Once the homes of kings and emperors, these opulent royal residencies provide an opportunity to soak in their architectural splendour and rich history. Today, these palaces are popular tourist destinations, offering contemporary visitors a glimpse into the past. Take a look at Spear’s list of the World’s 10 Most Beautiful Palaces.
Grand Kremlin Palace, Russia
Built between 1839 and 1849 in Moscow, under the direction of chief architect Konstantin A. Thon, the Grand Kremlin Palace was created to showcase the grandeur of the Russian tsars, with the exterior reflecting a mix of Byzantine and medieval Russian architecture.
The Palace includes the beautiful and historic Terem Palace, with over 700 rooms, nine churches and the Holy Vestibule. A superb blend of Russian, Italian and Eastern architecture it now acts as the Russian President’s official residence.
The Palace buildings are built in such a way as to form a rectangular inner courtyard. The double-storeyed Grand Kremlin, which appears to contain three stories at first glance, has five reception halls named after St. George, Vladimir, Alexander, Andrew, and Catherine—the five orders of the Russian Empire. Part of Moscow’s Kremlin, the Grand Kremlin Palace is an UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.
Grand Palace, Thailand
Overlooking the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok’s Grand Palace was built around the 1780s by King Rama I. The palace is considered a sacred site as it houses the Wat Phra Kaew – Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which preserves a single-block jade Buddha—a 26-inch tall palladium of Thailand from the 15th century clothed in garments of pure gold and meditating in a yogic posture.
A western style construction in the form of the Borom Philam Mansion, was added by King Rama V in the early 20th century. The Grand Palace welcomes an average of eight million visitors annually.
Palace of Versailles, France
The famous Château de Versailles (Palace of Versailles) in France was first a double-storeyed hunting lodge built by Louis XIII in the Île-de-France region in 1624. Subsequently, Louis XIV built a palace on the location and shifted royal proceedings from Paris to Versailles.
Despite the palace being stormed during the French Revolution and King Louis XVI ousted, massive restoration work allows us a glimpse into the prosperous past of these absolute monarchs. Converted to a museum in 1837, the Palace is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, welcoming nearly 10 million tourists every year.
Other attractions housed in the Château de Versailles include the King’s Apartment or Appartement du Roi, the Opéra de Versailles, the Hall of Mirrors, the Hameau de la Reine (a make-believe hamlet with a shepherdess’ cottage built for Marie Antoinette, where she went with her friends to escape from the chaos of royal court life) and Chapels of Versailles. The adjacent garden is equally famous, with a footfall of 8,000,000 annual visitors. The Palace was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
Peterhof Palace, Russia
Also known as the “Russian Versailles” or the “capital of fountains”, this golden-hued series of palaces called Peterhof Palace is located near Saint Petersburg, Russia on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland. Built to compete with France’s Palace of Versailles, this grand palace by the sea includes Monplaisir Palace, Grand Palace and Marly Palace.
Almost destroyed by the occupying German army during World War II, Peterhof was painstakingly restored to resemble its glorious past—a Herculean task that stretched its way into the 21st century. The architecture, which began with Baroque, waltzed its way into neoclassicism during the reign of Peter’s daughter Elizabeth.
Other must-see attractions here are the Grand Palace, the Ceremonial Staircase and the legion of gilded statues welcoming tourists to witness Tzarist opulence, the Grand Cascade (consisting of 64 fountains) that flows into the Samson Fountain and the Lower Gardens. The royal residence was recognised as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1990.
Schönbrunn Palace, Austria
A summer retreat for the Hapsburg rulers of Austria (especially during the reign of Maria Theresa), the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna was built by Emperor Leopold I between 1696 and 1712. This Rococo palace with its 1441 rooms is the most-visited site in Austria and includes the famous gold and white Mirror Room (with its crystal mirrors) where a six-year old Mozart came up with his first performance. Established in 1752, the world’s first and oldest zoo can be found here along with other attractions such as a labyrinth, the sculpted Privy Garden and the Gloriette.
The 40 rooms that are open to tourists and visitors boast a rare rosewood panelled Millions Room and the Gobelin Salon, replete with its classy collection of ornate tapestries from Brussels, Belgium. The world’s longest orangerie is located in the finely manicured gardens of Schönbrunn Palace, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Wilanów Palace, Poland
This beautiful Baroque royal residence began in the summer of 1677 as a small single-storeyed structure constructed by court architect Augustyn Locci when King John Sobieski III got hold of a village in what is today modern day Warsaw. Completed in 1696, the Palace is a mix of an Italian garden villa, a nobility house and a French palace.
In 1805, the efforts of Stanislaw Kostka Potocki, son-in-law of Duchess Izabela Lubomirska (who inherited the property in mid-18th century and got the waning palace to regain its lost lustre), saw Poland inaugurate one of its first museums in Wilanów Palace. The royal apartments are located on the main floor, while on the first floor one can find the Gallery of the Polish Portrait, which consists of the effigies of Polish monarchs and other eminent personalities of Poland gathered through the ages.
The resilient Wilanów Palace, survivor of Poland’s partitions and two World Wars, is one of Poland’s most important monuments.
Palacio Real, Spain
The magnificent Palacio Real de Madrid, once used to having the royalty of Spain residing in it (although still the King’s official home), is now used only for ceremonies of the state.
In 865 AD, Emir Mohammed I (who ruled over Córdoba), named the area al-Majrit or Magerit in Arabic where he wanted to build a fortress and a citadel during the Crusades to protect the town of Toledo from Christian soldiers. The fortress was taken over by Alfonso VI, King of Léon and Castille, in 1083. In the 14th century, people began calling it the Old Fortress or Antiguo Alcázar, but over the years it was turned into a palace and the permanent residence for Spain’s royalty by Charles I and his son Philip II. However, after a fire in 1734 burnt the Royal Palace of Madrid to the ground, Philip V commissioned the construction of the one that stands today as Palacio Real.
Highlights include the Royal Armoury housing the royal family’s armour and weaponry preserved since the 13th century, and the Painting Gallery with its rarest of rare art in the form of Luis Morales’ Virgin with Child, Caravaggio’s Salome with the Head of John the Baptist and Juan de Flandes’ Portrait of Isabella the Catholic.
Umaid Bhavan, India
Built under the direction of Maharaja Umaid Singh of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, by British architect Henry Vaughan Lanchester, Umaid Bhawan Palace is the world’s sixth-largest private residence and still the property of the Jodhpur royal family.
The huge palace that was constructed as a means of compassionate employment to farmers of the area seeking his refuge from an impending famine, was completed in 1943, and is an architectural cocktail of Western Art Deco, Indo-Saracenic features and Beaux Arts. Two wings of the palace are made up of golden-yellow sandstone, with interiors fortified by Makrana marble and Burmese teak wood. It’s built with the same palm court marble used in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
In 2018, the luxurious Umaid Bhavan was also the wedding venue of Indian actress Priyanka Chopra and American singer/songwriter Nick Jonas.
Château de Fontainebleau, France
Located in the commune of Fontainebleau around 55 km to the southeast of Paris, lies one of the biggest royal French châteaux, the beautiful Château de Fontainebleau. Numerous springs in the surrounding woods and abundant game gave rise to a hunting lodge which turned into a castle during medieval times and later on into a palace for France’s monarchs beginning with Louis VII and ending with Napoleon III.
The Château is well-known for its grand horseshoe staircase that leads to the Palace front door. It also contains the biggest ‘jeu de paume’ court in the world. Jeu de paume or “game of the palm” is the predecessor of modern tennis and was played by monks since the 11th century.
The only imperial palace with royalty residing in it continuously for seven centuries, Chateau de Fontainebleau is a national museum and was awarded UNESCO World heritage Site status in 1981.
Sanssouci Palace, Germany
Sans souci, which means “without concerns” in French, was the summer palace and private refuge of the King of Prussia, Frederick the Great. A place where he could retreat without care to relax in the company of his greyhounds, the Schloss Sanssouci or Sanssouci Palace is located in the city of Potsdam, bordering Berlin. Built on raised ground with cascading vineyard terraces, the architecture of Sanssouci is more ‘Frederician Rococo’ because of a strong influence of the King’s personal tastes.
The Palace was designed by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff, with construction starting in 1745 and completed by Jan Bouman in 1747. King Frederick William IV expanded and improved it in the 19th century and, after it somehow emerged from World War II without a scratch, Sanssouci became a tourist attraction in East Germany.
Sights in Sanssouci not to be missed are the Pantheonesque gold and white Marble Hall reception area, the Voltaire Room (the French philosopher was a frequent palace guest), Antoine Watteau’s paintings (one of Friedrich’s favorite artists) and the magnificent Neues Palace (New Palace). Sanssouci became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990.