Europe has plenty of things going for it, and its vast collection of stunning royal palaces is one of them. Today, many of Europe’s most famous palaces are open to the public via tours that showcase the history and splendor hidden behind their opulent walls.
If you’re planning a European vacation, you’ll quickly realize there are plenty of palaces in Europe worth adding to your itinerary. From famous choices like Buckingham Palace to hidden gems, we’ve assembled some of the best destinations to add to your itinerary.
We’ll give you an overview of the history of each of these gorgeous European palaces and point you in the direction of where to buy tickets. In addition to their official websites, we’ll point you toward third-party booking sites to help you find deals or accommodations in the area.
But before we get into the most beautiful European palaces to visit, let’s take a moment to clarify a few important vocabulary terms. For instance, what’s the difference between a palace and a castle?
Traditionally, castles were built for defense, often containing moats and cannons. Palaces, on the other hand, are all about showing off the wealth of their inhabitants and often serve as the official residence of a kingdom’s royal family.
In France, you may also hear the term “chateau” come into play, which can refer to a French castle or manor estate, often of a gorgeous or stately nature. Nonetheless, the terms are still sometimes used interchangeably.
What We Cover
- The Most Beautiful European Palaces To Visit
- 1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
- 2. The Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Spain
- 3. Royal Palace of Madrid, Spain
- 4. Pena National Palace, Portugal
- 5. Royal Palace Amsterdam, Netherlands
- 6. Palace of Versailles, France
- 7. Topkapi Palace, Turkey
- 8. Buckingham Palace, UK
- 9. Windsor Castle, UK
- 10. Rundale Palace, Latvia
- 11. Drottningholm Palace, Sweden
- 12. Grand Ducal Palace, Luxembourg
- 13. Pitti Palace, Italy
- 14. Château de Chambord, France
- 15. Nymphenburg Palace, Germany
- 16. The Winter Palace, Russia
- 17. Schönbrunn Palace, Austria
The Most Beautiful European Palaces To Visit
1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Address: Neuschwansteinstraße 20, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle is likely what comes to mind when most people imagine what a castle looks like. The inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, this 19th-century masterpiece, is often known as “the castle of the fairy tale king.”
The castle was commissioned by King Ludwig II, an eccentric dreamer who was notoriously in love with the work of problematic composer Richard Wagner. So withdrawn was Ludwig II from his kingly duties that he earned a slew of nicknames, ranging from “the mad king of Bavaria” to friendlier monickers such as the “swan king” or “dream king.
While administrative duties may not have been Ludwig’s strong point, the guy could build a killer castle. Though a 19th-century ruler, he designed Neuschwanstein Castle as a poetic interpretation of a classic medieval palace.
The stunning interior rooms are decked with figures from classic tales, such as the swan knight, Grail King Parzival, and the poet Tannhäuser. Open to the public after Ludwig II died in 1886, the palace continues to draw 1.4 million visitors each year.
You can purchase tickets on the official website, look into “skip the line” tickets, or book a full-day trip to Neuschwanstein & Linderhof Castle. There are also many great accommodation options nearby, such as this luxury apartment rental or Hotel Alpenstuben, which is less than a mile away.
See Related: Top Most Beautiful Castles in Germany
2. The Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Spain
Address: Plaza De Las Parejas, 28300 Aranjuez Spain
The Royal Palace of Aranjuez is a stunning 16th-century Spanish palace that still serves as one of the official residences of the Spanish royal family. Surrounded by over 100 hectares of breathtaking gardens, the palace is an official UNESCO World Heritage site.
The legacy of the royal residence first began with Phillip II, who hired Juan de Herrera to develop the Italian-inspired villa on the former site of the Palace of the Masters of Santiago. Construction on the villa, originally designed as a royal hunting lodge, began in 1564.
Throughout the following centuries, monarchs of the Spanish royal family continued to add to the splendor of the palace, as well as its surrounding gardens. Today, the palace is also home to the Royal Barges Museum, which houses a collection of boats that Spanish kings used to sail the Tagus.
Head to the official palace website to buy tickets, book an extensive private tour from Madrid, or luxury tour of Toledo & Aranjuez. Explore vacation rentals in the area such as this lovely chalet or stay steps away from the palace at NH Collection Palacio de Aranjuez.
3. Royal Palace of Madrid, Spain
Address: C. de Bailén, s/n, 28071 Madrid, Spain
The Royal Palace of Madrid is one of Western Europe’s most beautiful European palaces and the largest functioning palace. The palace was originally the site of the Alcázar of Madrid, a medieval fortress that was transformed into a royal residence in the 16th Century.
After the Alcázar was destroyed by a fire in 1734, King Felipe V hired Filippo Juvarra, the best European architect of his era, to transform the site into the splendid castle it is today. The massive project first began in 1738, and construction continued into the 1750s.
But it was under the reign of Carlos III that the Royal Palace of Madrid would be decked out in splendid frescos by some of the greatest masters of the time. Today, visitors are invited to view these masterpieces in the throne room and apartments of Carlos III, as well as other parts of the palace.
Boasting 3,418 rooms, the Royal Palace of Madrid is still the home of the Spanish royal family, making it one of the few official residences of heads of state open to the public. Tickets to visit the palace are available on the official palace website.
Fast-track tickets are also available on Viator or GetYourGuide. If you plan on staying in the area, enjoy a short walk to the palace when you book a stay at Oriente Palace Apartments or explore other options, such as this newly renovated apartment in the main square.
See Related: The Ultimate Backpacking Through Europe Itinerary
4. Pena National Palace, Portugal
Address: Estrada da Pena, 2710-609 Sintra, Portugal
If you ever find yourself in Portugal, visit the Pena Palace, which stands atop a hill overlooking the town of Sintra. It won’t take long to discover why King Fernando II, who commissioned the castle, was commonly called the “artist king.”
Fernando II and his wife, Queen Maria II, ruled Portugal from 1837 to 1853. During this time, Fernando fell in love with the site, which held the ruins of a 16th-century monetary.
Though he originally intended to transform the site into a summer residence, the king ultimately decided to go all out and build a Romanesque Revival masterpiece. The finished product was Pena Palace, infused with many colors and fairytale-like whimsy.
The Pena Palace gardens are no less gorgeous and are stocked with exotic plants and trees from all over the world. To visit the Pena National Palace and Gardens, you’ll need to buy tickets, which are available on the official website.
Alternatively, you can push the boat out with a full-day tour that includes Pena Palace, and other area highlights through companies like GetYourGuide or Viator. And if you are staying nearby, you can get a great deal on this cozy duplex or book a room at Sintra Boutique Hotel, less than a mile from the palace.
5. Royal Palace Amsterdam, Netherlands
Address: Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 147, 1012 RJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Royal Palace Amsterdam was first built as a town hall during the height of the Dutch golden age in the 17th Century. In 1808, it was first transformed into a gorgeous royal palace by King Louis Bonaparte.
Situated right in the heart of the capital city, King Willem-Alexander still uses the palace as a reception palace. It often hosts royal galas, ceremonies, and other events. Now considered among the most iconic attractions in Amsterdam, the royal palace is a treasure trove of classical Dutch Baroque architecture.
Highlights such as the marbled Citizen’s Hall transport visitors back to the splendor of the Dutch golden age, while the Burgomaster’s Chamber features stunning works by Rembrandt’s apprentices. The palace is also decked in intricate sculptures like the Sculpture Of Atlas and the Amsterdam Maiden.
To visit the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, visit the official palace website. Just be sure to check your dates in advance, as the palace is occasionally closed for royal events.
See Related: Non-Touristy Things to Do in Amsterdam
6. Palace of Versailles, France
Address: Place d’Armes, 78000 Versailles, France
Among the most mesmerizing European palaces, it’s easy to see why the Palace of Versailles, aka the Chateau de Versailles, is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. The famed “sun king,” King Louis XIV, transformed a hunting lodge in the ile de France region into the 2,300-room masterpiece it is today.
In 1682, Louis XIV established the Palace of Versailles as the center of the French government and home of three French kings. Largely considered one of the highlights of 17th-century French art, the palace continued to serve in its official role until the French Revolution forced Louis XVI to flee its walls in 1789.
In 1837, King Louis-Philippe ordered the Palace of Versailles to be converted into the Museum of the History of France, and additions to its collections continued until the early 20th Century. Today, the palace retains features of its dual history as an Ancien Régime residence and a museum of historical treasures.
Still famed as one of the most breathtaking palaces in Europe, Versailles is so massive and packed with history that several different types of tickets are available. Visit the official site to purchase tickets for anything from special exhibits to a year’s worth of access to the entire estate.
7. Topkapi Palace, Turkey
Address: Cankurtaran, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye
Istanbul is a unique Turkish city that technically lies in both Europe and Asia. But the European side of the city is where you’ll find Topkapi Palace, built between 1460 and 1478 by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II.
For nearly the next 400 years, Topkapi Palace would serve as the seat of government for the Ottoman Empire, as well as the official residence of its sultans. After the Republic of Turkey was officially established in the 1920s, the palace was converted into one of the world’s largest museums.
Surrounded by lush, beautiful gardens, the palace features columned courtyards, stunning tilework, and colorful decor throughout. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1980s, the Topkapi Palace offers an incredible trip back through time to the heart of one of the world’s greatest empires.
Tickets are available through the Director of National Palaces website. There, you’ll also find information about several other incredible palaces in the area that are definitely worth checking out during your stay.
See that palace and other area treasures with a full-day tour from Viator or GetYourGuide. Book a few nights in this gorgeous, modern apartment just a mile from the palace, or stay at the Hotel Sapphire, just 500 meters away.
See Related: The Flaming Rocks: A Hot Tourist Site in Turkey!
8. Buckingham Palace, UK
Address: London SW1A 1AA, UK
Arguably the most famous palace in the world, Buckingham Palace is among the most famous palaces in Europe and acts as the center of Britain’s constitutional monarchy. As the official London residence of Charles III, King of the United Kingdom, and the 14 other Commonwealth realms, the palace often serves as the setting for royal celebrations.
This is also where you’ll see the famous “changing of the guard” ceremony, where bearskin-topped, red-coated guardsmen (or whoever is “mounting” them) change shifts to much pomp and ceremony. Depending on the day, the bandmaster might be cheeky and have the band play something less than military!
Buckingham Palace is decked out in royal splendor, from the throne room and ballroom to the grand staircase and marble hall. First purchased by King George III in 1761 for his wife, Queen Charlotte, the beautiful palace did not become the official residence of British kings and queens until 1837, under the reign of Queen Victoria.
Buckingham Palace is also home to the Queen’s Gallery, which displays treasures from the Royal Collection. While the gallery’s exhibitions rotate regularly, they’ve been known to include everything from works by Leonardo da Vinci to rare Faberge eggs.
Given that Buckingham Palace is both a private residence and an active government building, it’s important to book your visit well in advance. Tours of the magnificent state rooms are available during the summer and on a limited basis during the spring and winter months.
If gaining access to this seat of royalty is a bit of a drag, you may enjoy a guided walking tour of the highlights of the Westminster and Buckingham Palaces or a tour of Westminster Abbey and London’s top 20 sites.
If you’re staying in London for a while, make a real vacation out of it. Enjoy a 5-minute walk to both Buckingham Palace and Victoria Station from this great, crisp vacation rental, or stay right beside the palace at the Resident Victoria.
9. Windsor Castle, UK
Address: Windsor SL4 1NJ, UK
As you might expect, royal families often have more than one official residence. Aside from Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle is another home of the UK’s royal family and one of the most famous.
The castle boasts an impressive resume as the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. William the Conqueror first began construction on the castle back in 1070, and it has since been home to 40 monarchs.
It’s also the burial place of 11 British rulers, including Henry VIII, Charles I, and the late, great Queen Elizabeth II (RIP your Majesty). Tours of the castle’s breathtaking staterooms offer access to over 1,000 years of history, so give yourself plenty of time to take it all in. There are more guardsmen here, too, frequently patrolling the neighborhood in full-dress uniform!
Unlike Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and its surrounding gardens are available to visit year-round. For scheduling and ticket information, visit the Royal Collection Trust website. Other options include a bumper tour of Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath or a stacked day trip to Windsor, Oxford, and Stonehenge.
See Related: Places to Visit in the United Kingdom
10. Rundale Palace, Latvia
Address: Pilsrundāle, Rundāle Parish, LV-3921, Latvia
Should your travels take you to Northern Europe, then be sure to check out Rundale Palace. While it may not be one of the most well-known palaces in Europe, it’s definitely among the most beautiful.
Built as a summer house for the Dukes of Courland between 1736 and 1740, Rundale reflects the extravagant Baroque and Rocco styles that flourished at the time. Famed Russian architect Francesco Bartolomeo, the mastermind behind St. Petersbug’s Winter Palace, was hired to headline the project.
Complete with ceiling paintings by artists such as Carlo Zucchi and Francesco Martini, the royal palace and gardens were truly a sight to behold. Unfortunately, the Latvian masterpiece had a rough road ahead, as it suffered damage in multiple wars during the 19th and 20th Centuries.
It was ultimately taken over by the Latvian government and reopened after extensive renovations in 1972. Few would argue that the efforts paid off, as Rundale now holds its own among the most beautiful palaces in Europe.
In addition to the architecture and awe-inspiring gardens, the palace also features a museum that showcases styles ranging from Gothic and Mannerism to Baroque and Renaissance. Visit the official website to buy tickets and plan your visit.
11. Drottningholm Palace, Sweden
Address: 178 93 Drottningholm, Sweden
Built in the 17th Century for King Johan III, Drottningholm Palace resembles the Swedish version of Versailles. The palace sits on an island in the middle of Lake Mälar and features incredible gardens, the famed Chinese Pavillion, and the historic palace theater.
The southern wing of Drottningholm Palace still serves as the residence of the Swedish royal family today. However, the rest of the royal palace and gardens are open year-round to the public.
While much of the palace is decked out in classic baroque architecture and design, each of its royal inhabitants has added their unique touches throughout the centuries. Guests will find influences from the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries throughout the palace’s magnificent halls.
Guided tours are provided throughout the year, but just be aware that they are only available daily in English from June – August. From September–May, English tours are only offered on the weekends.
See Related: Top Most Beautiful Cities in the World to Visit
12. Grand Ducal Palace, Luxembourg
Address: 17 Rue du Marché-aux-Herbes, 1728 Luxembourg
Located in the heart of historic Luxemburg City, the Grand Ducal Palace began as Luxemburg’s first city hall in 1418. Throughout the following centuries, the building evolved into the luxurious Flemish Renaissance masterpiece it is today.
By 1890, the Grand Ducal Palace had graduated as a royal residence. While the royal family now calls Berg Palace their primary home, the Grand Duke still commonly uses Grand Ducal Palace throughout his duties.
For this reason, the palace is only open to the public during the summer months. Visitors to the palace will definitely not be disappointed, as the interior is decorated with rich tapestries, sparkling chandeliers, and gold-gilded columns.
The good news is that when tours are offered, you’ll find them available in French, English, German, and (obviously) Luxembourgish. The Luxembourg City Tourist Office is the best place to purchase tickets and inquire for additional info. For a lifetime experience in this tiny country, stay in your central city apartment or book a room at the trendy Domus Hotel.
13. Pitti Palace, Italy
Address: Piazza de’ Pitti, 1, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
Italy is home to some of the most incredible palaces in Europe, from the Royal Palace of Caserta to the Doge’s Palace in Venice. But if you find yourself in Florence, be sure to check out the Palazzo Pitti, aka the Pitti Palace.
In 1550, the Pitti Palace became the residence of Cosimo I de Medici and his wife Eleanor of Toledo. It was also later the seat of power during the reigns of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine and the House of Savoy – Napoleon even briefly used it in the late 18th Century.
Since being donated to the Italian public in the early 20th Century, the palace now serves as the site of five incredible museums. Visitors can now explore the historic royal apartments, the Palatine Gallery, the Museum of the Russian Icons, and more.
From the amazing Renaissance architecture to the priceless treasures of its museums, the Pitti Palace is a must for any Italian vacation. Head to the official museum website for more information and to purchase tickets in advance. Alternatively, get yourself a skip-the-line ticket, or enjoy a guided tour of Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens, and Palatina Gallery.
See Related: Best Tours in Italy: Food, Walking & Bike Tours
14. Château de Chambord, France
Address: Château, 41250 Chambord, France
The Chateau de Chambord is a striking castle in the Loire Valley that was commissioned by King Francis I in the 1500s. While no one can say for sure, some claim that the royal palace owes its otherworldly beauty to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci.
Though first intended as a hunting lodge, the Chateau de Chambord blends the classical beauty of Italian and French Renaissance architecture with hints of medieval castle design. Boasting over 400 rooms, the sprawling chateau also features beautiful English gardens, stables, and a museum.
During World War II, the Chateau became the hiding place of one of France’s largest collections of priceless artwork. Priceless pieces such as The Mona Lisa and The Lady with the Unicorn took sanctuary within its walls to avoid destruction by invading German forces.
Today, guests are invited to see the Chateau’s remarkable interiors and over 4500 works of art with several ticket options. Explore the castle on your own, go on a guided tour, or even check it out in 3D. You can also opt for a private guided tour or enjoy a castle and wine-tasting trip from Paris.
15. Nymphenburg Palace, Germany
Address: Schloß Nymphenburg 1, 80638 München, Germany
While the average trip to Munich should never leave you without historic landmarks, the sprawling Nymphenburg Palace is worth adding to your itinerary. The massive Bavarian royal palace is also the home to a beautiful garden complex, complete with a grand canal and fountain.
Construction on the grand palace began in 1664 and, while mostly completed by 1679, continued to be expanded upon by its royal inhabitants. One such addition was the Amalienburg in Nymphenburg Park, a Rocco pleasure palace built by François Cuvillés the Elder, now considered one of the crowning works of the era.
For nearly 300 years, Nymphenburg Castle served as a summer home for the kings of Bavaria and still occasionally serves as a residence for the Head of the House of Wittelsbach. Nonetheless, the public is now welcome to explore its elaborate rooms, murals, tapestries, and statues.
Highlights include the Marstallmuseum, a court stable museum, and King Ludwig I’s “Gallery of Beauties,” which features portraits of the kingdom’s most beautiful women during his reign. Visit the castle website for more info on tickets and scheduling. You can also opt for a private guided tour of the palace or of Munich at large.
If you feel like making a real adventure of your trip, visit during Oktoberfest and find something like this charming apartment within walking distance of the palace or stay at the nearby Hotel Kriemhild am Hirschgarten.
See Related: Real, Magical Castles in Fairytales to Visit
16. The Winter Palace, Russia
Address: Palace Embankment, 32, St Petersburg, Russia, 190000
Okay, so you should definitely use your discretion when choosing the right time to visit Russia. If, though, you should ever get the chance to visit St. Petersburg, then make sure the Winter Palace is on your sightseeing list.
Constructed in the 18th Century, the extravagant palace served as the residence of the Russian Tsars for over 150 years until the Russian Revolution of the early 20th Century. After the revolution, the magnificent High Baroque palace became the site of the world-famous Hermitage Museum, which remains open to the public today.
Visitors can explore the magnificent decor of rooms once inhabited by monarchs such as Catherine the Great and the Romanovs. The Hermitage Museum has also become renowned as one of the finest in the world and features a fascinating collection of exhibitions from all over the world.
17. Schönbrunn Palace, Austria
Address: Schönbrunner Schloßstraße 47, 1130 Wien, Austria
And last, but by no means least, one of our favorite all-time attractions anywhere in the world, Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburg dynasty and arguably the most breathtaking of all beautiful European palaces.
In the 17th Century, Emperor Leopold I hired renowned Baroque architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach to transform an old pleasure castle into a hunting lodge for his son, Prince Joseph. The prince’s palace would become Schönbrunn Palace, one of Austria’s most spectacular royal palaces.
During the 18th Century reign of Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa, archduchess of Austria, Schönbrunn Palace would come into its own as an imperial summer residence. Named a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1996, Schönbrunn Palace is a testament to the Habsburg Empire’s glory.
The beauty of the palace’s Baroque architecture and interiors is matched only by its formal gardens, which include the famous maze at Schönbrunn. After the end of the monarchy in 1918, the palace became Vienna’s most visited tourist attraction.
Not only does Schönbrunn Palace offer year-round tours, which we suggest booking in advance via GetYourGuide, and also regular concerts. Guests are invited to hear the Schoenbrunn Palace Orchestra play in the Palace Orangery, where Mozart performed in 1762 at just six.
If you want to get the best out of your visit, you might consider a small group guided tour of the palace or even book a Schönbrunn Palace evening tour, dinner, and concert. The latter is a magnificent experience I will never forget. Honestly, it sums up this unique city for me in a nutshell.