Buckingham Palace in London has been in the headlines over the past two weeks. This is thanks to the Platinum Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. The monarch is celebrating 70 years on the throne. Events beamed worldwide included a jubilee concert featuring Diana Ross, Queen, and Rod Stewart. There was also a colourful pageant, an RAF flyover, and appearances by the Royal Family on the palace balcony. Buckingham Palace is one of the most well-known buildings in the world, and it got us thinking… What other palaces around the world deserve to join Buckingham Palace on a list of must-see royal abodes and palaces to visit for travellers? To find out, we’ve put together a list of 10 of the most beautiful palaces in the world.
#1 Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, India
Today it’s a luxury 5-star hotel. But the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur was built in the 1740s as a summer residence for members of the House of Mewar, a royal dynasty from the Udaipur region. This beautiful white palace is located in the middle of Lake Pichola.
A popular honeymoon destination, Udaipur is a romantic city. And for those with a decent budget, a stay at the Taj Lake Palace is as good as it gets. But any visitor to the city can enjoy a boat trip on the lake to get a good view of this beautiful building. It reflects off the water and is surely one of the coolest palaces in the world!
#2 Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey
Considered the crown jewel of the Ottoman Empire, Topkapi Palace was built on the banks of the Bosphorus Strait under the orders of Sultan Mehmed II after he conquered Constantinople – modern-day Istanbul, in 1459.
The palace is no longer used for official state affairs. Instead, it is now one of Istanbul’s most popular destinations, and has been converted into a museum. Beautiful mosaics, historic Islamic art, grand apartments, and pretty courtyards are just some of the features that intrepid visitors can find.
Most of our Turkey tours include guided sightseeing in Istanbul, so you can visit Topkapi Palace for yourself.
#3 Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet
One of the most iconic palaces on this list and well-deserving of a place on our list of the most beautiful palaces in the world; Potala Palace is located in the spectacular Lhasa Valley of Tibet. This dzong fortress served as the winter residence of the Dalai Lama from 1649 until 1959 and has been a museum ever since. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Located on top of the often snow-capped Marpo Ri hill, the red and white exterior commands attention. And 13 storeys of shrines, apartments and offices climb the side of the mount. Copper was poured into the foundations to help earthquake-proof the palace. And despite the Dalai Lama being exiled to India in 1959, it remains a sacred pilgrimage destination for many Buddhists around the world. It’s also one of the main attractions in Tibet!
#4 Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
It was not until 1782 that the capital of Thailand moved from Ayutthaya to Bangkok. And it was in this year that plans were drawn up for the majestic Grand Palace. When finished, it became the official and ceremonial residence of the Thai Royal Family.
The Grand Palace grew over time, as more and more offices and sacred temples were built. These included the iconic Wat Phra Kaew. Known in English as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, it remains one of the city’s main attractions. It is also the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand.
Today, much of the Grand Palace is open to the public. Travellers are able to explore the myriad of regal courtyards, temples, and pavilions, including Wat Phra Kaew.
Several of our Southeast Asia group tours finish in Bangkok, where you can stay on to visit the Grand Palace!
#5 Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, India
Built from red and pink sandstone, this beautiful five-storey palace in Jaipur is located next to the City Palace. Completed in 1799, its name translates in English to ‘Palace of the Winds’. This is because the building was designed to help cool air pass through during the hot summer months.
Hawa Mahal boasts pretty pillars and archways, an archaeological museum, and glorious outdoor courtyards. It is, nevertheless, the beautiful colour that attracts so many travellers to the site. Jaipur is known as the Pink City because much of its architecture makes use of this coloured sandstone. Certainly worth adding to your list of palaces to visit!
Most of our group tours to India take in the Pink City of Jaipur, home of the beautiful Hawa Mahal palace.
#6 Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France
It oversaw the end of the First World War with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The Palace of Versailles is one of the world’s most historic and important buildings. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful palaces in the world.
The Palace of Versailles started life as a hunting lodge. But King Louis XIV expanded it massively and turned it into his official residence in 1682. It was largely abandoned after the events of the French Revolution but was used for a time by Napoleon as a summer residence from 1810 until 1814. It wasn’t until the 1830s that the palace was finally restored, and UNESCO listed it in 1979. Although much of its artwork now hangs in the Louvre, the Palace of Versailles remains one of the most popular attractions in France. Aside from the grand palace, the gardens are known for their beautiful fountains and well-maintained flowerbeds. It is easily within day-trip distance from Paris.
#7 Royal Palace, Fes, Morocco
Though Fes is no longer the capital of Morocco, the country’s king still regularly uses the city’s Royal Palace for official business. The original palace dates back to the 13th century. However, most of the architecture visible today is much newer, having been built in the 1960s. This includes the seven imposing front gates with their traditional decoration and tilework. However, some of the original architecture, such as the minaret of the nearby Grand Mosque of Fes el-Jdid does survive to this day.
The Royal Palace is sadly not open to the public. So visitors are unable to see the maze of courtyards, gardens, offices, and apartments within the grounds. Despite this, travellers to Fes will want to stroll around the exterior and take in the Moroccan craftsmanship for themselves.
Fes is one of the most popular destinations on our Morocco tours, perfect for travellers looking to see the Royal Palace.
#8 Forbidden City, Beijing, China
The seat of power and imperial home for the Ming and Qing dynasties, Beijing’s Forbidden City is one of the most historically important on this list. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful palaces in the world. The Forbidden City is comprised of nearly 1,000 buildings demonstrating an array of Chinese palatial architecture.
Built in the early 1400s and surrounded by a defensive moat, the Forbidden City served as the Chinese imperial palace until 1912. During this time it was home to 24 different emperors. Today it is a museum in the heart of the modern Chinese capital. It is open to the public and widely regarded as one of the best palaces to visit in the world. A vast selection of artwork and artefacts collected from across China’s long and diverse history is on display.
#9 Himeji Castle, Himeji, Japan
Ok, so OFFICIALLY it’s not a palace. But Himeji Castle is unlike a castle in the traditional western sense of the word. And it’s so beautiful that we had to include it on this list. Himeji is a city in the southwest of Japan’s main island, Honshu, not far from Osaka and Kyoto. One of Japan’s few surviving wood and stone castles, it has remained intact for more than 700 years. During this time it has survived WWII bombing raids and earthquakes. It’s also the most visited castle complex in Japan, particularly in spring, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
Decorated in stunning white and recently refurbished in 2015, the castle complex is made up of more than 80 buildings. These are connected by gates and winding paths. Parts of the castle are free to enter for visitors, whilst some areas require a paid ticket.
See Himeji Castle for yourself on several of our Japan group tours.
#10 Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Set amongst the rolling hills of Granada in southern Spain, the Alhambra is one of the world’s finest examples of Islamic architecture, having been built in the 14th century by Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Nasrid dynasty. There is something else that makes this palace unique, though. This Islamic palace is crisscrossed with important examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture. These came much later. But it is amazing that so much of the Islamic architecture has been preserved alongside the more recent Spanish styles.
The original mosque was replaced with a church. And lush gardens were installed. But there are still Arabic carvings on many of the palace walls. There are also fortresses and apartments within the walls of the palace. Originally a self-contained city, the Alhambra covers 35 acres and also houses a Museum of Fine Arts within its walls.
Many of the features in this article are brilliant palaces to visit for travellers. Some are still used by royalty or government. And others have been converted into fascinating museums displaying the rich history of their host country. Do you agree with our selection of the most beautiful palaces in the world, or have we missed somewhere out? Let us know in the comments below!