A Winter Visit to the Palace of Versailles
I’m pretty sure there are three main reasons it took me five trips to Paris to finally make it to Versailles:
Number 1. My first four visits to Paris were really short.
Number 2. On three of those occasions I had children with me who would have whined all day, and that’s fun for no one.
And Number 3. (and let’s be honest, this is the main one) I was scared. Every time I started reading about visiting Versailles, the whole experience felt just way too overwhelming. Multiple ticket lines and different ticket options depending on how much you want to see. The fountains are only on at certain times on certain days. Also, apparently it’s really crowded.
So even on this, my fifth trip to Paris, I was not sure I would make it out to Versailles. Why should I travel outside of Paris, where there is already plenty to do, just to face the hassle of crowds and infuriating French ticketing systems at Versailles?
I told my mom and sister as we were planning this trip:
I would really like to go to Versailles. It will probably be a long and frustrating day. I’m not sure it’s worth it. You will mostly likely hate it. And we don’t have to go if you don’t want, but I kind of just want to.
Why do I kind of just want to?
I blame Ms Greenway, my high school French teacher, from whom I learned very little French.
But one day she showed us pictures of Versailles that have forever remained burned into my brain.
One of them was of this yellow room.
Ms. Greenway told us stories of Louis XIV and the extravagance of Versailles, its furnishings and lavish gardens and crazy grandeur.
And somehow, I have managed to hold on for over a quarter of a century to the idea that this place is something I should see, which I have to say is a pretty decent accomplishment on the part of Ms. Greenway.
Mama and Anna agreed to the adventure of visiting Versailles, even if it turned out to be an overrated disappointment, which I continue to assure them it would probably be.
The night before we visited Versailles, Anna found an article online about a stress free visit to Versailles and read it aloud. We laughed heartily at the fact that we had already made several mistakes, especially the one about not buying and printing out our tickets ahead of time, but at that point it was too late.
I, in turn, read aloud from the comments of visitors to Versailles on Trip Advisor, which are hysterical, by the way. They say things like:
Don’t even bother going inside the palace. It’s hot and everyone is shoving you!
Who cares if it is famous and beautiful? You can’t see anything with all the people there.
Also super helpful, this quote from the unofficial guide to visiting Versailles:
When you enter the castle, don’t murder anybody.
You think she is joking, but even in winter, you might want to murder someone.
Hint: It might be the group of attendants standing around chatting instead of opening a second (or even third!) security line.
But we decided that we would go for it. We would get there super early and have positive attitudes!
Also, there is a Starbucks right outside the Versailles train station, super handy if you’ve made your mom and sis take the first train out of Paris to be at Versailles before the gates are open, so they get to begin their day by standing out in the cold for thirty minutes outside the ticket office.
Also for those thirty minutes, they get to watch the other line gather and grow outside the palace. The one full of people who already have their tickets.
But because it was winter, even getting through this ridiculous two-line system (one for tickets, another to enter the palace) was not as bad as we had read online.
We managed to get through both without killing anyone, mainly because my sister does not take any smack from anyone and rushed us through so we made it to the other side of the security checks in one piece, just in time to see Louis XIV looking smug as if to say,
I may be dead, but look at what you’ve gone through just to come to my house.
And really, it is quite a house.
And in February, there were not unbearable crowds.
Not even in the hall of mirrors.
Or the king’s apartments.
In fact, some places were quite empty.
But some others were being renovated and off limits, including the queen’s apartments. (Bummer.)
After the palace, we grabbed a bite to eat and then bundled up and headed to the gardens.
The scale of the grounds at Versailles is pretty baffling.
We committed to being there for the whole day to see it all, but we took our time, stopping often.
This is Mama, grabbing a hot drink and adjusting her audio guide.
(We downloaded Rick Steve’s free audioguide to Versailles, which I recommend doing ahead of time via the Rick Steve’s app. The audioguide you get with your ticket is only for the palace.)
In winter there is no pressure to make sure you get there at the right time for the fountains, because they are all off.
Less pressure for me.
Also, all the statues are covered.
The Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon (two other palaces) are open. They are a good haul away from the main palace, but worth seeing and in our case, were almost completely empty.
I actually enjoyed seeing the rooms in the Grand Trianon more than the palace.
In fact, if were I to make a summer visit, I would consider skipping the palace altogether.
And if you have people with you who say things like,
All these rooms sort of look the same to me,
The Grand Trianon has its own Hall of Mirrors.
Its own gorgeous outside.
And courtyards and gardens.
Its like a mini Versailles.
Only with pink.
The Petit Trianon is quick to tour and serves as an entrance to Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet.
Mama and I had both watched the most recent version of Marie Antoinette before this trip so seeing the parts of Versailles that were a sort of haven to her might have been the best bit of the day.
Here’s the music room in the Petit Trianon.
And onward to the Hamlet, a miniature English farm village Marie Antoinette had built in order to escape the palace.
Of course, straw-thatched houses don’t maintain themselves, so Marie Antoinette’s house is under renovation and we could not go in it.
If you’re counting, that’s at least three strikes for a winter visit to Versailles, but I’ll take all three in exchange for the lack of people.
By the end of the day I was properly exhausted, and not a little cold. But when we rounded the corner to see the palace in the distance on the long walk back from Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet, I was very grateful not to be making the journey in the heat.
We walked back up the long garden, past all the covered statues, said our goodbyes to Versailles and hopped on the train back to Paris.
As I settled into my seat, I tried to decide if I was glad to have visited Versailles just so I could check it off my list or if it is a place I would go back to, but I was asleep before I could make up my mind.