It’s good to be king. Since the dawn of people, there have been kings and queens to lord over them, each with his or her own distinctive manner of demonstrating their power and superiority. The domiciles of royalty have long been an integral component of this display, whether a massive hilltop fortress constructed to protect the monarch from the dangers of attack, or your basic platform from which to showcase wealth and influence. Sky-high towers, moats, impenetrable stone walls, and bridges make these centuries-old buildings some of the most commanding architectural wonders in the world.
In every case, each royal residence holds an innate fascination to world travelers, as an exploration of a palace, chateau or castle (interchangeable, but regionally significant) is a literal walk through history. Few places offer such literal accounts of how each region was shaped and the experiences enjoyed or endured by its people as the local palace. These castles are often still the epicenter of cities and nations, even if they are now shared by the public instead of a barricaded as a home of royalty. Some cities are not defined by one palace, but can chronicle their history by simply charting the course of several of the opulent structures erected over the centuries (we’re looking at you, St. Petersburg).
Here are seven royal residences you won’t want to miss during your 2017 travels:
Buda Castle (Budapest, Hungary) – Since its original completion in 1265, Buda Castle has been destroyed, reconstructed and expanded several times, now boasting evidence of its medieval beginnings, Baroque influences, Ottoman occupation and countless other phases. Today, the castle is connected to the town center from its perch on Castle Hill by the city’s equally famous Chain Bridge. Most of its opulent buildings are occupied by the Hungarian National Gallery, comprising an outstanding collection of all Hungarian art from the 19th and 20th centuries. The Budapest History Museum also resides within the palace walls, as does the Presidential Palace, which has been a key seat of political power for over 200 years.
Schӧnbrunn Palace (Vienna, Austria) – The vast gardens of this former imperial residence are nearly as important as the palace itself, which spans more than 300 years of successive Habsburg monarchs. With botanical and sculptural construction taking place from the 17th through 19th centuries, the spectacularly crafted landscape features a French Garden, an affectionately named “Roman ruin”, an intricately carved Neptune Fountain and Gloriette, crowning the hilltop overlooking the lush surroundings.
Pena Palace (Sintra/Lisbon, Portugal) – One of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, this astonishingly preserved medieval palace was inhabited almost continuously from the early 15th century through the 19th century. Today, the creation of King Ferdinand II is still known as one of the loveliest castles in Western Europe, as well as a grand expression of Manueline and Moorish architecture. Its location in the lush Sintra hills further illustrates the romance of Portuguese design, as do the vibrant yellow and red towers. The surrounding forest was also carefully cultivated by Ferdinand, upon his request for diverse foliage to be brought from New Zealand, North America, China and Japan to encompass the many labyrinths and paths that wind through it. Visitors will find magnolia trees, a variety of ferns and even Gingko plants to represent the distant lands.
Cochem Imperial Castle (Cochem, Germany) – Today’s Imperial Castle overlooking the Moselle River is not the original 12th century wonder, which was destroyed by French King Louis XIV in 1689. Its Romanesque style is a thing of the past, and now stands a neo-Gothic creation built upon the ruins of the original castle. While Cochem Castle’s identity began anew with its recreation, the structure still contains evidence of its colorful history, with spectacular views of charming Cochem and the Moselle Valley.
Peterhof (St. Petersburg, Russia) – Of the hundreds of castles, palaces and pavilions paying tribute to the imperial and noble families of Russia, we focus on the gold-encompassed Peterhof not for the treasures it contains, but for the priceless masterpiece it is. The grounds – a series of smaller palaces and gardens surrounding the main residence – were built for Peter the Great after he was inspired by the grandeur and scope of Versailles. One of the property’s most notable features is the Grand Cascade and Samson Fountain, boasting 64 fountains in total, the central figure being the statue of Samson tearing open the jaws of a lion.
Loppem Castle (Zedelgem/Bruges, Belgium) – Compared to the medieval fortresses on this list, Loppem Castle could be considered “new construction,” built between 1859 and 1862. Since that time, it’s been remarkably well preserved, down to a richly adorned interior that showcases fine art pieces and furnishings and a dedicated statuary – all seemingly frozen in the 19th century. However, it’s the stunning landscape that will take your breath away. A garden inspired by the picturesque English style covers the grounds at every turn, including an expansive lake that, together with the lush trees, frames the stately manor in a way that welcomes all visitors.
Edinburgh Castle (Edinburgh, Scotland) – A decidedly imposing fortress and a home fit for royalty, this hilltop castle dominates the skyline of Edinburgh. Archaeologists debate whether its history recalls the Iron Age (2nd Century AD) or Bronze Age (~800 BC), but all are certain of its pivotal role in countless battles and reigns throughout centuries. As you might expect, numerous attacks have destroyed castle structures over the years, except, notably, St. Margaret’s Chapel, thought to be the oldest building in all of Edinburgh, the Royal Palace and the Great Hall. Today, the castle stands as a symbol of the past, as well as an active member of modern culture. It is the site of many festivals (most famously, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo) and is open for visitors virtually year-round.
Explore the lands of kings and queens on several 2017 Crystal Cruises and Crystal River Cruises.