A trip to Seoul would not be complete without a first hand experience of South Korea’s rich cultural history and tradition and Seoul is home to several of the grand palaces and historical sites that have been carefully preserved and reconstructed through time, some of which have been declared as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The Grand Palaces of Seoul
If you’re into Korean dramas then you’ve probably heard of the “Joseon Dynasty.” This was the last dynasty in Korea, whose reign lasted over 5 decades, long enough to build several grand palaces around its capital city, Seoul.
The photos below were taken during our trip, of course they fail in comparison to the actual experience. Wandering around these palaces, you will marvel at the elegance in the designs and the sheer magnificence in structures, from the imposing gates of the palaces all the way to the main buildings, corridors and open spaces/gardens. You can just imagine how these grand structures were once a symbol of power and an empire.
Directions: Take the metro subway, alight at Gyeongbokgung Station, go to Exit 5.
Directions: Take the metro subway, alight at Anguk Station, go to Exit 3.
Note: The palace is also famous for its “Secret Garden” that is only accessible via a guided tour, which may be booked online via the palace website.
Directions: Take the metro subway, alight at City Hall Station, go to Exit 2.
Note: While you’re here, I recommend watching the performance of the Royal Guards in front of the Daehanmun Gate of the palace, which are held 3x a day: 11:00-11:30 / 14:00-14:30 / 15:30-16:00
Directions: Take the metro subway, alight at Jongno-3(sam)-ga Station, go to Exit 11.
Overall Verdict of the Grand Palaces:
You don’t have to visit all the grand palaces, especially if you have limited time. You can prioritize which palaces to visit and my recommendations and top 2 palaces are: (1) Gyeongbokgung – the first royal palace that was built by the Joseon Dynasty; and (2) Changdeokgung – the second palace that was built, and known as the “East Palace” as it is located east of Geongbokgung. The palace grounds are expansive so be prepared for a lot of walking.
Note: Changdeokgung, Deoksugung, and Changgyeonggung Palaces are closed on Mondays; while Gyeongbokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine are closed on Tuesdays.
“Combination Ticket for Palaces”: KRW10,000.
This is an integrated ticket to enter 4 grand palaces: Geongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung and Deoksugung, plus Jongmyo Shrine. Because we planned on seeing as many palaces as we can, we bought the combination ticket, and you can purchase this in any of the ticket offices at the entrance of the palaces (of course, you can opt to purchase individual tickets only).
Suwon Hwaseong Haenggung and Fortress
Who was not moved by the story of Jang Geum in that drama Jewel in the Palace? This was where it took place and you know you just have to see it for yourself. Here you can enter the Hwaseong Haenggung, which is the palace area or take the trolley ride that goes around the entire Hwaseong Fortress. If you take the trolley ride, you will reach an archery area and you can try traditional Korean archery.
If you’ve already visited the grand palaces in Seoul, you can skip the palace area (Hwaseong Haenggung) and just explore the Hwaseong Fortress. I recommend to take the trolley ride going up the fortress until the last trolley platform, then take a stroll going down to explore the beauty of the fortress and the magnificent view, and to return back to the bus stop.
Take the metro subway and alight at Suwon Station. Note that it takes more than 1 hour from Seoul to Suwon. From Suwon Station, go into the underground shopping mall and proceed to Exit 3 (this is different from the Exit 3 of the Suwon Station). Walk out of the exit, turnabout and walk towards the main bus stop for Suwon Station. Take Bus No. 13 and get off at the Hwaseong Haenggung bus stop. Remember to be alert with the bus stops as the bus drivers only speak in Korean.
- Entrance to the Hwaseong Haenggung: KRW1,000
- Trolly Ride going around the Hwaseong Fortress: KRW1,500 (one way)
- Archery: KRW2,000 (10 arrows)
Namsangol Hanok Village
This place features a collection traditional wooden houses or “hanoks” of Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. The first thing that you will notice are the beautiful decorative outer walls and roofs of the houses. Plus, you can see the interiors including the sitting rooms, bedrooms and even the cooking area, complete with furnitures. You can also find in here a beautiful pavilion overlooking a pond.
If you think you’ve enjoyed seeing the grand palaces, the traditional village is definitely worth visiting while in Namsan. The Village is located in Namsan so I recommend to combine this with your trip to the N Seoul Tower.
Take the metro subway, alight at Chungmuro Station, go to Exit 4. From the exit, head towards the direction of the road intersection, then turn right on the next small alley (you will see the GS25 Store on the right). Walk straight and you will see the roof structure or entrance of the Hanok Village.
Seoul Global Cultural Center
Don’t you just find the “Hanbok” or the traditional costume of Korea so exquisite and elegant? Of course I wanted to try it myself and you can have that experience for free at the Seoul Global Cultural Center.
Unfortunately, the Center was open for visitors but they did not allow us to try the costumes, I reckon, because of the MERS scare at the time of our trip. It was disappointing since I was regularly checking their website days before the trip, but did not see any notice on the matter.
The “Korean Traditional Costume Experience” is on a first come, first served basis so better be there when the Center opens at 10:30AM. Check their website for more information: http://www.seoulculturalcenter.com/2013/eng/customer/customer1.asp
Take the metro subway, alight at Myeongdong Station, go to Exit 6. Turn left into the side road when you come out of the exit. Go straight and watch out for the “M-Plaza” Building on the right side of the road (it’s quite near Exit 6). The Center is at the 5th floor of the M-Plaza.