16 European Palaces That Should Be Added to Your Bucket List

Steve Cummings

Royal Palace in Madrid

When traveling to Europe, you will want to explore some of the fantastic palaces found there. To be clear, a palace is an impressive and large building that serves as the home for a head of state, similarly important ruling class members, and other dignitaries like religious heads. We, as USAmericans, love European palaces because there are few within the United States to visit and marvel at. After a quick Google, we discovered just one Royal Palace on US soil, the Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii.

With so many different countries and palaces, how can you even begin to make a bucket list or itinerary of the buildings you should visit? That’s where we come in with this post, as you will find a list that includes some of the most beautiful palaces in Europe that we recommend you visit.

1. The Royal Palace of Madrid, Madrid, Spain

The Royal Palace of Madrid
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Why don’t we start our guide by highlighting what many consider the largest palace in Europe? It covers an incredible 1,450,000 square feet, though it is not just about the size. This palace is decorated with the finest natural ingredients, like gold, local Spanish marble, and genuine mahogany doors. Although it used to be a residence for the Spanish Royal Family, it is not inhabited.

It is most often used for events and ceremonies. Don’t worry because although you may not see a Spanish royal in real life, the stunning interior and contents will make up for it. A collection of 13th-century armory includes clothing, weapons, and armored and shielded knights riding horseback. You will also want to see the throne room, which has surprisingly tasteful colors, including red and gold, along with crystal-encrusted mirrors and chandeliers.

2. Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria

schönbrunn palace_SinaEttmer
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Now that we have looked at the largest, why not consider the potential for the best palace in Europe? Of course, the idea of any of the many hundreds of palaces throughout Europe being deemed the best is highly subjective. However, many people agree that Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna certainly ranks highly. The former and famous home of Sissi, the Empress, is an extravagant delight to gaze at and explore.

UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site in 1996, and there is something to marvel at for everyone here. Whether you stop and smell the beautiful flowers blooming around the grounds' gardens or want to explore the building, you could spend half a day here without getting bored.

3. Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Sintra Portugal
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It wouldn’t be a worthy list of the European royal palaces you should visit if we didn’t include Pena Palace in Portugal. The stunning building is located in Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Palace stands atop the Sintra Mountains, offering incredible vistas of Sintra and beyond, into the stirring countryside.

The palace was commissioned in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II and designed to be used as a residence for the Portuguese royal family during summer. The prevailing Romanticism movement inspired architecture, though various styles, including Neo-Moorish, Neo-Romanesque, and Neo-Manueline, inspired different building parts. 

While exploring the palace, be sure to take note of the red, yellow, and even lilac walls and ceilings and the various ornate and elegant embellishments. Some rooms open to public viewing include Ferdinand II's bedroom and the awe-inspiring Great Hall. Don’t forget to check out the 200-hectare palace grounds known as Pena Park.

4. Buckingham Palace, London, England

Buckingham Palace
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One of the most famous European palaces we want to highlight is Buckingham Palace in London, England. This is the royal residence for King Charles and Queen Camilla and serves as the administrative headquarters for the British monarchy. The celebrated Queen Victoria was the first monarch to call this breathtakingly regal building home after it was remodeled and rebuilt by George VI.

The building is one of the most visited sights in London and is home to the Changing of the Guard ceremony.  When the King is not present, the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace are open to visit. You are only really scratching the surface, though, as just 19 of the jaw-dropping 660 rooms the palace has can be viewed. You know the King is in the palace if the Royal Standard flag, which features three golden lions against a red background, is flying.

5. Prince’s Palace of Monaco, Monaco

Prince’s Palace of Monaco
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Next on our list of grand palaces of Europe is the stunning Prince’s Palace in Monaco. The home of the Royal House of Grimaldi is exciting and different from many others. Unlike other royal residences throughout Europe, the Prince’s Palace is home all year-round to the family, because there are no alternatives and a natural land issue. The Habsburgs, the Bourbons, and the Romanovs built other palaces throughout their reign because they could.

However, the Grimaldis would typically just build a new wing or tower.

6. Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, Germany

Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam
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One of the most important palaces connected directly and intrinsically to Frederick the Great, the former Prussian King, is Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, Germany. Its name is a French term that translates “without concerns.” It is understood to have been the late king's wish, as this was his summer residence when he and the nation fell into troubled times. For many, Sanssouci Palace is to Germany what Versailles is to France. 

However, it has a more Rococo style than the Baroque Versailles Palace and is much smaller. The Palace's location is beautiful, with stylish interiors and iconic terraced gardens surrounding it. It should be close to the top of your bucket list.

7. Palais des Papes, Avignon, France

Palais des Papes, Avignon
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Among the many ancient European palaces, one of the most impressive is Palais des Papes, the Palace of the Popes.  With both historical and architectural significance, it sits by the beautiful Rhone River. It is also the world’s most important Gothic palace, covering around 11,000 square meters of land. 

The palace was built between 1335 and 1364 during the Avignon Papacy. Historically, this building was a home for Popes exiled from Rome. It consists of various chambers, halls, and chapels, such as the Great Audience Chamber and the Chapel of the Popes.

8. The Ice Palace, Jungfraujoch, Switzerland

Ice Palace
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If you are looking for the coldest palace in Europe, The Ice Palace in Switzerland is worth a visit. It is literally made of ice. Artists today have built it based on the original design by mountain guides who created it during the 30s with saws and picks in the middle of Jungfraufirn. 

You will find it amazing walking around the transparent and mirror-smooth hallways and the many pieces of artwork within the structure. There is a bear, penguin, and eagle that look strangely lifelike.

9. Royal Palace of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Royal Palace of Amsterdam
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Known in Dutch as Paleis op de Dam or Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam, the Royal Palace in Amsterdam is one of the three main palaces in the country that by an Act of Parliament is for use by the royal family. 

This beautiful palace was constructed to become a city hall in the 17th century, often called the Dutch Golden Age. Eventually, the palace became the royal dwelling of King Louis Napoleon and the Dutch Royal House.

This is located west of the iconic Dam Square in the city's center, next to the equally famous Nieuwe Kerk and the War Memorial.

10. Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

Winter Palace St. Petersburg
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If you are looking for eastern European palaces to visit, consider the famous and stunning Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was built in 1732 as the official home of the Russian Imperial Family, and served as such until 1917 and the Russian Revolution. Improvements, repairs, and adjustments were made during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Palace suffered extensive damage to its interiors when a fire broke out in 1837. However, the reconstruction took only a year to complete. As is the case with many European palaces, The Winter Palace was built to reflect and showcase the power and might of the empire. Considering the area that the Tsar controlled—some 22,400,000 square km/14 million square miles and more than 125 million citizens towards the end of the 19th century—that is quite impressive.

Nowadays, the Palace, in all its opulence and grandeur, is home to the world-renowned Hermitage Museum.

11. Versailles, France

Palace of Versailles
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What if you want to visit France and check out one of the most famous and beautiful palaces in Europe? The Palace of Versailles has been on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites for over 30 years and is considered one of the most outstanding achievements of French art in the 18th century. 

Located 12 miles southwest of the French capital, it was first Louis XIII’s lodge for hunting before the Sun King, Louis XIV, ultimately expanded and transformed it. He moved the French government and court to Versailles in 1682. All three French kings who resided there adjusted and improved the palace to increase its beauty and luxury. During the French Revolution, the chateau was dropped as an official seat of power. However, it still serves political functions. Heads of State are still regaled in the building’s Hall of Mirrors, and the politicians of modern France meet there for Congress.

12. Alhambra, Granada, Spain

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Another European royal palace is Alhambra, which doubled as a fortress and palace in Granada. It is listed as an official World Heritage Site and is one of the world’s most important and famous palaces. It features Islamic architecture and well-preserved religious sites. It is noteworthy as an example of architecture from the Spanish Renaissance.

13. The Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy

The Royal Palace of Caserta
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The largest palace erected in Europe during the 18th century is the Royal Palace of Caserta. It was constructed on behalf of Charles VII of Naples and was designed to be the leading home for the Neapolitan king.

Like many other European palaces, this one took inspiration from the incredible Palace of Versailles, as it combined the government building, court, and king’s residence. This building is a great example of the exquisite designs and architecture loved by the Bourbons. 

The building has an extensive library, over 24 state apartments, and a theatre based on the famous Teatro San Carlo in Naples. There is also a long alleyway with cascades, artificial fountains, and a botanical garden.

14. Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

Doge's Palace
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For one of the most beautiful European palaces, head to Venice for the Doge’s Palace, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. It was the residence of the Doge of the city, the leader and chief magistrate of the Republic of Venice. Construction on the place began in 1340. That wing overlooked the lagoon, and later, more wings were added to the palace.

15. Würzburg Residence, Germany

Würzburg Residence
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Another of the great palaces in Europe is the Wurzburg Residenz, which took inspiration from the architecture in different European countries. 40 rooms are open for the public to explore. These include many frescoes by the renowned Italian painter Tiepolo and the world’s biggest fresco.

16. Sponza Palace, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Sponza Palace
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If you are looking for more eastern European palaces to explore and are going to Croatia, you should take a trip to the Sponza Palace in Dubrovnik. It was constructed during the 16th century and features Renaissance and Gothic architecture.

Europe's Many Palaces 

Chambord Castle
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When you want to create a list of the great palaces of Europe, we hope we have given you potential ideas for your itinerary. Europe’s many royal palaces can provide insight into the Royals' current and past lives in whatever country you visit.  

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