Located northeast of Budapest, the Baroque treasure that is Gödöllö Palace originally belonged to the aristocratic Grassalkovich family, but by the 1890s it had been taken over by the Habsburg dynasty – who ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1526 to 1918 – as their favored summer retreat. Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife, Hungary’s much-loved Elisabeth of Bavaria, gave Gödöllö the mother of all makeovers and the palace soon became one of the most luxurious Baroque castles in the world.
Elisabeth was usually known as Sisi, a famed beauty who set about upgrading the interior of the palace to her taste; tragically she was assassinated in 1898 in Geneva and Gödöllö slowly sunk into disrepair. Following Soviet occupation of Hungary in the aftermath of World War II, the palace was requisitioned as a barracks and was slowly destroyed. It was not until well after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 that the palace was returned to its Habsburg heyday.
By 1996, Gödöllö’s ornate exterior was once more a striking white and pink, accessorized with arched windows and wrought-iron balconies. Its central wing is topped by a red-brick bell tower and the vast palace is again surrounded by formal gardens and Baroque stable blocks fashioned on the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Inside all is adorned with frescoes, gold and chandeliers; apartments are crammed with priceless antiques, statuary, weaponry and portraits of the Habsburg emperors; seasonal exhibitions focus on the centuries of their rule in central Europe.
Gödöllö is 30 km (18.5 miles) northeast of Budapest, easily accessible by road, HÉV train or bus. Open Apr–Oct daily 10am–6pm; Nov–Dec Mon–Fri 10am–4pm, Sat–Sun 10am–5pm; Tickets for the permanent displays in the palace: adults HUF2,200, students HUF1,100, family tickets HUF4,600.