The House of Windsor is having a year in which the spotlight is even more intense than usual. There is a royal wedding on the way, another royal baby due, and the second series of The Crown has had viewers glued to their screens.
The thing about being a Windsor, however, is that even when things are not going quite so well, there are certain compensations – not least, owning some of the best real estate around.
Yet the British royals are not the only ones blessed with an impressive property portfolio. Royal power may have dwindled across most of the globe, but royalty has proven remarkably adept at keep its collective hands on some seriously desirable real estate, most of which can be visited one way or other.
It is not just the palaces that are so romantically architecturally swoon-worthy; what is inside, or even outside, can be just as appealing: magnificent furnishings, priceless art, lavishly maintained gardens. You, by no means, don't have to be a monarchist to admire these history-rich grand abodes – and today, more than ever before, it is possible to admire them for yourself.
We have taken a royal tour around the world, stopping in to see the buildings where today's bluebloods hold open house. From Britain to Bhutan, Monaco to India, here is our guide to the destinations that are fit for a king and queen as well as a visit by mere commoners.
THE ROYAL COUPLE The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
THE PALACE When William and Kate moved into Kensington Palace's 22-room Apartment 1a, it was a return home of sorts for William, who spent much of his childhood in Kensington Palace, albeit in a different apartment. Kate and Wills' neighbours in the palace include not just Harry, who lives in a two-bedroom cottage in the grounds, but also Princess Eugenie, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO Several parts of the palace are open to visitors, including the King's State Apartments. The opulent staircase leading to the apartments – its walls painted with animated 18th century court scenes – give you a taster of the splendour in store in the heavily gilded apartments. Other must-sees include the Queen's State Apartments and the Palace Gardens, including the lovely Sunken Garden.
ONE MORE THING Kate and William still spend plenty of time at their Norfolk residence, Anmer Hall, which is on the Queen's Sandringham Estate. Parts of the estate open to visitors include the main house, the gardens, the church and the museum, where exhibits include a collection of royal vintage motor vehicles.
PRINCIPALITY OF MONACO
THE ROYAL COUPLE Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene
THE PALACE The Palais Princier de Monaco, which is today home to Albert, Charlene and their twins, Jacques and Gabriella, sits firmly in the centre of Monaco's historic heart, Monaco-Ville.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO The daily changing of the guards is a favourite with visitors, who admire the choreographed movements of smartly clad guards (white uniforms in summer, dark in winter). The ceremony happens daily at 11.55am. If you want to peek inside in the palace, the State Apartments are open to the public between April and October. Highlights include the sweeping Carrera marble staircase, the Mirror Gallery and the Red Room, where works by artists such as Jan Brueghel are on display. (Many of the paintings were picked up cheap during the French Revolution.) The highlight is the magnificent throne room, with its walls of red silk and its colourful frescoes.
ONE MORE THING Prince Albert's sisters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie, live nearby in neighbouring houses, the Villa Clos Saint Pierre and the Villa Clos Saint Martin.
THE ROYAL COUPLE Maharana Arvind Singh Mewar and Princess Vijayaraj of Kutch
THE PALACE The Maharana and his wife live in Udaipur's City Palace, perched on the edge of Lake Pichola. The enterprising Maharana is also the managing director of the HRH Group of Hotels, which runs heritage hotels across India.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO The Maharanas of Udaipur spent 400 years building this elegant marble construction, gaily festooned with cupolas and towers and incorporating elements of Rajasthani, European, Chinese and Mughal architecture. There are no fewer than 11 separate palaces within the complex, with poetic names such as the Moti Mahal, or Palace of Pearls, and the Sheesh Mahal, or Palace of Glass and Mirrors. The king's quarters in the Shambu Niwas are, unsurprisingly, off-limits, but there are plenty of others delights to discover. Keep an eye out for the tiger-catching cage (like an oversized mousetrap) and the zig-zag corridors, designed to help defend the palace in the case of attack. In the evenings, a colourful sound and light show takes you through the history of the dynasty.
ONE MORE THING Not one but two of the palaces with the City Palace have been converted into heritage hotels. Treat yourself to stay at either the Fateprakash Palace or the Shiv Niwas Palace.
THE ROYAL COUPLE Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel
THE PALACE Together with her husband – her former personal trainer – and two young children, Estelle and Oscar, Crown Princess Victoria has made her home in the Haga Palace, set in Stockholm's bucolic Haga Park.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO Although the palace is not open to visitors, there is plenty to see and do in the grounds of the lovely Haga Park, including woodlands, lakes and English-style gardens, not to mention a number of intriguing buildings. Photo-friendly options include Turkish Pavilion, a Chinese Pagoda and the charming Temple of the Echo, originally designed as a royal al fresco dining area. Stop in at the park's most popular attraction, the Butterfly House Haga Ocean, where you can be delighted not only by butterflies but also by reef fish and sharks, before enjoying a bite to eat at the entrancing Copper Tents, designed to resemble a sultan's tent.
ONE MORE THING During the summer, the royal family often decamps to the Solliden Palace, a country house-style retreat on the Baltic island of Oland. The grounds of the palace are open to the public between May and September.
THE ROYAL COUPLE King Philippe and Queen Mathilde
THE PALACE Philippe, Mathilde and their four children live in the Castle of Laeken in Brussels, set amid parklands the size of Monaco. Originally the summer residence of the governors of the Austrian Netherlands, the castle was falling into disrepair when it was restored by Napoleon Bonaparte, who then gifted it to his wife, Josephine. It later became the property of the Belgian royal family.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO The only part of the royal complex that is open to visitors – and then only for three weeks a year – are the royal greenhouses. However, these are no ordinary greenhouses. Built over a period of 20 years for King Leopold II, the structures resemble a glass palace, consisting of different pavilions linked by wide corridors and topped with majestic cupolas. The entire complex covers an extraordinary 2.5 hectares. The ground-breaking design, courtesy of architect Alphonse Balat, was influential right around the world, and the collection of mostly tropical plants is still world-famous. The greenhouses are open to the public each year in April and May.
ONE MORE THING Alphonse Balat also designed the Royal Palace in the heart of Brussels, where the king and queen have their offices. The Royal Palace is open to the public between late July and September each year.
THE ROYAL COUPLE King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema
THE PALACE The Tashichho Dzong in Bhutan's capital, Thimpu, is a classic Bhutanese building, a fortification that combines administrative and monastic functions. This is where the king comes to work – the dzong contains both the throne room and government offices – while the adjoining Lingkana Palace (not open to visitors) is where the king, the queen and their young son Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck live.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO From afar, the whitewashed dzong may seem simple, but step through the imposing gates and you will be blown away by the intricate carvings and colourful details. The tiered roofs are painted in golds, reds and blues, as are the delicately carved columns that support the wooden ceilings. The dzong is surrounded by rose gardens, and it is worth returning at night to admire the striking lighting. Be aware that visitors to the dzong are expected to dress modestly.
ONE MORE THING One of Thimpu's busiest shrines is the National Memorial Chorten, built to commemorate King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Whatever time of day you drop by, you will see worshippers turning the large prayer wheels and circumambulating the chorten.
THE ROYAL COUPLE Crown Prince Frederick and Crown Princess Mary
THE PALACE The palace of Amalienborg in Copenhagen consists of four identical buildings set around the palace square, which is accessible to the general public – no railings or barricades separate this royal family from their people. Frederick and Mary are known to have jazzed up the rococo interiors of the home they share with their four children – Christian, Isabella, Josephine and Vincent – by commissioning 10 contemporary Danish artists to decorate the building's walls and ceilings.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO The changing of the guard is a popular event, with soldiers marching from their barracks near Rosenborg Castle through the streets of Copenhagen and ending up at Amalienborg place at noon each day. When the queen is in residence, the guards are accompanied by a marching band, which then performs a small concert. The Amalienborg Museum, housed in the palace used by Frederick's brother Prince Joachim and his wife, Princess Benedikte, contains the private chambers of Denmark's former kings and queens. Also open to visitors – except when they are being used for official functions – are the royal reception rooms.
ONE MORE THING Frederiksborg Castle in Northern Zealand, where Fred and Mary spend their summers, is also open to visitors. The main attraction here is the Museum of National History.
THE ROYAL COUPLE King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is divorced, lives alone; there is some degree of mystery about which of Thailand's many royal palaces he calls home.
THE PALACE The Royal Palace of Bangkok may not be the king's home – although it is the official ceremonial residence, where the king greets important visitors – but this ornate complex is nonetheless a must-visit.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO Even from afar the Grand Palace is dazzling, with its typically Thai white and gold spires and its colourfully tiled tiered roofs. Once you get inside the walls, however, you realise that the architecture also incorporates Western influences: take a look at the Grand Palace Hall, which has Renaissance elements. One of the highlights is the most revered Buddha in Thailand, the exquisite Emerald Buddha, carved from a single block of emerald. The tiny Buddha wears a seasonal costume which is changed three times a year by the king himself.
ONE MORE THING The royal family's summer residence, Bhubing Palace, is in Chiang Mai near Doi Suthep temple. It is open to visitors when the royal family is not in residence (traditionally January and February), but it is the orchid-filled gardens that are the real draw here.
HEIR B&BS: PALACES YOU CAN STAY IN
VILLA D'ESTE, ITALY
This sumptuous retreat on Lake Como was once the home of George IV's estranged wife, Princess Caroline. Charles and Diana had nothing on this tortured twosome – George appointed his mistress to serve as his wife's Lady of the Bedchamber, and later had his wife placed on trial for adultery in an attempt to stop her from becoming queen. See villadeste.com
HAMPTON COURT PALACE, ENGLAND
The former home of Henry VIII is one of England's most famous palaces, but few people realise that you can spend the night there. Two separate lodgings – Fish Court (sleeps six) and The Georgian House (sleeps eight) – can be booked through The Landmark Trust. For those who love to get close to history, it doesn't get better than this. See hrp.org.uk
SCHONBRUNN PALACE, AUSTRIA
Royal residences don't get much grander than Schonbrunn Palace, a 1441-room baroque extravaganza which served as the home of some of Austria's greatest rulers, including Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Franz Josef. One of the suites in the palace's east wing can be booked by guests, who get to enjoy two bedrooms, a salon, a drawing room and astonishing views across the palace's famous Neptune Fountain. See schoenbrunn.at/en
CIRAGAN PALACE KEMPINSKI, TURKEY
Built 150 years ago by the Sultan Abdulazizm, the Cıragan Palace brings to life the glory days of the Ottoman Empire. The 300-room hotel blends modern touches – like the waterfront infinity pool – with lush 19th-century interiors to create imperial splendour. If money is no object, book into the Sultan Suite, which comes complete with its own marble hammam. See kempinski.com
RAMBAGH PALACE, INDIA
Set on 20 hectares outside Jaipur, this opulent hotel was once the home of the maharajas of Jaipur, so they know how to turn on a royal welcome (hint: showers of rose petals are involved). The palace itself is as opulent as you'd imagine, all high ceilings and lashings of mahogany, fountains and strutting peacocks. See tajhotels.com
MENA HOUSE HOTEL, EGYPT
This historic hotel, set amid 16 hectares of gardens in the shadow of the pyramids at Giza, first hosted a royal visitor 150 years ago, when Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III of France, came to Egypt to open the Suez Canal. The antique-filled interiors are impressive, but nothing can beat those up-close views of the pyramids. See menahousehotel.com
HARRY AND MEGHAN'S FAVOURITE HAUNTS
SOHO FARMHOUSE, THE COTSWOLDS
With bucolic villages made of honey-coloured stone set amid meadows and rivers, The Cotswolds is a classic romantic retreat. Meghan and Harry have allegedly been repeat visitors at the chic Soho Farmhouse retreat, where 40 reclaimed timber cabins flank four man-made lakes. See sohofarmhouse.com
COWORTH PARK POLO CLUB, ASCOT
Meghan's appearance cheering on her then-boyfriend during a charity polo match at Coworth Park Polo Club in May 2017 was seen as a sign that this romance was serious. Ascot is a favourite playground of the royal family, with the Queen and other members attending Royal Ascot every June. See dorchestercollection.com
Meghan and Harry's first official appearance was a walkabout in Nottingham, where they visited Nottingham Contemporary gallery. The city's other highlights include Nottingham Castle and one of England's oldest pubs, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. See visitbritain.com/au/en
Meghan's first royal Christmas took place at the Queen's country retreat, Sandringham. You don't have to have a royal invitation to stay here; when the royals aren't in residence, the cottages used by their staff are available to rent. See sandringhamestate.co.uk
Expect visitor numbers to this imposing 1000-year-old castle to go up once images from Meghan and Harry's wedding are beamed around the globe. Highlights include the State Apartments and the gothic St George's Chapel, where 10 monarchs including Henry VIII are buried. See royalcollection.org.uk