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Europe has been home to some of the world’s greatest palaces for centuries. Palaces are incredible structures that stand as monuments to the wealth and power of their owners. From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, each palace possesses its own unique style and history.
They were built to impress and inspire.
These magnificent structures have stood the test of time, from the Palace of Versailles to the Catherine Palace. Many are now museums and tourist attractions. Here are some of the best palaces in Europe to experience.
Map for this Guide
The map below includes every royal house discussed in this article. Add this to your Google Maps for easy access for later!
Since 1837, Buckingham Palace has been the official London home of the British crown. The royal family has been residing here since the 19th century, and this one of the best palaces in Europe has been the place of ceremonial events such as state dinners, marriages, coronations, changing the guard, and other important moments.
The palace’s 775 rooms are home to a rich history. Originally constructed as a townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham in 1705, the structure was expanded into a formal imperial home by King George III in 1761. Later, it was heavily destroyed by German bombings during the Second World War.
While you’re exploring London, don’t miss the opportunity to see a Changing the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace. From the Palace to St. James’s Palace and the Wellington Barracks, the ceremony takes approximately an hour and is conducted all throughout the year. If you’re planning to attend, check their website for up-to-date details, or to take a virtual tour.
Portugal is home to many of Europe’s most famous monuments and historical sites, but the one that usually gets more attention is the colorful, famous Pena Palace. Situated on a hill in one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal, Sintra, this is one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.
The Pena Palace was built in the 19th century by order of King Ferdinand II, though it was erected on top of the ruins of a monastery dating back to the Middle Ages. It showcases a mix of architectural styles and influences, and no one can resist its bright colors and surrounding scenic views.
When visiting the Pena Palace, depending on the type of ticket, one can wander around the terraces, some of the palace’s rooms, and the Pena Park spreading for over 200 hectares.
Sintra itself is an easy day trip from Lisbon by either car, train, or organized day tour. Although it’s not recommended to count on having available parking near this one of the best palaces in Europe, it is accessible by car. But the most popular option for getting there would be to take bus number 434 from Sintra’s city center or train station.
Submitted by: Or from My Path in the World
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a creation or landmark chosen for conservation by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) due to its cultural, historical, scientific or natural significance. It must meet a minimum of one of ten selection criteria to be considered for the World Heritage List, and once chosen, it becomes protected for preservation by various international treaties.
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The Alhambra is the most visited monument in Spain, with over 2.7 million people. It was included on the Unesco Heritage Sites list in 1984, and since then, it has grown more and more in popularity. Commonly, Alhambra tickets are sold out four months before, so if you plan a weekend in Granada, make sure to book in advance.
The Alhambra was built in the middle of the 13th century, on the ruins of an old Roman fortress. Soon it became the residence of the sultan of the Emirates of Granada, who decorated one of the best palaces in Europe with intricate details and created the beautifully landscaped Nasrid gardens, which made the Alhambra so famous.
During the Nasrid Dynasty, it was believed that homes have to be “paradises on Earth,” with elements that connected all the senses of a person. Each house had a hidden garden between the tall walls from the street. Palm trees represented the connection between the earth and the sky. Flowers were used for propagating aromas in the air, and water elements, like fountains, and rivers, represented life.
After the reconquest of Spain, the Alhambra became the royal court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who changed some of the decorations into Renaissance style. Unfortunately, the royals’ residence was left in disrepair over the years and became a place for squatters and vandals. The interiors had been stripped of all the furniture and décor, and the once one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe became unrecognizable.
However, Alhambra returned on the touristic path by publishing The Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving. The city of Granada invested in renovating the site and transforming it into a museum.
The best time to visit the Alhambra is during the first booking slot, in the morning. This is when the least amount of people are in, and when you will get a chance to have the place to yourself. As mentioned before, book a ticket in advance. Getting to the Alhambra from Granada is very easy, either by foot or by taking the dedicated electric bus.
Submitted by: Joanna from Andalucia In My Pocket
The Palace of Versailles
Built in French Baroque style, many might consider France’s Versailles as one of the most famous palaces in Europe. Versailles has been home to three kings of France–from Louis XIV to Louis XVI–and taken center stage for many historical events and lavish parties until the French Revolution.
The Versailles Estate is located in the city of Versailles (Ile-de-France), not far from Paris. You can travel to Versailles by train–count on it taking 40 minutes each way–or with a guided tour that includes transportation.
The Versailles Estate is vast, and you will need a full day to visit Versailles. Inside, you will find the Royal Palace and the Trianons, beautiful French-style gardens decorated with fountains and other water games, and a park. Visit the kings’ apartments and also some reception rooms like the famous Hall of Mirrors.
The French-style gardens surround one of the best palaces in Europe on three sides and have all kinds of parterres and grooves in different styles. The gardens are free to visit from November to the end of March, but they charge an entrance fee throughout the warmer months since they host various music and water shows on the grounds. The park surrounds the gardens and the Grand Canal.
Submitted by: Elisa from World in Paris
The Apostolic Palace is the official residence of the Papacy in Vatican City, an autonomous city-state inside the city of Rome, Italy. The complex has housed the current pope since the 16th century, replacing Lateran Palace, the former apostolic residence.
Building on the present Apostolic Palace started at the end of the 15th century when the old Vatican palace was destroyed by fire. Several prominent Renaissance masterpieces reside within the palace, including frescos in the Borgia Apartments by Pinturicchio, the Raphael Rooms, and the famed artwork in the Sistine Chapel.
Today, the palace comprises a variety of separate buildings devoted to the Pope, senior officials, and administration offices. Just a handful of these facilities are publicly accessible, including the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Library, and the Pontifical Villas Gardens. It’s also home to the largest cathedral in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica. You can visit the museums and tour the palace by purchasing tickets online.
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As the summer royal residence of the Habsburgs, Schönbrunn Palace became the principal residence in Vienna, Austria from the 18th century until the monarchy was eliminated in 1918.
While the property was used for the first time for leisure and hunting, the building standing now was built in the Baroque and Rococo design in the 1740s for Empress Maria Theresa, who received the estate as a wedding present. The former lodge’s large gardens were incorporated into the grounds and modified to suit the royalty.
The palace complex covers more than 1,400 acres of land and has many points of interest, including the world’s oldest zoo in perpetual service, the Schönbrunn Tiergarten, the Children’s Museum, the Mazes, and other gardens.
One of the popular attractions in the garden is the Glorietta, an ornate observation deck and large reception area. The must-see palace covers about 7,300 square meters of floor space with its vast, opulent rooms.
The best way for travelers to arrive at Schönbrunn Palace from Vienna are by taking the U4 metro, the 10 and 60 tram, or the 10 A bus and exiting at the Schönbrunn stop. When you enter the museum, you can purchase tickets then, or there are many ticket variations available to buy on the palace website. You can access Palace Park free of charge, but all other areas need a ticket for entry. If you’re visiting the Palace in winter, make sure to visit one of the best Austrian holiday markets in the front courtyard!
Located in the center of modern-day Split, Croatia, Diocletian’s Palace is one of the best palaces in Europe to visit, and one of the most famous castles in Europe from ancient times. It’s a great illustration of Ancient Roman architecture on the coast of the city.
Built in the 4th century by Roman Emperor Diocletian, the massive structure was built for his retirement in 305 A.D. from public duty. Although he spent less than a decade here before being murdered. The enormous complex incorporated everything–the royal house, the baths, the mausoleum, the temples, even the town square. Established near Spalatum, Diocletian’s hometown, it paid tribute to the immense power and wealth of the Roman Empire.
Today, Diocletian’s Palace is the center of the Old Town of Split. Visitors come to Diocletian’s Palace for any of the activities still happening within its walls. Museums, restaurants, shops, and living spaces are still occupied within this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tourists might also recognize the Split palace–like neighboring towns Trogir and Šibenik–from its prominent features in Game of Thrones.
Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo is one of the most striking architectural monuments in Russia. The palace is the former residence of Russian emperors — the Romanovs. It is situated in the suburbs of Saint Petersburg.
The construction of Catherine Palace began in the early 18th century. During almost one hundred years, numerous world-famous masters of architecture fulfilled all the wishes of Russian empresses, the hostesses of Tsarskoe Selo. As a result, the palace and the parks around it are now a precious part of the world’s cultural heritage.
The building amazes with its dimensions and lavish decoration. When you see the 300-meters-long impressive façade, you fully realize what imperial luxury is! Blue and white facades are decorated with rich gilding, snow-white columns, statues of caryatids, Atlanteans, and lion heads.
Inside one of the best palaces in Europe, you can see collections of paintings, sculptures, old porcelain, and furniture. But, the most famous attraction of Catherine Palace is the legendary Amber Room. Catherine Palace is a part of the Tsarskoe Selo Museum complex, it’s surrounded by numerous parks that are a museum under the open sky.
The easiest way to get to Catherine Palace is to book a tour from St Petersburg. Or, if you prefer traveling on your own, you have to take a bus or suburban train to Pushkin, the town where Catherine Palace is located. The drive takes about 1 hour.
Keep in mind that Catherine Palace and Tsarskoe Selo can be very crowded during the high tourist season — from May to September. Sometimes people can wait up to 4 hours in line to get in! The best time for visiting Catherine Palace is in winter when you won’t have to rush through; you’ll have enough time to see all the wonders of the grounds.
Submitted by: Anna de Nord from Travel Cultura
Which of these beautiful palaces in Europe will you explore?