The young queen of Sweden, Hedvig Eleonora – whose beauty had enticed the king to marry her – needed a jaw-dropping palace. Her husband, the king, had recently died, and she would rule as regent of the country until their young son was old enough to become the next king. Sweden was one of the most powerful states in Europe, and the palace she would commission had to dazzle visiting royalty and dignitaries with its grandeur.
And so, in 1662, Drottningholm Palace was built in grand Baroque style.
As it turned out, Eleonora – like the Chinese Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang – ended up reigning for much of her life.
Even when her son assumed power, he still deferred to her and called her “the Queen.” Later, when her grandson left to fight the Great Northern War between Russia and the Swedish empire, she assumed control of Sweden once again.
Drottningholm Palace – Hedwig Eleonora’s bedchamber
One highlight of the palace is Hedvig Eleonora’s peacock-blue bedchamber. You’ll gaze in amazement at the lavish décor – the gilded furniture, silk wallpaper and porcelain vases. Eleonora never actually slept in this state bedchamber though. She used it for official purposes, to greet visitors. No doubt she succeeded in impressing many prominent guests here during her long reign!
Louisa Ulrika’s artistic influence
After Eleonora’s passing, the palace remained the residence for the royal ladies. Then in 1744, it was given as a wedding present to Princess Louisa Ulrika of Prussia when she married the Swedish crown prince. A lover of the arts, Louisa thrust Drottningholm into its golden age, redecorating the interiors in the latest French Rococo style on display at the Palace of Versailles.
Louisa also added a splendid library.
Dripping with crystal chandeliers, the gilt-adorned library simply oozes luxury. A friend of Voltaire, Louisa loved to read – she founded Sweden’s Academy of Letters (which promotes the study of humanities and social sciences). What must it have been like to pick up one of her precious history or botany books, and read in that room?
On her 33rd birthday, Louisa received a surprise gift from her husband – a “Chinese pleasure palace.”
In a letter to her mother, she wrote of her delight: “He led me to one side of the garden and suddenly to my surprise, I found myself gazing upon a real fairytale creation, for the King had built a Chinese palace, the loveliest imaginable.”
Chinoiserie was in fashion at the time, and this pretty pink palace displays the exquisite Chinese porcelain statues, lacquered panels, china and vases that so fascinated Louisa and her friends.
Indeed, as you wander through the red, green and yellow rooms, you can easily imagine them reading or laughing, gossiping and having fun as they played cards here.
The “confidence” dining room, in a separate building beside the Chinese palace, is also intriguing. Its dining table could be lowered underground, so servants could set the meal on it then raise it back up into the dining room. This way, the royals could eat in private without servants overhearing their conversations.
The room is the sparest in the palace. Nature reigns supreme here – Louisa must have found pleasure enough in the leafy views through the glass windows encircling the one-room building and in the secrets shared here.
Day trip to the “Queen’s Island”
Drottningholm is Swedish for “Queen’s Island.” It’s a tribute to the vision and creativity of Eleonora and Louisa – both beautiful, strong-willed, intelligent women – that the golden-hued yellow palace today is one of the finest and best-preserved palaces in Northern Europe, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s also still full of life; the current Swedish king and queen make their home here. A large part is open to the public, however. And one of the best day trips you can enjoy in Stockholm is to take a century-old steamer across Lake Malaren to visit the “Queen’s Island.”
How to visit Drottningholm Palace
- Pre-cruise visit: We toured Drottningholm Palace while visiting Stockholm before a 14-night Baltic cruise with Viking Ocean Cruises (their “Viking Homelands” itineraries start or end in Stockholm). Our ship, the deluxe Viking Star – heralded by CNN as the “World’s Best New Cruise Ship” – turned out to be striking in its own right (read our review). All-veranda staterooms, a thermal spa (with an ice grotto, no less!) and complimentary excursions and wines are just some reasons why the Viking Star has made such a splash. This year in 2017, you can cruise on two new sister ships too.
- Drottningholm Palace tickets: Return tickets for the one-hour boat ride to the palace can be obtained from Stockholm’s City Hall Quay. Boat tickets and entry into the palace are included when you buy the Stockholm Pass, which gives you free entry to over 60 attractions and tours.
- Guided tours of the palace: Allow three to four hours to explore Drottningholm Palace and gardens. Sign up at the palace for a 45-minute guided tour, offered at 10:00 am, 12 noon, 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm from June to September (limited tours the rest of the year).
- Palace website: The website has detailed information on Drottningholm Palace.
Our magazine article on the Drottningholm Palace
A version of this story was recently published in Taste of Life magazine as “Stockholm’s Drottningholm Palace: The regal vision of two Swedish queens.” Click on the image below or see here for the PDF of this travel article.