Versailles With Kids
Versailles. Catch the RER suburban train by 8:00 to arrive early at Versailles (before it opens at 9). Read pages 29-32 on the train so you'll know what you're looking at when you're there. When you get to the palace from the train, bear right and go around the palace to get in the secret entrance.
Versailles is a surprisingly amazing place for kids. Really all palaces are. They're just fancy buildings dropped in the middle of a huge park. I would bring as much food as you can because there aren't a ton of food options and it's overpriced. The cost of admission is covered by your museum pass.
You are touring the grounds first and leaving the actual palace for last. Here is your order: Start at the Domaine du Marie Antionette (pink palace), tour the Queen's Hamlet, pay extra to go in the gardens if you wish, and lastly hit the main palace.
Give yourself about an hour for the palace. We did the palace by leaving one of us out in the Marble Courtyard (which is awesome by itself) with the baby while the other toured and then switching. It took me about 15 minutes to walk through and I lingered in The Hall of Mirrors.
This plan ensures everyone should have good energy for the entire day. The Palace will be least crowded at the end of the day and if everyone is pooped, you can make it a quick visit. When you're done, head back to Paris on the RER train!
In order to fully appreciate Versailles, you have to understand a bit about the royal family. The guy who built this place was Louis XIV. They called him The Sun King. See all the suns everywhere? That’s his symbol. He used this palace to cement his place as the one and only ruler of France.
Before he came into power, there were lots of tiny kingdoms ruled by minor leaders all over France (feudalism). Louis moved these leaders to Versailles giving them free reign to live and party in his palace. The minor leaders were distracted with their new lives of leisure, leaving all the power and politics to Louis.
Louis XIV was big on the The Divine Right of Kings. What this means is he believed that those who are in the monarchy are divinely appointed to rule, blurring the line between King and God. He holds the record for the longest reign in Europe at 72 years!
During his reign, France was the leading European power. His foreign policy pretty much boiled down to one thing: WAR. If he wasn’t fighting a war he was prepping for the next war. He outlived his sons, so he turned the kingdom over to his grandson Louis XVI.
Louis XVI was not the man his grandfather was. He didn't have the charisma or war knowledge his grandfather did. He also inherited a country that was growing increasingly unhappy with the wealth disparity and at a time when monarchies were losing power and favor. Well, problems be darned, Louis XVI continued to live his grandfather's life of luxury. His family arranged for him to marry Austrian Princess Marie Antionette, daughter of Maria Theresa of the Habsburg line.
Many historians have debated whether the two really loved each other, but they did produce a few children. They threw lavish parties and built additional palaces at Versailles which you'll be touring this afternoon.
The Petit Trianon is the pink marbled palace. Marie Antionette would come here to escape from all the hubbub of royal life. There have been many many interpretations of Marie Antionette throughout history. Some show her as a spoiled brat, trying on shoes and responding to complaints of her subjects having no food by responding "Let them eat cake!" By the way, it's debated whether or not she actually said that!
Some show her as a tragic character, stuck in a loveless marriage, and constantly scrutinized by the public. Really, none of us can judge. We didn't know her. Furthermore, it's unclear how much influence she actually had over what was going on in her country.
Marie Antionette built a little farm behind her private palace called Domaine du Marie Antionette. She missed country life so she would hang out on her fake farm and pretend to be a peasant. The farm evokes images of a fairytale with all the little waterwheels and streams.
So there were real actual peasants struggling to live while Marie Antionette used their money to pretend to be a peasant struggling to live. You begin to see the problem?
Before long, the French Revolution was in full swing. The people were angry and beheading nobility left and right with a new French invention called a guillotine. The Royal family was at the top of everyone's list.
They tried to flee Versailles, but were captured. After a stint in prison, Louis XVI, Marie Antionette, and their three children were all beheaded. Marie Antionette's last words were her apologizing to the executioner for stepping on his foot.