Versailles with Kids
Updated: Mar 9
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Going to Paris? Chances are you are thinking about visiting the Palace of Versailles. This grand chateau is a UNESCO World Heritage site and most famous for its Hall of Mirrors, royal apartments (including Marie Antoinette's), vast gardens and elaborate details. King Louis XIV created this ornate palace to show off France's power in the late 17th Century. It lies 20 kilometers outside of central Paris and is worth a visit.
If you want to be one of the 7,700,000 people to visit Versaille each year, you'll want to plan ahead to avoid the crowds. (For reference: Versailles is #2 for number of visitors; just behind the Louvre and ahead of the Eiffel Tower). All of my tips for Versailles are helpful for everyone but some of my tips are specific to kids. I am never without my gaggle of small humans. When you travel with kids, it is important to limit the amount of time they are waiting in line. They are little and they are not made to sit still for very long. I'd rather not use up those precious calm moments waiting in a line. In order to make my kids experience positive, I always try to avoid long lines.
When we went to Paris, we opted to skip Chateau de Versailles because we had hit most of the popular tourist attractions in Paris and knew we'd be back. So our visit to Versailles was on a whim (planned about 30 minutes prior). I accidentally planned pretty well to avoid the crowds...if I do say so myself. I thought I'd share our exprience so other tourists know what to do to breeze by the crowds. You want to be prepared because the Palace of Versailles has longer lines than any other major attraction in Paris.
My family of 6 was driving from St. Malo, France back to Germany when my hubs randomly asked, "hey do you want stop by Versailles on our way home to brake up the drive?". Since I'm always up for adventure, I said, "yes, but you can't rush us through. I want the kids to be able to explore and run around". In my mind, I was already sort of treating this trip as a check in the "Paris box" because I really don't like big touristy attractions and after visiting Paris, I was anticipating a sea of tourists squeezing their bodies into tiny corridors, everyone scrambling to take a picture of the same thing at the same time, and lines at every turn. But we had to go, it's Versailles right? So much history, how could we miss it? I stayed positive and read to the kids about the history of Versailles in the car on the way.
This is where I emphasize the importance of reading other family's travel blogs (especially ones called Reservations 4 Six) because they have good advice. I find all my favorites on Pinterest. So about 30 minutes before arriving at Versailles, I started reading blogs about other people's visit. One person recommended reserving a time slot to get in, rather than just showing up. I went to Palace of Versailles Official website and put in our time (1:00 pm) which is about 10 minutes before we were scheduled to pull into the parking lot (per Waze on Hub's phone)..
Here's what happened
We pulled right up to the parking lot directly in front of the fanciest building I have ever seen. My kids all gasped when looking out the window at the Chateau de Versailles. I really underestimated how excited they would be to tour this castle. They have been to many castles so I thought it might not be as exciting as it truly is. I couldn't have been more wrong. They loved it. We breezed into the time slot line and walked through the main entrance without waiting in any lines. Here is how we did it....
Reserve your time slot in advance
We walked through huge golden gates surrounded by military with semi-autamatic weapons. This is similar to most main attractions in Paris these days. We had to go through a bag check and were met by the longest line I have ever seen (aside from the Vatican). There is an A line and a B line. The B line is never ending and there was maybe 10 people in the A line. Come to find out the A line is for people who reserved a time slot. Yay! I actually did that. We walked right through the gates to start touring the palace. After my kids walked by the giant B line, they said, "good job mom. Thank you for reserving our time". It was so easy to reserve a time slot, I couldn't phathom why anyone wouldn't. Here's why?
The Paris attractions all have different procedures
It is super confusing when buying tickets to a bunch of tourist spots in Paris. They are all different with different lines and procedures. I overheard a fight between a family of grumpy Americans who thought that the Paris Pass would get them to the front of the line. When in fact, it only covers the cost of your ticket. Paris Pass does not get you to the front of the line, like it does some other major attractions in Paris. You still have to wait in the huge B line because you don't have a time reserved. Also, there are a lot of major tourist attractions in Paris that you just show up and wait in a much smaller line (and I've been to most of them). I was actually shocked at how many people were willing to wait in such a long line. They aren't handing out gold people!
Not as crowded as one might think
Versailles does a pretty good job staggering visitors in to tour the Palace. It is so grand with high ceilings. It didn't feel crowded as we were walking through the various rooms. Some rooms , like Marie Antoinette's and the Hall of Mirrors get more of a traffic jam because everyone is stopping to take a picture. My kids squeezed to the front to get a better look of each room. We loved seeing the different bedrooms in the castle. The tiny furniture in the kid's rooms definitely gives Pottery Barn Kids a run for their money.
*Even though I read otherwise, I still kind of thought the Hall of Mirrors was going to be like the hall of mirrors at fun houses in carnivals . Weirdly, my kids thought the same thing. It's actually a gorgeous rooms that is meant to share it's beauty with the gardens. Soooo ..still cool!
Not necessary to get an audio guide
If you are travling with kids or know the history of Versailles, then you don't need to get an audio guide. I wanted to casually let the kids walk through each room and look at everything. We had already learned about the main attractions so the kids and I already had an idea about each room. Not having an audio guide allowed us to breeze by the crowds in each room and go at a kid's pace. They could stop and look at what they liked and then we could move on. The audio guides for Versailles are very long and might not keep your kids attention for the whole time. You can actually download the audio guide on your phone if you're interested in listening to the guide. This also helps you avoid waiting time at the audio desk. My kids actually do enjoy most audio guides but at a place as busy as Versailles, I opted to skip it.
This is my short cut for teaching my kids about certain historic sites. Sometimes I have more time and get books and we do projects about certain places before we visit. Other times we need a short cut. We planned this trip 30 minutes prior. We needed a shortcut. For this trip we read about Versailles from Wikipedia and the Palace's official website. Most historic sites often have a great historical summary of attractions that are perfect for kids attention span , right on their website. Don't underestimate what they can understand. I read through the text and then summarize the main points at the end for the toddlers and preschoolers. If you find them asking a lot of questions about a certain topic, you can research further on the internet and read it aloud to them.There are often times that I end up getting books about places after we visit because certain topics peaked their interest. I find the best time to read about a place to children is when we are going on car rides or when kids are calm before bed.
Don't wait to go to the bathroom
After feeling quite smart for reserving a time slot to tour the Palace, I started feeling pretty dumb for waiting to go potty. My ten year old and I had to go to the bathroom and we waited for 25 minutes in line. Every bathroom inside the Palace and near the entrance had a huge line. I wished we could reserve a time slot for the bathroom. Before you go to the Palace of Versailles, talk to your kids about giving a warning if they have to go potty (we still use that word with the tweens). The bathrooms in the gardens are more prevelant and not nearly as crowded. If it's an emergency situation, take your kids in the handicap bathrooms. They are separate and I saw a lot of moms escorting little kids doing the potty dance. My ten year old used one. Nobody batted an eye and some of the janitorial staff actually escorted a couple young kids toward the handicap bathrooms.
Save plenty of time for the gardens.
When walking thought the gorgeous hall of mirrors, you will be fascinated by how the Hall of Mirrors reflects the beautiful outside gardens. Actually most high windows in each room show the beautifyl gardens outside. The kids and I passed each window longiningly looking out to this beautigul open space, counting the moments until we could explore the lush landscape.
The Gardens are actually free to enter. You can enter on the side of the main entrance . Just go explore for the day if you don't think your kids can handle the Palace. Parisians often just go there for the day to picnic and enjoy the scenery. They are large. You can get a map at the entrance.* There is a touristy train that can take you around the gardens if your feet are tired or someone in your group has mobility issues. If you aren't on a budget, there are golf carts you can rent to ride around the garden. My 12 year old and I were pretty envious of the people cruising around in those babies. The garden is so large, it doesn't feel crowded. Take your time exploring these beautiful gardens. They were my favorite part of Versailles.
* Mom Tip :
Maps are a great way to keep kids engaged and entertained. They are usually free at the entrance to most attractions. I get one for everyone and often ask the little kids, "can you find where we are on the map?" I gave them to my kids when they were babies and toddlers as well because they still liked looking at it and pretending. Later, when we get home or stop for lunch we discuss the paths we took on the map. My kids will cut and paste pieces of their map and put it into their travel journals. Bonus: being able to read a map is a good skill and starting them young will only help them later in life.
The Chateau De Versailles' Gardens feature fountains, parterres, designated paths to take, beautiful sculptures, the orangery, the groves, the estate of Trianon, fountain shoes, musical gardens, and so much more. There are multiple cafes throughout the garden where your family can grab a bite and picnic in the garden. For a major tourist attraction, the prices at the cafes are reasonable and short lines.*There are uncrowded bathrooms near the cafes in the gardens. This is also where we filled up our water bottles.
I know when your kids go to Paris they will only eat gourment food, but if you happen to accidentally order the chicken nuggets in the gardens, have your kids split them. They are huge and my big eaters couldn't finish them.
My kids loved running through the tall hedges of the Gardens. It feels like an epic secret garden. Again, the gardens are so big you could spend the day there. If you are unable to get a time slot convenient for you and don't want to wait for hours in the line to tour the Palace, opt to spend the day in the gardens. You will still get a feel of the palace while touring through this rich foliage.
There are a lot of gravel paths leading to the entance of the palace and throughout the Palace, so strollers can be tricky. Some of the corridors in various rooms of the Palace are a little crowded so pushing a stroller will be a challenge. If you have wee ones in tow, put them in a carrier or hold them so you can squeeze past large crowds. It's also nice to have kids in a carrier up high so they can better see out all the windows into the gorgeous gardens. I was repeatedly lifting my littles up to see out the windows throughout the Palace (my workout for the day).
Bring lots of water because fountains are few and far between and in the summer it can get quite hot walking around the gardens.
Don't wear heels! If you are a mom who can go on adventures with your kids in heels...kudos to you. I am not a very coordinated being so my heel usage is very minimal. I saw some gorgeous ladies wearing nice dresses with heels...it's a palace visit after all. They were really struggling to walk through the gardens. Go with cute casual sneakers with your sundress or flat sandals...very French.
GeneralTips and Info
-The Palace is open at 9 everyday...EXCEPT MONDAY.The Gardens and park are open everyday and Free. On days where the garden is doing a fountain show, there is a fee to enter the Gardens.
-Reserve your time slot
-Go during the Fall when crowds are small.
-Reserve one of the first time slots of the day
The thing about small children is that they are part rooster, and often wake up with the sun. In Europe this can be an advantage because generally Europeans wake up later and don't really start showing up to things until 10ish. Tours also show up to main attractions at 10 and 11. Get to Versailles first and you won't be disappointed. You will be able to breeze through the rooms without a crowd of people. We arrived mid-day because we were on a road trip and didn't have that option. We shared the palace with a lot of other tourists.
If you are under 18 or 26 and residing in the EU, admission is free. This makes this mom of four on a budget very happy. We spent less money visiting Versailles (including lunch and parking) than a trip to the movies.
Adults: 20 euros.
From the Paris City center, find the REC C train and it takes you to Versailles
Taxis are a little more pricey from city center..around 40 euros.
Driving is actually easy with lots of parking (and we went during peak season).
We had a blast and my kids loved this historic palace. We had many questions on the ride home about Louis XIV. Your family will enjoy this Paris landmark. Plan for the crowds and enjoy your experience.
If you are going to Paris you can read my blog "Do's and Don'ts for Paris with Kids"
Merci d'avoir lu!