Palace hunting in Seoul : Trini-Style – 48 hours in Seoul

So you’re in Seoul … and you’re wondering what to do?
A great way to spend a couple hours is to walk and wander between the 5 palaces within Seoul. My first recommendation is not to attempt this on a Monday – since most public places are closed.

The 5 Palaces of Seoul

Seoul is home to five royal palaces from the Chosun Dynasty. They generally consist of a host of buildings with the throne hall and royal council hall at the center. Behind the throne hall, where major state events were held, are the sleeping quarters, and to the east is the crown prince’s residence. A garden at the back of the palace allowed the king and his family to rest from their duties.Each building was made of wood and featured a tiled roof and multi-color paintings on the pillars and rafters to illustrate the authority and dignity of the king.

 Gyeongbokgung Palace

The Gyeongbokgung Palace is also called the “Northern Palace” because of its location as compared to the neighboring Changdeokgung (east), Gyeonghuigung (west), and Deoksogung palaces. Each of the palaces has its own beauty but Gyeongbokgung is arguably the most beautiful and grandest of all palaces. It is the main of the five grand palaces built by the Joseon dynasty and when translated, it means the “Palace of Shining Happiness.”

There is a free hour long guided tour, while on premise …

The palace is huge and spending one hour doing the tour will just give you a taste of the entire palace. It can easily consume 4 hours exploring all parts of the palace. The main throne room in the King’s residence is quite pretty and you’ll have a great time photographing the compound.

In the end, this palace is the most beautiful in all of Seoul.  While Gyeongbokgung Palace is bigger in size, Changdeokgung is the best preserved and the palace garden, Biwon, is pretty in the winter. So if you’re in Seoul, and you’re only able to see one palace, make sure that Changdeokgung Palace (including Biwon Garden), is at the top of your list.

 Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung Palace (“Palace of Illustrious Virtue) was constructed between the years of 1405 and 1412 as an annex to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Like most major structures during the Imjin War, Changdeokgung Palace was burned to the ground; however, what makes it different is that angry Korean citizens were the ones to set it on fire when it was being evacuated. In 1611, a full 16 years after the war with the Japanese ended, the palace was restored to its former beauty. And from 1610 to 1868, the palace stood as the seat of government as well as the royal residence. In 1868, after years of restoration, the seat of government and the royal residence moved back to Gyeongbokgung Palace, where Changdeokgung Palace was left in disrepair as a result. Changdeokgung Palace was then renovated in 1907 and was then again used by King Sunjong, Korea’s last king. And even though King Sunjong was forced to abdicate his throne by the Japanese colonizers in 1910, Sunjong continued to live in Changdeokgung Palace until his death in 1926. In fact, Queen Yun, Sunjong’s widow, lived in the palace until her own death in 1966. Also, the last crown prince of Korea died in Changdeokgung Palace in 1970, and the last royal family member lived at the palace until her death in 1989. Like all of Korea, Changdeokgung Palace represents the harshness of its past. In 1997, the palace was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for best preserving and maintaining Korea’s beautiful and storied past. Again .. if you’re going on a Monday … you’ll be faced with this sign

 Changgyeong Palace

Built in 1483, Changgyeong (Flourishing Gladness) Palace was one of the “eastern palaces” along with Changdeok Palace because they sat east of Gyeongbok Palace. In the last years of the dynasty, the Japanese occupiers built a zoo, botanical garden and museum in the palace compound with a view to symbolically undermining the royal status of the dynasty. The palace was restored in 1984 with the removal of the structures added by the Japanese.

 Gyeonghui Palace

Initially called Gyeongdeok Palace, Gyeonghui (Serene Harmony) Palace was built in 1623 and also called the “western palace” as it was located west of Gyeongbok Palace. It was not built as a main seat of government but as a kind of royal villa. Visitors to the palace should drop by the nearby Seoul Museum of History as well.

 Deoksugung Palace

If you’re staying at the Westin Chosun, then going to Deoksugung Palace (Deoksugung) will be the first palace that you’ll visit. It’s about a 7 minute walk from the hotel. Again, you’ll note that it’s closed on a Monday … The main gate is named Daehan-mun, and as you enter through the gate, you’ll cross a stone bridge that is traditional to all Korean palaces, but if you get to the main gate and visit the palace at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., or you’ll be able to watch an authentic Joseon Dynasty changing of the guard ceremony.

HOW TO GET THERE:  To get to Deoksugung Palace, you should get off at the City Hall Station on subway line #1, and take exit #2.  If you’re getting off at City Hall Station from subway line #2, you should take exit #12. The cost of admission is 1,000Won. The palace is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Additionally, free English tours are given at from Monday to Friday, and at on Saturday and Sunday.

The colours on the beams in each of the structures are predominantly green with accent colours. This is very typical of all the other temples and palaces that you would have encountered on your day walk.

This is the throne room that the Korean kings sat upon, along with the emblem in the ceiling.

Overall, I wasn’t super impressed by the palace … but then again I found that most of the palaces and temples were built in the same fashion and ha but as a first time visitor to Seoul, any palace you visit in Seoul is well worth the trip.  The most impressive features about the palace are Daehan-mun, the main gate at the palace; the statue of King Sejong on the green lawn; and Seogeo-dang, the only two-storied residence from the Joseon Dynasty. The drawbacks are the newer looking buildings and the smaller size of the palace.  But either way, if you have the time, and want to see a beautiful palace, make a stop at Deoksugung Palace.

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at

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