The city of Seoul is a culturally rich city filled with historic buildings and monuments. Even though the city has rapidly modernised itself, it managed to keep its heritage. Walking in the city, you see skyscrapers side by side with historic buildings; among them are the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul. All of them are from the Joseon Dynasty, the longest Korean dynasty which held power from 1392 to 1897).
Despite being destroyed several times following natural disasters, the Japanese invasions and the Korean War (1950 – 1953), Seoul managed to restore and preserve them as testimony of the country’s triumphs and struggles over the centuries.
Be sure to allow some time in your South Korea’s itinerary to check out the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul. For info, they are: Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyonggung, Deoksugong, & Gyonghuigung.
Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁)
Oldest, largest and most visited of all the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395. It was the main place of residence of the Kings of the Joseon dynasty and home of the government until the 16th century. Gyeongbokgung suffered greatly during the years, victim of several fires and destruction by the Japanese, but managed to keep its beauty.
As the most popular of the palaces, Gyeongbokgung is very busy but the crow shouldn’t deter you from visiting. The spacious complex still offers lots of peaceful and quiet areas.
The best feature of the palace has to be the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion located in the middle of a pond. It’s simply beautiful. There are lots of events including the parade of the guards in their colourful costumes as well as the folk dance
The ticket to the palace also gives you access to the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea as they are both within the palace complex. Make sure to visit one of them if you have time. If you love museums then the nearby National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Seoul Hall is also an option.
- Address: 161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-820
- Transport: Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3), exit 5
- Price: Adults (25–64) 3,000won
- Price: Adults (19–64) 3,000won – free admission for under 6 & senior citizen, people wearing hanbok and last wednesday of every month
- Closed on Tuesdays
- Guided tour in English: 11:00, 13:30, 15:30
Changdeokgung Palace (창덕궁)
The second Grand Place of Seoul, Changdeokgung Palace was built in 1405 as the second residence of the royal family. It was the favourite of the Joseon Kings and the most well-preserved.
The beauty of Changdeokgung resides in its design. Everything was done with harmony in mind. The palace was constructed to be in harmony with its natural surroundings instead of imposing on them. Huwon, the palace’s secret garden is the prime example. Taking about two thirds of the palace surface, the garden is nothing like a manicured garden. It’s a natural space inviting long walks and surrounded by ponds, pavilions and lots of vegetation.
Changdeokgung Palace is the only one of the Five Grand Palaces to have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Address: 99, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-360
- Transport: Anguk Station (Line 2), exit 3
- Price: Adults (25–64) 3,000won – free admission for under 6 & senior citizen, people wearing hanbok and last wednesday of every month
- Huwon Tour (Secret Garden): Adults (25–64) 8,000won
- Closed on Mondays
- Guided tour: English: 11:00, 13:30, 15:30 | Huwon tour: 10:30, 11:30, 14:30
Changgyeonggung Palace (창경궁)
Changgyeonggung Palace was built in the 15th century for the elder members of the royal family. Over the years, other relatives of the royal family used the residence including queens and concubines of the Joseon kings. Lots of the structures of the palace were destroyed during the invasions, rebuilt and again destroyed. During the Japanese occupation, the palace became home to a zoo, botanical garden and museum.
Sadly Changgyeonggung Palace will be remembered for a tragic incident. Crown Prince Sado (son of King Yeongjo) accused of being mentally ill was locked into a rice chest until his death eight days later.
Despite its tragic history, Changgyeonggung is worth visiting especially for the botanical garden built by the Japanese.
- Address: 185 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Transport: Anguk Station (Line 2), exit 3
- Price: Adults (19–64) 1,000won – free admission for under 6 years old, people wearing hanbok and last wednesday of every month
Deoksugung Palace (덕수궁)
The smallest of the Five Grand Palace of Seoul, Deoksugung Palace is located right next to Seoul’s City Hall. It was occupied by the royal family until 1910. The palace features various styles including western-style structures. As well the palace building, the site has a statue of King Sejong the Great and the National Museum of Art.
This palace is different from the other palaces not only by its modern structures but also because of the western style garden. It is best visited during the Changing of the Royal Guard in front of the Daehanmun Gate but also during the cherry blossom or autumn seasons. The changing ceremony takes place daily at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. (except Monday)
- Address: 99, Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul 100-120
- Transport: City Hall Station (Line 1), exit 2
- Price: Adults (25–64) 1,000won
Gyeonghuigung Palace (경희궁)
Gyeonghuigung Palace is the most recent of all five palaces and was built as a secondary palace for King Gwanghaegun in the 17th century. Fire destroyed some of the buildings of the palace in the early 19th century. The remaining buildings were converted into a school for Japanese citizens. After restoration to rebuild the “Five Grand Palaces”, the site was reopened to the public.
The palace grounds hold the Seoul Museum of History where you can learn all about the history of Seoul. Since Gyeonghuigung Palace and Deoksugung Palace are both in the same area, they can be visited at the same time.
- Address: 55, Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Transport: Seodaemun Station (ligne 5), exit 4
- Price: Free
- Closed on Mondays & January 1
Five Grand Palaces Combination ticket
In order to enjoy all the Five Grand Palaces, VisitKorea had the great idea of issuing a pass which gives you access to four palaces (Changdeokgung Palace including “Huwon” Secret Garden, Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Gyeongbokgung Palace) and Jongmyo Shrine. For only 10,000 won visitors can visit the palaces at their own time (the ticket is valid for 3 months after the date of visit). You can purchase the ticket at any of the palaces or the shrine. The Huwon special tour should be booked in advance either on site or online.
The three principal palaces (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung) offer nigh admission throughout the year. During these occasions, the palaces open their doors until 10pm. Visit each palace’s website for the exact dates. Note that the Moonlight Tour offered by Changdeokgung Palace is a completely different event.
All palaces offer guided tours. The tours, except for the Secret Garden tour, are included within the admission fee. Do check the schedule in advance when planning your trip to avoid missing out.
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Credit photo Pixabay: Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, Changgyeonggung Palace and the Royal Guards.