From Versailles to Buckingham: A Guide to Europe’s Iconic Palaces

Europe is home to a lot of amazing palaces worth discovering. They stand as symbols of European history, architecture, and culture and each of them has their own unique stories to tell.

From the Palace of Versailles in France to the Buckingham Palace in England, the palaces serve as reminders of the past and attract millions of visitors to marvel at their beauty and historical significance.

We love travelling around Europe and through this article will take you on a virtual tour of some of the most exquisite palaces in Europe, offering a glimpse into their fascinating stories, architectural wonders, and cultural significance.


You might be wondering why are there so many palaces in Europe? This is mainly due to the region’s rich history of monarchy, aristocracy, and political power.

This resulted in the construction of opulent palaces as symbols of wealth, prestige, and authority.

Palaces were often (but not always) the residences of monarchs, nobility, or other prominent figures, and as such, they were linked to the political and social structures of their time. They were not only built for practical purposes but also as expressions of artistic, cultural, and intellectual pursuits.

It is no wonder that many of the palaces built during the Renaissance and Baroque periods are regarded as masterpieces of architectural design. You will be amazed by their ornate facades, grand staircases (I love those!) and elaborate interiors with impressive features.

We will share our favourite palaces including the Palace of Versailles in France, which served as the royal residence for French kings and queens for centuries, Buckingham Palace in England, the official residence of the British monarchs and Pena Palace in Portugal, a colourful palace located in the picturesque town of Sintra.

1. Palace of Versailles, France

Discover the opulence and grandeur of the Palace of Versailles, an iconic landmark located just outside of Paris, France. This magnificent palace, with its stunning gardens and rich history, is a must-visit destination for any traveller seeking a glimpse into France’s royal past.

The Palace of Versailles, originally a hunting lodge, was transformed into a magnificent palace by Louis XIV, the Sun King, in the 17th century. It served as the seat of power for the French monarchy and symbolised their wealth and influence.

The palace witnessed significant historical events, such as the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which marked the end of World War I.

The Palace of Versailles is a true architectural marvel. Its remarkable Hall of Mirrors, adorned with dazzling chandeliers and intricately designed mirrors, is a highlight of the visit.

The State Apartments showcase lavish decorations, ornate furniture, and stunning artwork, giving visitors a glimpse into the luxurious lifestyle of the French court.

The palace is surrounded by sprawling gardens, meticulously landscaped in the French formal garden style, so definitely allocate some time to explore the gardens. Unfortunately during our visit the weather wasn’t great and we couldn’t enjoy the gardens as much.

We visited this place many years ago during our first trip to Paris. Back then we were able to visit for free as we were under 26 years and EU residents.

Palace of Versailles: Practical Tips for Visitors

To make the most of your visit, it’s advisable to arrive early to avoid long queues. Consider purchasing a skip-the-line ticket or guided tour to bypass the crowds and gain insightful information. Remember to wear comfortable shoes, as the palace and gardens require considerable walking.

Plan your visit according to the Palace’s opening hours, and be aware of any special events or closures. Check the official website as you might be able to get a free ticket, if eligible.

2. Schönbrunn Palace, Austria

Schönbrunn Palace holds great historical importance as the former imperial summer residence of the Habsburg monarchs. It witnessed the rise and fall of empires, serving as a backdrop for royal weddings, diplomatic meetings, and the childhood home of Emperor Franz Joseph.

The palace’s legacy represents Austria’s rich heritage and cultural significance.

Explore the opulent State Rooms, adorned with lavish decorations, gilded furniture, and intricate frescoes. The highlight of any visit is the Great Gallery, where lavish balls and receptions were once held.

Also don’t forget the gardens! Picturesque landscape combined with impressive fountains make it a sure rival of the Versailles gardens. We found that The Gloriette in the gardens offered a spectacular view of the estate and were impressed by the Crown Prince Garden and Palmenhaus.

Although the weather was rather gloomy during our visit, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the palace and the palace grounds.

Schönbrunn Palace stands as a testament to Austria’s imperial grandeur, offering visitors a glimpse into its majestic past. From the breath-taking palace interiors to the serene gardens, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a treasure trove of history and beauty.

We visited the palace during our trip to Vienna and it was one of the most memorable visits in Austria’s capital. If you do plan a visit to Vienna, we recommend that you combine this with a trip to Bratislava and in this way you can visit 2 countries.

Schönbrunn Palace: Practical Tips for Visitors

To make the most of your visit, consider purchasing a skip-the-line ticket to avoid long queues. Guided tours provide in-depth knowledge about the palace’s history and secrets. Take your time exploring the gardens, perhaps bringing a picnic to enjoy the serene surroundings.

In addition, you can check the palace’s website for any special events or concerts taking place during your visit.

3. Buckingham Palace, United Kingdom

Buckingham Palace in London has served as the official residence of the British monarch since 1837. Steeped in history, it has witnessed significant royal events, from coronations to royal weddings.

The palace represents the grandeur and traditions of the British monarchy, reflecting the nation’s rich heritage.

Admire the majestic architecture of Buckingham Palace, with its iconic balcony and neoclassical design. The State Rooms, open to the public during the summer months, display exquisite artwork and opulent furnishings.

If you time it well, you can even see the change of the guards at Buckingham Palace and add something special to your day. Be prepared for lots of people as it gets really crowded.

Check the schedule in advance to plan your visit accordingly, as the ceremony takes place on specific days.

Buckingham Palace: Practical Tips for Visitors

To optimize your visit, arrive early to secure a good viewing spot for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. Consider visiting during the summer months when the State Rooms are open for public tours. Purchase tickets in advance to skip the queues.

Buckingham Palace is not opened to the public all year round, so you get the opportunity to visit the State Rooms during the summer only. We are lucky to live in London and have visited the Palace twice.

4. Dolmabahçe Palace, Turkey

Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul holds immense historical significance as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

It served as the residence for the sultans and witnessed significant political events and negotiations that shaped Turkey’s history. The palace symbolizes the transformation and modernization efforts of the Ottoman Empire during this period.

Discover the opulence of the Ceremonial Hall, where grand events and receptions were held. The Crystal Gallery, adorned with magnificent chandeliers and Baccarat crystal items, is a true spectacle.

Don’t miss the Sultan’s Harem section, providing insights into the private life of the sultan and his family.

Dolmabahçe Palace stands as a testament to the grandeur and sophistication of the Ottoman Empire. From its captivating architecture to its rich history, this magnificent palace offers visitors a glimpse into a bygone era.

Include Dolmabahçe Palace in your travel itinerary for an unforgettable journey through Ottoman splendour and the allure of Istanbul’s Bosphorus. We would also recommend that you take a Bosphorus cruise whilst in Istanbul and admire the palace from the boat/cruise.

Dolmabahçe Palace: Practical Tips for Visitors

To optimize your visit, consider booking a guided tour to gain in-depth knowledge about the palace’s history and significance. Alternatively, you can take an audio guide. Enjoy the stunning views from the gardens and the Bosphorus promenade.

Plan your visit outside peak hours to avoid crowds and make the most of your experience. We strongly suggest you start your day with this attraction as queues can be extra long during day time.

5. Pena Palace, Portugal

Pena Palace holds historical and cultural significance as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was originally a monastery but was transformed into a romantic palace by King Ferdinand II in the 19th century.

The palace represents the Romanticism movement, with its eclectic blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Moorish influences.

Pena Palace probably is the most popular attraction in Sintra and one of the main reasons to visit this beautiful town. It constitutes one of the major expressions of 19th-century Romanticism in the world and when you visit it, you would understand why.

Marvel at the fantastical architecture of Pena Palace, adorned with vibrant hues of yellows, reds, and blues. Explore the intricate details of the facades, towers, and decorative elements that make this palace a visual delight.

Step inside to discover the opulent interiors, which showcase lavish rooms, ornate furnishings, and remarkable artwork.

In terms of architecture, this place is so unique and different, almost like coming from a fairy tale. You can see vault arches, Medieval and Islamic elements, carvings of mythical monsters and striking colours catching the attention of any visitor.

The Palace is also surrounded by the Pena park with beautiful gardens, picturesque footpaths and places offering wonderful viewpoints. In all honesty, we didn’t explore much of the gardens as we decided to enjoy the views from the castle’s café and were on a mission to cover the main points of interest.

We visited the place during our trip to Lisbon and did a day trip to Sintra by train. Pena Palace was the main reason we visited Sintra but discovered a lot more treasures in this beautiful town such as Quinta da Regaleira and one of the best places to sample the local dessert pastel de nata.

Pena Palace: Practical Tips for Visitors

If visiting during busier period, it might be a good idea to book your Pena Palace ticket in advance to secure your preferred time slot and skip the queue. If you visit off-peak and early in the morning, this may not be necessary.

Consider purchasing a combined ticket that includes access to both the palace and the gardens.

If you have a valid Lisbon card (you should get one, it is really worth it), you can also get 10% discount on your ticket. This is what we did to save some money 🙂

If you visit on a sunny day, allocate some time to enjoy a coffee at the Place’s café and admire the views from above.

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6. The Royal Palace of Madrid, Spain

The Royal Palace of Madrid has played a significant role in Spanish history, serving as the official residence of the Spanish monarchy since the 18th century. It witnessed royal ceremonies, political events, and state receptions, reflecting the nation’s past and cultural heritage.

The palace stands as a symbol of Spain’s monarchy and its contributions to European history. It has 135,000 square metres of floor space and contains 3,418 rooms. It is the largest functioning royal palace and the largest by floor area in Europe. 

Marvel at the magnificent architecture of the Royal Palace, blending Baroque and neoclassical styles. Explore the lavish State Rooms, adorned with intricate decorations, priceless artwork, and luxurious furnishings.

The Royal Armoury showcases a remarkable collection of weaponry and armour, providing insights into Spain’s military history. Don’t miss the stunning Throne Room, a highlight of any visit.

The Royal Palace of Madrid stands as a testament to Spain’s rich royal heritage, inviting visitors to step into a world of elegance and opulence. From its architectural splendour to the historical treasures within, this magnificent palace offers an unforgettable glimpse into Spanish royalty.

We visited the Palace during our trip to Madrid. Whilst there, you can also see or visit Almudena Cathedral with its Baroque exterior matching the older Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace of Madrid: Practical Tips for Visitors

To enhance your visit, consider purchasing tickets in advance to avoid long queues. We didn’t do this and had to wait for about an hour to get in.

Audio guides are available to provide informative commentary during your tour. Plan your visit to coincide with the Royal Palace’s opening hours and allocate sufficient time to explore both the interiors and the palace gardens.

7. Sanssouci Palace, Germany

Sanssouci Palace is not far from Berlin and holds immense historical significance as the summer retreat of Frederick the Great, the renowned Prussian king. Built in the 18th century, the palace reflects the Baroque and Rococo architectural styles prevalent during that era.

It stands as a testament to Prussia’s cultural heritage and the enlightened reign of Frederick the Great. Admire the elegance and grace of Sanssouci Palace, with its striking yellow façade and intricate details.

Explore the lavishly decorated rooms, including the opulent Marble Hall and the intimate study of Frederick the Great. The Vineyard Terrace, adorned with sculptures and offering panoramic views, is a must-see spot within the palace complex.

Indulge in the beauty of the Sanssouci Palace Gardens, a sprawling landscape designed in the French Baroque style. Meander through terraces, fountains, and manicured lawns, immersing yourself in the tranquil ambiance.

The terraced vineyards and the iconic Sanssouci Orangery are prominent features that add to the charm of the palace grounds.

Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam is a testament to Prussian grandeur and the visionary taste of Frederick the Great. From its stunning architecture to the meticulously landscaped gardens, this UNESCO World Heritage site offers a captivating glimpse into Prussia’s rich history.

Include Sanssouci Palace in your travel itinerary for an unforgettable experience of art, culture, and natural beauty when you next visit Berlin. We strongly suggest that you get the Berlin Card with transport zones ABC, as this includes transport to Potsdam as well as to Berlin Airport.

Sanssouci Palace: Practical Tips for Visitors

To make the most of your visit, consider arriving in Potsdam early in the morning.

Wear comfortable shoes, as the palace complex and gardens require considerable walking. Plan your visit during weekdays or offseason to avoid crowds and fully appreciate the serene atmosphere.

If you would prefer an organised trip from Berlin to Sanssouci Palace, then you might want to buy this Sanssouci Palace Guided Tour from Berlin with included transport, guide and entrance to the palace.

8. Prince’s Palace of Monaco, Monaco

The Prince’s Palace of Monaco boasts a rich history spanning over 700 years. Serving as the official residence of the ruling Grimaldi family, it stands as a symbol of Monaco’s sovereignty.

The palace has witnessed royal events, political milestones, and captivating stories that have shaped the Principality’s identity.

Marvel at the architectural beauty of the Prince’s Palace, blending different styles ranging from medieval to Renaissance and Gothic. Explore the State Apartments, adorned with opulent furnishings, exquisite artwork, and grand chandeliers.

The Palace Courtyard and the Main Courtyard offer panoramic views of Monaco‘s stunning coastline.

Witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony, a traditional display of precision and elegance at the Prince’s Palace. The guards, dressed in their ceremonial uniforms, march in unison, adding a touch of regal splendour to your visit.

Although not as impressive as the change of the guard at Buckingham Palace, it is still worth going on time for the spectacle. There will be some crowd but we can’t say it was that crowded. In many terms the guards were fairly close to the people similarly to the ones we have seen in StockholmCopenhagen and in Oslo.

We visited Monaco and the Prince’s Palace during our trip to Nice in France. We planned it well to see the change of the guard and even had a nice coffee just opposite the palace.

Prince’s Palace of Monaco: Practical Tips for Visitors

To optimise your visit, arrive early to avoid crowds and enjoy the views from the palace grounds. Wear comfortable footwear, as the palace includes uphill sections and stairs. Consider joining a guided tour to gain deeper insights into the palace’s history and the life of the ruling family.

The palace showcases many works of art as well as the Royal Library and Chapel. The visit shouldn’t take longer than 45 minutes so definitely worth your time.

Final Thoughts

European palaces embody centuries of history, preserving the architectural styles and design philosophies of their respective periods. From the opulence of Baroque and Rococo to the grandeur of neoclassical and Renaissance influences, each palace tells a story of its time.

Paintings, sculptures, intricate tapestries, and ornate furniture grace their halls, showcasing the artistic achievements of renowned masters. The palaces’ vast collections provide an invaluable cultural legacy, offering insights into artistic movements, social customs, and the tastes of the ruling elite.

Understanding the historical and political context of these palaces allows visitors to comprehend the forces that shaped European societies, ultimately contributing to the continent’s rich tapestry of governance, traditions, and diplomacy.

We will keep updating this article with more places that we believe are worth a visit, as we venture on more trips around Europe.

Ready to book? Below are some recommendations to get your trip started:

  • Accommodation – would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as or Agoda to get the best rates. We also use TripAdvisor to read reviews.

  • Transport – consider for car renting or if you rely on public transport, you can use Omio for trains, coaches, ferries, airport transfers and even flights.

  • Activities – a great option is GetYourGuide, Klook or Viator for tours, excursions, experiences and tickets to many tourist attractions.

  • Travel money – we have Starling Bank accounts (UK residents only) with 0% fees on FX and a good Mastercard exchange rate. Revolut is another good option.

  • Internet abroad – with Airalo or Nomad you can access a wide range of eSIMs (digital SIM cards) available for different countries and regions.

  • Luggage storage – if you need to store your bags whilst exploring the destination, you can use Radical Storage to find your closest luggage storage and enjoy your journey until the very end.

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