It was wet, very very wet. My shoes leaked and I had to wear plastic bags inside my socks. But it’s one of those houses that you just have to visit? No? Right?
Here is how I will approach Versailles on my next visit (because it definitely takes more than one visit to see everything properly, unless you have a hover board or enough energy for 10 hours of walking around):
1. Buy tickets online in advance. This avoids an approximate 1 hour queue to get tickets on arrival.
2. Get the RER train from Central Paris. We were staying near the Arc de Triomphe and so we walked to Pont de l’Alma, from where the train takes about 30 minutes to the end of the RER C (yellow) line, Versailles Rive Gauche. It’s a short 5 minute walk from the train station to the Palace. It cost about €15 return for two people.
3. If there is a grève (strike) or engineering works on the RER train you can go to the end of the number 8 metro line and then take a bus. This is also the cheaper option.
THE PALACE INTERIOR
I was very happy when I finally arrived at this DRY corridor.
Let the elbowing begin (that’s no joke – it’s like a scrum inside Versailles).
Don’t bother visiting the palace interiors without a tour guide unless it’s a must for you. The interiors are empty of contents for the large part and so busy the routes clog up in various rooms. There is a good exhibition in some of the first rooms about the origins of the palace, which I found interesting. However, I think the ceilings and wall decorations are probably best viewed on screen or in a book, unless of course you get the chance of a private visit to Versailles, when the crowds have gone home.
I have a story about those barriers – which is why I took so many pictures of them!
If you must go inside, go at the very end of the day. We queued to go inside immediately, having arrived at opening time. We queued in the rain for 90 minutes, so had we not bought tickets in advance we could have sent one of us to buy tickets while we queued. Admittedly, the queue when we visited might have been longer because of the pouring rain, meaning no one wanted to walk around in the gardens.
Where in England would I have queued for 90 minutes to get in? Nowhere! This is where timed tickets (such as at Buckingham Palace) would have been a brilliant idea. Are you listening Versailles?
The ticket and entrance queues are separate. Unfortunately we did see some people who arrived at the front of the entrance queue, only to find out they needed to queue separately to obtain tickets.
If you do want to see inside, take a guided tour from the building on the right of the front courtyard. It costs about €7 extra but means you don’t need to queue for entry to the palace and also get to visit some extra areas, such as the theatre.
THE ORDER IN WHICH TO VISIT VERSAILLES
Skip the queues in the courtyard and make your way to the exit for the gardens, or better still the Petit and Grand Trianon. While everyone else is queuing to get in the palace, start from the trianons and through the gardens. Then visit the palace last if as I said you want to go in. By 3pm there were no queues for inside.
In the formal gardens it’s possible to hire a golf buggy, which cost €32 for 1 hour when we visited in September 2015. Once you’ve spent €30+ to get to Versailles and for entrance! this might sound like a lot, but if there’s four of you, you will appreciate seeing the formal gardens this way.
We visited when the waterfalls were set to music, but if have to admit that we were too tired after walking around all day to see every fountain (so time your buggy hire for when the fountains are due to come on at 11am or 3.30pm). Such a shame. Dreadful rain!
As for Versailles itself. It started out as a very smart and original design for Louis VIII. It was his grandson who married Marie Antoinette of Austrian and whose head was chopped off during the 1793 French Revolution. The Court grew to 1000s and so the house grew to accommodate them. So perhaps the scrum of an experience that visiting Versailles today isn’t far of what it would have been like back in its heyday.
I was fascinated by the history of building Versailles and thought the initial design superb, unlike anything I had ever seen. So if anything, I enjoyed my visit because I it taught me something I would never probably have known otherwise.
Places such as Versailles can be a big disappointment. It’s usually because I’ve think I know everything about them and know what to expect. There’s no “wow”. I had this problem when visiting the Grand Canyon too. However, Versailles beyond the walls of the palace did surprise me. In fact, I didn’t even realise that there are three palaces to visit; so call me naïve!
Here is the garden at the Grand Trianon (a massive bungalow, the interior of which is Napoleanic)
I’ll write separately about the Petit Trianon as it was my favourite part of the whole Versailles experience.
And yes, the photos are poor, but I was really rather sad and wet and cold while at Versailles. I will aim to return on the sunniest of days (actually, my photography teacher would say I’d want to go on an overcast day, at either dawn or dusk!!) and make wonderful photos. 😦
When visited: September 2015