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Versailles...the details

Hi, all. We are going on a whirlwind tour of Europe, and will be in Paris for 3 nights this early July. I would really like for us (me and two teens) to see Versailles. I know some will say forget it (have read some horrible reviews about fearing for lives in the crowd) and some will say skip it this time, with so limited a time we're there (our first time to Paris). But it looks so splendid. I'm hung up on it. :) I've read the Fat Tire tours itinerary (market, gardens, picnic, chateau, in that order from what I gather from reviews, etc.) and I like the idea of it, but not the price ($100 per person) or the restrictions it gives on times. We love a guided tour, but Rick has a great audio version (and one free at the Chateau.) It may also be worth mentioning we are going on a Sunday when they have the musical fountains. We don't have any other choice in the schedule, so I don't know what kind of craziness that gives. How would we do this on our own? Would we have to enter a different entrance to get to just the gardens so we can carry in some light food from the market like they do on the FT tour? From what I gather they X-ray the bags if you go in the main entrance. How do they get the supposed food, bottle of wine, and bottle opener in? And then from the gardens can we enter the chateau from the back, so to speak, or would we have to go all the way around to the front? I can't find this info on their website. If we go to the market first (opens 7am), and then the gardens (see fountains for show between 10 and 11am)will the Chateau be relatively empty in the late afternoon...say 3ish, to be able to explore later without the mad crush of people and tour groups? I saw it was open until 6:30. Thanks for any help. Love a challenge. :)
Tammy

Posted by
8648 posts

Re: Bikes... you can rent them in the gardens by the Grand Canal. We've done this many times and love going all over by bike. Can't remember the cost but it's very reasonable. They give you bike locks and you can get a basket for your bike. You can take food into the gardens. Don't know about the corkscrew into the Palace. One option, after you rent bikes, ride into town (very easy) and buy food for a picnic - or eat at a cafe. There's a restaurant called La Flotille by the Grand Canal where we've eaten several times for convenience but it's not very good food. There's another restaurant and a couple of smaller places in the Gardens where you can get a sandwich. We love Versailles. Don't love it on Fountain Days though - too crowded and fountains were not worth it imo. They blare loud music over loudspeakers which we found very annoying.

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11450 posts

The palace has cloakrooms, you can check your picnic bags.

Posted by
14 posts

Well something is malfunctioning and I can't edit my question.... I forgot to mention specifically that we want to do this with bikes. I had read of a company called Phoebus, perhaps, that rents them nearby....we would like to take them in to ride in the gardens (I have read of others doing this). This is another reason why I assumed there must be a separate entrance to the gardens. The FT tour gets their bikes in with their picnic, and logic would tell me it's not through the Chateau front door. Thanks again!

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720 posts

Tammy:
My wife and I visited Versailles in April 2011. It was on a weekend and the lines were unbelievably longwe arrived around 10:00. We opted for the gardens only (line much shorter) and were delighted with our visit. I don't recall any particular security for the gardens. There is a wonderful outdoor(tented) restaurant in the gardens (probably more than one). We enjoyed the meal very much, it wasn't particularly expensive, and we chatted with a German and Australian couple during lunch. Verify the times the fountains are operational, they weren't on the entire time we were thereon a Sunday. If you visit the gardens, you'll have to get another ticket to see the interior. The lines will be shorter later in the day to get inside. You may just have to take a peek at the lines sometime(s) in the afternoon. Note if you are at all familiar with the gardens you know they are immense. And, if you want to walk from the gardens (even those nearest the Palace), and back again (to check the length of the line) you'll be looking at least a half hour walk. Don't count on the interior ever being "relatively empty". I don't think you need a guided tour. Just hop on the Metro, get off, walk across the street and purchase a ticket outside the grounds, then take a 10-15 minute walk to the entrance.

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7201 posts

Tammy: The Chateau of Versailles is one of those not to miss attractions. Last time we visited, we took a subway/train out to the village and walked in. I would suggest you read the offical website: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage Wikipedia has a great website on Versailles going over the history of the property and the French Revolution in a concise manner. I have experienced lines, but at no time any craziness or mayhem out there.

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4535 posts

I can't answer all of your questions, but will try for some. Go to the palace tour as early as you can. Be there when the doors open and you will mostly avoid the worst of the crowds. But it WILL be crowded on fountain day. The gardens are usually free except on fountain days. Buy a combo ticket if you can. The fountains run at specific times and not all at once. Only the formal gardens where all the fountains are will be restricted. The rest are free and won't be very crowded. You can also enter the gardens to the north of the palace off the Blvd du Roi on the Blvd de la Reine. That entry is free and you could easily ride a bike in there. That roadway leads you to the Trianons. Keep in mind that you will have to pay (or have a ticket) to enter the formal gardens if you circle around toward the palace from inside the gardens. You should be able to check bags or use a locker, but they may fill up on busy days. There is only one palace entry, from the front. Versailles is easy to get to on RER C from central Paris. Keep in mind two things: the ticket to Versailles costs more than a regular Metro ticket. Be sure to buy a full fare ticket to Versailles. And that line branches off, so be sure to board the train to Versailles Rive Guache/Chateau (not Chantiers or other lines).

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14 posts

Thanks, all! Will definitely double check the fountain times. Great advice. I did manage to find a map on the Versailles website after much more time, showing two more gates on the right hand side of the gardens.....the Queen's Gate and another. I'm going to do more investigating on that. Thanks for the info on the length of the trip from the gates to the front, Jon. I had no idea it was so long. And also for the specific street names, Douglas. We are going to have a Museum Pass, but from what I read you have to pay extra for the gardens on fountain day, so we'll be prepared for that. Great info on the bikes, Susan! I didn't know I could take them out of the gardens, so that will save our legs. The gardens open at 8am. Does anyone know about the time that the bike rental opens? It appears on their map there's one right by the Queen's gate. Or maybe the bike symbol means bikes are allowed? Not sure. I've recently read that they that they won't check bags with food. I can't personally verify that, though, having never been, and don't want to take a chance getting all the way through security, etc. only to be stalemated at the bag check. Yikes. I hope it's not too crazy. I seriously considered throwing it out of the itinerary last night when reading the reviews on TA. Was really concerned about frustration with the crowds. Crowds, themselves, don't bother me. Shoving and dangerous levels of people do. Tammy

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8648 posts

"Shoving and dangerous levels of people" I've never seen that in the Palace. Extremely crowded when in a particular room, yes, but I've always been able to move away from the worst of it. The gardens, no matter how many people are there, are so huge you're never smashed in by people. Don't know what time the bike rental open (I'll try to find it) but I would guess when the gardens open. I'm looking now for a good map of the gardens to see what you mean by the Queen's Gate...

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14 posts

Not making that up. Last night I read accounts on TA going back to summer 2012 (to gauge our time of visit) about people crying, worrying about being trapped, how unsafe it is, etc. That's what got me debating and rethinking about tour vs. no tour vs. not going at all. I don't recall ever reading things like that before, so it threw me. Several who visited in December of 2012 said the crowds were at dangerous levels. Maybe because it was December? In the first few most recent pages of reviews of the Chateau on TA alone there are numerous accounts stating things such as I've mentioned. I hope it is not true and they're just exaggerated accounts. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187148-d188681-Reviews-or10-Chateau_de_Versailles-Versailles_Yvelines_Ile_de_France.html#REVIEWS Thanks, everyone!
Any other information on the bikes, crowds experienced after 3 in the summer, or picnicking would be greatly appreciated. Tammy

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14 posts

Here's the pdf address from their website where I found the map with the gate. Here It took me forever to find it on their website, so I'm not sure where I did locate it. I just saved the pdf.

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8648 posts

Totally believe you read that Tammy. I went to your link, read some, but don't have time to read through all. I've been to Versailles at least 15 times in the past 11 yrs, and all I can say is nothing like that has ever happened when I was there. Not saying it didn't though :) I do think going on a weekend day is the worst time to go though. I realize that's your only option so I would go and judge things when I got there and just do the gardens if it's insane inside. I couldn't find a good map online so I found the brochure we kept from our last visit. It says nothing about renting bikes. Big help. But they definitely rent bikes (there is a bike icon on brochure map where they rent them). It's right by the start of the Grand Canal. It is not by a gate. If you ride your bike straight down the road from the rental, away from the Grand Canal, you do come to a gate called "Saint Anthony Gate". That gate leads right into town and that's where I'd ride to get food if you want to. But like I said, we've always just bought food in the gardens for convenience.

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8648 posts

Just looked at your pdf link map... it shows Saint Anthony's Gate, the one I referred to, which is straight down from the Grand Canal where you rent bikes.

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14 posts

Thanks so much for taking the time to do that, Susan. You must be very organized to be able to find that brochure so quickly!

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11450 posts

My 13 yr old and I rented bikes in the gardens, the bike rental place we rented from was not by the gate but right by the start of the canal. You can't miss it. You can enter and pay for the formal gardens( fountain show days) from that end too, it would be much easier to do so too as most people of course go to the front of the Palace and then through there to Gardens. I have been to Versailles when the crowds inside the palace can be overwhelming, frankly one can feel a bit trapped if stuck between large tour bus groups, they can be rather aggressive about staying together ( fearful of being left behind by their guide) so it can be hard to either walk past them or to get stuck in their "flow", lol but I can't say I ever felt in danger.. thats an interesting thought. I did not read you couldn't check food, I will look that up, its actually not the easiest website to get around in I admit.

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56 posts

Fat Tire Bike Tour to Versailles is highly recommended. They get you "head of the line privleges" plus an audio guide. You could spend 5 hours in the joint if you had it but you can see everything in a couple of hours which is about what you get in the palace with the tour. They take a real nice tour of the grounds, gardens and Marie Antoinette's play house. If I was on a tight schedule I would do the FT tour. I have taken two of their tours and think they are among the highlights of out trips to Paris. Just MHO. The palace grounds are huge and you can't see them all on foot in a day. We rented bikes last year on the grounds and they were about 20e/ea I think. That was fun too. We took the bus instead of the train and got off across from the entrance. http://parisbytrain.com/how-to-get-to-chateau-de-versailles-via-bus/
this is a good site with the instructions if you choose to take the bus. If you have the time I would take the FT tour especially on a Saturday. Good Luck

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16964 posts

Here is the website for bike rental at Versailles Chantiers train station. http://www.velo-versailles.fr/phebusveloan/louer.html
12 eu per day. My memory of our visit to the palace is very long lines to use the bathroom facilities in the palace grounds proper. In fact, I ordered lunch at the garden restaurant, got served, waited until it got cold, then finished it before my wife got back from her visit. Yes, the water show was a bit disappointing. The grand finale at the end of the day lasted all of 5 minutes.

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14 posts

Thanks, Curt. Yes, I know it's highly recommended. Looks fantastic! The nature of the FT trip was the impetus for trying to do this day with a little more flair. I do have their Day and Night Tours and others in Berlin booked already and am really excited about them! Sometimes I like to do things on my own, though (like a day tour I planned to Pompeii years ago, which turned out just fantastic and better than the organized tour ever could have been). As a side note, I wondered if they gave a discount if you have a Museum Pass? That would save them around 25 euros, I'd wager, bringing the cost of the trip down cosiderably. Thanks, Sam, for the bike website. They are cheaper than at Versailles, but I'm not sure how the pick up location will work. I didn't realize it was at another station. Tammy

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11450 posts

Tammy the other station for bike pick up is fine, you will just need a map to bike to Chateau. Years ago I got on wrong train and ended up at Chantiers with my 11 yr old dd. we just walked to Chateau, its not a big deal people make it out to be, it was a 15 -20 minute walk instead of a 5-10 minute walk.. so on a bike its nothing. Tammy, I have done all the FT tours in Paris ( including Versailles and Monets Gardens,and one in London) . I love them, but my opinion is doing Versailles is better on your own.. you do not get as much time to see the grounds and outer buildings on the tour.. I had been to Versailles many times and enjoyed the bike tour,but I knew what we were missing, my friend who was with me had never been, she did not know what she was missing , and she didn't miss it , she thought she had a great tour.. lol

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4535 posts

There is no bike rental at the Queens Gate. I believe the park bike rental is only at the Grand Canal. There may be town services outside St. Anthony's Gate, but the main town center of Versailles is outside the Queens Gate (just to the left and above the Sun King emblem on the map). Few tourists venture into Versailles town proper but it is a wonderful community with lots of services. The Chantiers Station is one of the RER C branch lines or can be reached on the regular SNCF rail from Gare Montparnasse. It is a hefty but easy 20-25 minute walk to the Chateau. A bike ride would be very quick but on some city streets. The route is pretty direct - it'd be hard to get lost. With very limited time, a tour like Flat Tire would be a good idea. You won't believe how massive the complex is and it can be very crowded, especially on weekends and fountain days. Just the walking and standing in line alone will take a big chunk of your time. If you had an entire day, you're better on your own.

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14 posts

Thanks for the clarification, Douglas. The bike symbol at Anne's gate on the map must mean you can bring them in at that point. Great idea about just taking the train to the other station, but there is a snag I found. The other bike rental company (Phebus) closes at 6pm in July, and that is cutting it too close to the closing of Versailles for my liking, so we'll probably just pay extra for the bikes within Versailles, itself. We'll at least be there and be able to return them quickly. I'm really excited about the prospect of roaming around Versaille town proper while there. Why not?! I did a Google walk about and it looks fun!!! Tammy

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Thanks, pat, for the info on Fat Tire. When I first get to a city where I've never been and plan to visit for a few days, I always do an overview tour. Versailles (like Pompeii) is different in that it's a limited one day outing...and yes, I do know what you mean about missing out when you're on someone else's schedule for a day. Still debating, but the more cool things that I find out about Versailles town proper, the more I want to ensure we get to break off on our own and visit downtown for an hour or two. Lots of great restaurants. :) Tammy