Travel to just about any country in Europe and you’ll be little more than a few hours in any direction from a royal palace, stately fortresses or fairytale-like castle. Several countries, like France and Austria, have enough of these grand estates to fill several full days of your itinerary.
This week’s Bucket List brings you seven of our favorite palaces. You might not have been born into European royalty, but at these palaces you can pretend that you were for a day. Some still serve as home to their respective country’s royal families, while others remain open as museums and homages to royal life of the past, providing visitors with a piece of history you can walk through.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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Portugal's Palacio Nacional da Pena, or simply Pena Palace, was transformed from what remained of a monastery into the palace it's known for by King Ferdinand II in the mid-1800s. Once complete, the colorful Romantic-style palace served as the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family until the late 1800s before it was converted into a museum in 1910.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is open to the public everyday except Christmas and New Years.
Photo by Willtron, CC BY-SA 2.0
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Unquestionably one of Europe's most famous royal residences, Buckingham Palace remains the administrative headquarters of the United Kingdom's constitutional monarchy and official London residence of the reigning monarch, a position it has held since 1837. The palace includes 19 state rooms (those open to the public), 52 royal bedrooms, 78 bathrooms and 92 offices among its 775 rooms.
Buckingham Palace's grounds and state rooms are open to the public daily during the summer months.
Photo by volcan96 CC BY 2.0
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France's Palace of Versailles is nothing short of stunning--inside and out.
It is one of the most extravagant royal residences to ever exist. The palace dates back to the reign of Louis XIV in the late 1600s when he turned his father's hunting lodge into what the palace is today. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is known equally for the palace itself, a well as the grand gardens that surround it. Both the palace and park are open to the public. Several tour options are available that grant access to the palace, grounds, as well as the Grand Trianon and Marie Antoinette's estate.
Photo by Ninara, CC BY 2.0
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The Royal Palace of Madrid is still considered the official residence of Spain's royal family, but is only used for state ceremonies. The 1.4-million-square-foot palace is officially the largest in Western Europe and includes more than 3,400 rooms that house tapestries, paintings and frescoes by the likes of Francisco de Goya and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The palace that stands today was built on the site of the Alcazar, a Moorish castle that burned to the ground in 1734.
When not in use by the royal family for state functions, the palace is open to the public.
Photo by Ramón Durán, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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While the Royal Palace of Belgium remains the official palace of the royal family, it no longer serves as their residence. Instead, it's designated as the official administrative residence where the king continues to carry out his duties as head of state. Belgium's grand palace dates back to the late 1700s and contains no shortage of jaw-dropping rooms, works of art and furniture within its walls. Guests are invited to tour a number of spaces, including the main stairway and vestibule dating back to King Leopold II, the Goya Room with its tapestries by Francisco de Goya that were gifted to King Leopold I, as well as the Empire Room, Throne Room, Marble Room and Mirror Room, among others.
The palace is open to the public daily, except holidays, every summer from late July until September.
Photo by Frank Friedrichs, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Schonbrunn Palace is a Baroque beauty and remnant of the Habsburg monarchy. It once served as the imperial summer residence in Vienna, and today stands as one of Austria's most popular tourist attractions. The palace dates back more than 300 years, but the more than 1,400-room palace that we know can be traced to the reign of Empress Maria Theresa in the mid-1700s.
Schonbrunn Palace is open to the public daily with serval tours of the interior and exterior grounds available. Even better, you can sleep like royalty at the palace in the Schloss Schonbrunn Suite for a little less than $800 US a night.
Photo by WASD42, CC BY-NC 2.0
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The Alhambra, or Red Castle, sits on the grounds of an ancient Roman fortress above Granada, Spain. It was converted to a royal palace in the 13th century and later served as the royal court of Ferdinand and Isabella. The Moorish palace has since been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in Europe.
Alhambra and its surrounding gardens are open to the public and several guided tours are available.
Photo by Brad Hammonds, CC BY-NC 2.0