Although Hungary is now a democratic republic, that hasn’t always been the case. The Austrian Hapsburg Monarchy controlled parts of Hungary from the 16th century until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I. During the 18th century, Count Antal Grassalkovich, an influential Hungarian nobleman and confidant of Empress Maria Theresa, built one of the largest baroque manors in the country. Antal situated his grand home in Gödöllő, Hungary, a small town about 30 kilometers from Budapest. This makes Gödöllő Palace an excellent choice for a day trip.
In the mid-19th century, the palace was purchased for the crown. Emperor Franz Joseph used the residence as a summer retreat and it soon became a favorite spot of his wife, Austrian Empress and beloved Hungarian Queen, Elisabeth. Much like Marie Antoinette and her secluded hamlet at the Palace of Versailles, Empress Sissi enjoyed the peace and quiet of Gödöllő Palace, far away from the royal court in Vienna.
The expansive park behind the palace is edged with gardens that were in full summer bloom during my visit. A gentle breeze stirred the air and the only sounds were birdsong and the occasional buzzing bee. It’s easy to see why the Empress preferred it to the intrigues of the capital.
Fun fact: Empress Elisabeth was remarkably pretty and took great care of her appearance. Unhappy with the early signs of aging, she refused to be photographed after turning 30. Court painters therefore had no current reference point, and so she never appears to age in portraits. Even when painted with her grown children, she looks younger than they do!
Between the two World Wars, the palace served as the residence of Hungary’s new governor. Following WWII, Communists took over Hungary and confiscated the former imperial palace. It was used as a barracks for Soviet troops and later as a nursing home for the elderly. By the time Hungary declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1989, Gödöllő Palace was in a terrible state of disrepair.
Restoration began almost immediately and continues to this day. Over two dozen rooms are now open to the public including the royal suites and ceremonial hall. The splendor of the past has been recreated in stunning detail. Rooms are decked in richly hued fabrics with antique furnishings to match. Gilded chandeliers hang from stuccoed ceilings and porcelain stoves stand in nearly every corner. The reconstruction was so complete I could almost hear the rustling of Queen Elisabeth’s skirts as she sashayed down the hallway! A no photo rule was strictly enforced, but I was able to source a few shots of the interior on Wikimedia Commons.
Besides the palace’s onsite cafe, which serves oppressively sweet cakes and strong coffee, you can enjoy cold beer and a hot slice at Pizza Palazzo, which is connected to the train station.
Getting there: Take the green-and-white HÉV train from Budapest (50 minutes). The palace is across the main highway in front of the station; cross at the intersection to the left. Visit the Gödöllő Palace website for entry times and ticket prices.
Are you ready to take a day trip from Budapest to Gödöllő Palace?
What are your thoughts on royalty? Tell me in the comments!