Adventures in Paris: Versailles

When I think of the top five Paris sites, Versailles would definitely be in the list.  After all, it is the palace of French kings that, in my mind, defines French aristocracy, glory, and excess.  To this day, it’s a grandiose demonstration of Louis XIV’s greatness, from the approach, to the Hall of Mirrors, to the gardens, and beyond to the various secondary buildings such as the Grand Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s estate.

The place is HUGE.  And to our kids, it’s a bit less interesting than the more medieval structures we saw in Provins or Vincennes.

But how could we miss it?!

So away we went one morning to Versailles.  There are lots of transportation options.  If you have a car, it’s an easy drive if you don’t hit rush hour.  If you’re on public transport, the best option is the RER C, with a zones 1-4 ticket.  You can catch RER C at several of the bigger stations along the left bank of the Seine, including St Michel-Notre Dame, Gare d’Austerlitz, Musée d’Orsay, Invalides, and Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel.  This line branches, and your best (i.e. least walking) option is to catch a C5 train, with terminus at Versailles-Chateau station.  But catching a C8 or C7 to Versailles-Chantier only adds about a half mile of walking.  If you’re staying someplace that is not convenient to RER C, there are SNCF trains that run regularly to Versailles-Chantier from Montparnasse Station and to Versailles-Rive Droite from St Lazare Station.

In preparation for our visit, we’d picked up a great little book, Versailles: A Three-Dimensional Expanding Pocket Guide, with pop-up pages and some useful basics about Versailles, its history, its various buildings, and its importance.  We reviewed it around the breakfast table and the boys’ interest was surprisingly high.

We happened to still have our rental car from our Swiss excursion, and upon recommendation from the Office of Tourism, were parked inside the grounds of Versailles for 6€ for the whole day, entering through Porte de la Reine.  We parked just 300 yards from the Grand Canal (including boat rentals, snack stands, and a restaurant).  While this does place you still almost a mile from the main entry to Versailles, it’s a peaceful way to start the Versailles experience, and—for the kids—an opportunity to get a few wiggles out before heading inside.  Summer days at Versailles can be extremely crowded.  We were warned at the Tourist Office (located here) that the morning crowds to enter the palace generate a two-hour wait (even with advance tickets), and they recommended that we start with the gardens and then make our way to the palace in the afternoon.

We enjoyed exploring the area right around the Grand Canal.  Emily and the bigger boys took a rowboat out for a half hour while I napped our littlest in the baby backpack.  We had met up with some great English friends and enjoyed meandering through the gardens with their kids and ours, exploring some of the high-shrub mazes and enclosures.  We settled on some of the main (rear) steps of the palace for a picnic lunch, overlooking the amazing floral gardens in the Parterre du Nord.  Our Charlie was a big hit with some of the other tourists—he’s always looking to make a friend—while we enjoyed baguette sandwiches and other snacks we’d brought from home.

When it seemed like a good time for some of us to head into the Chateau (we’d decided against all of us heading inside), we tried to round up takers to go with Emily.  Since kids are free, we had one adult ticket, and then the flexibility to see who was up to it when the time came.  Ben’s response?  “No, Mom—it’ll be just like shopping.  I don’t want to.”  It seems our cultural preparation can’t break down all barriers!  Lincoln was no more interested.  So in the end, we stayed outside.  The weather was cool, and the grounds weren’t terribly crowded, especially as you got farther away from the palace, along the Grand Canal.  We loved the tree-lined walkways, following them to the entrance of the Grand Trianon before heading back towards our car.

Emily and I were a bit disappointed not to have gotten the boys inside, but they at least got a sense of its importance and the size of the palace and grounds, so it was still meaningful.  We’ll look forward to getting them back there at some point in the future!

Note that for much of the year, access to the gardens is free.  In summer months and when there are other events or musical fountain shows, the entrance fee is 8-9€ for adults.  Once again, the kids were free.  For other tickets, buy in advance online or at the Office of Tourism in Versailles to at least avoid some of the waiting in line.

1 reply
  1. Kristy
    Kristy says:

    I SO love the picture of P and L in their life jackets. One with such a cute cute smile, the other looking very skeptical, perfect faces for both of them


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