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Versailles for the First Time

I just recently discovered this forum, and I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised by the wealth of knowledge and the generosity of spirit here. Therefore, here I go with another question...

My fiance and I are going to be in Paris this summer. As a day trip, we were hoping to visit Versailles. I looked at a variety of different tour companies, but in an effort to be frugal, I am considering puzzling together my own day trip. Firstly, am I nuts!? I've traveled to Paris before and am vaguely familiar with their public transportation system... it looked like taking the train from Paris to Versailles wasn't overly complicated.

Secondly, once I'm at Versailles, which option makes the most sense? From what I can gather, there are a few different ticket options: Passport, the Palace, and the Trianon (and the Marie Antionette estates). The Passport is a two-day pass and allows access to both the Palace and the Trianon (and the Marie Antionette estates). There is also a guided tour of the Palace. Would it be overly-ambitious to purchase the Passport for a one-day (three-four hour) excursion? Also, is the guided tour worthwhile? What is the most worthwhile thing to see/experience at Versailles?

Thank you in advance!

Posted by
50 posts

If you plan to go to Versailles, you might want to consider spending the whole day there. In 3-4 hours you will only have time to see the main palace or maybe the beginings of the gardens. You would not have time to walk out to the two Trianons or the Hamlet. If you only want to spend 3 hours, then just buy the ticket for the palace ( you will likely spend an hour just getting through security). A guided tour may be worthwile if you only have a short amount of time to spend. If you have an entire day even 6-8 hours, then by all means, but the Passport ( I believe it is only 18 euros) and explore the palaces and gardens yourself. The Rick Steves Paris guide book gives a wonderful self guided tour that is easy to follow. Having a whole day will also allow you to decide when the palace is least busy and hopefully you can avoid some of the crowds. (Not even the Lovre or Disney World compares to how crowded Verailles is). Although I personally love visitng palaces and cathederals, (its my favorite thing about Europe). We had the best time exploring the gardens and fountins along with the Trainon, Petite Trainon, and the Hamlet. Getting to Versailles is not hard, just buy a ticket on the RER. I hope you have a great time.

Posted by
5688 posts

Jill, RS Paris or France book gives all the info on which RER train, where to walk (actually, just follow the crowds...) Last fall we bought a Paris Museum Pass which includes entrance to Versailles; audioguide is included in palace entrance. Take your water bottle and snacks!! Concession stands are pricey and crowded.

Posted by
13 posts

Does purchasing your tickets ahead of time on line reduce any of the wait time?

Posted by
1976 posts

Hi Jill. How many days will you be in Paris? Do you plan to visit any museums? The Museum Pass might be a good option for you. It allows you to skip the ticket lines at museums, including Versailles, which can save you a lot of time. Here's the website for more information: http://en.parismuseumpass.com/

It's easy to take the train to Versailles. Note that you will take the RER (the suburban / commuter train system) and not the Metro (subway). You will need round-trip RER tickets to go to and from Versailles.

Plan to spend most of the day there. It takes a while to get through the palace, especially with crowds. My sister and I were there in September 2 years ago and the crowds were crazy. The grounds are huge and you want to take your time wandering.

Also be aware that on days when the fountains run, there is an extra admission charge. This charge isn't covered by the Museum Pass either. If you don't care about the fountains, make sure you visit Versailles on a day when they aren't running.

Posted by
4770 posts

To answer your last question, Jill, yes you'll save time by buying your Versailles tickets online. Or you could use the Museum Pass if you'll be going to other places it covers in the timeframe you choose. Good advice is to get to Versailles before it opens in the morning. There will be a line to present tickets and a security line whatever you do.

Another piece of advice: Versailles has the fewest bathrooms of any palace I've visited. Go early and whenever you see one! Worse for women than men, of course. : ( Not so big a problem in the gardens where they're more plentiful.

Posted by
31303 posts

Jill,

I wouldn't bother with a formal tour of Versailles, as you can easily visit on your own (although one advantage of a tour would be expedited entry).

Transportation is very easy via RER. Buy your return tickets at most Metro stops. Note that the usual "carnet" tickets for Metro don't apply to Versailles, since it's outside the central zone. When the RER train arrives at the station, look for the word "Vick" above the driver's window, as that will be the correct train going to Versailles. When you arrive there, follow the herd down to street level, turn right for about a block and then turn left and you'll see the Chateau.

One important point to note is that Versailles is closed on Monday. I'd suggest NOT going on Tuesday since the Louvre is closed on that day, which means the hordes will descend on Versailles. Any other day will provide less crowds, although in summer you'll have to contend with those anyway.

"Does purchasing your tickets ahead of time on line reduce any of the wait time?"

In my experience, not always. As others have mentioned, the Paris Museum Pass is a good option for entry to the Chateau, but even with the Pass the queues can be LONG (this is the queue for those with Museum Passes and other advance tickets, and was on a Tuesday). The Museum Pass is also good for numerous other sites in Paris and helps to minimize queue wait times at other sites, so it's a good value.

The Museum Pass didn't provide entry to the Gardens on my visit, but the cost was minimal. If you're feeling energetic, you can walk from the Chateau down to the lake, or you can take the small "tourist train". There's a nice restaurant right at the lake, with both indoor and outdoor seating. There's also a smaller snack shop slightly uphill from that for more basic (and cheaper) meals.

If you'll be travelling with an iPod or other audio device, you might consider downloading some of the RS Audio Tours (they're FREE). I found that his Versailles tour worked really well, and I was able to tour at my own speed rather than being herded along with a cattle prod like the more formal tour groups. In addition to tours of Versailles, other sites in Paris are offered as well as other countries.

Were you planning to pack along a Guidebook? I found the Pocket Paris to be a great asset, and it's small enough to pack around during the day for easy reference.

Bon Voyage!

Posted by
7205 posts

The gardens are free entrance unless it's one of the days when the fountains are going. Then you'll pay a small amount to get in. It's totally worth it as the fountains do add a very nice touch to the already immaculate gardens.

Posted by
183 posts

My wife and I were there last sept. Took the rer train ,about a 45 minute ride. Once you get off the train it's a 10 minute walk to the palace . Spent 3-4 hours walking the gardens and Maria Antoinette's palace , then toured the versaille palace later in the day when it wasn't as busy . Then you can take a walk into town and half a glass of wine and something to eat in one of the many cafes . Then hop on the train and be back in paris for the evening for another glass of wine on the banks of the seine river . Enjoy

Posted by
7 posts

We were just there last Sunday. we arrived at 8:40am, and the gates to the security open at 9. The ticket window I believe also opened at 9. We leisurely toured the chateau, the gardens (with music and fountain show), ate lunch at a cafe in the gardens, then toured the Trianon palaces and the Hamlet. The grounds are immense, so pace yourself. We left the Chateau about 3pm and were at Musee d'Orsay RER station in Paris by 4:15. We had the Museum Pass, so we just got in the security entrance queue, and we were behind maybe 2 or 3 busloads of Japanese and American tour groups before the opening. The line behind us grew very quickly, and by 9am was a few blocks long, so I guess we did save some time by buying the tickets in advance. It did not look like there were really any different lines to get through security -everyone, groups and individuals had to go through the same little bldg first, and as you can imagine this is a major bottleneck, so Museum Pass didnt allow us any privileged access. Once you get through security you go to the actual entrance across the courtyard to get the audio guide if you want it (comes with cost of admission). I had Rick's Paris guidebook with me, which has a Versailles tour ( I had his audio tour too, but left my iPod in the B&B), but I still listened to the Chateau's version. As mentioned the crowds inside the chateau are a bother- it certainly isn't the most pleasant chateau we visited. On weekends until 26 October, and Tuesdays from 20 May to 24 June (and 15 August), there is a music and fountain show in the gardens. Classical music can be heard everywhere from 10-6:30, and the different fountains run at various times, but mainly 11am-noon and 2:30-5pm. We planned our visit for Sunday so we could see them. I had been to the gardens in the off season before, and wasn't impressed, but with the music and waterworks it was much better. We had to pay an additional 9 Euro to enter the gardens because of that show, called Les Grandes Eaux Musicales. They give you a map of the gardens and fountains with the history of each and the exact schedule of which fountains run when. You did NOT need to pay extra to visit the Grand and Petit Trianon and the Hamlet, but could have walked or taken the petit train down there, circumventing the gardens. The Hamlet surprised us on the upside. It is lovely and uncrowded. When you see the crowds in the chateau you can imagine why the royals kept building "escapes" from their "escapes".

Posted by
4524 posts

One trick to beat the crowds that has worked for people is to visit the Chateau interior late in the day. The tour busses are mostly gone by about 3:00.

I always recommend bringing a picnic lunch along with you and eating down along the Grand Canal (on a nice day). The gardens can take hours to explore, both formal and the outliers. On fountain days it gets very crowded and some people love seeing the water run and some people don't. It's impressive no matter.

The Grand and Petit Trianons would suffice as royal palaces in themselves for most other places. Worth the visit if you have the time. You can explore the exteriors without an extra ticket.

The Hamlet is a highlight for most people that make it all the way out there (it is remote). There are trams that you can ride if your feet get tired.

Posted by
3319 posts

Another option is renting bikes to get around the grounds. They can be rented down through the gardens, next to the Grand Canal on the right hand side as you are facing away from the chateau. It's a lot of fun to go back into some of the remote sections of the gardens and wheat fields where no one but local joggers tend to go.

Posted by
16866 posts

Looks like you're set with info and certainly don't need a bus tour from Paris. Bon voyage!