The first time I went to Paris around 10 years ago, I didn’t get a chance to visit the gilded gold and mirrored halls of Versailles, so when we returned this year, I made it a priority to go. Versailles is definitely not for the faint of heart. What’s tricky about Versailles is that everyone’s expectations are sky high, with so many movies and photos of the gilded palace free of people. In reality, it is a somewhat stressful experience with throngs of people. Nobody shows you this side of Versailles…
The day we went to Versailles, it was raining sideways, brutally windy and cold, and although we arrived only 30 min-1 hour after opening, we ended up waiting 2-3 hours in the elements just to enter the gates. All in all we had a great time, but we also learned a lot from our experience if we were to do it again. Here are my tips:
It is about a 40-45 minute train ride from Paris to Versailles, and about a ten minute walk from the train station to the palace. Give your self some wiggle room and aim to arrive at the palace around 30 minutes before opening. Everyone must go through security, which is essentially like going through TSA, except imagine that there is only one lane…because there is only one lane.
Dress as if you will be outside all day, as you will be waiting in line and exploring the gardens completely at the mercy of the elements, whether this is heat in the summer or sideways rain, like we encountered. It’s easy to underestimate the size of Versailles, but don’t be fooled, it is HUGE. Wear comfortable walking shoes. We walked around 10 miles that day exploring the palace and gardens.
I would suggest buying ticket ahead of time, as it saves you from waiting in one line.
There are less bathrooms than you would expect for a tourist location as big as Versailles, so I would suggest having one person save your space in line while you use the restroom near the ticket office.
If You’re Unsure, Ask
I was surprised at how poorly organized Versailles is. There are very few signs and even fewer staff-members there to offer support or crowd control. In the chaos, there were times when we waited in lines we didn’t have to, wondered if we were in the right place, and watched people shamelessly cut the line. Poll your line neighbors or the guards who are “monitoring” the lines if you’re not sure if you’re in the right place.
Splurge a Little
A lot of people encourage packing your own lunch to save money, I say, splurge a little and take a break at one of the restaurants in the garden. It was a welcome rest after all the walking and the elements.
We also loved getting a little treat at the small Laduree inside the palace.
Dedicate Enough Time
Give the full day to Versailles. The sheer size of the palace and the gardens is much larger than it looks. By the time the palace closed, we didn’t even get a chance to see Marie Antoinette’s estate and Trianon Palaces.
I know I painted a pretty bleak picture of Versailles, but I would say that it’s worth it to visit at least once in your life. It truly is spectacular. Just make sure you set yourself up for success and manage those expectations!