I’m not going to sugar coat Versailles. It’s crowded and a time investment. This was my third trip to Versailles, you heard that correctly, third. But it can be totally worth it.
With a shorter trip to Paris (less than 5 days), you might consider skipping Versailles. Unless, like us, your child is studying the French Revolution and begs to go because she knows the history and the people. Then it’s really difficult to say no.
Why Consider Versailles with Teens
The Palace of Versailles, one of the most popular attractions in Europe, is a UNESCO world heritage site. Constructed in 1623, Louis XIV (the Sun King) transformed and expanded Versailles before it become the center of political power during the French Revolution. Celebrated for the extravagance of its apartments, the palace is adorned with gold, crystal, and precious gems, and probably best known by teens today as the home of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. For those following along in our European travels, remember Marie Antoinette is a Habsburg from Austria. My kids are just starting to understand how “connected” everyone in Europe had been.
When you stop at the Louvre in Paris, keep in mind the Louvre was the original palace of Louis XIV, but he thought that palace was too small so Versailles eventually became the home to the French kings. Remember that when you walk through the Louvre.
There is a lot of history at Versailles, including being in the room where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, which ended WWI. History buffs may really want to see this and teens are a good age for appreciating the splendor. If you have just completed a European vacation that included palaces in Vienna, Bavaria, London, or Prague, then you might consider passing on this. While it’s sheer size is magnificent, it can be a lot for day if people are not mentally engaged.
Should you decide to go, we suggest watching Marie Antoinette (the one with Kirsten Dunst). We didn’t get quite get to it before our visit and watched it after the fact. However, the kids still said it was fun to see Versailles come to life, especially since they filmed the movie on location.
How to Get to Versailles & How Long to Stay
From Paris it’s a quick trip from the RER C line, but make sure you get on the correct one. If you go to the Javel station, which has a wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower, you’ll know you’re in the right spot because when the train arrives, masses of people enter the train. The train ride will take 20-30 minutes and then you arrive with just a short walk to the palace. The price tag for adults is about €7 round trip. The kids got a day ticket for about the same, which meant they could take the metro for the rest of the day.
Visiting Versailles really depends on your agenda. We were there by 9 a.m. and back in Paris 2 p.m. for a late Sunday lunch. This place gets crowded with a heavy dose of Chinese tourists. One lady moved throughout the room taking continual pictures (and maybe even a video), and then pushed me out of the way to take more pictures. She never even looked up to see what was around her. I’m not even sure what she was taking pictures of. Even with a 9 a.m. entry you will need to stand your ground.
We were able to see the palace, walk the gardens, stop for a snack, and do a row boat trip around the pond (in that order). Unfortunately, we did not make it to the other residences on the grounds as my teens were starting to melt down. As we left, the lines snaked around the gates.
Related: 5-Day Family Paris Adventure Begins
Basics: What to Know Before you Go
There are a million websites out there that will tell you all the same things I can tell you about what to know. Those basics include the following, which I agree with:
- Buy your tickets online at least a week before.
- Go early, as in the 9 am time slot. I know it’s crazy and your teens may groan, but I promise you will thank me later for it. #winning
- Get the audio tour. It’s free and I don’t trust Wi-Fi to work in these places.
- See the gardens, too.
You should completely follow all of that advice.
Little Known Tips You Also Need
- Make sure you are in the correct line. There are three lines there—one to buy tickets, one for untimed entry, and one for timed entry. (See picture above, confusing huh?) Confirm you are in the correct queue. As I tell my kids, don’t be a sheep and just follow the crowd. This is one place you want to park part of your squad and wander around to make sure you’re in the right place.
- When you go in, don’t skip the history lesson portion. There is a hallway that takes you through the history of Versailles with some interactive displays. Most people skipped this and followed the crowds. It was worth going to understand more.
- Pay attention to when the fountains are on. If you go in the summer months, the fountains (some with music) are only certain times of the day. If you get into the palace by 9 am, you can wrap up by 11 am in time to see the musical fountain magic.
- Your teenagers are free to get in unless it’s summertime. Then they will have to pay €10 because the fountains are on.
What to See & Do in the Gardens
Take a map at the entrance, even if the English ones are gone, take one in another language. The gardens are a lot to handle if you don’t know where you’re going, a lot like the Louvre. My kids loved wandering through the gardens and finding the different fountains on the map. There are small passageways through many and each section of the gardens look different.
We did get hungry and there are places to stop for snacks that were not too expensive. If you can plan ahead, bring a lunch, but not to worry if you don’t.
As you head towards the main pond, just below the palace, you may find yourself wandering outside the official boundary, so make sure you keep your tickets to get back in. Just beyond that are places to rent row boats (€13/half-hour, €17/hour) and bikes (€8.50/hour). Just as you might expect, my kids argued the half hour about who rowed better than the other. May your pond journey be as peaceful as ours.
Another option I wished we’d considered, was renting a golf cart (€34/hour) with an audio tour. With the cart, you can quickly get from the palace to the Grand or Petite Trianons. Fit and ready to move, my teens happily walked the gardens, but both exclaimed they had never been in a golf cart, and it might have been a fun way to quickly get to the farther points of the garden.
To Tour or Not to Tour?
Every city offers options for group tours. As previously mentioned , your entrance to the palace includes the audio guide. Do not expect much from their audio guide. It gives the basics of the rooms original function, furniture, and works of art. Essentially, you get what you pay for. I watched (and listened) to several private tour guides as they walked through the palace. Providing a bit more context, the rooms are just so crowded that it seemed it would be difficult to focus and take in their knowledge.
A friend of mine, with boys ages 12, 14, and 16, recommended the bike tour from Fat Tire Tours. This all-day tour (starting at €99) includes not only bike riding to keep teens active and amused, but the tour also includes the palace, the Versailles Market, Grand & Petit Trianons, the Gardens, the Queen’s Hamlet, and a picnic along the Grand Canal. Her one complaint is by the time they got to the palace for their timed entry (around 4 pm), the crowds were too much for their family. Also note, tour guides from Fat Tire were not allowed into the palace with the group so you’re on your own with the audio guide like the rest of the peasants.
All other photos ©Linda Kerr, TravelTeening