So this is just a brief snapshot of a few tips that we picked up that day...
1 Take the train
From Paris the best way to travel to the town of Versailles is by train. Depending on where you are, you can take metro, RER and TER or a combination of these. We took the RER C from Pont Saint-Michel, a straight shot out, taking 40 minutes and only costing €3.55 one way. The train drops you a short ten minutes walk from the Palace - just follow the crowds.
2 Buy a return ticket
Usually, we like to give ourselves the option of returning by Uber (a luxury that we have yet to treat ourselves to) but the queue the ticket machines in Versailles were horrendous! Tourists who didn't know how to work the vending machines coupled with very user unfriendly interfaces left a long wait for everyone. Not to mention that you could line up for one machine only to discover it only took coins, which of course you don't have enough of! So we regretted not buying a return ticket at Pont Saint-Michel.
3 Take all day for your trip
The grounds are huge! Really vast and I envision us taking many more trips to explore the gardens, the fountains, the Palaces of Trianon and Marie-Antoinette's Estate. The later two we didn't even reach!
4 Have lunch at La Petite Venise
We found there were plenty of places to eat, from snacks to sumptuous sit down meals. We stumbled upon La Petite Venise as we explored the grounds. We were hungry and it was a little after 1pm. The waiter told us there would be a table for us in half an hour. We decided to wait since we were with friends and we knew the time would go by quickly as we chatted in the lovely garden and sipped aperitifs - rosé for the gals, the guys opting for full blooded red.
The meal was delicious. I had rabbit and I'd really recommend it. The bill came to €100. Not bad for four main courses, one or two drinks each and nice nibbles while we'd waited.
|The dining room in the King's apartments - not for the likes of us!|
5 Do consider buying an annual pass
If you live in Paris or plan to visit often, you can buy a pass for €50, or for €80 a pass that allows you to bring a guest. These passes pay for themselves after two trips and they allow you to skip the queue, which when we were there was already 250 meters long (I measured it out using google Earth!) This is the line for gate A, but it mysteriously swings around in front of gate B, so we walked all the way up to the front of the line just to figure out where it went.
We've found in France, if there are a bunch of you, put someone into the obvious line to reserve a place while the rest run around to the various other (usually not well signposted) entrances/gates to see if there is a better way in.
You can also skip the line if you buy a guided tour but you must be with your guide...but more on that in the Donts!
6 Buy your tickets online
If you buy your tickets online you will be cutting out one more line and you can go straight into the gardens where the line is relatively small.
1 Don't go on the Kings apartments tour
There were thirty people on this tour which started at 3pm. The guide was dreary. She never modulated her voice and delivered her spiel as though she were thoroughly bored with it, with the result that it was boring. The rooms were lovely but she lingered too long on mundane details while skipping over things that seemed more interesting. I'd have liked to have heard more of the history, but this woman was obsessed with repeating the worlds, "Louis-the-fourteenth-the-sun-king" and "the-palace-of-versailles" over and over again (we'd have understood who she was referring to if she'd said "the king" and where she was talking about with "the palace")
By the end of the two hour long tour, we were ready to go home. So we didn't get to see much more of the insides of the Palace. Though what we did see was stunning - the ceilings were amazing - better than what we saw in the King's apartments. This area was open to all.
Unfortunately, it is the only guided tour the official website seems to offer in English. I will be going back and researching other tours and will write a blog post about that when I do.
2 Don't try to see it all in one day
The place is so big, I can't imagine how it is even possible to see it all in one day. If you know you'll only ever be here once have a list of priorities - decide what you want to see the most and go do that part first. The official website has an interactive map which you can use to figure out your strategy.
3 Don't bring long umbrellas, large bags/suitcases/rucksacks, camera tripods, selfie sticks
There is a bag deposit for these things on site but that involves another line! If you don't need to bring it - don't bring it (walking sticks are on the list too so I don't know what you are supposed to do when you check that in!) Evidently this guy wasn't required to check in his huge club!
4 Don't rush
Relax and enjoy the palace, the gardens, the fountains... especially if you're only here once - don't spoil your visit by getting stressed out.
5 Don't take any notice of the crowds
Crowds will happen, and there is nothing you can do about it. It may be possible to find a little knook by a fountain to pop the question or you can be like the guys we saw proposing to his girlfriend at Latona's Fountain, in full view of the world and ... it's wife! She said. "Yes!" We were all relieved.
6 Don't buy the cheapest day ticket or the most expensive!
Unless you know that exactly what you want to see and no more - read carefully through the ticket options to be sure they include the gardens, fountain shows, temporary exhibitions and the Trianon estate if you want the options of going there.
We bought a one day passport that included
- the Palace (with the audioguide)
- the estate of Trianon
- the temporary exhibitions
- the Gardens and the Park
- the Musical Fountain Shows or the Musical Gardens
- the Coach Gallery
We did not get to see the estate of Trianon, any temporary exhibitions (that I'm aware of) the Musical Fountain Show or the Coach Gallery. There was the usual confusion (through not enough signposting and not knowing enough French - oh and it's France - so any sign posts that are there are not consistent!) regarding where to go, where to line up, where to get the audioguides (if they were even provided in English) so plenty for us to return to see and suss out and blog about so you can have a smoother experience. Maybe I'll get myself a posh desk to write it on too!