Ten Impressive Palaces to Visit

Throughout the centuries, palaces have been the official residences of kings, emperors, presidents or other chiefs of state. Unlike castles, which are buildings that are fortified to withstand an attack, palaces are magnificent buildings that offer all of the comfort and lavishness that a noble family is accustomed to. Here are a few that are worth a visit.  

1 – Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

Potala

This palace was the main residence of the Dalai Lama until he was forced to flee to India in 1959. The first palace was built here in 637 and stood until the 17th century, when it was added onto and built into the larger building you see standing today. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.

Some things to see while touring the palace: the White Palace, which used to be the living quarters of the Dalai Lama; the Red Palace which is completely devoted to religious study and Buddhist prayer; the incredible murals in the Great West Hall; the four chapels directly off of this hall; and the Tomb of the 13th Dalai Lama.

2 – Summer Palace in Beijing, China

Summer Palace

A palace and garden have been located on this site at the western edge of Beijing since the 12th century. The royal family used to leave the hot Forbidden City to spend their summers at this palace on a breezy lake. In 1998 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

In the 1880’s the Dowager Empress Cixi, also known as the Dragon Lady, took money intended for her navy to restore the grounds. In an extravagant excess that bankrupted the navy, she built a marble boat that sits at the edge of the lake. According to the legend, the interior of the boat was covered in mirrors so that the vain Empress could sit in the boat and look at both her reflection and the beautiful lake at the same time.

3 – Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan

Imperial Palace

This palace is the home of Japan’s Imperial family and is located on the site of the former Edo Castle in the center of Tokyo. Surrounded by a moat and high wall, it occupies the most expensive tract of real estate in the world. During the height of real estate in the 1980’s it was valued higher than all the real estate in the state of California.  

The palace buildings and grounds are not open to the general public, except on January 2 and December 23. Guided tours are available for tourists in Japanese with an English pamphlet and audio guide, but reservations must be made on-line in advance.  

4 – Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand

Grand Palace

This palace has served as the official home of the kings of Thailand since the 18th century, although the current king does not reside here. Still, many royal rituals and ceremonies are performed here each year by the king.

You are allowed to visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a 45-cm tall, green jade (not really emerald) Buddha clothed in gold, and the Central Court. If you plan to tour, men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves, and women must also be modestly dressed with no bare shoulders. Socks must cover your feet, even in sandals.

5 – Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia

Catherine Palace

For years, this palace was the summer residence of the Tsars. First built in 1717 by Peter the Great for his wife Catherine I, it was torn down and rebuilt by Empress Elizabeth in a lavish Rococo style, complete with extensive gilded gold on the exterior and roof. Then Catherine the Great, who felt it was old-fashioned, redecorated it once again. When German forces invaded Leningrad they intentionally destroyed it. It was rebuilt and completed in 2003.

Inside the palace you’ll see a lavish interior of formal apartments, the Green dining room, the Great Hall, and the Grand Dining Room with its amazing Triumph of Apollo mural.

6 – National Palace in Sintra, Portugal

National Palace

The town of Sintra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. The palace was the residence of Moorish rulers until the 12th century when the village was conquered and King Alfonso Henriques took possession of the palace.

When you visit it today the first thing you’ll notice are the tall conical shaped chimneys, under which the kitchens were located. Inside the palace you’ll find a domed ceiling decorated with stags and the coats of arms of 72 Portuguese families, a magnificent banquet hall, a chapel with mosaic tiled floor and other treats for your eyes.

7 – Palace of Versailles in France

Versailles

In 1624 King Louis XIII ordered a hunting lodge to be built near the village of Versailles. This small stone and brick building was expanded by Louis XIV into one of the largest palaces in the world. In 1682 Versailles became the official residence of the Court of France.

There is so much to see at Versailles that you’ll want to obtain a full day pass. This pass will allow you to visit the King’s State Apartments, the Queen’s State Apartments, the King’s Chamber, the Chapel and 17th century galleries, the History of France galleries, Dauphin’s Apartments, Mesdames’ Apartments, Grand Trianon and more.

8 – Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria

Schonnbrun

In 1569 this area was set aside as a special hunting ground for the royal court. In 1696 construction began on the original palace. This building was given as a gift to Maria Theresa of Austria, who had it reshaped into her summer residence.

The gardens on the palace grounds are spectacular. While wandering you’ll see the world’s oldest existing zoo, 32 sculptures of deities and virtues, a Roman ruin, an orangerie, a palm house, an English garden, and a botanical garden.

9 – Hampton Court Palace in England

Hampton Court

This former royal palace is located in the outskirts of London. It was originally built by Thomas Wolsey, the Archbishop of York, but he was later forced to give it to Henry VIII. Queen Jane Seymour died 12 days after she gave birth to the future king there, and Queen Katherine Howard was arrested at the palace. It is believed that a ghost haunts the halls.

Along with many works of art from the Royal Collection, the palace also boasts an enormous hedge maze that covers a third of an acre and has a half-mile of paths.

10 – Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, Turkey

Dolmabahace

This palace was built between 1843 and 1856 at the cost of the equivalent of 35 tons of gold. It has been the home of six sultans and the seat of the Ottoman Empire.

Tours are required to see the palace, but you won’t be disappointed because it’s exactly what you’d expect of a sultan’s palace with 285 rooms, 43 large salons and a 4.5 ton Bohemian glass chandelier.

Read about author Deanna Hyland and check out her other BootsnAll articles.



Photo credits:

Summer Palace by WQ on Flickr ,
Potala Palace by Jonas in China on Flickr , Imperial Palace by Jpellgen on Flickr ,
Grand Palace by Venson Kuchipudi on Flickr,
Catherine Palace by jimg944 on Flickr ,
National Palace by Christine4nier on Flickr ,
Versailles by Marcia_Salviato on Flickr ,
Schönbrunn by paschals on Flickr ,
Hampton Court by John Linwood on Flickr,Dolmabahce Palace by khoogheem on Flickr

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Older comments on Ten Impressive Palaces to Visit

Craze_b0i
15 March 2009

Nice list. personally I liked Peterhof (St petersburg), Vecchio (Florence), Palazzo Reale (Venice).

rita moreno
09 March 2009

I’ve been to 4 of these places. The Potala Palace is by far the most impressive one, although the tickets require a few hours waiting in line and the visits are timed- but all worthed! The article resumes a very good list of places to visit.

Mark H
09 July 2009

I’ve been to four and of those Versailles was superb (though crowded). The French Loire castles, the ruined castles along the Rhine and Leeds Castle are all European favourites.