Once home to kings and queens, palaces were built not only to act as royal residences, but to project power and prestige. As such, monarchs and emperors vied with one another, commissioning lavish summer homes and assembling exquisite art collections with which to fill their endless halls and royal chambers.
Besides the magnificent architecture and artworks, the former royal residences also boast gorgeous grounds and gardens, with plenty of fabulous fountains and flowerbeds on display. Due to their significant artistic, cultural and historical value, these beautiful palaces now make for some of the most popular tourist attractions and museums around.
15. Grand Palace
Lying on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the Grand Palace can be found right in the heart of Bangkok. Built in 1782, the sprawling complex and its extensive gardens were once home to the Thai kings of old. Now partially open to the public, the palace boasts lots of beautiful buildings, regal courtyards, and pretty pavilions, with a wealth of lovely Thai traditional architecture on show. The undoubted highlight, however, is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is the most revered Buddhist site in the whole of Thailand.
14. Lake Palace
Now a luxurious hotel, Lake Palace once acted as a summer residence and retreat for members of the royal dynasty of Mewar in India. Built between 1743 and 1746, the sparkling white palace can be found in Udaipur – the ‘City of Lakes.’ Magically set upon an island in the middle of a lake, the palace makes for a very romantic sight. Its elegant domes and facades are dreamily reflected in the surrounding waters. Besides its lavishly decorated suites, the hotel also has fantastic pavilions and courtyards for guests to explore, alongside lush gardens and merrily twinkling fountains. Thanks to its serene setting and marvelous architecture, Lake Palace really is a joy to gaze upon.
13. Peterhof Palace
Nicknamed ‘the Russian Versailles.’ Peterhof Palace certainly rivals the Sun King’s royal residence in terms of its size, scale and splendor. Sprawling over a vast area, the palace and its landscaped gardens are set on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, just outside of Saint Petersburg. Built between 1709 and 1756, the extravagant palace was commissioned by Peter the Great to symbolize and highlight the modernization and westernization of Russia. As such, each room is more exquisitely designed and decorated than the last, with the Throne Room and Chesma Hall being two of the most impressive. Outside is just as astonishing; there are endless fountains and flowerbeds for visitors to wander around, as well as the fittingly named Grand Cascade. An artistic and architectural marvel, the Peterhof Palace complex is not to be missed out on.
12. Mysore Palace
With its ornate facades, elegant arches, and magnificent marble domes, Mysore Palace in India really is a showstopper. Built between 1897 and 1912 to showcase the Wadiyar dynasty’s fabulous wealth and power, the palace is actually just one of seven in Mysore, which is fittingly nicknamed ‘the City of Palaces.’ Although so many amazing monuments and landmarks can be found around town, Mysore Palace’s arresting architecture and lush landscaped gardens make it Mysore’s most popular tourist attraction.
11. Palais des Papes
Both a formidable-looking fort and elegant palace, the Palace of the Popes in Avignon is where the heads of the Catholic church used to reside in the 1300s. Due to its influential occupants, the palace had to project both power and prestige. In its heyday, it was one of the largest Gothic buildings in Europe. Now an important historical and architectural landmark, the palace is fascinating to explore. Its thick walls and sturdy towers protect charming chapels decked in frescoes and murals. After the papal residence returned to Rome in 1378, the palace slowly fell into disrepair before later being used by Napoleon’s troops as a barracks and prison.
10. Buckingham Palace
One of the most famous and photographed buildings on Earth, Buckingham Palace in London has long been the residence of the British monarchs. Originally built in 1703 to be a large townhouse, over the years, it was slowly enlarged and redesigned, with its famous facade added in 1911. In total, the palace boasts 775 rooms, with many of them replete with fabulous furnishings, exquisite paintings, and age-old statues. Of these, the most impressive are the staterooms. These are opened to the public each August and September and are where visiting heads of state stay when in London.
9. Schonbrunn Palace
Lying on the outskirts of Vienna, Schonbrunn Palace is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the whole of Austria. Painted a warm yellow colour, the gorgeous Rococo palace was once the summer residence of the Hapsburgs, with Emperor Franz Joseph I born there. While only 40 of its 1,441 rooms are open to the public, these are extravagantly decorated, with beautiful ballrooms on show alongside resplendent and refined artworks, tapestries, and sculptures. Its endless gardens are just as delightful to explore. A marvellous botanical garden and orangerie can be found alongside the world’s oldest zoo, which was once the imperial menagerie.
8. Potala Palace
Set in an absolutely epic location atop of Marpo Ri hill in the centre of Lhasa Valley, Potala Palace has long been one of the most important and impressive monuments in the whole of Tibet. Once the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas, the striking red and white palace was erected in 1649, although earlier versions have stood in the same spot since at least the 7th century. The colossal edifice contains over 10,000 shrines, with more than 200,000 statues thought to be dotted around its hallowed halls and ceremonial chambers. With towering mountains rising all around it, Potala Palace makes for an awe-inspiring sight and is an enduring symbol of Tibetan Buddhism.
7. Chateau de Chambord
Nestled away in the Loire Valley, Chateau de Chambord is undoubtedly one of the pinnacles of French Renaissance architecture. Commissioned by Francis I to be a hunting lodge, its elaborate and enchanting design proudly showcase the monarch’s fabulous wealth and power. Although much of its fantastic furnishings were stripped and removed following the French Revolution, visitors can still enjoy wandering around its elegant halls and chambers. All in all, the chateau’s turrets and towers make for a spectacular sight, particularly when contrasted with the lush lawns and reflective moat that lie around it.
6. Hawa Mahal
Famed for its elaborate and ornate facade, Hawa Mahal delightfully translates to ‘the Palace of Winds’ in English. Completed in 1799, its pretty pillars, attractive arches, and dignified domes are mostly fashioned out of the wonderful red and pink sandstone that Jaipur is so renowned for. While the palace has some lovely buildings and courtyards for visitors to explore, as well as a fantastic archaeological museum, it is its honeycomb-like exterior that attracts the most attention. Set over five floors, the beautiful bays with their coloured glass windows and intricate latticework look incredible and are the highlight of any visit to the palace.
5. Topkapi Palace
Set in a beautiful spot on the banks of the Bosphorus, it is from Topkapi Palace that the sultans used to rule over the Ottoman Empire. Built in 1459 at the command of Mehmet the Conqueror, the palace boasts plenty of ornamented and ostentatious rooms, which feature some wonderful Islamic art and architecture. Besides its breathtaking halls and courtyards, there are also the glittering gems and jewels of the Imperial Treasury for visitors to check out, as well as the endless and extravagant apartments of the Imperial Harem. Now a magnificent museum, Topkapi Palace is one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist attractions.
4. Palace of Versailles
Although Versailles started out as a simple hunting lodge, it was turned into one of the greatest and grandest palaces ever seen under Louis XIV. The Sun King embellished and enlarged it before eventually turning it into his royal residence and the seat of his government. Although many of its most precious artworks and treasures were removed and placed in the Louvre following the French Revolution, extensive renovations and restorations have seen the palace returned to its former glory.
Now one of the most popular tourist attractions in France, each year, millions of people come to see its sumptuous Royal apartments, as well as the glittering Hall of Mirrors and Royal Opera. In addition, its glorious gardens with their fantastic fountains and flowerbeds are also well exploring. Due to all the world-changing events that have taken place in its shining halls, the Palace of Versailles is one of the nation’s most important historical, cultural, and architectural treasures.
Perched atop a plateau overlooking Granada, Alhambra has long been one of the most renowned and recognisable palaces on Earth. Built by the Nasrid sultans in the 13th century, the large complex proudly exhibits lots of absolutely exquisite Andalusian architecture, with intricate designs and motifs wherever you look. Wandering around its beautiful gardens, sturdy fortifications, and colonnade-lined courtyards is a delight, while the Museum of Fine Arts has a fabulous collection of artworks for visitors to peruse.
Among the many highlights are the magnificently carved columns and pretty pavilions of the Court of the Lions and the lovingly cared for flowers and fountains of Generalife. With the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains lying in the background and verdant trees rising around its beige walls, Alhambra certainly makes for a memorable sight.
2. Winter Palace
Once the residence of the Russian tsars, the Winter Palace now houses the world-famous Hermitage Museum. Built in an Elizabethan Baroque style, its seemingly never-ending green and white walls are said to house over 1,500 rooms, with each of them ornately designed and decorated. The size and scale of the palace, not to mention the beautiful art and architecture on show, perfectly showcases the power and might of Imperial Russia.
The monarchy and empire came crashing down, however, in 1917, when the Winter Palace was stormed in one of the deciding events of the Russian Revolution. Nowadays, the palace and museum are one of the highlights of any visit to Saint Petersburg.
1. Forbidden City
Ever since it was built in 1406, the Forbidden City has dominated and defined the centre of Beijing, as well as China itself. The imperial home of emperors from both the Ming and Qing dynasties, it was from here that they ruled over their extensive empire. Set over a considerable area protected by a high wall and wide moat, the palace complex encompasses some 980 different buildings. These showcase lots of incredible Chinese palatial architecture, with the Hall of Supreme Harmony and Palace of Heavenly Purity just two of its must-see sights.
Since the abdication of the last emperor in 1925, the Forbidden City has been looked after by the Palace Museum, which has an astounding array of artworks and artefacts for visitors to enjoy. The culmination of over two thousand years of Chinese and East Asian art and architecture, the Forbidden City is one of the most important and impressive sights in not only Beijing but China.