While Gyeongbokgung is considered Korea’s main palace, Changdeokgung and its secret garden actually served as the primary royal residence from the early 1600s – 1800s. I’ve been twice now, once in late spring and recently mid-autumn, and it’s definitely one of those places in Seoul I’ll never tire of visiting.
It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the most significant Korean landmarks, and the best preserved of all the palaces. I honestly can never decide if it’s my favorite or Gyeongbokgung is. Every time I visit one of them, I change my mind! Here’s a little history into this beautiful place as well as some tips to make the most of your visit.
Before I get into why you should visit Changdeokgung and a little more about its importance in Korean culture, let me just say this: book ahead of time.
While you can stand in line and get a ticket to see the palace grounds, you actually need to be on a specific tour to visit Huwon (the secret garden). If it’s busy, the tickets actually sell out quickly. I was so annoyed with myself for not booking ahead the last time I visited. I totally missed out on seeing Huwon during autumn in Korea, and it’s one of the best places for fall foliage in the country. Luckily I’ve been before, but it would really be a bummer if you only have one chance to visit and you can’t because tickets are booked.
There are few ways to prevent this from happening to you:
- You can try to reserve on the website up to 6 days ahead of time. I don’t think you pay right away. You reserve and pay when you arrive. Just an FYI, there’s a separate line for internet reservations. If the regular line is super long, you might miss the sign.
- Get there right at the opening. They have 100 tickets per tour with 50 for online reservations and 50 for the day of. It’s first come, first served, so you can always try arriving before 9 to book your tour. I don’t know if it’ll be super easy or there will be a line though.
- Book Seoul by Foot (Secret Garden + Bukchon Hanok Village Walking Tour) – You’ll join one of the 90-minute guided tours for Huwon followed by a 2 1/2 hour walking tour which includes the rest of Changdeokgung, Buckhon Hanok Village, and Samcheongdong. Check prices + times here.
Changdeokgung Palace and its Secret Garden
What is it?
Changdeokgung was created in 1405 as the secondary royal palace. While Kim Taejong claimed it was because Gyeongbokgung’s topography wasn’t auspicious enough, many believe it’s because he assassinated his brothers in the main palace and didn’t want to rule from the same area. After the Japanese invasions destroyed all the palaces in the late 1500s, it was the first palace rebuilt and became the primary royal residence for almost 300 years.
What also makes Changdeokgung a unique palace to visit is its design. Instead of making the surrounding nature work with its layout, architects designed the palace to work in harmony with nature. When they worked on the Secret Garden, they kept artificial landscapes completely minimal to better highlight its natural setting.
The Secret Garden was used for everything from banquets to recreation and even some farming throughout the centuries.
Major Areas of Changdeokgung
You’ll enter Changdeokgung through Donwamun, the palace’s main gate. You can get tickets right out front, and this is what you’ll see when you’re walking up to find it.
This bridge is the oldest structure in the palace, dating back to 1411. It’s also considered one of the oldest stone bridges in Seoul.
When you walk in, eventually you’ll pass through Jinseonmun gate and to your left you’ll see the entrance to Injeongjeon. This was the palace throne hall, and any major affairs were held here, such as coronations or royal ceremonies.
This area is where kings would occasionally work or hold meetings. It’s also the only building to have a blue-tiled roof.
Huijeongdang was the royal bedchamber, and where the king spent most of his time working. The current reincarnation of Huijeongdang, which is only a hundred years old, is actually very different from its original design.
Daejojeon was the queen’s bedchambers. The structures you see today are also quite young, having been recreated in 1917 after a fire.
Seongjeonggak was where the crown prince lived.
Nakseonjae Complex (낙선재)
Nakseongjae was originally designed for King Heonjong in 1656 so that he could relax and read. It has also served as the quarters for the crown prince. It was still in use until 1989 by Lee Bangja, the wife of the last Korean crown prince.
Major Areas of the Secret Garden
Buyongji and Juhamnu (부영지와 주함누)
The first place you’ll visit on your tour is Buyongji, a gorgeous rectangular pond.
Aeryeonji and Uiduhap (애련지와 의두합)
This is another pond area. The little pavilion sticking out at one end is called Aeryeonji and represents the lotus flower.
Jondeokjeong features some beautiful pavilions around a pond. It’s one of the last additions to the garden.
A Quick Guide to Changdeokgung + the Secret Garden
Here are some other tours that will go to Changdeokgung but not the Secret Garden, unfortunately.
- Seoul Palace Tour – This is actually a private tour, so instead of sharing your guide with a bunch of other visitors, it’ll feel more intimate. Not only can you choose Changdeokgung, but Gyeongbokgung and Deoksugung are also options. The only downfall is that you need at least two people for the tour, so if you’re solo it can cost you $30 for the guide plus the ~$8 for entry. Check prices + times here.
- Korean Palace Tour – There are two options: a half-day tour (3 1/2 hours) and a full day tour (8 1/2 hours). Changdeokgung is included in the afternoon half-day tour and the full day tour for all days except Mondays. Check prices + times here.
- One Day Seoul Tour – This is another pretty packed tour that includes Changdeokgung along with Gyeongbokgung, the National Folk Museum or History Museum, Jogyesa, a ginseng center, Insadong, an amethyst factory, and Namdaemun. Check prices + times here on Trazy or check them here on Klook.
Korean Name: 창덕궁, 후원
Address: 99, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Korean Address: 서울특별시 종로구 율곡로 99 (와룡동)
Cost: 3,000 KRW for palace, 5,000 KRW more for Huwon
**If you’re planning to visit all the palaces and the Jongmyo, then you can get a combination ticket for 10,000 KRW and it’s good for up to a month. This won’t include Huwon, but will save you about $4!
Opening Times: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (give or take 30 minutes depending on the season), ticket sales stop 1 hour before.
Secret Garden Tour Schedule:
- English: 11:30, 1:30, 3:30
- Chinese: 12:30
- Japanese: 10:30, 2:30
- Korean: 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 4:30
**The first time I went, I missed the English tours but managed to get into the last Korean tour. If you miss one of the tours, you can always try to get one in another language.
How to Get There
- By Taxi – Simply tell your taxi driver “Changdeokgug,” and s/he should know where to go. It might be wiser and cheaper to use the subway or bus though.
- By the Seoul Bus – There’s a hop-on, hop-off bus in Seoul, and the stop is right out front of Changdeokgung. This might be easier if you’re visiting a lot of spots in a day. Get a discounted ticket here.
- By Local Bus – There are a number of buses in the go near Changdeokgung, though the bus stop itself is “Changgyeong Palace.” I use the Kakao Bus app to look up times and buses.
- By Subway – This is by far the fastest and most reliable way to get there! Trust me, Korean subways are incredible. Get off at Anguk Station, Exit 3. You’ll start seeing signs for Changdeokgung in a few minutes.
And there you have it! All about Changdeokgung Palace and its Secret Garden. Let me know if you’ve been! What’s your favorite palace?
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