. you can get a good sample of that from seeing Napoleons Apartments inside the Louvre( and as I recall that is included with your tour) .. so facing the crowds just because it seems like a " must see" is not going to be that enjoyable .. I love Versailles and the history fascinates me, but its not for everyone and that's ok!

Posted by
11450 posts

Regarding cruises.. they all cover basically same itinerary.. but one thing I will warn about one company ( Bateaux Parisians) is that there boats have mostly covered deck space.. so if you go in summer, and its hot.. its nasty under the glass canopy if you don't get a seat outside ,, and the open deck area is small. However if its rainy or cool this might be an advantage.

Since you can walk up to any of them , I would wait till you get there and look at the boats yourself.. they are all priced within euros of each other.
Some leave from the Eiffel Tower area.. others from closer to Notre Dame.. so which ever is most convenient would be what I would consider ( you start and finish in same area)

sorry , just looked at your itinerary.. you do not visit Neuschwanstein.

Posted by
1684 posts

Versailles a must visit? I do not always like this expression, but actually for the whole package itself: Yes. But best to enjoy it if you can avoid the crowds and in June that will be a challenge. But also the more you know the more interesting the place is, however also an introduction visit offers enough for a whole enjoyable day.
The website gives tips about the best time to visit, so have a look: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/prepare-my-visit-/single/faq-en

Posted by
768 posts

Versailles and Mont St. Michel are both great; but, in my opinion, not worth the hours you'll spend commuting to/from them, given your hours are so limited. You are right, there is way to much to see/do in Paris, to make it sensible to travel outside of Paris to go elsewhere.

Back in 2009 my family of four (kids 7 & 11) picknick'd in the evening in the Champ du Mars, while we awaited the twinkling lights on the Eiffel Tower. I think this is a great thing to do with a child; plus, it's a relaxing way to end a long & tiring day of sightseeing. Note: We chose not to go up the tower, since the lines and the price didn't justify the experience for us. You may disagree.

I'm not sure if the Paris Plage is in place in early June; but if it is, that is another nice, inexpensive (and relaxing) place to spend time in the center of the beautiful city - with your child.

I'd spend a lot of time just walking around, and in early June, you'll have wonderful weather!. You must visit Tuileries Gardens. It's enchanting just to walk in this area; whether or not you have time to go into the Louvre (we did not on our trip in 2009.) Now that we are going back with older kids next summer, we do plan to tackle the Louvre - our kids are now 12 and 17. In 2009, we visited the D'Orsay museum with the kids. It's a much more manageable museum and very nice - in a restored train station.

Luxembourg Gardens is also lovely!

Posted by
11450 posts

Paris plage is set up mid to late July each year.. This year it is open July 19th to August 17th . Its slightly different dates each year.. but always same time period. Things like this can be easily checked as they have a website.

June 21st has Fete De la Music .. a city wide celebration of music on the first night of summer.. bands playing in parks and street corners , concerts etc.. a very fun time to be there.

Posted by
17 posts

My wife, son and I took our first European trip to France when he was 15. We planned the trip together. Each chose several things they wanted to see. We found that the DK travel book for France gave our son a visual idea what was at each location. He picked visually stimulating, historical sites as his tops. Carcassonne, Pont de Gard, Arles' Roman sites. The Eiffel Tower was one in Paris.
He loved the Eiffel Tower - especially at night. He could see it from his hotel window. We climbed it at night. The wait was worth it. He also loved walking around and seeing what was going on and looking at old buildings - the architecture fascinated him.
Our son later minored in art in college. I say this because after an hour, he saw enough of the Louvre, Pompidou Center. Museums, a staple for my wife and I were a bore to him. I think at 12 years old, it would have been less exciting still. Not to discourage you, each of you should do something you want to do, just a reminder that your son's eyes will be different than yours.
Visiting Versailles is a good chunk of a day. Worth it if you it is important to you, but more time in Paris central would probably be a better use of two days.

Posted by
3656 posts

Pat is right about the covered boats. We have used Vedettes du Pont Neuf and they had lots of open space on top. TC

Posted by
10344 posts

If you haven't seen Versailles before, and haven't seen other palaces in Europe, then yes, some would say Versailles is a must-see.
One of those is Rick: "If you're only going to see one palace in Europe, see Versailles."

But, if you've seen a few other palaces around Europe, then maybe the Versailles negatives (long lines and large crowds) will outweigh the positives. There's no pass that allows you to by-pass the security line, which can be 1 or 1.5 hours at certain times of the year, certain times of the day, on certain days.