Changdeokgung Palace and its Secret Garden is located in Jongno-gu district in Seoul. It is situated east of Gyeongbokgung Palace, about 20 minutes walk – so you can visit both palaces.
The palace was Joseon’s kings’ favourite and has many characteristics of the Three Kingdom of Korea. Its architecture is thought to be in perfect harmony with nature and its secret garden is one of its kind. Despite being ravaged by fires and the Japanese invasions, the palace remains one of the most/best-preserved palaces in the country. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is an important landmark visited by thousands of people each year.
Having visited three of the five palaces in Seoul, I can’t say for sure which one is my favourite but I can definitely Huwon, the secret garden is the most peaceful place in Seoul!
Here’s a little info about the history of the Changdeokgung Palace, some of the existing buildings including the secret garden and practical information to help you plan your trip.
- 1 History of Changdeokgung Palace and its Secret Garden
- 2 Why you should visit Changdeokgung Palace
- 3 Changdeokgung Palace
- 4 Huwon: Changdeokgung Secret Garden
History of Changdeokgung Palace and its Secret Garden
Changdeokgung was built in 1405 as a secondary palace during the reign of King Taejong (Joseon Dynasty). The main reason for building this palace was because Gyeongbokgung didn’t preserve its original topography. However, many believe the real reason is the fact that King Taejon assassinated his brothers in the main palace, therefore, didn’t want to reign there.
The palace was destroyed during the Japanese invasion in 1592. Changdeokgung was the first palace to be rebuilt in 1610 and became the main royal palace. It was again destroyed by fire in 1623 and was rebuilt. This cycle continued for another hundred years.
The royal family and their descendants lived in Changdeokgung through the years until 1989. From 1990, restoration work started in the complex and the palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The designation highlights the beauty of the architecture and design which is in harmony with the surrounding landscape. As of today, work is still ongoing to fully restore the place complex.
Why you should visit Changdeokgung Palace
Changdeokgung Palace is a big palace with waste open space and lots of things to see. The palace was loved not only because of its design but because of its beautiful secret garden: Huwon.
Donhwamun (돈화문) the main gate of Changdeokgung
It’s the first thing you notice when you approach the palace. It’s the largest of all the gates (all combined palaces). Tickets can be purchased just before entering the gate. As you enter, you have the meeting point for the guided tours.
Dating back to 1411, this bridge is the oldest structure in the palace and one of the oldest stone bridges in Seoul. Despite the various fires, it has remained intact.
Injeongjeon (인정전) throne hall
Built in 1405, the palace throne hall was where all the important ceremonies were held such as coronations, receptions for prestigious guests from abroad etc…The hall was restored in 1804 and by visiting it, you can appreciate the architectural style of the end of the Joseon Dynasty. In order to get to the hall, you will need to pass through the gates of Jinseonmun (진선문) or Sukjangmun (숙장문) and finally Injeongmun (인정문) gate.
Seonjeongjeon (선정전) King’s council hall
Hidden behind Seonjeongmun (선정문) is the hall where the king would work or discuss state affairs with his senior officials. It is said to be the only building in Korea to have kept its blue-green tiles intact.
Huijeongdang (휘정당) King’s residence
Huijeongdang was part of the inner palace and initially served as a private quarter for the royal but ended up being used as an office for the king as the space in Seonjeongjeon was limited. As most of the buildings in the palace complex, Seonjeongjeon was destroyed and rebuilt several times. The current room decoration differs a lot from its original: you can see that it has been westernised with chandeliers and carpets decorating the room.
Daejojeon was the queen’s residence. It was rebuilt with structures from Gyeongbokgung after being completely destroyed by fire in 1917. Surprisingly the Queen’s residence is more spacious than the King’s.
Located next to the King’s residence is Seongjeonggak, where the crown prince lived and studied.
Nakseonjae Complex (낙선재)
Nakseongjae was built by King Heonjong in 1656 for his concubine Kim Gyeongbin in an isolated corner at Changdeokgung Palace. It was still in use until 1989 by Lee Bangja, the wife of the last Korean crown prince.
Huwon: Changdeokgung Secret Garden
The main attraction of the Palace is without a doubt the secret garden: Huwon. The garden, which has also been known as Bukwon, Geumwon, and Biwon takes up about sixty percent of the palace grounds (78 acres). By building Huwon, the aim was to create a relaxing space for the kings and royal family. It’s truly a place inviting calm, relaxation where the word “zen” reveals its true meaning. They preserved the garden much as possible to keep its raw state. As well as being a place to relax, it hosted lots of activities occurred such as archery contests or banquets. It was surprising to find such a serene garden right in the middle of buzzing Seoul.
We spent time going up and down paths lined with trees, you feel like you are in a forest. I can only imagine how beautiful the site will be in autumn when the leaves change to show a range of beautiful colours ranging from yellow, orange, red to brown.
Buyongji Pond and Juhamnu Pavilion (부영지와 주함누)
The first place you’ll visit on your tour is Buyongji, a rectangular pond with a small island in the middle. This is a gorgeous area, perfect for a morning stroll and I can perfectly picture the royal family enjoying taking leisure walks around the lily pond, surrounding trees and pavilion. The Juhamnu is a two-story library. It was the place where scholars came to study and read. It was also a venue for celebratory banquets for those scholars who passed state exams. For that reason they made the landscape surrounding the pavilion serene and beautiful.
Aeryeonji Pond and Uiduhap (애련지와 의두합)
Once you pass through the garden at the back of Buyongji Pond and walk along the hill, you will reach another serene area. On the opposite side of the Aeryeonji pond is a little pavilion, Aeryeongjeong, placed half over over the water. It is known to offer a gorgeous view of the pond’s scenery.
Yeongyeongdang Hall was built taking inspiration from the houses of the Korean nobles. The wooden houses were decorated in a natural way without vivid colour paints as they were reserved for the royal family. They have less of a royal feel but fit extremely well with the natural setting. The complex used to hold ceremonies and performances for the royal family thanks to its huge yard.
Bandoji Pond (반도지)
Another notable part of the tour was Bandoji Pond, a complex with a number of beautiful pavilions in different shapes around it. The Gwallamjeong Pavilion stands at the edge of the pond is shaped kike an extended fan. Jondeokjeong Pavilion is also very pretty.
The Ongnyucheon (“Jade Stream”) area is also interesting. It contains a L-shaped water channel with a small man made waterfall. The area also contains several small pavilions, including Cheonguijeong, Soyojeong, Taegeukjong and Chwihanjeong, designed and arranged along the stream in the traditional Korean ways. Each pavilion has a small pond and stone bridge to enable a way across. Cheonguijeong with its straw-thatched roof and placed in the centre of a small rice field is just perfect for those looking for a fresh and cool spot even in hot summer.
How to get to Changdeokgung Palace
Address: 99, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (in Korean – 서울특별시 종로구 율곡로 99 (와룡동)
By Subway: This is by far the fastest and most reliable way to get there.
- Anguk Station (안국역) (Metro Line 3), take Exit 3 and walk for about for 5 minutes.
- Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station (Metro Line 1, 3 or 5), Exit 6. Walk for 10 minutes.
By local buses: Several buses stop close to the palace. Take buses 109, 151, 162, 171, 172, 272 or 7025 and stop at Changdeokgung Palace (창덕궁.서울돈화문국악당). It’s less than 5 minutes walk to the palace entrance. To check at the bus times, make sure you download the Naver App.
By taxi: this can be a good option if you spending a little more is not a problem for you. Having said that taxis are relatively cheaper than in Europe or America. Make sure you have the Korean address of the palace.
- Changdeokgung Palace: 3,000₩ (1,500₩ for children) for the palace. Entry is free for anyone wearing a Hanbok, kids under 6, senior citizens, during Chuseok and every Wednesday.
- Huwon Secret Garden: 5,000₩ (2,500₩ for children) You are required to have a palace admission ticket.
- Royal Palace Pass: 10,000₩ to access Seoul’s five palace sites (Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksuggung, Changgdeokgung and Jongmyo Shrine) and Secret Garden; valid for three months from date of purchase
- 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Closes 30 minutes earlier in Winter and 30 minutes later in Summer. Last admission is an hour before closing time.
- Changdeokgung Palace and the Secret Garden are closed on Mondays
Available Guided tours to Changdeokgung & Huwon
There are several tours available to enjoy Changdeokgung Palace including the Secret Garden tour offered by the palace.
- Palace Tour: there are three daily tours in English (11:30, 1:30, 3:30) one in Chinese (12:30) and two in Japanese (10:30, 2:30). Those speaking Korean can join the tour every hour from 9.30am to 4.30pm. Price included in admission fee.
- Secret Garden Tour: It is only possible to visit the Secret Garden via the guided tour. Tours leave strictly on time: English (11:30, 1:30, 3:30) Chinese (12:30) and Japanese (10:30, 2:30). Those speaking Korean can join the tour every hour from 10am to 4pm. Check prices & book here.
- Moonlight Tour: The palace is even more magical when seen under a full moon. You can join the Moonlight Tour every Sunday at Changdeokgung Palace for a pleasant evening stroll. W30,000 per person; this two-hour evening event is limited to 100 people from April to June and then from August through October. It includes a tour of the palace and Secret Garden, plus a traditional performance. Check prices & book here.
- One Day History Joseon Dynasty Tour – This tour is perfect for those wanting to learn more about the history of the Joseon Dynasty. It includes visits to Changdeokgung along with Gyeongbokgung, the National Folk Museum, Jogyesa Buddhist temple and Namsan Hanok Village. Check prices & book here.
- One Day History of Seoul Tour: similar tour similar to the above but including a visit to Insadong and Namdaemun Market instead of the folk village. Check prices & book here.
The Changdeokgung and especially the secret garden is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Seoul. I highly recommend it!
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