Castles and Palaces

A visit to Soestdijk Palace

Visit Soestdijk Palace, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Nicely tucked away in the woods between the Dutch villages of Baarn and Soest, stands the somewhat forlorn Soestijk Palace. For centuries Dutch royals resided here, either in summer or full time. With the last residents long gone, the current owner (the Dutch state) ponders on a new destination for the once bustling estate. Until then, visitors can come and have a look at Soestdijk Palace and its soothing gardens.

‘You came to welcome us with a visit’, the tour guide enthusiastically smiles at me when I hand him my entrance ticket. I nod: ‘Actually, I live quite close but it never occurred to me to actually come and see the palace’.  The tour guide affirms that this is why most visitors decide to stop by. Grandparents and parents play games with their grandkids in the palace garden, have some tea in the Orangerie and take a peek in what used to be a beloved summer residence and family home to our still popular royals.

Visit Soestdijk Palace. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

From hunting lodge to summer palace

Soestdijk Palace started out rather small when the Governor of Amsterdam, Willem III (who later married Mary Stuart of England) had it built as his hunting lodge in 1650. While their husbands hunted in the adjacent woods, the wives would have tea in the gardens. When Holland was under French rule in the 18th century it became a garrison, but after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo the victorious Dutch king Willem II and his Russian bride Anna Palowna recovered it and made it a palace. Especially Anna Palowna was quite fond of Soestdijk and had the extensions added and the Palace refurbished.

Most royals were of the opinion that Soestijk was too far from everything: the government in The Hague, lively Amsterdam and life in general. But especially the female royals of Orange had a soft spot for the Palace. Regent princess Emma stayed here and guided her daughter Wilhelmina to become queen at the age of 18 and the last residents of the palace, Juliana and Bernhard, decided to make it their family home after getting married in 1937.

The last decades on Soestdijk Palace: no fairytale

I am way past the age of someone who believes that princes and princesses were meant to live happily ever after, the contrary being true quite frequently. And this was definitely the case for the last residents of the estate: Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard, the grandparents of our current King Willem-Alexander. No guide will tell you about the terrible marriage of the royal couple, but it’s not a secret for us Dutchies.

Visit Soestdijk Palace. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace, The Netherlands. Waterloo Hall | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace, The Netherlands. Guided tour | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace, The Netherlands. Regent Emma and Queen Wilhelmina | Your Dutch Guide

Basically, when Juliana was ready for marriage she wasn’t the prettiest and socially a little awkward. And Bernhard was of impoverished German nobility who simply married the clumsy Juliana for her money and title. He treated her poorly, and while The Netherlands embraced and loved the warm-hearted Juliana when she became queen, Bernhard felt trapped in the quite empty role as prince consort, had several affairs and fessed up to having multiple illegitimate children with several women (he had a letter published, the day after he passed away).

In a documentary that was recently broadcast was shown how the princess and her husband lived in separate wings of the palace, where she worked hard and he kept busy with several charities he became a patron of. The most heartbreaking part of the documentary is Juliana, in her 80s trying to convince the interviewer that things weren’t so bad: ‘I was really, quite happy here. Quite. Honestly.’

Visiting the palace and the gardens

And somehow, this sense of sadness and loneliness lingers in the halls and rooms of the now abandoned palace. The bronze statue of Berhard and Juliana on the front lawn, waving and smiling, makes me even sadder as it must have been so far from the truth. Because even though Bernhard was supposedly a great father to his children and his grandchildren were all crazy about him, he brought little happiness to his wife who was carrying the burden of being the Queen of post-war The Netherlands.

Visit Soestdijk Palace and gardens. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace and gardens. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace and gardens. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace and gardens. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace and gardens. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

After Juliana and Bernhard passed away, the Dutch government became the owner of the estate and with most of the belongings with the royal family, the palace rooms are now sparsely furnished. Though the stories behind the rooms are still pretty good. The hourly tours are led by enthusiastic volunteers. They are in Dutch, but I am quite sure that it’ll be rather easy to persuade them to explain things in English. Especially the Waterloo Hall and the Leuven Hall, decorated by Queen Anna Palowna in the 1800’s in memory of her husband King Willem II are beautiful.

But what attracted me most about Soestdijk Palace were its gardens. You can take a couple of long walks on the estate, passing ponds, fountains, pretty bridges, chalets, hundreds of rhododendron bushes, flower gardens and an old water tower. It was rather lovely to get lost in the woodland surrounding the Palace, and the gardens alone would be a good reason to visit. Though they’re not spectacular, they’re quite soothing.

Visit Soestdijk Palace, while you can

For years, the future of Soestijk Palace has been a point of discussion. What should happen with this large royal monument? Several events are hosted here throughout summer, like concerts and open air cinema, which (I have heard) are a real treat to attend. In a couple of years, the Palace will probably be transformed into a hotel and a venue for seminars and conventions. But until then, you can still visit the palace almost daily.

Visit Soestdijk Palace and gardens. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace and gardens. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace and gardens. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace and gardens. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

Visit Soestdijk Palace and gardens. Baarn, The Netherlands | Your Dutch Guide

How to get to Soestijk Palace

You can take a train to Baarn, where several buses leave that have a stop near Soestdijk. For example, bus 572 to Soest, bus 70 to Amersfoort, 573 to Soest and 272 to Utrecht. From the station, it will take you about 10 minutes to reach Soestdijk. You will need an OV Chip Card to travel on Dutch public transport. Use this website to plan your trip.

Soestijk palace is tucked in between Utrecht and Amersfoort and can be reached from both cities, but also from Amsterdam.

You may also like to read my city guide Amersfoort and city guide Utrecht.

Have you visited castles or palaces with sad stories, hidden behind the thick and shiny façade?

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24 Comments

  • Reply
    Katy
    September 28, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Oh I feel so sad for Princess Juliana! I hope she had some lovers too. Anyway, she had a lovely palace to live in so it wasn’t all bad. I don’t know too much about Dutch castles.

    • Reply
      Esther
      September 30, 2017 at 10:06 am

      Nah, she always loved him more then the other way around. How heartbreaking, right?

  • Reply
    Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles)
    September 28, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    I loved reading about the story of the sad royal couple, Esther. It sounds like it would make great material for a book. This palace and its gardens look fascinating and well worth a visit.

    • Reply
      Esther
      September 30, 2017 at 10:07 am

      Oh, many books have been written about this. That’s why it’s so interesting to visit the palace. Thank you for stopping by!

  • Reply
    Lolo
    September 29, 2017 at 8:26 am

    Very interesting to read! So sad about the unhappy marriage and how even at 80 Julianne was trying to put on a good face! Why can’t they just leave the palace as it is? Why do they need to change it into a hotel or something else?

    • Reply
      Esther
      September 29, 2017 at 8:47 am

      Ah, I hear what you say! But The Netherlands are small and ground/real estate is very expensive here. So to leave something unused (and ‘leaking’ money) is a waste. I don’t mind if the palace gets a new destination, as long as visitors can still visit the grounds.

  • Reply
    Jill
    September 29, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    What a unique place! It certainly looks like someplace I would like to visit. Love your garden photos!

    • Reply
      Esther
      September 30, 2017 at 10:07 am

      The garden is magnificent. Loved it! Thank you for stopping by.

  • Reply
    Wendy Maes
    September 30, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Helemaal niet zo ver van mijn woonplaats en toch ben ik er nog nooit geweest. We kennen heel de wereld, maar vergeten vaak dat er dicht bij huis ook prachtige dingen te ontdekken vallen.

  • Reply
    Paul and Carole
    September 30, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    Sad history but would be interesting to visit, great guide.

  • Reply
    Ruth
    October 1, 2017 at 4:22 am

    A beautiful place with a sad story behind! Not sure why but a lot of the stories I have heard in the palaces of Europe are a bit tragic. In Hofburg, I learned about how Empress Sisi struggled and then, I heard stories about the sufferings of King Ludwig II. It is a bit of a paradox to me.

    • Reply
      Esther
      October 1, 2017 at 10:42 am

      Ah indeed! In The Netherlands we grew up with the movies from Sissi (from the 50s) s we know áll about the sufferings of Kaiserin Elisabeth! Maybe the only good thing that came from 2 world wars is that Europe is no longer built on all these different types of monarchies and royal families. Way too exhausting (for both the nations, as the parties involved).

  • Reply
    Jan
    October 1, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    A sad story but I love the house in the garden and all the beautiful flower shots.

    • Reply
      Esther
      October 2, 2017 at 11:57 am

      Thank you Jan. Yes, the gardens are very pretty.

  • Reply
    Erin Gustafson
    October 3, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    Yes – someone needs to write a screenplay and use the palace for filming! What a tragic story, but what a beautiful place. I’m with you and would probably prefer meandering through the grounds and gardens.

    • Reply
      Esther
      October 6, 2017 at 9:42 am

      It would be a perfect place to shoot a film, indeed!! Thank you for stopping by, Erin!

  • Reply
    Marcella
    October 4, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    I love these gardens and your flowers shots! It’s always great when you get to visit a local place which is full of beauty and a story too.

  • Reply
    Bryna
    October 6, 2017 at 5:35 am

    The first thing I noticed when looking at your pictures of this palace is that it looks a lot simpler on the outside than a lot of other palaces around the world! The story of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard broke my heart a little bit. That’s so sad to hear.

    • Reply
      Esther
      October 6, 2017 at 9:44 am

      Yes, the place is a lot plainer than most of the castles and palaces around The Netherlands. I guess this and the fact that it was hidden in these gorgeous surroundings made it attractive for Juliana.

  • Reply
    Sarah
    October 9, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Wow that is such an interesting story (that I never would have heard without reading your post) and quite sad… I’m glad your country was behind Juliana (it’s a bit of a dick move to have that letter published on your death day??)

    • Reply
      Esther
      October 9, 2017 at 6:08 pm

      Oh, I have an opinion on him having that letter published the day after he died… it must’ve been especially heartbreaking for his children, though probably done with them in mind as he must’ve been afraid his illegitimate kids would come out of the woodworks after he died to get their share (which actually never happened, though we now all know who they are). It’s deeply saddening.

  • Reply
    Vanessa Brune
    October 10, 2017 at 8:37 am

    An abandoned castle and juicy stories about the royals? I’m in! Not sure I’d understand that much Dutch on the tour but I’d love to visit anyway – it seems like a very eerie and fascinating place!

    • Reply
      Esther
      October 10, 2017 at 9:45 am

      I know right! If the tour group isn’t too large you can always ask the guide to explain some things in English, this is no problem for most Dutch tour guides (though the ones in the palace are volunteers, go easy on them!)

  • Reply
    Charlène
    November 3, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    I love this kind of places !

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