Versailles’ scaringly massive size means that most people approach it with a mix of excitement and trepidation. If you’re a glass half full person, you can thank your lucky stars that you only have 800 hectares to visit.
Before the revolution, Versailles was 10 times the size, at 8,700 hectares. For perspective sake, the whole of Paris is 10,500 hectares. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were probably happy when they were beheaded so they could get some relief from constantly walking around their vast palatial grounds.
An adult visiting Versailles could very well have a tantrum from sheer exhaustion or history overload so taking kids adds an “exciting” level of danger. So I thought it may be useful to provide some tips to minimise the risk of adult or child tantrums in Versailles.
Learn about it before you go.
Apart from the obvious beheading of some of its residents during the French revolution, there are a lot of other really interesting facts to learn. In fact it’s easy to even get kids excited about the history of Versailles because so many gross things happened there, mainly relating to poo. And what crazy kid doesn’t love a good poo story?
Here are some of my favourites:
- There were often 3,000 people living in Versailles and countless visitors every day but apart from some closestools used by a small handful of lucky nobles, there were no toilets. People would simply poo on the floor in the corridors and wee against the wall, sometimes on priceless tapestries.
- If you were lucky enough to have a closestool, your servant would often throw your fecal matter out the window without warning the people below.
- The king would often poo in the presence of 100 noblemen, advisors and servants and it was always a great honour to be invited to such defecation events.
- Some visitors, such as Princess d’Harcourt, wouldn’t even bother sitting down to poo and would relieve herself while walking, thus stinking up her dress and leaving a lovely trail behind her for the servants to clean up.
Luckily there are plenty of public toilets nowdays so there was no need to squat in a corridor or wee in our clothes.
Choose your day carefully
If you’re in Paris long enough to have a choice of days to visit Versailles, the main decision would be whether you go on a weekend to see the musical fountains (and some weekdays during summer) or whether to go on a quieter weekday.
We ended up choosing a Wednesday in September to avoid the crowds. I think it was a great choice as I’ve seen photos of Versailles on busy summer weekends and I am pretty sure I would have staged my own revolution, complete with a plenty of beheadings.
I’m sure that it would be pretty amazing to see the musical fountains so if you do want to do this then I’ve read that a good option is to go at night time. On most Saturday nights in summer Versailles stages a fountains night show with fireworks complete with musicians and dancers to entertain the crowd. This sounds great but finishes at 11pm, which is pretty late, especially if you have tiny people. I’d suggest that if you plan on doing this then book a hotel near Versailles for one night and go to the Chateaux during the afternoon, come back to the hotel for a rest and then go back out for the night time fun. This way, not only do you get a rest during the day but you also don’t have to be squashed with the peasant hordes on a train back to Paris.
Avoid the queue and book a tour
The queues are notoriously long at Versailles. Even if you have a prebooked ticket, you still need to wait in the line. This doesn’t sound like much fun, especially if you have to wait for an hour or more under the hot summer sun.
To avoid this horror, book a guided tour of the private apartments of the Kings. This fantastic 1.5 hour tour only cost 7€ (kids under 10 are free) and is worth every penny. Not only do you get to go to parts of the Chateaux that are restricted to the general public, including the amazing Opera house, but you get to skip the line. You wait with other tour members in a separate building and get ushered through the security together, past the hundreds of grumpy people standing in the sun.
Another bonus is the tour is super informative and fun. Our tour guide was the best guide we’ve had in the past four months of travel. She was very knowledgable and made a special effort to address our kids, who were the only people under 39 on the tour group.
In fact, even if she spent 1.5 hours talking about the minute details of the French taxation system I’d still be enthralled as she was just so cool and quirky. She really reminded me of my spirit animal Greta Gerwig (can another human be your spirit animal?) and it took all my willpower not to embarrass myself by asking her if she would be my best friend.
Visit Marie Antoinette’s hamlet
Adhering to all the strict etiquette of court life can be pretty tiring, what with 100 people watching you poo. Sometimes a king just needs a break and to poo in peace. To have some form of privacy, King Louis XIV commissioned the build of another palace, The Grand Trianon, on the far end of the property. Louis XV clearly thought this was a great idea and commissioned the build of the Petite Trianon so he could sneak off with his mistress, the Comtesse Du Barry.
When Louis XVI came along, his wife Marie-Antoinette decided that the Petite Trianon was the perfect place for her to escape the drudgery of her opulent life. She turned a part of the garden of the Petite Trianon into a tiny hamlet. Little country cottages were built around a large lake, as was a working farm, managed by a farmer appointed by the queen.
The queen would escape to the hamlet whenever she could, where she would dress like a young shepherdess, act like a peasant and do general fun peasanty things like milk the cows and sheep. Her comical parody of the common people may have attributed to her losing her head but happily we gained a lovely little hamlet to visit. It honestly is so ridiculously cute with its tiny houses and cute farm animals. I can see why she’d rather be milking cows than sitting around a fine table in the chateau discussing the peasants and their lack of cakes.
Decide exactly what you want to see
I’m not sure if I’ve already mentioned this but Versailles is really really really big. You’re not going to be able to see it all in one day so decide what you’d like to do before you go.
The website is super helpful and describes all the parts of Versailles and its history. There is also a great interactive map with photos. The two things I knew I wanted to see was the Chateaux and Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet but I wasn’t sure what part of the gardens I’d like to visit. The interactive map had a photo of all the various sections you could visit so we chose the ones that would appeal to us most, which were L’Orangerie, Dragon fountain, The Apollo Fountain, Apollos bath, Three fountains and Triumphal arch grove. We only managed to see half of them as some were closed for renovation but that’s probably all we had patience for anyway.
Take a picnic
There are restaurants scattered throughout the property but I think it’s just so much easier if you just take a picnic. That way, you can relax in the gardens and not have to find a place that isn’t full and has a menu that suits everyone. Don’t forget to take lots of snacks and water. We ended up taking a full pack of biscuits to bribe the kids in case there were any threats of mutiny.
Don’t be a hero – use the little train
So originally I thought we would just walk from place to place but we decided to take the little train from the Chateaux to Petite Trianon and thank the lord we did. It probably is only a 40 minute walk with kids, which doesn’t sound long, especially considering we are used to walking around Europe after four months. However, apart from a short picnic, you are walking pretty much non stop for the entire day so why make yourself even more exhausted than necessary? It turned out that we walked about 15 km anyway so if we didn’t take the little train we would have needed 10 packets of biscuits for child bribery.
You can also ride a bike or hire a mini golf cart which sounds fun. The golf carts can’t go on all paths and the drivers all had a look of concentration on their face, unlike the people on the little train who looked much more relaxed because they didn’t have to avoid running over unpredictably wayward children in their path.
Expect a tantrum
No matter how many biscuit packs you take, how many rests you have or how close to your spirit animal your guide is, someone in your group is likely to throw a tantrum. We almost high-fived ourselves when we walked out of the gate as there were absolutely zero tantrums from either child or adult for the entire day!!!
As usual, our arrogant self congratulation was 5 minutes too early as one of our children (let’s call him Oli) had the mother of all tantrums because his sister said she didn’t like him waving a stick near her face. Apparently the stick was “nowhere near her face” (5 cm’s away from her eyes) and our request to make sure no object goes between her chin and top of her head led to a 10 minute interrogation of Oli asking whether he is allowed to wear a cap because sometimes the front of his cap is too close to her face and is he allowed to wave a stick around if he is 5 blocks away from her if the stick is waved at approximately the height of her nose? By the time we arrived at the Versailles train station we were all yelling at each other so much that I thought the army people would just gun us down there and then for disturbing the peace.
But they didn’t and we all survived to tell the tale of how we went to Versailles and almost came out unscathed. Hope these tips help and please instruct your kids to have any tantrums away from the nice army dudes with guns, just in case.