The young queen of Sweden, Hedvig Eleonora — whose beauty had enticed the king to marry her — decided she 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, she assumed control of Sweden once again.
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.
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.
She 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 smaller, 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 there.
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 — Louisa must have found pleasure enough in the leafy views through the glass windows encircling the one-room building, and in the secrets shared there.
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. The golden-hued 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 daytrips you can enjoy in Stockholm is to take a century-old steamer across Lake Mälaren to visit “Queen’s Island.”
How to visit the Drottningholm Palace
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. 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. Come 2017, you can cruise on three new sister ships, too. vikingcruisescanada.com/oceans
Return boat tickets for the one-hour steamer ride to the palace can be obtained from Stockholm’s City Hall Quay. They’re included when you buy the Stockholm Pass, which gives you free entry to over 60 attractions and tours. stockholmpass.com
Allow three to four hours to explore Drottningholm Palace and gardens. Sign up at the palace for a guided tour.
Text by Janice and George Mucalov Translated by Rui Chen