Gyeongbokgung: Why You Should Stop Watching Netflix and Come Visit This (and the Other Four Joseon Palaces)

Whenever I come to a new place, I make sure to take in some of its cultural heritage. Seoul exploded into the 21st century in Gangnam the last 50 years. Even so, I value taking a step back and seeing the roots of a country. Plus, visiting Gyeongbokgung and the other palaces gives you a cool experience.

For some backstory, the Joseon dynasty was Korea’s longest running kingdom, lasting 505 years. It ushered into the country Neo-Confucianism whereas before Buddhism had held sway. During this period, architectural design emphasized simplicity and practicality. Palaces were made using timber, and exquisite designs in teal, gold, and red were painted on top. The palace grounds are beautiful, and thankfully, they have been preserved or rebuilt by the Korean government to ensure a lasting legacy.

We’ve now had the chance to visit all five, and we liked each for different reasons. We plan to revisit them during the winter and spring to see them during each season, because if you didn’t know, Korea has four distinct seasons and each one bestows a separate beauty! Take a rain check on watching Netflix and go visit these must-see attractions. Let’s begin!

Gyeonghuigung

A photo of Gyeonghuigung in late fall, empty
Its design simple, its overall area small, Gyeonghuigung was a wonderful palace to walk around. We only saw two or three people while there, a clear departure from the busyness of other palaces. The quiet cold was refreshing.

Tell Me About the Palace

Gyeonghuigung is the northwestern and smallest palace in historical Seoul. Just a few decades ago, it was the location of a school. Since then, the palace has been resurrected to preserve the cultural legacy of the area. Though it’s only a fraction of the size it used to be, Gyeonghuigung uses the slanted topography to its advantage to create an aesthetic experience where architecture integrates with nature. The king used this palace as a secondary or as a place of emergency, though later on, ten kings stayed here. Check it out if you want to have a quiet stroll.

Getting to Gyeonghuigung

To get to Gyeonghuigung, leave from exit 4 of Seodaemun Station and walk 400 or so meters. You’ll turn left, head through a gate, and it will be before you with a few nice walking paths around it.

Pricing and Activity Recommendations

Nearby is the Seoul History Museum from which you can see beautiful models of the entire city and learn about the economic progression of Seoul. As the palace is small, I recommend heading to the museum afterward. Plus, both the palace and the museum are free.

Changgyeonggung

Tell Me About the Palace

Changgyeonggung was perhaps the most naturally beautiful palace of the five. With a large campus filled with trees that turn vermilion in the fall and a large lake in its center, Changgyeonggung has plenty to see for a nature-hungry Seoulite. When Danny and I came, we had to chuckle as we watched person after person posing ever-so-seriously (as is the custom) between colorful trees, each person moving the red or orange branches just-so in front of their faces to create a dramatic effect.

A botanical garden resides on the grounds, designed in the style of the Crystal Palace in London, but we didn’t see the inside due to renovations. Many pavilions, a pagoda, a sundial, and other features grace the grounds of this palace, along with the oldest main hall of any palace in Seoul. During the Japanese occupation, the grounds of this palace were turned into a large zoo! While this palace was built for the King’s queen and concubines, you can look around here for a small and modest fee.

Getting to Changgyeonggung

To get to Changgyeonggung, leave from exit 3 of Anguk Station. You’ll have to do a bit of walking, first going straight east for a kilometer before turning left and walking another 300 meters before you find the entrance on the left.

Pricing and Activity Recommendations

It and the other palaces cost about 1000 won to enter, but you can get a ticket to cover all four fee-entry palaces, the Secret Garden, and Jongmyo Shrine for just 10,000 won. If you have time, check out both Changgyeong and Changdeok together with Huwon (the Secret Garden) as they are connected to each other. A visit during the fall or spring is especially rewarding. If you still have more time or have already done the above, spend some time at Jongmyo Shrine. But if you want a taste of Korea, O’ngo Korean Culinary School is just .8 km away, ready to guide you through traditional Korean fare.

Changdeokgung

Tell Me About the Palace

Changdeokgung is considered the most historically significant location in Korea. This palace is the most well-preserved of the five. It served as the residences of several kings and was built following Gyeongbokgung, the principal palace. This palace’s architecture is impressive, and it’s the only palace to have beautiful blue tiling on some of the structures therein. Plus, check out the incredible detailing of the ceilings in the king’s work room — this is what I think of when I consider Korean palaces, and it’s this that makes them stand out especially from others.

Getting to Changdeokgung

To get to Changdeokgung, leave from exit 6 of Jongno 3 (sam)-ga Station and walk for about 10 minutes to arrive at the entrance. Changgyeonggung connects to Changdeokgung through a side entrance.

Pricing and Activity Recommendations

This palace’s entrance fee is 3,000 won for an adult and 5,000 won for the Secret Garden. As such, it’s best to get the combination ticket for all palaces. Strongly consider going to Bukchon Hanok Village, a 5-10 minute walk to the west between it and Gyeongbokgung. You can spend quite a bit of time wandering up and down the streets of hilly Bukchon. This area is full of traditional houses that shouldn’t be missed.

Deoksugung

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Seeing the Eastern and Western styles side by side seems strange. The Eastern-style palace was originally built between the 15/1600s and the Western-style building was built around 1905.
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This is Seokjojeon. After its construction, it was turned into an art gallery by the Japanese. Its style is reminiscent of the White House in America. Many areas of Seoul were modernized around Western standards around 1900 as a means of “catching up” to the great powers of the world after Korea’s isolation.

Tell Me About the Palace

Deoksugung is the only palace to have constructed Western-style buildings starting in the late 1800s after the world introduced itself to Korea. Above, I included a photo showcasing the jaw-dropping gorgeous side-to-side architecture of the East and West. Deoksugung also houses a few different National Treasures that are neat to see.

Inside Junghwa Hall, make sure to see the twin dragons that mount the ceiling. This palace was the center for political activity in the short-lived Korean Empire (which fell when Japan invaded and annexed the country around 1910). As a result, these elaborate designs were a feature intended to tell the world that the King could bring Korea onto the international stage. Today, there are still tunnels connecting the Russian Embassy to this palace. Out of the five, this might be my favorite palace due how it stands in contrast. We first visited Deoksugung during Chuseok, an important holiday in Korea. Unsurprisingly, it was incredibly busy and filled with people flitting from place to place with their families, engaging in traditional activities.

Getting to Deoksugung

To get to Deoksugung, take exit 2 of City Hall Station and you’ll be standing right next to the ticket booth.

Activity Recommendations

If you have time, meander through Seoul Plaza and catching a glimpse of both Old and New City Hall, emblematic of the changes taking place across all Korea. Additionally, you might want to check out the Seoul Museum of Art. If that goes well, consider booking a free walking tour around Seoul. You’ll love learning a little more about the culture.

Gyeongbokgung

Tell Me About the Palace

Gyeongbokgung was the first palace I visited. If you arrive at specific times, such as 12:30 or 2, you can witness the must-see changing of the guard ceremony. The palace’s large layout features a beautiful view of Bukhansan behind it. Its gingko trees make the palace glow gold in the fall. Gyeongbokgung becomes heaven on earth that time of year, especially along the large lake and natural areas towards its rear.

This palace was the central residence of the king, the largest of the five, and a beautiful testament to the glory of old Korea. While we were there, we met a girl from China who was working in Seoul. I think she wanted to test out her English a bit! We ended up walking along with Serena for about 15 minutes, during which she told us about traveling to the Philippines and her daring to try “magic mushrooms” in Thailand. (Danny was afraid we would never get rid of her; I thought she was pretty amusing.)

If you’re ever in Korea and short on time, I recommend going to this palace to truly revel in the culture. Plus, if you want to be festive, you can easily rent hanbok nearby, which grants free admission! You get to pretend like you’re from the Joseon dynasty while also affording the chance to take super-serious pictures in these majestic, foreign locations. What are you waiting for?

Getting to Gyeongbokgung

To arrive at Gyeongbokgung palace, take either exit 5 of Gyeongbokgung Palace Station or exit 2 of Gwanghwamun Station. If coming from the latter, walk straight ahead and across the street to reach the entrance. You can’t miss it as the Gwanghwamun gate dominates the scene.

Activity Recommendations

Whatever you do, visit Gwanghwamun Plaza (especially if during the summer) because it’ll be bustling and full of vendors or performers. There, you can also see statues of both King Sejong and Admiral Lee. I have often wandered through this area only to find myself in a random festival or at a protest. In fact, this is where all the large protests concerning President Park Geun-hye have taken place.

If you are looking for something different, walk 10 minutes to the west of Gyeongbokgung and go to the famous Tongin Market. Here, exchange won for brass coins (called yeopjeon) that are exchanged for food in an a la carte style. If you’re in the mood for something more educational, plenty of museums surround it. For instance, the National Palace Museum is located just to the palace’s south, and the National Folk Museum is alongside its eastern front.

All in all?

I loved touring Gyeongbokgung and the four other palaces of Korea. We hope to add more shrines, temples, and historical sites from outside of Seoul to our list of visited wonders, including Seokguram Grotto, Buyeo Baekje Land, the Tomb of King Muyeong, and others. With so many years of history, no end to all the fun can be seen.

What About You?

Have you explored these palaces or seen others around the world? Where do you want to go next? Tell me all about it below and make sure to subscribe!

0 thoughts on “Gyeongbokgung: Why You Should Stop Watching Netflix and Come Visit This (and the Other Four Joseon Palaces)

    1. I am so curious to see your articles! (Google Translate, please rescue me!) Please subscribe and tell me only thoughts or comments you might have. I would love to have your perspective as a fellow (and more ambitious) travel writer!

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