It's nice to fantasize about living in a palace, exploring the halls, waking up to have someone draw your curtains, hosting grand balls, and so on. But unless you're Meghan Markle, that's probably not going to happen for you. Luckily, many of the world's most famous palaces are now museums, and anyone can visit their splendor. So if you've always dreamed of being a princess or prince, or just appreciate incredible architecture and rich history, here are 5 legendary palaces you should definitely check out:
La Alhambra (Granada, Spain)
This 13th-century palace has gone through several iterations over the centuries. From an architectural standpoint, it is a unique beauty because of the fusion of Muslim and European influences. La Alhambra was first built by a Moorish king, the Moors being the North African Muslim invaders who inhabited various parts of Spain for about 800 years. The royal residence and fortress overlook the valley below, making it the ideal place for a military leader to reside.
The architecture is extremely ornate, and the architects made it their goal to have every surface covered in detail. Muslim tradition doesn't allow for artistic representations of people, so there are poems artistically inscribed on columns and arches, as well as stylized flora. The tile mosaics are another impressive highlight of La Alhambra, bringing in bright colors and stunning patterns. Under the Catholic Monarchs, Charles V demolished part of La Alhambra to build his own palace, Charles the V Palace. These connecting palaces mean visitors can see a variety of architectural styles and influences all in one place.
Mysuru Palace (Mysuru, India)
Travel to India and you must see Mysuru Palace, or Mysore Palace as it's sometimes known. After the Taj Mahal, Mysuru Palace is the most visited place in India, and rightfully so. While three other palaces have stood in this location in centuries past, the current castle was built between 1897 and 1912 by the Maharaja Krishnaraja Kodeyar IV after a fire destroyed the former palace. The Maharaja commissioned the British architect Henry Irwin to build it. Irwin was well-versed in Indian architecture after studying in India for many years, but you can still certainly see European influence. If you're an architecture junkie, you'll see a fascinating blend of Hindi, Islamic, and Gothic styles.
When you visit Mysuru Palace, you can take a tour of the building and watch a brilliant light and sound show if you're there in the evening. It's a 45-minutes show, telling the story of the 400-year history of Mysuru.
Pena National Palace (Sintra, Portugal)
When you imagine castles of old, what you picture is probably a lot like Pena National Palace in Sintra, Portugal. Built in the Romantic style in the late 19th century, this palace sits high on a hill, overlooking the park below, and beyond the city. Due to recent restorations, including brilliant red and gold paint to the exterior, Pena National Palace is more stunning than ever. A monastery used to sit on top of the hill, but King Ferdinand II acquired the land, renovated the monastery, and added onto it to create the palace where he would live.
The park grounds are just as compelling as the palace, with over 500 species of trees, including ones meant to represent the four corners of the world. Ferdinand II had a summer house built for his wife on the grounds as well. The summer house is another destination you shouldn't miss if you visit the park and palace. The palace was only a royal residence for a handful of decades, since the Republic was formed in 1910. Shortly after the end of the monarchy, Pena National Palace was opened as a museum, and visitors have enjoyed it ever since.
Chateau de Chambord (Chambord, France)
Everyone knows about the Palace of Versailles, but we wanted to make sure you also knew about this incredible French palace. The Chateau de Chambord is a masterpiece of the French Renaissance, commissioned by King François I in 1519. It's truly an astonishing sight to behold. The king had the palace built to be his hunting lodge, but he hardly stayed there due to the drafty, cold rooms. Unlike some of the other palaces we've mentioned, Chambord was never meant to be an actual fortress. The moat and watchtowers are only decorative.
Over the centuries, people stripped materials from certain parts of the palace, and it was vacant for many years, despite attempts to restore it. Today, however, you can visit Chambord, and hundreds of thousands of people do each year. Visitors can explore the French formal gardens and the chateau itself. It will surely take you back to a time of incredible feats of humankind, as well as remarkable excess.
Potala Palace (Tibet, China)
With architecture making its way up Marpo Ri Hill in Lhasa, Tibet, the Potala Palace will take your breath away from miles around. Potala Palace served as the winter palace for the Dalai Lama until 1959 and is also the main symbol of Tibetan Buddhism. When visiting the site, you see the White and the Red Palaces. The Red Palace is the later addition, built on top of the White Palace. An impressive Buddhist monastery already existed at this location when construction of the palace began in the 7th century.
Given that this palace has stood on this hill for more than a millennium, it certainly deserves its spot as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now that the Dalai Lama no longer resides here, the palace acts as a museum. People come from far and wide to see the site, but preservation is also a concern for UNESCO. The ancient materials, and even the restored sections, can't handle the amount of foot traffic that tourism and religious pilgrims could bring. To counteract this, China enacted a visitor quota to protect the palace. The quota has changed over the years as modernization has provided the area with even more access. While preservation and sharing this stunning piece of architecture is a careful balance, we highly recommend you see Potala Palace for yourself if you ever have the chance!