Versailles: Yes or No?

In mid-September we have from Friday evening until Sunday at five in Chartres before beginning the Loire to the South of France tour. After the tour begins, we'll have one more full day in Chartres, with the afternoon free. My plan had been to go to Versailles on Sunday (Sept. 21) until I read recent discussions on this site about the crowds there. I hate crowds! I'm assuming that we won't be there late enough in the year for the numbers to have diminished much, but I'd appreciate hearing from someone who has been there that time of year. We haven't been to Chartres before, so I'm sure there will be plenty of interest for us there and we are hitting the 12th Festival of Light on Sept. 20, which looks to be interesting. I'm just concerned about (once again) passing up on Versailles and wondering if I'll regret it.

Posted by Beckie
Nordland
6 posts

We were there in early October 2012 and unfortunately, so were the crowds. The palace itself was crowded, but when you got outside onto the grounds it wasn't too bad.

Posted by sanderskn
San Jose, CA
349 posts

I've been to Versailles three times, and yes, it was crowded in the palace. Every time was either in May or early June. As the above posters said the gardens and the outlying buildings like Le Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette's domaine were not crowded at all (and very worth seeing). I think you should go. I console myself by not dwelling on the crowds and remembering that even in Versailles' heydey there were large crowds because it was mostly an open palace and many courtiers, servants, etc lived there. They never had any privacy. Just think of it like you're getting the authentic experience. ;)

Posted by Carolyn
Seattle, WA, USA
260 posts

If it is someplace you have always wanted to go and it is important to you, then go, but go early in the day...be there when it opens. However, if it is just someplace you think you need to go because it's there and you think you're expected to go, then skip it...with no regrets. Spend the time doing something you will truly enjoy.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3180 posts

If the palace itself seems too crowded for you, skip it and spend your time in the gardens and smaller palaces there. Or explore the town itself; it's a pleasant small city. You'll definitely find yourself wanting to get outside of Chartres; several days is a lot to spend there.

If it's a nice day, I always recommend a picnic down by the Grand Canal. Bring a lunch from a shop in town, or buy a sandwich from the vendor in the gardens. Take a bike ride. Or a paddle boat ride. You can easily spend an entire day there without ever going inside the chateau (or 9 months...).

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
2030 posts

I guess if you're going there specifically for the main palace and you hate crowds (and probably don't want to stand in a long line for security) it may not be worth it. However, I went there two years ago and never even went in the palace because of the crowds. Spent a half-day exploring the gardens, park, the trianons (small outlying palaces), and Marie's hamlet and found that most definitely worth the time and didn't regret not getting in the palace at all. And just doing those things saved me $$ - the gardens are free (except on fountain days) and the trianons/hamlet are a combined ticket for €10.

Posted by dave
freelton, ont, canada
62 posts

My wife and I spent 3 days in versaille in sept last year .spent the first half a day and afternoon walking the gardens ,then did the main palace after 3 o'clock . It was busy but not too bad . It's a nice town to stroll around in and enjoy a glass of wine ,and some nice restaurants to enjoy at night . Enjoy

Posted by steven
white plains, ny, usa
1157 posts

A great many wonderful places come with unavoidable crowds , It would be a shame to exclude them on that basis . I wasn't crazy about the crowds in the palace ( or in the Louvre , or Florence , or Venice - I could go on forever ) but there are ways to get around that to some degree ( go early , go late in the day , you get the idea ) I didn't like the crowds either , but seeing the palace ( particularly , The Hall of Mirrors ) was worth it . As Nancy says , The Trianons and The Hameau were well worth the time in any event

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8730 posts

Having been there at least ten tomes now , may thru sept.

The palacae WILL be crowded. I guarantee you, unless you arrive BEFORE it opens and are in first " wave " of visitors.

The grounds and other buildings are never that crowed however. Since you would be going on a Sunday the gardens behind the palace I'll be a bit busy, it " Fountain show day" bit its not that bad.

Do not go in to palace if you are not there very early .,or perhaps 45 minutes before it closes. There are hundreds if not thousands of people on there.

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1732 posts

I went in October, 2011, on a gloomy Saturday that turned rainy. I hadn't planned on going, but the musee d'Orsay was still closed due to a strike. It was the last day of my museum pass, the RER C was right there, so I went. Very little line-I don't think I even waited 10 minutes for security. While there were a lot of people out front it didn't seem too bad. I started on the main tour, which then became a forced slog, elbow to elbow. No way to get off the route and leave early. I had about three "wow" moments, but it was not worth the crowds. I doubt I'll ever go back.

Check out Ina Caro's book "Paris Through the Past" for more ideas not far from Paris. You'll find a lot of historical context.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
8071 posts

I think you have a good idea of the trade-offs now. Le Hameau is my favorite part of Versailles, but I would brave the palace crowds either early or late (unless they really are unhealthy for you).

Posted by Nancy
Beaverton, Oregon
269 posts

Thank you all so much for your thoughts. I think we're going to have to go for it! We've passed on Versailles too many times and who knows when we'll be back. I've decided that we should go on Saturday, even thought that probably means even more crowds, so we won't have to worry about getting back in time for our 5 p.m. tour meeting on Sunday. That way, we'll have a full day to devote to Versailles and, perhaps, the lines won't be so stressful since we'll have no time limit. Again, many thanks for sharing your personal experiences. I've taken note of all of your suggestions.

Posted by Eef
95 posts

It sounds like you have decided to go to Versailles so I won't try to dissuade you. (I don't like crowds either so Versailles wouldn't be my first choice. That said, I did tour Versailles 30 years ago on a gloomy winter day and hardly anyone was there. I mostly remember it as being enormous!)

In formulating your plan, make sure you will be able to do what you want to do in Chartres -- on a Sunday. Tours of the cathedral may be more limited on Sunday, but you may have the chance to see some awesome church services which would be harder to see on a weekday.

Posted by Donna
Cleveland, OH
608 posts

Hi Nancy, we did this tour in May and had a great time. Good decision to visit Versailles on Saturday, it takes the better part of a day to see the house and gardens. We really enjoyed Chartres. The group tour of the cathedral was about an hour. We went back after lunch and took more photos. We didn't climb the steps to the tower but I bet the view would be nice. The lower village was also very scenic. The illumination was wonderful. I took some videos with my camera and I-pad and we have watched them many times (you can see some examples on youtube). Hope you enjoy the tour!

Posted by Nancy
Beaverton, Oregon
269 posts

Eef, I'll hope for a gloomy September day :-). We'll have a tour of the Cathedral on Monday with our RS group, so I'm not worried about seeing it thoroughly on Sunday.

Donna, was your tour of the Cathedral with Malcolm Miller? If not, we may go on his tour on our own.

Posted by Eef
95 posts

Definitely see Malcolm Miller, if you can. I did a tour with him...30 years ago. I can still remember some of his lines! It sounds like you have plenty of time in Chartres.

You're probably trying to pack light but you may want to bring some binoculars to see the stained glass better.