Palaces open to tourists: 10 of the world's great palaces you need to visit

Some of the world's greatest palaces aren't just single buildings but entire complexes, encompassing marvellously varied styles and reflecting the power of their former (or present) owners.

1 FORBIDDEN CITY, BEIJING, CHINA

The mortar of this colossal complex, enclosed in defensive walls four kilometres round, is made of egg-whites and glutinous rice: clearly a recipe for success. The Forbidden City was the political and imperial heart of China for five centuries and is crammed with dozens of vermilion-tiled buildings. Off the main tourist axis lie quiet, pink-walled courtyards and pavilions where turquoise dragons writhe and dwarf pines droop. See dpm.org.cn

2 WINDSOR CASTLE, WINDSOR, BRITAIN

Home to the English and British monarchy since the 11th century, Windsor Castle is still steeped in royal prerogative: the changing of the guards brings traffic to a standstill. State apartments provide a clutter of tapestries, armour and porcelain, but the highlight is St George's Chapel, rich in fluttering banners and royal tombs. Surrounding Great Park has lovely walks and castle vistas. See royalcollection.org.uk

3 VERSAILLES, PARIS, FRANCE

This 17th century palace provides a display of pomp, power and monstrous ego that reaches its blazing apogee in the Hall of Mirrors. Room after room of gilt and spindly-legged antiques won't really appeal to modern tastes, but artworks are magnificent, and the royal chapel and opera gorgeous. Landscaped gardens feature kilometres of clipped hedges; fountains provide a spectacular show when in full flow. See chateauversailles.fr

4 WINTER PALACE, ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

The owners of this home were ousted just like the French kings, though some say the ghost of Tsar Alexander III still walks its bejewelled corridors. The rococo palace was the seat of the Russian imperial family from 1762 until 1917 and has a dazzlingly ornate interior. Two adjacent palaces are occupied by the State Hermitage Museum, one of the world's greatest art collections. See hermitagemuseum.org

5 TOPKAPI, ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Added to over centuries and more a small town than a palace, the seat of the Ottoman sultans gives you a good workout as you wander pavilions, harem quarters and the world's largest kitchens, where servants once toiled to feed Topkapi's 5000 residents. When you reach exhaustion point, sit on terraces overlooking the Bosphorus and count minarets on the Istanbul skyline. See topkapisarayi.gov.tr

6 HOFBURG, VIENNA, AUSTRIA

The Hofburg was cobbled together over 700 years and houses every imperial excess, from glittering jewels to ornate clavichords and silverware galore. Perhaps it's just as well that only some 30 of 1200 rooms are open to the public. Ogle the jewels in the imperial treasury, investigate the national library and a half-dozen museums, and see white horses waltz at the Spanish Riding School. See hofburg-wien.at

See: Why Vienna is the world's most liveable city

7 ALHAMBRA, GRANADA, SPAIN

The Alhambra evokes the romance of Spain's great Islamic era in its latticework, tranquil pools and fountain-splashed courtyards, against which later baroque buildings seem ungainly. This is a display of some of the world's best Islamic architecture, like poetry in three dimensions. Towards day's end, as tourist crowds dwindle, its lavender-scented gardens are the place to linger and admire views over the town. See alhambra.org

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8 GRAND PALACE, BANGKOK, THAILAND

Guardian warriors protect this royal complex, alongside mythological figures and elephants: rubbing an elephant's head brings good luck. The colourful palace is inlaid with semi-precious stones and porcelain and topped by pointed orange roofs, while the kaleidoscopic Emerald Buddha temple – Thailand's most revered temple – is encrusted with glittering glass and porcelain. Occasional European-style buildings in white marble provide startling architectural contrast. See palaces.thai.net

See: The quick guide to Bangkok

9 UMAID BHAWAN, JODHPUR, INDIA

In the 1930s, the Maharajahs of Marwar ordered the building of this outsized palace, one of the world's largest private residences, in a peculiar mix of Art Deco, British colonial and Moghul styles. The present maharaja lives in one vast wing, the other is now a museum and luxury hotel (which was, in fact, named the best hotel in the world by TripAdvisor in 2016). Enjoy views over Jodhpur from garden terraces as you partake of afternoon tea. See tajhotels.com

See: The best hotel in the world for 2016 named by TripAdvisor

10 PRAGUE CASTLE, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

This vast sprawl of buildings, museums and courtyards looms above the old town and is magical when spot-lit at night. Admire the medieval coronation hall, the gingerbread servants' cottages of Golden Lane and the world's largest toy museum. The interior of St Vitus Cathedral at the heart of the castle features glowing stained glass, baroque madness and royal tombs. See hrad.cz

See also: The top 17 countries to visit in 2017 named

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