Rundale Palace (Rundāle Palace or Rundāles Pils ), located near Latvia’s border with Lithuania, is the perfect excuse for a day out. It’s also one of the top things to do in Latvia, so you shouldn’t miss it!
Built by the architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who also built the impressive Winter Palance and memorable Catherine Palace—both in Russia—offered his sense of Baroque luxury on a smaller scale to Rundāle Palace. It’s a real treat for visitors to the Baltics.
Discover why you should visit Rundale Palace, Latvia, and what you can expect from your tour of this attraction and its grounds.
Brief History of Rundale Palace
Rundale Palace was built over several decades in the middle of the eighteenth century. Rastrelli had difficulty in building the palace, which was located in an area with a lack of resources or proper transportation routes.
Still a young man, Rastrelli used his problem-solving skills to overcome these obstacles by using the remains of the medieval castle that had been demolished, contracting with nearby landowners to source wood, and bringing in artisans and workers from Russia.
Dukes of Courland
Two dukes of Courland, a region now in Latvia, occupied the palace after its completion. Ownership of the palace fell into the hands of the Russian Empire in 1795. Catherine the Great, always one for presenting lavish gifts to her followers, turned the palace over to one of her current lover’s brothers.
Changing Ownership, Changing Uses
The palace suffered badly during the War of 1812, but it was repaired and passed into the Shuvalov family, who owned it until 1920. The palace was already undergoing changes—it had been used as a German hospital in WWI and was damaged further in 1919 during the Latvian War of Independence.
While the state took over ownership and turned the palace into a museum as early as the 1930s and it escaped unscathed during WWII, the palace was then used as a storehouse and a school and its maintenance neglected.
Establishment of the Museum
A new era for Rundale Palace dawned when it was officially turned into the Rundale Palace Museum in 1964. Rain had badly damaged the interiors and furnishing of the palace and extensive repair work was needed.
Restoration work took years: ruined ceiling frescos had to be repainted and silk tapestries rewoven. Soviet-era craftspeople strove to return the palace to its former glory by recreating the interiors to appear as they once did.
Reasons to See the Palace
If you love palaces, historic sights, or Baroque architecture and interiors, the manageable 45 rooms open to the public will delight. It was also one of the locations for the filming of the 2016 release of War and Peace.
Crane your neck to view lovingly refurbished ceiling frescos, marvel at the silk “wallpaper” in rich tones of reds, blues, and greens, and get an intimate peek into the chambers of dukes and duchesses, complete with hidden doorways and even a strikingly appointed bathroom.
The front entrance of the palace is a grand one. Pass through the gates to imagine how those arriving by carriage would feel, the inner courtyard spacious and flanked by the building’s wings painted in white and creamy yellow.
You will buy your ticket on the ground floor and then be able to choose from a “long” route or a “short” route through the palace. However, the long route isn’t long at all, and it’s worthwhile to see as much of it as possible. If you want to take photos, buy a camera pass.
The Gorgeous Gold Hall
The Gold Hall is perhaps one of the most stunning rooms of the palace. The many gilt ornaments, faux marble motifs, and ceiling painting depicting women as virtues and putti tumbling among clouds are well suited to its grand scale.
The Impressive White Hall
The White Hall, at first, may literally pale in comparison. But as the ballroom, its all-white scheme served to highlight dancers’ costumes rather than compete with them. Many beautiful scenes can be noticed on inspection of the relief work, such as a stork—an important local symbol—attending to a nest of chicks.
Adjoining the White Hall is a room of powder blue with mirrors—you can imagine ladies checking their reflections as they take a break from dancing in this small space.
The Duke’s Chambers
The duke’s chambers give an idea about how the wealthy inhabitants of the palace lived. For example, the library, with its windows, bookshelves, globes, and desk, is both rich and airy.
The duke’s bedroom is a center of luxury: two large tiled stoves flank a curtained bed, which has been placed into purpose-built nook in the wall. The duke could conveniently access his bathroom or his dressing room from the doors to either side of the bed.
The Duchess’s Chambers
The duchess’s chambers are slightly more intimate: their smaller size, along with the deep-colored, shimmering silk wallcoverings bring to mind quiet candlelit evenings or conversations over tea.
The duchess’s boudoir is an elegant reflection of the duke’s bedroom with its architecture organized around an essential piece of furniture—a silk-covered divan. While the duchess’s bedroom may be slightly less impressive, her bathroom dazzles so much visitors have to sometimes wait their turn to take a photo through the small doorway to the side of the bed.
The Palace Gardens
Rundāle Palace Gardens are their own joy to take in, particularly when in bloom. Tulips, daffodils, and roses are only some of the flowers planted in this beautifully designed park, complete with walking paths, pergolas, and a fountain. Rundāle Palace hosts a Garden Festival every June and is part of a historic garden tour route.
Tips for Visiting Rundale Palace
A few hours’ drive by car, Rundāle Palace is also accessible from Vilnius.
Visiting hours change slightly according to season, with shorter hours in the cold months. If you can, I recommend visiting during the summer when the flowers are in bloom and the long hours of daylight mean that you don’t have to rush through your tour or miss seeing the gardens.
The palace has its own restaurant, and another eatery, which exists mainly to serve tourists, can be found along the route to the entry of the palace from the parking lot.
In the vicinity is one of Latvia’s Castles, Bauska. It’s easy to combine the two sights in a single visit.
Many tours of Latvia or the Baltics include Rundale Palace, so if you’ve planned either a group or private tour, take a look at the itinerary to see if it includes this attraction.
Lancmanas, Imants. Rundāle Palace. Rundāle Palace Museum. 2016.