Written by Brian Johnston
The pomp and glitter of royalty never ceases to fascinate us. Indeed, royal history is one of tourism’s biggest drawcards, and splendid palaces are on many an itinerary.
French writer Voltaire called this 17th-century palace a ‘masterpiece of bad taste and magnificence’. The highlight is the famous Hall of Mirrors, where the mirrors were designed to reflect light out into the grounds, a reminder to those passing by of the blazing glory of the kings who lived within. The Royal Chapel and Royal Opera are also exquisite. Outside, vast grounds show off the best of formal French landscaping; there are 20km of neatly clipped box hedges, and you could lose yourself among the trees.
Distance: 4,980 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 15 minutes
Frequency: 3 flights a day
Forbidden City, Beijing
At 72 hectares and encircled by walls 4km in circumference, the Forbidden City is so large that China’s last emperor pedalled around it by bicycle. The political and imperial heart of China for five centuries, the sprawling complex is so rich in history and culture that it’s well worth hiring a guide, or following a self-guided audio tour, to fully appreciate its wonders.
Distance: 6,164 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 35 minutes
Overlooking Red Square behind high red walls, the Kremlin has been the seat of political power in Russia for centuries. Though many of its buildings are closed to the public, you can visit its four glorious cathedrals and eye-popping armoury, where a collection of Romanov treasures provides the ultimate collection of bling.
Distance: 3,568 km
Flight Time: 5 hours, 15 minutes
Frequency: 12 flights a week
Built in the 13th century for the Moorish monarchs of Granada, this gigantic fortress is surrounded by mighty ramparts. A pleasure palace hides at its core, renowned for its elegant courtyards adorned with latticework and sculptured stone, reflected in tranquil pools. This is probably the greatest triumph of Islamic architecture anywhere, the apparent simplicity of the palace’s design disguising its subtle artistic genius. Vast gardens sprawl over the hillsides around the complex, and you can revitalise your soul by wandering among the lavender walkways and rose gardens, or sitting in the shade of splashing fountains.
Distance: 5,340 km
Flight Time: 7 hrs, 25 mins
Topkapı Palace, Istanbul
This isn’t so much a palace as an entire mini-town, which the Ottoman sultans extended over centuries. The buildings are superb, matched by their contents: calligraphy, rare books, gold and silver, armour, and jewellery. You can also see one of the world’s finest collections of porcelain. The highlight may well be the harem, once the private residence of the sultan’s family. The cloistered courtyards still have an atmosphere of secrecy, and the architecture and décor are magnificent.
Sabiha Gökçen Airport, Istanbul, Turkey