Rick's advice about skip the line at Versailles is not quite the whole story

Beware, Rick Steve's advice to buy a Museum Pass to skip the line at Versailles does not really help much (or at all). We rented a room in Versailles the night before so that we could be up early and beat the crowds yesterday. We arrived at the golden gates at 8:30 a.m. with Museum Passes in hand. The line up was already very very long. Confidently I strode to the front of the line to skip the line with my museum pass in hand. The helpful guide told me that skip the line only works in Paris. I thought he must be confused and tried two other Versailles staff members. All with the same result. So we got back in the line and waited for one and a half hours to get through security. So much for skip the line. The only people who happily walked past us were those who had booked private tours. That is your only hope of beating the monstrous lines.

Rick's much touted Museum Pass was a waste of money. Instead buy the Versailles ticket online in advance for much less money. Do get there very early but you will still have to wait a long time to get through security. Or line up at 6:00 a.m. or something ridiculous like that. Or book a private tour on line through the Versailles website -- that is what we should have done because that would have been much cheaper than the cost of the hotel room and Museum Pass we did pay for.

Or just don't go in August, it is terribly busy. Hours and hours to get through the line even with Rick's Museum "still stand in line" Pass trick.

Posted by saoharper
21 posts

Amen! We were there the same day. The museum pass meant we got to skip the line to buy tickets, which was probably 1 hour, but we could not skip the line to enter...2 hours. Then the interior of the chateu was so miserably crowded that all we wanted to do was leave. Shoulder to shoulder, lots of shoving, hard to see, impossible to take in the room....

Also "fountain day" meant they turned on one of the many fountains...not worth the 8 euros each it cost us to enter the gardens.

I suppose if we had skipped Versailles I would feel like we missed out, but I think we would have enjoyed spending the time seeing other sights in Paris more.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
2794 posts

I am so, so sorry you had such a bad experience. Indeed, your post could also be to titled: skip traveling to Paris in August if at all possible. It has become impossible to funnel so many visitors into a few famous sites. I hope you do use the rest of the days on the pass to see some of the smaller, less talked about but amazing museums: Orangerie, Cluny, Jacqumart-Andre, even the National Modern Art Museum at the Pompidou is less visited though absolutely amazing...take advantage of the evening hours at the Orsay this evening (Thursday), tomorrow at the Louvre.

To anyone who wonders, yes life does go on quite well even if you don't visit Versailles when in Paris, or go up the Eiffel Tower, or line up for a quick walk around the inside of Notre Dame or up the tower. Tourism has changed, so we need to adjust as well to stay sane. A good guide book for someone to write would be about how to visit Paris in July and August.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
2028 posts

I'm sorry that your visit to Versailles was not what you had hoped for. I can't speak to what it says in the RS tour books but here on the website his tip is that buying the museum pass allows you to skip the ticket buying line. I have always known (and assumed that others did also) that it does not allow you to skip the security line (this is also true for some other museums). I also think that's been mentioned several times in answers to helpline questions about when is best time to visit. Even if you buy the Versailles ticket online in advance you still have to go through the security line. Those who book a private tour go through a separate security screening because their tours are time specific.

Posted by Kathy
United States
1020 posts

I'm sorry about your experience as well; very useful insight to book a tour during high season.

I'll have to put in a good word for the Paris Museum Pass (NOT the Paris Pass) however. I'm not a big fan of passes in general but that one was worth every euro. What I liked about it was not only that it covered the majority of things we wanted to do but that it allowed for MULTIPLE visits to any of the attractions: rare for most passes. The Louvre being enormous, we were able to just stop in for a few hours during evening openings to cover some galleries that were just too much to fit into a single visit, and you could see Paris from the Arc de Triomphe during the day and after dark as well. But no, it didn't help us at the Towers of Notre Dame, and the security line at Sainte-chapelle so we had a bit of wait at both.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
1349 posts

We did all the right things to have a shorter security line the first week of June, 2012 and still waited a very long time in the security line. I checked into doing the small group tour in English, but it didn't include ANY of the same rooms the cattle chute route does. We would've been required to go to the line to get in at the beginning and spend the typical 90 minutes going through the whole palace. Too long. Too crowded. No means of escape along the way. No way to see the only room I wanted to see.

I can't imagine that all the hoards of people going through all the time are not doing damage to the place just by breathing.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
8025 posts

Rick's descriptions of the Museum Pass and of Versailles mention the security line in several places. Luckily, the Paris Museum Pass will not be a waste of money if you can use it to visit additional sites in the city.

Posted by Ruth
Ithaca, NY, USA
188 posts

Ditto to a lot of what was said. We were there in July, and we compounded our problem by choosing to purchase the group tour in English (which actually cost a lot of money, on top of the passport, unlike what the book says) once we arrived. Our Official Versailles tour guide was awful!! She did speak English -- barely -- but she didn't have enough grasp of English to explain what she was showing us in the rooms. It took her 15 minutes to struggle her way through what should have taken 5 minutes, max. And, like Lo said, this tour didn't cover any of the main route. After an hour we actually ditched the guided tour (I think that is a first for me....I usually love guided tours) and by then the main rooms were jam packed. We should have just stuck with the audio tour.

Another problem is the official map of the grounds is not at all to scale. We had planned to rent bikes, but when we got to the end of the fountain area it looked like we had covered half the grounds on the map, so we decided to proceed on foot. Mistake number 2! We were unable to see any of the outer buildings other than the Grand Trianon because of the distance.

I think this might be one instance where purchasing the expensive tour package from a private company (like Fat Bikes) might actually make sense.

Posted by gone
2081 posts

scott.lewis,

i found the info described as spot on so far. As far a tickets were concerned, no problem. as far as security, no short cut there or anywhere.

happy trails.

Posted by Paula
Atlanta, GA, USA
102 posts

We stayed in Paris for a week, and used the museum pass several times. For us, it was well worth the cost. But for just Versailles, it would not be a good option.

We visited Versailles in the spring of 2012. Versailles was a crowded nightmare then. I cannot imagine what it is like in the summer. There was no line to get tickets, but the line for security was unbelievable. So, we decided to book a tour of the private quarters. The cost of this tour is not covered by the pass, but it was only $10 or $15 - and worth it to bypass security. When one enters the gates, it is a small office off to the right. When we showed up at our allotted time, they took us through a private security line. Our tour guide was wonderful. At the end, we picked up an audio guide and did the "regular" tour of the palace.

In hindsight, we would have skipped the palace altogether. It was just too crowded. And we have been fortunate enough to have visited other, beautiful palaces in Europe. If we had it to do over, we would have just rented bikes and explored the spectacular grounds.

Posted by Brian
Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA
213 posts

So Rick's book was right and the poster read it wrong?

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
2794 posts

Well, yes and no. Most of the time his advice to buy a ticket ahead of time is spot on, and it still is here. He does say that people will still have a security line, but I don't think the books let people know how dreadful the Versaille security line can be. On this forum, the contributors, especially Pat, always warn people about the security line, but in the ETTBD that I skimmed it states there is a security line but no warning about its length. So I wouldn't put it into terms of one's right and the other's wrong, but maybe there is a lack of emphasis or a new warning is needed to fit the new mass tourism that is flooding these sites. IMHO, in just the last few years the crowds have increased dramatically and perhaps the Paris sections haven't been updated to reflect the new reality..

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
21475 posts

scott,

Did you visit Versailles on a Tuesday or Sunday? I was there on a Tuesday morning in early July last year, and I also waited about 1.5 hours in the entry queue for ticket and Pass holders. As I recall, I arrived at the station at about 10:00 and figured that would be reasonably early to avoid the crowds. However, when I rounded the corner from the station and saw a dozen or more tour buses parked in the lot, I figured out very quickly what the experience was going to be like that day.

Fortunately, there was some "entertainment" to keep me occupied while standing in line. In addition to visiting with a nice couple from the middle east, I was able to watch a foot pursuit with local Gendarmes chasing a scammer who had been selling cheap trinkets. The scammer dropped his wares and ran, and he was faster than two or three police officers so they didn't get him. Later in the day I observed the police handing out the scammer's trinkets from the trunk of their police car, to children visiting the chateau.

The lineup for Chateau was huge when I first arrived so I decided to tour the gardens first, hoping that the tour groups would dissipate in the afternoon. That wasn't the case! Once inside the Chateau, it was extremely crowded but still reasonably manageable. I was using the RS Versailles tour on my iPhone so I didn't have to rent an Audioguide, and that worked really well. In some sections, I simply waited for the tour groups to pass by, since I wasn't in a hurry.

Regarding the information in the Guidebooks, it seems basically correct although it omits a few important details and should emphasize others. I checked both the Paris book (2009 version) as well as the Pocket Paris (purchased last year). A few comments of mention from the books.....

"Versailles is a zoo May-Sept. 10:00-13:00, with especially big crowds all day Tue. and Sun. Lines to buy tickets and go through security are long and the Ch√Ęteau is a slow shuffle of shoulder-to-shoulder tourists."

That information seems basically correct. However, it would probably be helpful to mention that even with tickets or Museum Passes there could still be a long queues for entry to the Chateau, especially in peak season (July/August) and especially on Tue. and Sun. One of the reasons that Tuesdays are crowded, is that the Louvre is closed that day, so many tourists migrate to Versailles. Reportedly the same is true when visiting the Louvre on Mondays, when Versailles is closed - I was at the Louvre on Monday and it was most definitely crowded!

"You can skip the ticket-buying line by using a Paris Museum Pass or Le Passeport , by buying tickets in advance, or by booking a guided tour. Everyone -- including advance ticket and passholders -- must wait in line to go through security (longest lines 10:00-12:00)."

Again, this information is basically correct although it would probably by prudent to mention that in peak season the lineups may be long for most of the day, and not just between 10:00 & 12:00. That was certainly my experience as I didn't get into the Chateau until about 15:00 after standing the lines for about 1.5 hours.

Next time I visit Versailles, I'll certainly plan more carefully.

Posted by David
Walnut Creek
107 posts

Sometimes you do get "lucky". We went to Versailles on a Wednesday in the second week of December 2012. We arrived at the "golden gates" at around 9:45 am and entered the vast and basically deserted courtyard. There were maybe a dozen people milling around. We went right through security and into the palace. The big buses started coming at around 10:30am, depositing their waves. However, generally, if you timed it right, one wave would leave a room before the next wave came through, giving you about one minute to breath and see things without elbowing others. Once you left the upper floor, the rest of the palace was basically deserted. I toured the Dauphin's chambers on the ground floor and there was no one there. The down side is that the gardens are dorment at that time of year. You just had to pretend that there was grass, flowers and something on the tree branches. Plus, the fountains were all empty. The Grand and Petite Trianon and the farm was also nearly deserted. The farm was deserted, I was the only one there. So, just depends upon timing. Considering how crowded I thought the rooms were then, hard to image how bad it must have been during summer.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
1349 posts

Anybody know when the gardens ARE blooming or at least planted? It must be a short period of the year. We were there the 1st week of June 2012. The trees were leafed out but everything else was a barren quagmire of mud.

Posted by v-elaind
3 posts

We experienced exactly what the original author of this post said, we were there on August 10. We waited 1 1/2 hours to get in, the pass didn't help at all and we felt that the instructions in the book were misleading as well. We did enjoy the gardens though and rented a golf cart to help us cover more ground, very helpful given the size of the place and the fact that it started to rain as well. It didn't speed things up at Ste Michelle either but Rick was clear that would be the case there. It did help at Le Louvre but we were there late in the day so it didn't much matter. Still a huge RS's fan though and the books served us VERY well in all 4 cities (London, Paris, Rome and Venice).

Posted by Alex H
Honolulu
7 posts

We went in June, got there in early afternoon and checked into the Ibis hotel across from the rail station, then went to see the chateau. YOW! So crowded. So we went to the gift shop, and then strolled around town seeing other sights.

The next morning we walked over there at 8 am and saw 6 people in line. Since we had an hour to wait we followed some around to the right and the gardens were open (joggers going in/out, etc) so we strolled in and spent a happy hour wandering in the the cool morning air. At 9:15 we strolled out and the two long lines and horrid crowds were back, so we decided we'd just enjoy the DVD tour we'd picked up in the gift shop.

When we got to Paris, we were renting an apartment for a week, our landlord told us he'd been there once on a snowy Tuesday in January and the lines were just as bad. So if we ever do it again we'll pay for Fat Tire or some other company to expedite the process. Or just see Fountainbleu or some other palace...

Posted by lpricehike
Dallas, Texas
18 posts

First, I would definitely advise against travelling to Paris anywhere from mid-June through the entire month of August. In fact, I would advise against travel during that time-frame to most European cities. WAY TO CROWDED!

I have used the Museum Pass in the past, I it was worth every penny. I made sure of it! I made sure that I made my visits to what was covered by the pass during the length of the pass. For other places, I traveled on the days that weren't covered. That way, I made the most of those passes. There are about 30 places that the pass covers, so if you want to see several things that are included, it's worth it.

I do feel that the Paris City pass is a waste of money.

The standing in line - that's always been for getting the tickets. Only small groups get to jump ahead of others for entering.

Suggestions - travel during off season - especially true for major sites, such as Versailles, Louvre, etc.

Lisa

Posted by kimharger
3 posts

We are traveling to Paris the week after Christmas and would like to see Versailles. The private apartment tours are all booked. Any suggestions on what day of the week to go and a good tour group? I have 5 teenagers in tow and don't think that they'll be able to handle the long security lines very happily...

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
2794 posts

" don't think that they'll be able to handle the long security lines very happily" If that's the case, perhaps going to Versailles isn't at the top of their list. My kids haven't been since they were stroller age, though they've been to Paris lots of times. It has never been on their list of must-dos.

However, since as parents we do try to instill some sense of education, historical rooms abound for your kids to visit in the Louvre, at the Jacquemart-Andre Museum (good restaurant in the former ball room), and other places. Maybe wait for a sunny day and head just for the Versaille gardens, which are easier to enter, and rent bikes to ride to the various buildings in the gardens. Maybe you can let them on their own with a well-planned schedule one day, while you go off to Versaille if you want to see the interior.

Posted by Back2Italy
Indianapolis
214 posts

I think "skipping" the line, depends on the time of year and the time of day you arrive. We traveled to Versailles in late May shortly after it opened and had about 100 people in front of us in line (we were standing outside.)

Since we'd purchased tickets ahead, we bypassed about 80% of those who had to stop inside at the machines/counter and buy tickets. We were then moved to a second line to actually enter and see the sights. With a short wait in the second line we walked right in.

The 80% behind us who had to buy tickets were frustrated and frenzied trying to get their tickets from machines or attendants faster than those around them... definitely a stressful experience for them. I think simply bypassing those who have not bought tickets is the "skipping the line" that Rick is talking about.

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
9105 posts

Rick does not say the passes allow you to skip the security line:
"The following passes...allow you to skip long ticket-buying lines (but not security checks before entering the palaces)."