Palaces are large and often extravagant buildings that serve as the home of royal dynasties that rule or ruled or over vast territories of land. Steeped in history, palaces are common in popular fairy tales and fables, and are therefore often fascinating to the general public. Thus, it is not surprising that given the chance, many people would like to visit a palace. Many former royal residences have been converted to museums and are now open to the public, and have become popular tourist destinations. A list of the world’s most visited palaces is highlighted below.
10. Shuri Castle; Okinawa, Japan
The world’s tenth most popular palace is located in Okinawa, Japan. The Shuri Castle served as the royal residence of the Ryukyu Kingdom from 1429 until 1879. The palace was completely destroyed in 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa, but reconstructed in the 1990s, returning it to its original state. Today, the Shuri Castle is a top tourist destination in Japan and receives approximately 1,753,000 visitors annually.
9. Alhambra y Generalife; Granada, Andalusa, Spain
The Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889, and later converted into a royal palace by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada, in 1333. In 1492, the palace came under the control of Christian rulers and served as the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella. In later years, the importance of the Alhambra gradually waned as newer palaces were built by Spanish rulers. Today, the Alhambra is a popular tourist destination, and is one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in Spain. The palace has also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
8. Schönbrunn Palace; Vienna, Austria
Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria, is the world’s eighth most visited palace. Located in the city's Hietzing district, the palace served as the summer residence of the ruling Habsburg family. The palace features Baroque-style architecture and includes 1,441 rooms and vast, well-sculpted gardens.
7. Tower of London; London, United Kingdom
The Tower of London is located on the north bank of the River Thames in London, England, United Kingdom (UK). The castle was established in 1066, and the White Tower, which was built by William the Conqueror, was added in 1078. For a long period of its history, from 1100 until 1952, the Tower of London was used as a royal prison. Many high profile executions, including that of many royals, took place in the palace. The Tower of London also served as royal residence for a period of time. Today, the Tower of London is a key tourist destination in London. The immense history associated with the Tower of London, such as its display of the Crown Jewels and other historical exhibits of the castle, attract huge crowds each year.
6. Winter Palace (State Hermitage Museum); Saint Petersburg, Russia
The Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia, is one of the country's top tourist attractions. From 1732 until 1917, the palace was used as the official residence of the Russian Emperors. Today, it houses the State Hermitage Museum, which is the world’s second largest art museum, after the Louvre. Empress Catherine the Great established the museum in 1764, but it was not opened to the public until 1852. Over 3 million items, including some of the world’s best paintings, are part of the museum’s collection.
5. Topkapi Palace; Istanbul, Turkey
The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, is the world’s fifth most visited palace. The palace was built in 1459 under the orders of Mehmed the Conqueror and expanded over the following centuries. It served as the royal residence and administrative headquarters of the sultans of the Ottoman Dynasty. However, the importance of Topkapi Palace gradually began to decline after the 17th century. In 1923, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapi Palace was converted into a museum and opened to public visits. Today, the palace is a major tourist attraction in Istanbul, and the museum collection includes items such as weapons, jewels, clothing, religious relics, and illuminated manuscripts, that once belonged to members of the Ottoman Dynasty.
4. Palace of Versailles; Versailles, France
The Palace of Versailles is a spectacular palace located in the French department of Yvelines, where it covers an area of 67,000 square meters. It served as the principal royal residence of the rulers of France from 1682 until 1789. The palace is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Star attractions of the palace include the Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Opera, the royal apartments, and the vast Gardens of Versailles with its fountains, geometric flower beds, and canals.
3. Grand Palace; Bangkok, Thailand
Located in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand, the Grand Palace is the world’s third most visited palace, receiving approximately 8,000,000 visitors annually. Since 1782, the palace has served as the official residence of the Kings of Siam. However, the government vacated the palace in 1932 following the abolition of absolute monarchy. The complex is bounded by four walls and covers an area of 218,400 square meters, and includes numerous buildings, halls, gardens, courtyards, and lawns. Today, tourists visit the palace to admire its beauty as well as royal and historical artifacts that are displayed in the museum of the Grand Palace. The famed Emerald Buddha is also located in the temple grounds.
2. Louvre; Paris, France
The Louvre in Paris, France, is one of the world’s most visited museums. However, the museum is actually housed in a former royal palace, the Louvre Palace, located on the Right Bank of the Seine River. It was first built as a fort under Philip II beginning in the 12th century. Later, the Louvre served as the royal residence of many French kings after it was converted to a palace by Francis I in 1546. In 1793, part of Louvre was opened to the public as a museum, which now extends to include most of the building. The Louvre's exhibits include more than 460,000 artifacts and 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments.
1. Forbidden City (Palace Museum); Beijing, China
The Forbidden City is a palace complex in central Beijing, China, which ranks as the world’s most visited palace and museum. It served as the imperial palace of China's ruling dynasties between 1420 and 1912. Today, it houses the Palace Museum, which features thousands of artifacts of imperial collections of the Qing and Ming Chinese dynasties. The Forbidden City covers an area of 72 hectares and includes 980 buildings. The palace's Chinese architecture is impressive, and hosts the world’s largest collection of ancient wooden structures. The palace has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.