Europe is hard to beat when it comes to history, architecture and cultural heritage. European royal palaces are among the most exceptional attractions for any visitor coming from afar. These palaces offer a glimpse into Europe’s glory years where rich monarchs threw elaborate parties with members of high society, full of frills and the most exquisite decorations. They also capture the ways in which European cities revolutionized standards of architecture, art, cuisine and much more. Step into these castles and you will get an experience vastly different than any palace in Asia. For the most interesting castles, visit the European Palaces which are honourably designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here are some of the oldest, largest and most famous palaces in Europe that will be a thrilling highlight on any trip.

Moorish Masterpiece – Alhambra, Spain

UNESCO Palace in Spain

Nothing quite prepares you for the incredible location of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. This fortress-palace complex is a magnificent UNESCO World Heritage monument perched on the edge of a sheer rocky precipice overlooking the city.

Columns in a building, Patio de los Leones, Alhambra, Granada, Spain Getty Images

The original 11th century palace was built by a grand vizier of one of Granada’s Zirid sultans, and during the 13th and 14th centuries it was restyled as a fortified enclave by the ruling Nasrad emirs. Renaissance additions were made by the Holy Roman Emperor, Carlos V, in 1527.

In yet another turbulent twist in Spanish history, Napoleon’s troops attempted to blow up the complex in 1812. Fortunately for us, they failed. Watchtowers, mosques, schools, baths, a mint and even a royal cemetery have been lost over time, but what remains is still huge.

The Alhambra complex includes the solid Alcazaba (fortress), the Nasrid Palaces, Court of Lions, the hulking Palace of Carlos V, Museum of the Alhambra, the Generalife gardens and St Mary’s Church (a former mosque). Terraced gardens, marble lions, lace-like stucco, hand-painted tiles, fountains and a cedar-star ceiling enthrall, impress and humble the 6000 visitors that tramp through the Alhambra’s maze of courtyards every day.

nasrid-palaces-of-alhambrapalace-alhambra-granadaGeneralife Gardens, Granada

Where to Stay

The four-star Hotel Alhambra Palace is a grand old hotel, or consider the authentic Casa Morisca.

How to Get There
Book flights to Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport (AGP) with Swiss International Air Lines or Air France

 

The Most Famous Palace in the World – Versailles, France

UNESCO Palace in Paris

A relative newcomer by comparison, the grand Château de Versailles, or Palace of Versailles, was built by Louis XIV at the pinnacle of his reign. It epitomised the bourgeois lifestyle of the king and his court from 1682, which the brutal French Revolution 107 years later swept away.

Aerial view of Chateau Versaillesversailles-palace

Often copied but never outdone, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of France’s most visited attractions, so it’s worth buying a Paris Pass to get Fast Track admission.

With 700 rooms, 1,252 fireplaces, 67 staircases and 357 glittering mirrors, this opulent palace wows visitors – and that’s before you explore the 250-acre gardens, the largest palace gardens in Europe. The Gardens of Versailles are infinitely renowned by their own right. A meticulously landscaped garden with sculptures, fountains and the site of dance parties – Salle de Bal.

Other Versailles’ highlights include the The King’s Grand Apartment, the Opéra Royal de Versailles, the magnificent Royal Chapel and the mesmerising Hall of Mirrors.

Salle de Bal, Versailles CC 2.0 / Jean-Christophe BENOIST

Where to Stay
Treat yourself to a room at the Trianon Palace Versailles or the Mercure Versailles Chateau, both within walking distance of the palace.

Trianon Palace

Trianon Palace Versailles, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel

Getting There
Book flights to Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) with Malaysia Airlines or Qatar Airways. Getting to Versailles from Paris by train is easy.

 

The Only Non-Royal Palace in England – Blenheim Palace, UK

UNESCO Palace in Oxford, UK

Built in 1705, Blenheim Palace is one of the largest country houses in England. Given to the first Duke of Marlborough as a reward for his victory at the Battle of Blenheim, it became the ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill and is still occupied by his descendants.

UNESCO Blenheim Palace CC 2.0 / gailf548

Situated near London, this baroque palace has a grand entrance, Great Court, state apartments for frequent royal guests and opulently appointed salons.

Take the unique interactive tour of the palace with the ‘ghost’ of Grace, a former maid.

Historians will enjoy the Churchill exhibition, which includes the uniforms, papers and photographs of this wartime British prime minister. You can spend the rest of the day exploring the landscaped park and formal gardens of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as ‘a naturalistic Versailles’.

Blenheim_palace-england

Where to Stay
Stay in the heart of historic Oxford at the five-star Macdonald Randolph Hotel, or at the three-star Courtyard Hotel about 1.6km from Blenheim.
Getting There
Book cheap flights from Singapore to London Heathrow Airport (LHR) with Vietnam Airlines or Etihad Airways.

 

Outstanding Habsburg Residence – Schönbrunn Palace, Austria

UNESCO Palace in Vienna

You can spend a whole day exploring Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Austria’s most visited attraction.

Schloss-Schönbrunn-Vienna-palace CC 2.0 / Thomas Wolf

The imposing palace and gardens were created by the wealthy Habsburgs and remain furnished just as if the Imperial Family was still in residence. Commissioned by Emperor Leopold I at the close of the 17th century, the palace was the hub of court life, with suitably opulent baroque architecture and splendid furnishings.

The palace tour includes the salon where six-year-old Mozart entertained Empress Maria Theresa, and the rococo Millions Room, filled with Indian and Persian miniatures. Don’t miss the golden coach of Empress Sisi and the Blue Chinese Salon, where the last Austrian emperor, Karl I, signed his abdication, ending the Habsburgs’ 640-year rule.

Explore the landscaped gardens and admire the fountains, maze, zoo, Palm House and the colonnaded Gloriette, where afternoon tea provides far-reaching views.

Schloss Shoenbrunn GlorietteDavid Monniaux 

Where to Stay
Getting There
Book flights from Singapore to Vienna International Airport (VIE) with Etihad Airways or Qatar Airways.

 

Finest Royal Residence in Northern Europe – Drottningholm Palace, Sweden

UNESCO Palace in Stockholm

Influenced by the earlier Palace of Versailles, the Royal Domain of Drottningholm stands on Queen’s Island, one of the 14 islands that make up Stockholm. This remarkable UNESCO World Heritage palace is the permanent home of the King and Queen of Sweden and the changing of the guard takes place daily at noon. The sumptuous property includes a castle residence, court theatre, several museums, ornamental gardens and a 1769 Chinese pavilion decorated in Swedish rococo style.

UNESCO-Drottningholm_Palace-SwedenPudelek

After drinking in the gilt mouldings, chandeliers, antiques and artworks that decorate the palace reception rooms, enjoy the Royal Chapel and the Museum of Antiquities. The Museum De Vries has a unique collection of sculptures in the old Dragoon stables, while the Treasury has displays of state regalia.

Garden enthusiasts will be enthralled by the gardens, fountains and statues that make up the seven cascades of the parterre. Surrounded by Lake Mälaren, Drottningholm Palace also boasts a beautiful, leafy park that is a delightful place to stroll.

Drottningholm_Palace-Gardens-Sweden

Where to Stay
Hesselby Slott is the closest luxury hotel to Drottningholm Palace, or stay in Stockholm city centre at the Hotell Den Gyllene Geten.
Getting There
Book flights from Singapore to Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) with Qantas Airways, KLM or Singapore Airlines.

Image Credits: Courtesy of featured hotels; images licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 License
Feature Image by Jean-Marie Hullot