Palace of Versailles

My Paris Mistake – Versailles with my Tween Niece

Posted on Posted in Art, Paris, Travel With Children

It was a gorgeous Sunday in June and my niece and I were up early to catch the train to Versailles. It was our last day in Paris and I wanted to show her the beauty of Versailles especially the garden fountains. The grand palace and gardens are one of my favorite attractions while the hoards of tourists my least favorite attraction. The lines and crowds are always a bit off putting and despite arriving early, we got stuck in the line, the unbelievable line that snaked through the courtyard into the one (yes one!!!) security entrance.  Had I realized this pain point, I would have booked an expedited ticket or private tour to skip the wait.

Versailles entrance
Imagine riding up in your carriage or on your horse to the gates of Versailles

 

Versailles long lines entrance
The snaking lines at Versailles for ticket holders – over an hour wait

When I travel solo, I get into a zone and the annoying crowds disappear and I tune out the noise – easy for me to do, for my eleven year old niece not so much. We waited over an hour to get through security (we had tickets!) inside only to hit the waves of groups in the rooms (there is only one way to go through the rooms).  My niece’s face lit up and said “look” and I was excited for a moment only to realize she was pointing to the gift shop kiosk in the middle of the room that was more interesting to her than the exhibits.

Versailles Hall of Mirrors
The hall of mirrors at Versailles is always a WOW moment for me

Versailles painting
One of many paintings at Versailles

I then decided it was time to feed my niece to change her mood. I was rushing her meal so that we could catch the end of the fountain display thinking who doesn’t love water fountains?  The fountains which are such a highlight and operate at certain times of the day and we had ten minutes left as the next display was in a few hours and my niece was already done with her visit.  I had to buy her a separate ticket to the garden (my ticket included access).

Versailles Gardens
Looking out at the gardens of Versailles

When visiting Versailles, it’s always best to have good (very good) walking shoes, sunscreen, a hat and a great amount of patience to deal with the crowds.  The gardens are vast with smaller gardens on either side and provide a bit of privacy as the crowds tend to stay in the house.  If that’s not enough, you can exit the gardens (you can reenter later) to the public park area and picnic and enjoy the lake.

Versailles boating on lake
Outside the gardens of Versailles – you need a ticket to reenter

With each visit, I try to imagine what it would have been like to stroll the gardens back in the days of Marie Antoinette – wearing a fancy dress and getting lost on the grounds.  On many past visits, I have “gotten lost” on purpose finding a small garden to sit and enjoy the fountain, flowers and background music, however, with my niece that was not going to happen as she was as bored as a kid can be (sadly). There were moments of happiness when I let her do her cartwheels on the grass (with each one, praying that she landed ok).

Gardens of Versailles
Gardens of Versailles

I pointed out how amazing this fountain was, how awesome that one was, did you see that?, do you know what that depicts.  But I turned into the “teacher” and school had let out just a week prior so I had to just hope that the beauty of the fountains sunk in (or will when she revisits the photos).

Fountain of Zeus at Versailles
Fountain of Zeus at Versailles

Despite rushing down the garden’s main path toward the Apollo fountain, I missed the fountain show and was sad to see the water shut off. The upside was I could really see the detail of the fountain and marvel at the sheer size and power of the fountain that balances the garden with the property of Versailles.  My niece was fascinated by the little girl about eight years old taking photos with a grown up camera – she was quite the photographer.

Versailles Fountain of Apollo
Versailles Fountain of Apollo
Young Photographer at Versailles
This kid had a better camera than me and probably better skills!
Fountain of Apollo at Versailles
Fountain of Apollo at Versailles

It was a sunny 70 degrees in Paris at Versailles and should have made for a wonderful day out but I learned quickly that this was a misstep in my itinerary planning for my niece.  So if you have a tween in Paris, I’d recommend having them watch Kirsten Dunst in the 2006 movie Marie Antoinette first so that they have a bit of connection to the place rather than try to educate them to the history – a history that they really can’t imagine.  My niece saw a big house filled with too many pushy people taking selfies, groups of people trying to stick together and a garden full of nothing but shrubs.  Where’s the excitement in that for a kid?  She didn’t even once ask for my phone to take a selfie for Instagram!

Palace of Versailles
Palace at Versailles

Bummed that she didn’t like the gardens, fountains or even Versailles itself, I did what most folks would do to turn that frown upside down, feed her – ice cream here, Starbucks drink there and macarons later.  Those were the highlights of her day and sadly the low point of my day further educating me to traveling with my niece.  Versailles is still one of my favorite Paris attractions and I’ll happily get lost in the garden next time.

Fountain at Versailles
The water adds so much beauty to the fountains at Versailles
Asleep on the Versailles train
One of my favorite photos of my niece after Versailles

7 thoughts on “My Paris Mistake – Versailles with my Tween Niece

  1. Aouch! Too bad your niece didn’t enjoy the visit, I’m sure being surrounded by so much tourists and having to be so patient isn’t really fun! I was amazed at that line, it must have been a nightmare! I will have to get back there though, I’ve only visited Versailles when I was young!

    1. Nathalie – Yes do go back! It is definitely one of my favorites as I can enjoy the history more now as an adult. The crowds will never go away as the tour inside whether on your own or with a guide (live or audio) is one way so people move at weird paces. The outside line was due to a weekend Sunday in June – I learned my lesson after that wait and my niece learned about the lack of manners some people have when they pushed her at the security line – I had to pull her with me to avoid being trampled – crazy people!

    1. That was a Sunday morning in June when we had tickets. So basically high season, weekend and a gorgeous day – three strikes against us. The lines weren’t as long later in the day once the bus tours left. I was warned in advanced by the hotel that the lines were pretty brutal and left really early in the hopes of avoiding the but obviously to no avail. Summer crowds are no fun in Paris.

  2. I agree, I think your idea of having your niece watched the Kirsten Dunst movie would have been a great foundation before the tour, but those crowds would be a turn off to me as well.

    To answer Melissa’s question … we visited Versailles in January of 2013 and there were no crowds at all. We walked right in through the gates and made our way through every room easily. Yes, there were a lot of people but it was very manageable and the experience of being able to take our time in each room was extraordinary. Yes, it was cold, but the sky was clear blue and the sun was shining. We walked out and toured the Petite Trianon and even though the garden was not in bloom, everything was still green and beautiful.

  3. Because of the crowds, we headed to the gardens first and did the inside later. It seemed to shorten the lines and the crown. With tweens and teens, I always make sure they see something they want (Versailles was on my stepson’s list) and I splurge on extras that satisfy (renting a row boat in the grand canal at Versailles). What a fun place that is!

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