Visiting the 5 Grand Palaces in Seoul

Authored by:
Kasey G.

In Seoul the are five palaces from the Joseon Dynasty. Each one corresponds to each direction: north, south, east, west and then one in the middle of the four. I visited each of these palaces and I am going to discuss the unique aspects to each palace to help you find which one you will like the most. 

Gyeongbokgung 

This is arguably the most famous palace in South Korea. If you have seen any of the palaces on social media it is probably this one. Most people who visit rent a Hanbok which is traditionally Korean clothing. I had the opportunity to rent one while visiting with some of my friends. This is definetly one of the most memorable moments of my trip. Gyeonbokgung palace is the largest palace out of them all. They allow you to feel immersed in the palace grounds as you go deeper into the palace. While there is not much greenery at this palace, there are many unique buildings and a beautiful mountain view. The inside of the palace rooms have ammazing detail especially the throne room.  Another unique feature of this castle is the palace guards. You can watch their guard rotation routine and take pictures with them. They're much like the guards at Buckingham Palace because they do not speak. They do carry some lovely flags with blue dragons, the phoneix, and other important mystical beings. There are some peaceful pond areas to see so make sure to check them out! If you want to fully explore the palce grounds, I reccomend and audio tour and to give yourself around two hours to explore. Make sure to hydrate and you can always take a break at the palace cafe! Gyeongbukgung Palace was probably my second favorite palace and I highly reccomend going if you are interested in Korean history and culture. 

Deoksugung

This is the second palace I visited. This palace is quite different from Gyeongbokgung Palace for many reasons. This palace is very small. If you do not want to invest much time or just have an hour to kill this is the palace to visit. Although it is small in size, it did not make the palace any less beautiful. We went at night because this palace was open three hours later than the others. Because the closing time was 9pm, we got to see the buildings on the palace grounds light up. I would highly reccomend going in the evening. This palace has way more greenery than Gyeongbokgung palace. Another interesting aspect aboutthe palace is the clash of architecture. This area was more influenced by western architecture than any of the other palaces. The very eastern palace buildings are side by side to the European style white stone buildings. The garden has a very eauropean style with the stone fountain and brightly colored flowers. On top of that, the entire palace grounds are surrounded by skyscrapers. This clash of time periods and cultures made me feel like I was somewhere completely different. It is also worth looking into the history of this palace. Although it is very sad, especially during the time of the Japanese occupation, it can peek the intrest of those who like mysteries. Whether its a suspicious fire or sudden illness, there are some stories that make you question the happenings at the palace. 

Gyeonghuigung

This was the third palace I went to.  It was the smallest palace of all five. This probably took in total thirty minutes to walk through. Many of the buildings were burned down and there was renevations happening when I visited. Overall, the palace was peaceful and I was the only one there when I went. There is a cute park area outside the palace walls but there is not any greenery inside the gate. The unique part of this palace is the giant rock in between two of the palace buildings. It was fun to walk on and an interesting layout for the palace to be built around it. Overall, this is a good palace if you are not super invested about exploring palace grounds and you can easily walk to the Seoul Museum of History . Also, this palace is free to enter unlike the other palaces. 

Changdeokgung

This was probably my favorite palace. There is so much greenery at this palace and the layout is unlike any of the other palaces. There were many flowers around the palace and other trees and greenery. This palace felt like a maze because there were so many buildings. The main hall is huge and is a great place to take pictures. The throne room in the main hall was my favorite out of all of the palaces. There was definiteley European influence with the curtains and light fixtures. Additionally there was great detail on the roof and the furniture of the room.  Theres also a lovely cafe area near this palace. Additionally you can also purchase another ticket to see this palace secret garden. I unfortunately did not get to go but you should go if you can. 

Changgyeonggung

This is the last palace I went to. The palace buildings were pretty standard compared to the other palaces. However, the nature trail and surrounding area really made this palace unique. This area had the most greenery of all the palaces and even had a forest.There were two ponds with weeping willows around it.  There were cats napping on the stone Pagoda near the pond. Additionally, there was a royal greenhouse that was so gorgeous. It was filled with many plants and there were flowers all around the greenhouse. Finally, there was a wildflower section that had flowers that were used for all sorts of purposes including medicinal reasons.  Overall, the nature trail was very peaceful. 

Final Thoughts: 

These palaces are cheap to visit and have really enhanced my experience about learning about Korean history and culture. If you can, make sure to check at least one of them out when you study abroad! :)

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