The Palace of Versailles, wow.
Two words: stunning and overwhelming. This place oozes grandeur, opulence, extravagance. We’ve never seen anything quite like it. Footballers’ wives eat your heart out! Apparently half of France’s GDP was spent on the Palace. It actually started out as a fairly modest hunting lodge until King Louis XIV came along and started adding wings, acres of formal gardens, striking fountains decorated with mythical creatures.
OUR TOP TIPS
Versailles: we loved it! But it can be overwhelming due its size and the crowds it attracts on a daily basis. So we’ve come up with some tips to help you preserve your sanity whilst visiting with your kiddos!
1. Best laid plans – if possible, pick a sensible day to visit!
Our original plan was to visit the Palace of Versailles on a Saturday at around midday during the school holidays. What was I thinking?? Luckily a Parisian friend of mine put me right. So if you can, try to choose a sensible day to visit.
2. Buy your tickets ahead
Obvious I know but if possible: buy your tickets ahead! You can buy them online on the Palace’s website – this is what we did and we then had to collect them at the tourist office on the day of our visit (make sure you build in some extra time to pick them up). We also discovered later that we could have bought tickets straight from our campsite (!) so check with your hotel/holiday accomodation as they might also offer this option. Click here for the various ticket options – it’s worth noting that access to the Palace and the estate of Trianon is FREE for visitors under 18 (or under 26 residing in the EU). We did have to pay extra for our children as we went on a Tuesday which was a musical gardens & fountains show day. You can also buy the Paris Pass if you’re planning on visiting other sites in Paris.
3. Get There Early & Visit the Palace First
Another obvious one – get there early! Despite our best laid plans, we rocked up at Versailles at 10am and immediately noticed a huge queue snaking backwards and forwards across the foreground of Versailles. The lady at the tourist office strongly recommended that we visit the Palace first as the queues would only get longer, the more you wait. So we queued for about 1 hr 15 minutes and the time passed surprisingly fast as we chatted to our lovely fellow queuers – every cloud, right?
4. Put Yourself in Your Children’s Shoes
I actually mean this quite literally – imagine being squished, squashed, pushed and shoved by giants towering 40 – 60 cm above you. Fun? Nope. Our little Miss 7 seemed distinctly underwhelmed by the inside of the Palace and sped through the visit at lightning speed. The crowds and accompanying elbowing can be really overwhelming for little ones (adults too!). I would imagine that visiting with small children could be challenging and probably not something I would have endeavoured when mine were tiny tots. So spare a thought for your little ones and perhaps consider just doing the gardens.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that audio guides are not provided to children under the age of 8.
5. Don’t Try To Do Everything
Set your expectations. It’s tempting to try to fit it all in… I know – we tried! The Estate – which includes the Palace, Gardens, Park, Petit Trianon, Grand Trianon, Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet – is vast and spreads across 2000 acres. That’s a lot of ground to cover in one day!
Why not consider buying a two day ticket and allowing yourself the time to fully immerse in the Versailles experience? Spend the first day visiting the Palace and the Gardens. On day 2, visit Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet, the Petit Trianon and the Grand Trianon.
Or don’t even bother with tickets and head to the Park of Versailles. It’s free and open to the public – very much like a public park. You’ll see people jogging, biking, lazing on the grass, munching on a baguette. So why not head there with your picnic, take in the atmosphere and enjoy the fabulous backdrop.
6. Divide and Conquer
As soon as we realized that Miss 7 was going to win a prize for sprinting her way through the visit, we quickly decided to ‘divide and conquer’. I stayed with Mr 10 and Jonathan took off with Miss 7. Bear it in mind if you have children of differing ages. We have ‘divided and conquered’ many times over the years – mostly to preserve our own sanity!
7. Scooby Snacks & games
Have some snacks at the ready! This piece of advice popped up so many times during my research. So make sure you pack snacks, drinks and even some travel games. Jonathan and Miss 7 exited the Palace about 40 minutes ahead of us and I was a little apprehensive at what we’d find when we caught up with them…
I was very pleasantly surprised – they were sat on a bench, playing a game of Dobble (great game by the way!) after having had some water and eaten half their lunch.
There are a number of cafés and snack shacks dotted about the Gardens, however, I’d strongly recommend packing your own picnic – what a stunning backdrop for a picnic, right? Avoid the long queues and the overpriced tourist fare.
Snacks could also come in VERY handy whilst queuing to get in to the palace.
8. Getting around
My kids are great walkers however I was very glad that we opted for a trip on the mini-train to get from the Palace to Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet. We were starting to feel a little weary after our morning spent queuing followed by the Palace visit and so the train was an excellent option. It gives you a chance to rest, take in the views, get an idea of the scale of the grounds and of course, it’s also a fun mode of transport. Kids under 11 travel free on the train and our tickets cost €7.50 per person – money very well spent. It stops at 3 different places and you can hop-on and hop-off as often as you like.
Golf Cart and Bike Hire
There are other options for transport including hiring an electric vehicle (basically a golf buggy) or hiring bikes. We liked the idea of the golf buggy but there was a long queue for them and it was quite pricey. The bike hire stands weren’t as close to the Palace (we were tired!) and so the train won in the end. I read that there are bike hire companies that offer tours – you can meet up at the train station or within the gardens. That would be a fun option too but probably more suitable with older children.
We almost brought our kids’ bikes with us and we’re glad we didn’t as there are many no-go zones for bikes. Take them if you’re heading to the public park – you can then easily cycle to Marie-Antoinette’s hamlet or the Gardens and simply lock them up whilst you visit the site. You wouldn’t be able to go in the main Palace entrance with the bikes though. Also, be aware that it’s now illegal for children under the age of 12 to ride without bike helmets in France.
9. Spark Their Interest!
Have a few fun facts under your belt to spark your children’s interest and to get them involved in their forthcoming visit. Check out this post for ideas for getting your kids interested in Versailles and the French Revolution. Here’s a taster:
- There were some 700 rooms at Versailles!
- Marie-Antoinette’s hairdresser used to powder her hair with flour
- Some rich people actually bathed in crushed strawberries
- Peasants resorted to eating grass as the price of wheat was so high they couldn’t afford bread
- Louis XVI would purposely trip up his servants ‘for a laugh’ and would drop his trousers as entertainment
Have I missed anything? Let me know if you have any further top tips for visiting this extraordinary place.
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