How to avoid the crowds at Versailles?
April 24, 2012 5:24 PM   Subscribe

Which days should I avoid Versailles on my trip to Paris?

After reading a bunch of threads on AskMeFi, I decided to man up and do my first trip alone to Europe. I'll be there May 1st through May 11th. I was thinking of going to Versailles either Friday or Saturday. Any days I should avoid?

I also plan on going to Musee D'Orsay, Le Petit Palais, L'Orangerie, Musee Cluny, Louvre, Pantheon, Notre Dame, Conciergerie, Sainte Chapelle, Arc De Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower.

Anyone have any recommendations for cafes or restaurants? Anyone want to meet up? Thanks guys in advance!
posted by Heliochrome85 to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Go to the Catacombs! The Wikipedia page has better info on them than the museum page. They blew my mind, even though I was skeptical about them. The line was a bit long - 30 minutes or so - but it was so seriously worth it.

I have no other Paris-related recommendations.
posted by k8lin at 5:30 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

my concerns about the catacombs is that i dont know if i have the clothing for it? otherwise it looks very interesting. thoughts?
posted by Heliochrome85 at 5:39 PM on April 24, 2012

Honestly, I found Versailles to be a total waste of time and I regretted spending a day getting there and back. I went on a weekday, but it was still filled with obnoxious Americans oohing and aahing about how wonderfully opulent everything was... I don't think they even realized that the French Revolution happened. I don't mean to rain on your parade - perhaps you would enjoy it - but I just wanted to mention how awful I found it in case you can spend your time on something better.

Either way, have a great time on your trip!
posted by barnoley at 6:09 PM on April 24, 2012

my concerns about the catacombs is that i dont know if i have the clothing for it?

Have you ever been outside on a cool day in a place that wasn't 100% sanitary? Whatever you would wear to that kind of place, wear that. You'll probably be just fine with normal street clothes, though. (really, don't stress)

Also, buy a guidebook. I can't stress this enough. The Rough Guide kind of sucks, in my experience. I prefer Lonely Planet, but Fodor's will be just fine. My officemate swears by Rick Steves' guides.

I enjoy the restaurants in the Latin Quarter. YMMV.
posted by deanc at 6:13 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wore my regular street clothes for the catacombs. A tip, if you want to buy a postcard or some kind of souvenir from there, buy it before you go inside. There's nothing at the exit.
posted by clearlydemon at 6:21 PM on April 24, 2012

The Musee D'Orsay is amazing, totally and completely blew my mind and made me finally "get" why people raved about art. Walking into a room of Van Goghs unexpectedly made me cry, I just stood there crying like a baby and finally understood why he was a big deal in a way seeing prints of his work everywhere just never did. Luckily the security guard was very understanding.

If you are a single female be aware that clusters of Moroccan (I believe) men try and chat you up at most of the major tourist destinations no matter what you look like if they think you are American. Saying you are from Australia (which I am) slowed down most of them which makes me think it was visa related and not a sudden onset of attractiveness on my part.

I liked Versaille, I saw it in winter when the gardens were very blergh looking but I imagine in May they'd be beautiful. I went on a day trip/tour which I rather liked as I think I learnt more than just going and wondering around by myself. There is an extra charge for seeing the more private rooms and areas, which as I was broke when I went I never paid to go and see and have always regretted.
posted by wwax at 6:40 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I went to Versailles on a Saturday. It was crowded, but not unbearably so. Don't skip the Hameau, it was my favorite part of the estate.
posted by donajo at 6:41 PM on April 24, 2012

The best way to avoid crowds at Versailles is to go early. I arrived for the second tour of the day on a weekday and it was quite empty. The best way to avoid crowds of American tourists is counterintuitively to go on a sunny weekend afternoon. That's when the locals come to picnic, flirt and sun in the gardens, which are the best part and also free.

This question on visiting Paris alone has a lot of info in the answers you may find useful.
posted by psycheslamp at 6:43 PM on April 24, 2012

Go on the sewer tour. Really. It was darn interesting.

Look at the museum pass. Cannot recall it's precise name, but I believe it was a 3-day pass that was good as the louvre, notre dome and a number of other places we went. And it got us to the bypass lane at notre dome.
posted by k5.user at 6:54 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second k5.user on the sewer museum. It's pretty awesome.

Musee Cluny is also awesome, but should probably be visited near the end of your stay since it has the wreckage of so many other places you'll go to see.
posted by garlic at 7:28 PM on April 24, 2012

Avoid Tuesday (everyone who cannot go to the Louvre on Tuesday goes to Versaille) I was just there 2 weeks ago on a Thursday and it was pleasent enough. On Saturday, I believe you will pay extra to visit the gardens because there is a fountain/light show. So of your two suggestions I would take Friday (unless fountains/lights is your thing).

Catacombs are pretty sureal, and recommended. No special clothes required, just street clothes. You are not digging up the bones, just looking at them.
posted by njk at 7:43 PM on April 24, 2012

thanks a ton for all your input so far. im very excited but also quite nervous. ive tried to pick up a bit of french in preparation for my trip. looks like im going to do alot of review before i go just to be sure :).
posted by Heliochrome85 at 8:10 PM on April 24, 2012

Haven't been to Versailles, but loved the place it was modeled on, Vaux le Vicomte, which was gloriously empty.
posted by mahorn at 8:26 PM on April 24, 2012

I found Fontainebleau palace a much more beautiful and uncrowded experience than Versailles.
posted by monotreme at 10:01 PM on April 24, 2012

My tips on Versailles:
1) Buy your ticket online and come with a printed copy (there is one line for the ticket and one for entering the castle, so this saves you 1 hour+). I recommend getting the full passport to see the petit trianon and other houses of Marie Antoinette; many of my visitors have liked that better than the chateau itself.
2) Go squeaky early in the morning so you are there when it first opens. Go first to the chateau, when the other tourists are still asleep in Paris.
3) Don't go on days it is closed (Mondays, if I remember well, and perhaps 1 May). I would go Friday before I would go Saturday, to avoid the weekenders. The tour buses (cited above) arrive by 10 or 11 at which point you may as well skip it unless you enjoy the mosh pit.

Where are you staying? Keep in mind that there are direct trains from Montparnasse that may be faster than the RER C which loops around Paris and stops everywhere. The price is the same and it lets you out about 5 minutes walk from the castle with a big map on how to get there.
posted by whatzit at 2:55 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Versailles tips ... go on a weekday, super early, and pre-purchase your ticket. I went a few weeks back and, even at 10:00, the queue was hundreds of meters long. And bring food and drink with you
posted by jannw at 3:58 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second the sewer tour. I liked Versailles a lot -- I love opulent beauty, though my first thought on walking up to it was that I now completely understood why the French Revolution happened -- and nth the recommendations to come with pre-printed tickets and as early as you can.

When I went, I (accidentally) ordered my museum visits by date, and it really helped me understand how the impressionists and modern art were so fresh and new, something which I never truly got before. If the timing works out for you, I recommend doing the same.
posted by jeather at 4:49 AM on April 25, 2012

I'm staying in the 9eme. I was thinking of going friday but wasnt sure if i wanted to miss the fountains.
posted by Heliochrome85 at 5:24 AM on April 25, 2012

My tip for visiting the Eiffel Tower is to go towards the end of your trip so you'll know what you're looking at and to go at the end of the day so that you'll see the view in daylight and the lights after dark.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:56 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

When you get tired of walking and are ready for a break, head to the Marais (a neighbourhood) and park yourself at a cafe with a book and a drink (wine, coffee, fancy cocktail) for a couple of hours.

I have no specific recommendations - you will know the perfect place when you see it (and there are many).

Have fun!
posted by lulu68 at 8:06 AM on April 25, 2012

I would avoid the weekends, if possible, and, as others said, definitely go early and pre-purchase your tickets. We rented bicycles at Versailles (near the eastern end of the Grand Canal) and it was amazing! Not only a great way to get from point-to-point but also a wonderful way to beat the crowds to various other points within Versailles and to see parts of the grounds that would take a very long time on foot. The Palace certainly has the history, but is always a bit (and sometimes ridiculously) crowded. The Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon are much less crowded and well worth the trek.

We would also classify Musée de l'Orangerie as an essential Paris stop that possesses an amazing collection and does a great job of controlling the crowds.
posted by flyingrock at 8:17 AM on April 25, 2012

I highly recommend the Rick Steves guides. The Paris guide includes several great walking tours you can follow, and also has guides for touring the major museums. I found the Louvre tour he includes quite helpful, and it saves you buying one at the museum, or buying the audio tours. I just used Steves' book. He's also good for restaurant and hotel recommendations that aren't totally tourist-filled.

Also, as someone else mentioned - get the Museum Pass. Particularly given the list of sights you mention - It's good for most, if not all of those. Comes in a few different denominations by number of days. Saves waiting in line to get in. Can be bought at various places - I used Steves' suggestion and bought it at a little museum that's actually underneath the plaza in front of Notre Dame - it's a museum displaying the original Roman era city foundations. As a little-visited place there's no line to buy the Museum Pass there.
posted by dnash at 10:20 AM on April 25, 2012

Go early before the guided tours arrive. Same applies to the Louvre, though there you can also go later on (after 4pm) and have a little more calm.

I've long recommended the Museum Pass, more for queue-jumping and the ability to dip in and out of museums than saving on admission fees. Given your list of destinations, it's perfect for you, and the little brochure that accompanies it lists the special entrances that many places have instead of going through the standard line. At Versailles, there's the ticketing line and the entrance line; you only get to skip the first.

As a little-visited place there's no line to buy the Museum Pass there.

It's a nice little exhibit, worthy of at least a few minutes, and really gives you a sense of how the Île de la Cité has been built up on the rubble of previous generations.

I'd add St Denis to the list, and since you're there for a little while, take a day trip to Chartres.
posted by holgate at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Same applies to the Louvre, though there you can also go later on (after 4pm) and have a little more calm.

Oh, that reminds me. Look at the museum hours - some have one day a week they stay open later than usual. When I was there, the Louvre closed at like 5, except on Wednesdays they were open til 7:00pm. So I went on a Wednesday, and though I didn't go until just after lunch, I stayed quite a long time. By evening, I was wandering in some of the upstairs galleries that are less well known and had them almost all to myself. It was kind of amazing.
posted by dnash at 12:48 PM on April 25, 2012

Do you like Cambodian food? This place is awesome. Another good, local impossibly hip place for an excellent lunch or drinks/people watching is Chez Prune. For pizza: Pink Flamingo. Are you on a budget? Then you must have falafel in Le Marais. (Note that some of the falafel places are closed on Saturday for the Sabbath -- Chez Hanna is open though.)
As for things to do, of course I like the museums, but in Paris, I really prefer just to walk around a lot and see the sights either from a cafe or wandering around outside. For example, I loved going to Pere Lachaise but was actually pretty iffy on Versailles. (Though we only did the palace, and went on a rainy, nasty day -- both mistakes, I'd say). I mean, there are only so many gold ornaments and chandeliers I can appreciate without wanting to throw up.
Also, I recently discovered that Paris is THE place to go if you need a new pair of hip glasses. Seriously. Spend a day wandering around the millions of cool opticians.
Have fun! Paris is my favorite European city. I'd happily go on my own.
posted by caoimhe at 3:12 PM on April 26, 2012

Just a note on that falafel place in the NYT - I had a bear of a time finding them open. They were closed every time I went, and I went three times - this was last June; maybe someone has updated info on whether or not they're still around. So don't expect a falafel until it's in your hot little hands.

I had the best tarte of my life at les Philosophes, which I learned about from this thread, where I asked about great Paris cafes. And the espresso at le Square Trousseu was epic.

Check the weather before you go (sounds obvious, but I didn't, and it resulted in a terrible vacation because I was underdressed for a week of cold rain).
posted by k8lin at 3:37 PM on April 26, 2012

Forgot to link to the thread about cafes. It's here. Note: I found nowhere in Paris to sit with a coffee and my laptop. So don't expect to sit outside at a cafe and sip a coffee while you watch pedestrians mill about while working, unless you're savvier than I am. Doesn't sound like that's the kind of vacation you're planning anyhow, so should be fine.
posted by k8lin at 3:39 PM on April 26, 2012

Just an update on the falafel -- like k8tlin, I've also found L'As du Falafel closed a fair bit, but mostly for religious reasons (Friday nights & Saturday for Sabbath and Jewish holidays). But they are indeed, still open. But it is not even necessarily (in my opinion) the best falafel in Le Marais. We've had amazing falafel (even better?) at Chez Hanna and the place on the corner whose name I can't remember. You'll definitely get a good falafel around there no matter when you go.
posted by caoimhe at 4:02 PM on April 26, 2012

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