Noble residences in Europe and Asian countries have inspired writers from Shakespeare, which set Hamlet at Kronborg Fortress in Denmark, to Henry John, who admired Switzerland’s lakeside Château de Chillon. In James’s day, wealthy Americans crossed the Atlantic for just a grand tour of Europe, visiting the great monuments and castles of this Old World. Today, these opulent palaces are still a number of the world’s most popular tourist places, offering contemporary visitors a glimpse to the past. You can’t spend a new night in these palaces, but you can visit them and soak in his or her architectural splendor and rich background.
1. Château de Versailles, Versailles, France
The Château de Versailles was originally built as a hunting lodge, but became the opulent palace celebrated in film and literature under Louis XIV, who moved his entire court from Paris to Versailles. Although peasants stormed it during the French Revolution, visitors today can see how the Sun King and his court lived thanks to extensive restorations. Walk through the Hall of Mirrors, where balls were hosted, the State Apartments, Private Apartments, and the elaborately fashioned grounds with fountains, gardens, and mazes. The Opéra de Versailles, which still performs shows today, is one of the world’s most amazing opera houses. Don’t miss the Hameau de la Reine, a rustic cottage built on the palace grounds where Marie Antoinette used to go to escape the hectic court life and pretend to be a shepherdess.
2. Palazzo Pitti, Florence
The opulent Palazzo Pitti, across the Arno from Florence’s main sights, once housed the dukes of Tuscany and the king of Italy. Acquired by the Medicis in 1549, the family transformed it into a splendid Renaissance palace full of fine furnishings and art. Today, it houses several museums: the Museo degli Argenti, Museo delle Porcellane, Galleria del Costume, and the Galleria d’Arte Moderna. The Galleria Palatina is the most remarkable, with an impressive collection of portraits by Titian and some of Raphael’s most beautiful paintings.
3. Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Poised high above Granada, on Spain’s Costa del Sol, the Alhambra was built in the 13th century for the kings of the Nasrid Dynasty. With its many courtyards and gardens, the Alhambra stands as an example of Arab influence on the architecture of Southern Spain. All throughout the complex, which includes the Alcazaba fortress, the Nasrid palace, and the Generalife ancient summer palace, carvings feature Arabic writing and motifs. Walk through the impressive palace to the Court of the Lions, which was once the heart of the harem, used only by the king, his wives, and most faithful servants, to admire the intricate carvings and fountains.
4. Windsor Castle, Windsor, England
Windsor Castle is the only English castle continuously inhabited by the Royal Family since the Middle Ages and the largest inhabited castle in the world. William the Conqueror chose the site in Berkshire County and began building it in 1070. Over the centuries, it has grown and developed under England’s monarchs, including the Tudors, Charles II, who aimed to rival his cousin Louis XIV’s palace of Versailles, and George IV, who commissioned murals commemorating Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. Visitors today can see the magnificent State Apartments, Queen Mary’s Doll’s House, and St. George’s Chapel, where Henry VIII is buried.
5. Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau, Germany
If Ludwig II’s magnificent Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria seems like something out of a fairytale, that’s because it is; Walt Disney modeled the Disneyland castle after it. Sadly, King Ludwig didn’t live to see his precious palace completed. He died before a throne could be installed in his Byzantine-style throne room. Inspired by Wagner’s operas, Ludwig intended to live out his romanticized vision of a reclusive life there, even commissioning set designers to work on the palace to make it more theatrical.
And the other 15 are:
6. Château de Chambord, Chambord, France
7. Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
8. Peterhof Palace, Peterhof, Russia
9. Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
10. Himeji Palace, Himeji, Japan
11.Forbidden City, Beijing
12. Grand Palace, Bangkok
13. Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, India
14. Palacio Nacional da Pena, Sintra, Portugal
15. Eilean Donan Castle, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland
16. Blarney Castle, Blarney, Ireland
17. Kronborg Castle, Helsingør, Denmark
18. Prague Castle, Prague
19. Château de Chillon, Veytaux, Switzerland
20. Hohenzollern Castle, Tübingen, Germany