Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm, Sweden
“If you were to go and knock on that door,” one of the officials tells me, “the King might answer. That’s his study.”
I assume he is joking about the King answering, but not about where the door leads. That’s how close I am.
I wonder, if you were the king or queen of a country, would you let random visitors into your house?
Clearly some don’t. You can’t normally go into Buckingham Palace in London, or Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, for instance. Although they are extremely important landmarks, they are also the official residences and offices of the monarchs, and so it’s not surprising there’s a level of security that prevents tourists from popping in.
But it’s a bit different here in Sweden where the Royal Family seems happy to throw their doors open to anybody… including me.
In the centre of Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, is the Royal Palace. This is the official residence of the King of Sweden and is open to the public. Don’t be too surprised, though, because it’s not actually where the King Carl Gustav lives. The Royal Palace is just used these days for official functions.
I’ll write more about the Royal Palace another day. In this story, I want to instead focus on Drottningholm Palace, which, in some ways, is more interesting. Because this is where the King and his Queen actually live – and you get much more access than you would expect, even being able to walk up to the monarch’s study door!
Visiting Drottningholm Palace
I see Drottningholm Palace as I approach it by bus from the centre of Stockholm. It’s about 12 kilometres from the centre of the city, away from a lot of urban development, and almost feels as though it is in the countryside. The main building is set on the edge of a lake that gives it even more of a sense of relaxing isolation. I can see why the royals prefer this as their actual residence.
The first version of the palace was built here in 1580 but burnt down 80 years later. Construction of a new building began in 1662 and that’s the one we see today, albeit with many modifications over the centuries.
I walk in the front doors and up the grand marble with the statues of figures wrapped in robes looking down at me. I go into the first room – opulent but tasteless – and continue to the next. In each of the rooms, history is on the walls, on the ceilings, in the artwork and the objects on display.
The various Swedish leaders who have used this palace have each left their mark in some way. Hedvig Eleonora, Lovisa Ulrika and Gustav III in particular all contributed to the interior decoration of the reception rooms.
This leads to a fair bit of variety throughout the different areas of Drottningholm Palace. The Palace Library, for instance, glows in gold with chandeliers and shelves of old books. The Carl X Gustav Gallery, on the other hand, is a darker room with wall paintings depicting the King’s military career. The Hall of State is used for official functions and has painted portraits of or other European monarchs.
Drottningholm Palace Gardens
From the western rooms of the palace, I can look out the windows and see the sprawling gardens stretching out into the distance. These gardens are one of the main reasons that Drottningholm Palace has been added to the World Heritage List, with UNESCO saying “it is the finest example of an 18th-century northern European royal residence inspired by the Palace of Versailles”.
I agree that the gardens are a masterpiece and you can’t visit the palace without also giving yourself a couple of hours to wander through and explore all the different areas it offers.
To understand the gardens, it’s helpful to break them up into three sections: the Baroque Garden, The Chinese Pavilion, and The English Garden.
The Baroque Garden is the closest to the palace and is a long avenue with box-hedges, a water feature, a central fountain, and ‘bosquets’ (which are French-styled plantations of trees).
To the south is the garden around the Chinese Pavilion. It is a more natural kind of park and shows the evolution of style from the formal Baroque layout to something with more space and fluidity.
The Chinese Pavilion at the centre of it is an impressive building that was completed in 1769. It is full of luxury items brought to Sweden from China and is decorated using different Chinese styles. At the time of construction and decoration, China was seen as an exotic and fascinating land and it was very trendy to have rooms decorated like this.
In the north of the palace grounds is the most modern of the three areas, the English garden. It was commissioned in 1780 by King Gustav II who was a fan of the natural landscape gardens of contemporary England. It has two ponds with canals, islands, and bridges. Footpaths wind throughout the park and there’s an emphasis on the vistas that this design creates.
As I walk through it all, I wonder whether the current royals ever come out here for a walk. I assume they do – but perhaps when all the visitors have gone home for the day.
It’s nice of them to let us in so we can enjoy it for ourselves. I hope they are still able to do that too.
All the things you need to know
By public transport, take the metro to Brommaplan. From there, there are several buses that go to Drottningholm Palace, including the 177 and 176. The bus ride is less than 10 minutes. To plan your trip on public transport, you can use the SL Trip Planner.
From 31 Dec - 7 Jan: Daily from 1200 - 1530
From 8 Jan - March: Only Saturday and Sunday from 1200 - 1530
April: Daily from 1100 - 1530
May - September: Daily 1000 - 1630
October: Friday - Sunday from 1100 - 1530
November - 10 Dec: Saturday and Sunday from 1200 - 1530
11 - 30 Dec: Closed