Gödöllő Royal Palace, the largest baroque manor house in Hungary, was designed by Antal Mayerhoffer for Count Antal Grassalkovich (1694–1771), confidante of Empress Maria Theresa, and completed in the 1760s. It was enlarged as a summer retreat for and gifted to Emperor Franz Joseph in the 1870s and soon became the favoured residence of his consort, the much-loved Habsburg empress and Hungarian queen Elizabeth (1837–98), affectionately known as Sissi (or Sisi). It opened to the public in 1996.
Between the two world wars the regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, also used it as a summer residence, but after the communists came to power part of the mansion was used as a barracks for Soviet and Hungarian troops and as an old people’s home. The rest was left to decay.
Partial renovation of the palace began in the mid-1980s and it reopened a decade later. Today 32 rooms can be visited on the ground and 1st floors. They have been restored to the period when the imperial couple was in residence, and Franz Joseph’s suites (done up in manly deep red) and Sissi’s lavender-coloured private apartments on the 1st floor are impressive. Check out the Ornamental Hall, all gold tracery, stucco and chandeliers, where chamber-music concerts are held throughout the year. Also see the Queen’s Reception Room, with a Secessionist-style oil painting of Sissi patriotically repairing the coronation robe of King Stephen with needle and thread; the Queen Elizabeth Memorial Exhibit, which looks at the queen's assassination by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni, who stabbed her to death with a needle file; and the Grassalkovich Era Exhibition, which offers a glance at the palace during its first century. The Chapel and its Oratory are also impressive.
You can also visit the splendid Baroque Theatre as well as the WWII-vintage Horthy's Bunker with a guide. Be aware that the permanent exhibition is by guided tour (three to five departures a day) during the week in winter. Audioguides cost 800Ft.
To get here from Budapest take an hourly 45-minute bus from Stadion bus station, or one of the frequent 45-minute HÉV trains from Örs vezér tere to Gödöllő's Szabadság tér station.