Tour the World’s 15 Most Opulent Palaces

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, India

Constructed in 1799 for Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, was designed as an extension of the Royal City Palace. The pink sandstone façade is lined with 953 latticed windows. The windows allowed the royal ladies—who at the time were not allowed to appear in public—to look out on the street below without being seen. The cleverly designed building is set on the east-west axis, taking advantage of the wind to cool the structure.

Château de Chambord, Chambord, France

King François I began construction on the Château de Chambord in 1519, and the monumental palace was completed nearly 30 years later. The elaborate design is said to have been influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, particularly the legendary double-helix staircase. The four-floor Renaissance château was designed around a central axis with a keep in the shape of a Greek cross, and it boasts 440 rooms and 365 fireplaces.

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria

In 1693, King Leopold I commissioned architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach to design a residence for his son Joseph I on the site of a former hunting lodge in Vienna. In the 18th century, Schönbrunn Palace became the property of Empress Maria Theresa, who worked with architect Nikolaus Pacassi to rebuild the palace into a fitting summer residence for the Hapsburg ruler. The Baroque palace has 1,441 rooms and is known for its beautiful gardens, which were designed by Jean Trehet, a student of famed French landscape designer André Le Nôtre.

Palace of Versailles, France

One of the world’s most iconic—and ornate—palaces, the Palace of Versailles began as a hunting lodge built in 1623 by Louis XII. The lavish château we know today is thanks to the work of Louis XIV, who brought in architects, designers, and artisans such as Louis Le Vau, François d’Orbay, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, André Le Nôtre, and Charles Le Brun. During the Sun King’s reign, the palace became the main residence of the court and government. Versailles is home to spectacular interiors, including the Hall of Mirrors and elegant gardens by Le Nôtre.

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

Set on the Arno River, Florence’s Palazzo Pitti was built in the 15th century as the home of banker Luca Pitti. The Medici family purchased the residence in 1549, expanding the palace and adding the Boboli Gardens. In addition to the Medicis, Palazzo Pitti was occupied by rulers from the House of Habsburg-Lorraine and the House of Savoy. The grand residence is now home to five museums, including the spectacular Palatine Gallery, where works by Raphael, Tintoretto, Botticelli, Titan, and other Renaissance masters are displayed.

Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Overlooking the old city of Granada, the Alhambra was the palace and fortress of the region’s Nasrid rulers. The palatine city was built primarily during the 13th and 14th centuries and is one of the world’s Islamic architectural wonders. The original Nasrid structures incorporate beautiful Moorish details, including stalactite work, mosaic tile decoration, geometric and arabesque motifs, and carved Arabic inscriptions. Today, visitors can experience the beautifully preserved structures of the UNESCO World Heritage site, including the Court of the Lions, Comares Palace, and the Partal Palace.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau, Germany

If you picture a fairy-tale castle, it may look like Schloss Neuschwanstein in the German Alps (which inspired Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland). King Ludwig II of Bavaria commissioned the castle in 1869, calling on architect Eduard Riedel to design a residence inspired by medieval castles and designs by scenic painter Christian Jank. The Historicist palace includes elements of Romanesque, Gothic, and Byzantine architecture, and the elegant interiors, such as the Singers’ Hall and Throne Room, were built with the most up-to-date technology at the time. The castle began a restoration project in 2017, which is set to be completed by spring 2024.

Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

Located in the heart of Bangkok, The Grand Palace was established in 1782 and built to be the home and administrative offices of King Rama I. The sprawling complex measures over 2.3 million square feet and includes over 100 buildings, most of which are built in the Ratanakosin style. The most famous and sacred structure is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which houses a carved jasper Buddha that is considered the most important Buddha image in the country.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was the principal residence and administrative center for nearly 400 years of the Ottoman Empire. Mehmed II began construction on the palace in the late 1450s, and it was expanded and updated by his successors, who added a mix of architectural styles. The complex is laid out as four connected courtyards. The first, an outer courtyard, was the only section open to the public, and the other restricted courtyards became increasingly more private as they reached the sultan’s residence. The palace became a museum in 1924 and displays treasures of the Ottoman Empire, including the Spoonmaker’s Diamond and the Topkapi Dagger.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Constructed from 1406 to 1420, the Forbidden City in Beijing was the imperial palace and winter residence of the Chinese Emperor for over 500 years, from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. The 178-acre walled complex includes 980 buildings with over 8,700 rooms and was built along the city’s north-south axis, with the most important buildings facing south. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest building in the Forbidden City and is where the emperor’s throne stands.

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

Four Imperial residences have stood on the site of the Winter Palace since the reign of Peter the Great. The enduring building was commissioned by Empress Elizabeth and completed in 1762 by architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli in the Russian Baroque style. Catherine II replaced the interiors with Neoclassical designs, but Rastrelli’s vision for the exterior remains. Following the Russian Revolution, the palace became a museum and is now part of the Hermitage Museum. The exterior has been painted various colors over the years, including yellow, red, and green.

Royal Palace of Madrid, Madrid, Spain

The Palacio Real de Madrid is the largest palace in western Europe, with 4,418 rooms across nearly 1.5 million square feet. The Royal Palace was built in the 18th century on the site of the Antiguo Alcázar, a medieval fortress turned palace. A number of architects contributed to the project, including Filippo Juvarra, Giambattista Sacchetti, and Francisco Sabatini, the court architect of Charles II. Exquisite frescos by Giambattista Tiepolo and Anton Raphael Mengs can be found in the main rooms, and works by Francisco Goya, Caravaggio, and Diego Velázquez are on display. Today, it is used for official events and is open to the public.

Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm, Sweden

Located on an island in Lake Mälar near Stockholm, Drottningholm Palace is still the official residence of the King and Queen of Sweden. The palace was built from 1662–86 by architect Nicodemus Tessin for Queen Hedvig Eleonora. The architect took inspiration from Italian and French architecture, including the Palace of Versailles. Later additions include the Palace Theatre, a wonderfully preserved 18th-century theater, and the Chinese Pavillion, which combines Rococo and Chinese designs.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England

Blenheim Palace was built from 1705-22 as a gift for John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, in recognition of his victory at the Battle of Blenheim. The Baroque masterpiece was designed by architects Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, and its naturalistic walled park was designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace, and the estate was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

The vibrant Pena Palace is located in the Sintra Hills of Portugal. Built in the mid-19th century by King Consort Ferdinand II with engineer Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, the eccentric castle incorporates Manueline, Gothic, and Moorish styles into a captivating example of Romantic architecture. Ferdinand II also created the park surrounding the castle, bringing in tree and plant species from around the world.

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