Seoul is home to five large palaces from the Chosun dynasty. While much of the structures were destroyed, the government and historians have worked to reconstruct these impressive buildings so that you can now take a step into the past while visiting them. You might not have time to see them all, so here’s a quick look at what makes them different!
Gyeongbok is hands-down the most famous palace in Seoul. It sits at the traditional and modern center of Seoul, and is probably the most popular tourist attraction in the country along with its main entrance gate, Gwanghwamun.
Built in 1395, this was the main palace of the Chosun dynasty. Though most of the palace was destroyed by the Japanese during their occupation, the palace has been restored, and continues to be maintained to this day!
Don’t miss the National Palace Museum and the National Folk Museum which is within Gyeongbok Palace’s walls.
While many tour guides will tell you Gyeongbok Palace is the most magnificent in Seoul, I’d argue differently. Sitting just one subway stop east from Gyeongbok is Changdeok Palace, along with its secret garden.
Though only about 30% of the eastern palace buildings remain, Changdeok is known for its architecture that blends with the surrounding nature rather than the somewhat starkness of Gyeongbok. It is calming and charming every season thanks to the flowers and open spaces at every turn.
Near the back of the palace lies a walled garden that is simply stunning. You absolutely cannot miss visiting the Huwon Secret Garden. If you can only choose to visit one palace on your trip, this has to be the one!
Changgyeong Palace is located right next door to Changdeok Palace, and is also known for its much more natural architecture. With bridges, open hallways, and multiple ponds, this is a great place to spend the day wandering.
This was also purposely destroyed during the Japanese occupation, and after it was torn down it became a botanical garden and a zoo. These have since been moved to Seoul Land far south of the city, and the palace is still being reconstructed to its former glory.
During the summer, the palace also opens its doors frequently at night to give you the unforgettable experience of exploring a traditional palace after dark. If you’re lucky, you’ll also be able to catch a traditional performance!
Just across the street from present-day City Hall, is Deoksu Palace which has been a royal residence since 1611. It was the palace of the first emperor of Korea, Gojong, and is where most of his business was conducted.
The palace is interesting for many reasons, but one of which is the odd mix of architecture within the palace walls. There are traditional Korean style buildings mixed with more western style buildings completed in the 20th century. There is even a secret passage that connected the palace to the Russian Emissary!
To experience the color and sounds of the Chosun dynasty, don’t miss the changing of the guards at this palace, which is one of its most popular sights! It takes place just outside the palace walls at the main entrance and is always exciting to witness.
While this is probably the least-popular palace, that doesn’t mean it was not important! Gyeonghui Palace was to be used in case of an emergency and the king would be brought there if his other residence wasn’t safe.
There actually used to be a large bridge connecting Gyeonghui to Deoksu Palace, though that was destroyed like many of Korea’s palace structures. Currently a little more than 30% of the palace grounds have been restored.
While you’re visiting, be sure to also check out the Seoul Museum of Art which is technically located on the old palace grounds!