We love reality shows and reruns of our favorite comfort shows as much as the next person, but sometimes we could use something a little different. Thankfully, Netflix has some of the best period dramas that shed light on the past while serving up sensational storylines and powerhouse performances.
From elaborate costumes and hairpieces to delectable narratives, there is much to love about period pieces. While we may not have time machines, shows like Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit allow us to visit the far-off worlds of Regency-era London or high-stakes midcentury chess tournaments without even leaving the couch.
If you crave sweeping romances, tongue-wagging gossip and high production values, you’re sure to find your next binge-watch on our list of the 10 best period dramas on Netflix — and we ranked our favorites, let us know if you agree!
10. Medici: The Magnificent (2016)
This political historical drama takes viewers to Florence, Italy in the early 15th century. When Giovanni Medici, the patriarch of an extremely wealthy banking dynasty, is murdered, his soon Cosimo must protect the wealth and power of the family while he and his brother work to find their father’s killer. The series premiered in Italy and many scenes were shot in Florence, which makes it particularly transporting. Watch Medici: The Magnificent now.
9. Versailles (2015 — 2018)
This historical drama is set during the construction of the Palace of Versailles and takes the viewers back to the late 17th century, when the transfer of the French royal court to Versailles by King Louis XIV took place, and the people of France began to look at the monarchy unkindly.
You’ll be mesmerized by the elaborate fashions and interiors of the era, along with the backstabbing amongst the nobility and royal family. As Louis expensively renovates and expands his new palace, the nobles are made to leave their usual surroundings to accompany the king. Soon enough, they become involved with their own dangerous intrigues, making for some unmissable TV. Watch Versailles now.
8. The Empress (2022 — Present)
The Empress follows the story of Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria-Hungary, and his betrothal to the sister of the Princess of Bavaria. With a storyline that emphasizes female characters and their quest for love and power, this German historical drama was a major hit upon its release. Watch The Empress now.
7. Mr. Sunshine (2018)
Set in 19th-century Hanseong, the capital of Korea now known as Seoul, this captivating historical drama gives us a glimpse into a world that’s often overlooked. The story focuses on a young boy born into slavery who escapes to the United States during the 1871 US expedition to Korea. He returns to his home of Korea as a US Marine Corps officer and falls in love with an aristocrat’s granddaughter. Watch Mr. Sunshine now.
6. The Queen’s Gambit (2020)
A 9-year-old female chess prodigy can anticipate her opponents’ moves before they even do in The Queen’s Gambit. Beth Harmon is quiet and can come off as surly and morose — until she plays chess for the first time, and discovers her incredible talents. Moving the pieces on the chess board gives Beth a clearer mind than she ever had before. Watch The Queen’s Gambit now.
5. Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (2023)
This Bridgerton spin-off is a miniseries that serves as a prequel to the show. The series shows us both the life of a young Queen Charlotte and the grown-up Queen Charlotte we know from the original series. The dual plotlines cover her early meeting and romance with King George, as well as her later drama dealing with the death of Princess Charlotte, her heir. Watch Queen Charlotte now.
4. The Crown (2016 — Present)
Set during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign from 1952 to the modern day, The Crown takes you behind the scenes of the British Royal family. The Royal family has been covered in many different movies and shows in the past, but The Crown is unique in how accessibly it presents all the highs and lows of the monarchy.
The series has a broad historical scope, which makes for addictive, wide-ranging storytelling — the most recent season covered Princess Diana, and the next season (the show’s last) will go into the 21st century.
By the time Beth is 16, she’s competing for the US Open Championship while simultaneously struggling with inner demons. Based on the book by Walter Tevis, this addictive miniseries features cool ’60s style and makes chess seem just as thrilling and tense as any sports competition. As a bonus, the show won praise from professional chess players for how accurately it depicted the classic game. Watch The Crown now.
3. Call the Midwife (2012 — Present)
Call the Midwife gives the best period dramas on Netflix list a 180-degree turn away from royal families and the wealthy British, by focusing on the everyday heroes of East London in the late 1950s through the 1960s. This was a challenging time for women, and the show tells the tales of nurses, midwives and nuns who helped deliver babies while dealing with poverty, racism and disease in the post-war era.
The story follows Jenny, a young woman who leaves her comfortable home in 1957 to become a midwife living in a convent. The midwives go through tragedies and victories in equal measure, and the outstanding cast features British screen icons like Vanessa Redgrave and Jenny Agutter. Watch Call the Midwife now.
2. Outlander (2014 — Present)
Already onto its seventh season, this historical drama takes place in simultaneous timelines from 1743 to 1770 and 1945 to the 1960s. That’s a whole lot of history to cover, but Outlander knows how to keep us hooked, as Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), a former World War II military nurse in Scotland, finds enchanted stones and travels back in time to the 18th century. Her adventure is filled with romance and intrigue, and it’s worth watching all the seasons to catch up. Watch Outlander now.
1. Bridgerton (2020 — Present)
Topping our list of best period dramas on Netflix: Bridgerton offers a fascinating (albeit not entirely historically accurate) look at the Regency era. Set in early 19th-century London, the series is based on Julia Quinn’s historical romance novels of the same name. The story focuses on eight siblings of the powerful Bridgerton family as they search for love.
Season one introduces us to Daphne, played by Phoebe Dynevor, who makes a deal with Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) for a false engagement during courting season. Lo and behold, they manage to truly fall in love. In season two, Daphne’s brother, Anthony, finds his true love, and other family members find their own passions, all while surrounded by friends and rivals. Watch Bridgerton now.
Powerful period dramas
No matter what your taste, there’s a great Netflix period drama for you to dive into. The way all the shows above combine history lessons with visual and narrative intrigue makes them the perfect sources of small-screen escapism.
Read more about our Netflix favorites here!