One of the biggest must-see things to do in Korea and Seoul has to be Gyeongbokgung Palace.
If Germany has the Neuschwanstein Castle and France has Versailles, Korea has the five grand palaces of Seoul. Gyeongbokgung Palace, the “Northern” one, is the largest and most central of them all. I’m so ashamed that it took me so long to finally visit.
After living in Seoul and visiting the city numerous times, it took me until one September during Chuseok to finally get a chance to visit the whole area. I wanted to see it, and with an agenda to do all the touristy things in Seoul I never did, it was number one on my list.
The palace as we see it now has been a long labor of love and national pride. Originally built in 1395 right at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty (Korea’s most influential era), the palace represented the official change in capitals from Gaeseong to Seoul. It’s considered to be in a favorable area, with Bugaksan in the background and Namsan in front, and the name means “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven.” Unfortunately, it was not so blessed when it was totally destroyed by the Japanese on two occasions–1592 by the invasions and during the late 1800’s while under occupation. The rebuilding of Gyeongbokgung started in 1990 and only just ended in 2010, with most of the structures being recent restorations. In fact, the Japanese Government-General headquarters weren’t even taken down until the mid 1990’s.
Gyeongbokgung Palace is so interesting because it offers a glimpse into a part of Korea that probably isn’t going to come back– its royal past. There are traditions and food and dress that still exist today, but actual royalty is very much a thing of history having ended with Sunjong of Korea in 1910. Once you enter through Gwanghwamun gate, you’re seeing a whole different Korea (albeit, yes, you’re with a bunch of other tourists).
This is traditional Korea. It’s the one that existed long before K-pop, wi-fi speeds, and “Gangnam Style.” It feels like a small escape from the metropolis outside. Meander through the different courtyards. See various structures, like the beautiful Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, a hexagonal structure built on a man-made island in Hyangwonji Lake. Just take your time. Spend a long afternoon there, roaming through the different areas and nooks, taking in the less frantic pace. I’m definitely going to go back for a revisit before my time in Korea is up.
How to Get to Gyeongbokgung Palace
- Take Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Palace Station, use Exit 5 OR
- Take Line 5 to Gwanghwamun Station, Exit 2
- Walk and you’ll definitely see the Gwanghwamun gate. It’s very hard to miss.
More Information on Gyeongbokgung Palace
- Korean Name: 경복궁
- It’s typically only open until 5 or 6 p.m. depending on the month. It stops allowing visitors in an hour beforehand, so plan accordingly.
- It costs 3,000 won for entrance (or ~$3) unless it’s a Korean holiday, then it’s free.
Have you been to Gyeongbokgung Palace? What are some of your favorite national palaces?