Even if your time in Stockholm is limited, try to see the architecturally harmonious royal palace of Drottningholm. Beautifully located on the shores of leafy Lovön, an island 11km west of the centre and less than an hour away, Drottningholm is perhaps the greatest achievement of the two architects Tessin, father and son. Work began in 1662 on the orders of King Karl X’s widow, Eleonora, with Tessin the Elder modelling the new palace in a thoroughly French style – giving rise to the stock comparisons with Versailles. Apart from anything else, it’s considerably smaller than its French contemporary, utilizing false perspective and trompe l’oeil to bolster the elegant, though rather narrow, interior. On Tessin the Elder’s death in 1681, the palace was completed by his son, then already at work on Stockholm’s Kungliga Slottet.
Inside, good English notes are available to help you sort out the riot of Rococo decoration in the rooms, which largely dates from the time when Drottningholm was bestowed as a wedding gift on Princess Louisa Ulrika (a sister of Frederick the Great of Prussia). No hints, however, are needed to spot the influences in the Baroque “French” and the later “English” gardens that back onto the palace.
Since 1981, the Swedish royal family has lived out at Drottningholm, instead of in the city centre, using it as a permanent home. This move has accelerated efforts to restore parts of the palace to their original appearance, and the monumental grand staircase is now once again exactly as envisaged by Tessin the Elder.
Also within the extensive palace grounds is the Kina slott (Chinese Pavilion), a sort of eighteenth-century royal summerhouse. Originally built by King Adolf Fredrik as a birthday gift to Queen Louisa Ulrika in 1753, the structure is Rococo in design and, though it includes some Chinese flourishes which were the height of fashion at the time of construction, it is predominantly European in appearance.
Within the palace grounds, the Slottsteater dates from 1766, but its heyday was a decade later, when Gustav III imported French plays and theatrical companies, making Drottningholm the centre of Swedish artistic life. Take the guided tour and you’ll get a florid but accurate account of the theatre’s decoration: money to complete the building ran out in the eighteenth century, meaning that things are not what they seem – painted papier-mâché frontages are krona-pinching substitutes for the real thing. The original backdrops and stage machinery are still in place though, and the tour comes complete with a display of eighteenth-century special effects including wind and thunder machines, trapdoors and simulated lighting.