The Five Grand Palaces of Seoul: A Very Extra + Comprehensive Guide

I thought I’d write an extensive, and frankly probably very extra, guide to the five palaces of Seoul. If you’re interested in seeing every single royal residence in Korea’s capital, than consider this all you need to know!

Want to explore Korea with me? Join my May 2020 tour!

Yep, you read that right. Seoul has FIVE palaces. While Gyeongbokgung and, to a lesser extent, Changdeokgung and Deoksugung, get most of the visitors, there are two more palaces, Changgyeongung and Gyeonghuigung!

I don’t blame you if they’re not remotely on your radar because it’s taken me 3+ years to finally go visit them! Heck, it’s even my first time visiting Deoksugung instead of just seeing it from the observatory. The one time I tried to go, it was crazy crowded around the entrance, and I just kind of noped out of there haha.

Anyway, if you are interested in Korea’s royal history, then a little palace marathon is a must! I’m sure you could probably get to all five in one day, but I’d highly recommend spreading it out over at least two or three. Gyeongbokgung alone can take up a whole afternoon. I swear it just keeps going and going the further you get into the palace grounds!

Tips for Visiting the Palaces

1. Take a tour

The palaces can be really overwhelming if you don’t know much about Korean history. Plus, I get the structure names jumbled and I can read and speak some of the language, so I know someone with fresh eyes is going to get super confused trying to keep everything straight!

If you’d like someone with more expertise to help guide you through, I recommend taking a tour. While the palaces have free tours with your ticket, you can also book tours like the ones below:

Seoul Half Day Walking Tour – This tour will take you through Changdeokgung and the changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung with some other sites. 

Ancient Palaces & Scenic Points Walking Tour – Start with Gyeongbokgung for the changing of the guards and then explore the National Folk Museum within the palace grounds. From there you’ll go over to Bukchon Hanok Village, and then go up and see the views of Deoksugung and finish with Namdaemun Market and Namsan Tower.

Secret Garden & Bukchon Walking Tour – This is the one tour I recommend if you want to guarantee entrance to Changdeokgung’s secret garden. Most palace tours don’t include it, and if you can’t get tickets on the website or in person, you’re really just out of luck. The tour goes through the palace and then to Bukchon.

Deoksugung & Jeongdong Observatory – To learn more about the end of Joseon, then you’ll want to do this tour. Not only will you see Deoksugung and take in the views from Jeongdong, you’ll visit Chungdong First Methodist Church and Seoul Former Russian Legation.

Korean Palace Tour – You can pick between doing a morning, afternoon, or full day tour. The morning will take you to either Gyeongbokgung or Deoksugung along with the Blue House, National Folk Museum, and Jogyesa. The afternoon tour goes to Changdeokgung or Bukchon, Insadong, an amethyst factory, and Namdaemun Market.

Seoul Palace Tour – This tour option lets you choose between Deoksugung, Changdeokgung, or Gyeongbokgung.

2. The palaces are free on major holidays

Just so you know, all the palaces are free on major holidays like Chuseok or Seollnal! And it’s not just Chuseok day but the whole long weekend. I’ve been to Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, and Gyeonghuigung during Chuseok, and I don’t remember the crowds being unbearable.

3. Wear a Hanbok to get in for free

Another way you can get into the palaces of Seoul for free is by wearing a hanbok. They typically all have rental places nearby the entrances, but you can also book ahead with one of these options:

4. Get the Seoul Palace Combination Ticket

If you know you’re going to be seeing a lot of the palaces, you may want to get a combination ticket. It’s available for Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeongung, and Deoksugung (Gyeonghuigung is already free) as well as Jongmyo Shrine. It’s 10,000 KRW and good for 3 months. While the ticket also covers Huwon, you still need to apply for one of the tours.

5. The palaces are also free on the last Wednesday of every month

Another fun fact! The palaces are free every last Wednesday of the month!

6. Keep timing in mind

Most of the palaces will stop admitting people an hour before closing, so keep that in mind when you’re planning on going.

7. Sometimes there are night tours

I don’t know much about this, but on occasion you can visit Gyeongbokgung,C hangdeokgung, and Changgyeonggung at night. Your best bet is to call 1330, the Korea travel hotline to ask about dates and booking a ticket.

7. Recommended Route

It obviously took me quite a while to make my way around all the palaces. However, if you’re more determined to visit all five + Unhyeongung, then I recommend doing so over 3 days:

  • Day 1: Spend the morning at Gyeongbokgung but also check out Gwanghwamun and Bukchon Hanok Village.
  • Day 2: Get a tour for Changdeokgung and Huwon. Then go over to Changgyeonggung and finish with Unhyeonggung.
  • Day 3: Start with Deoksugung but also check out City Hall as the interior is quite cool. From there go over to Gyeonghuigung.

The Five Royal Palaces of Seoul

1. Gyeongbokgung Palace | 경복궁

Gyeongbokgung is the big kahuna of all the palaces in Seoul. Originally built in 1395, its creation marked the official change to Seoul as Korea’s capital. The name means “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven” because of its fortuitous placement between Bugaksan and Namsan.

I used to want to say it was a bit overrated because Changdeokgung’s garden, butttt I change my mind. It can get really crowded, but it’s absolutely stunning. You can get lost within its grounds for an entire afternoon. Also, I promise it feels less claustrophobic the further you go in.

If you want to see the changing of the guards, make sure to visit the front at 11:00 am or 1:00 pm at Gwanghwamun Gate. You can also find the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum here.

Quick Info on Gyeongbokgung:

  • Construction Began: 1395
  • Location: Here
  • Open: Nov – Feb: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, Mar – May & Sept – Oct: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm, Jun – Aug: 9:00 am – 6:30 pm
  • Closed: Tuesdays
  • Cost: 3,000 KRW, 1,500 KRW under 18, free under 6 & seniors

How to Get There

You really can’t miss it once you’re in the area. Use Gyeongbokgung Palace Station, Exit 5 or Gwanghwamun Station, Exit 2. Once you emerge, you’ll very much see the main entrance gate.

Stay Nearby Gyeongbokgung

A lot of hotels, Airbnbs, and hostels are near Gyeongbokgung and in the area in general. I stayed at Han’s House and loved it. The owner even met us at the subway exit to show us where to go. You could also look into these hotels right near Gyeongbokgung and Gwanghwamun:

While this Airbnb is technically near-ish to Gyeongbokgung, it’s not that easy to get to and there aren’t many restaurants around. I’d try this Airbnb or, if you’re feeling a little fancy, this Airbnb has rooftop views over Gyeongbokgung.

Check here for more places to stay near Gyeongbokgung

2. Changdeokgung Palace | 창덕궁

Changdeokgung and its secret garden were first built in 1405 to serve as a secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung until Japanese invasions destroyed most of the palaces in the 1500s. Since Changdeokgung was the first one rebuilt, it served as the primary royal residence throughout the 1600-1800s. Unlike other palaces, its layout is designed to harmonize with nature rather than sticking to a set structure. It’s also been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1997.

Of course, the biggest draw to Changdeokgung is its magical secret garden, called Huwon. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places in all of Korea. Because they strictly regulate visits with tours, it remains peaceful despite being right in the middle of one of the most bustling metropolises.

If you visit in the off season, you’ll be able to show up and buy a tour to the garden. However, if you try going in peak seasons (like during autumn in Korea when the fall foliage is at its best), it’ll be sold out for the day by mid-morning.

Quick Info on Changdeokgung

  • Construction Began: 1483
  • Other Names: Donggwol
  • Other Names for Huwon: Bukwon, Geumwon, Biwon
  • Location: Here
  • Open: Mar – May & Sept – Oct: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm, Jun – Aug: 9:00 am – 6:30 pm, Nov – Jan: 9:00 am – 5:30 pm
  • Closed: Mondays
  • Cost: 3,000 KRW + 8,000 KRW for Huwon tour

How to Get There

Use Anguk Station, Exit 3 and start walking for about 5 or so minutes. You’ll see signs for Changdeokgung.

Stay Nearby Changdeokgung

There are quite a few options right near Changdeokgung, though you could still stay near one of the other palaces or in Bukchon and be in walking distance. Here are some options right near the gate:

You can also, of course, find Airbnbs lose to Changdeokgung. This Airbnb is a pretty simple, basic apartment if you’re on a budget while this Airbnb is in a lovely hanok house complex. If you’re in a bigger group, try this hanok home that fits 6 people.

Check here for more places to stay near Changdeokgung

3. Deoksugung Palace | 덕수궁

Deoksugung is basically right across the street from Seoul City Hall. It was originally built as a temporary palace for Prince Wolsan but it became the main place after the 1592 Japanese invasion. All the other palaces had burned down, so King Seonjo used it as his main residence. 

The last king and second to last emperor of Korea, Gojong, lived here in his later years. He died in Hamnyeongjeon in 1919, with most believing he was poisoned.

The main unique things about Deoksugung are these:

  • Its stone-wall that encases the palace
  • The British-style buildings of Seokjojeon and Jungmyeongjeon
  • The aerial view of Deoksugung from a Jeongdong Observatory nearby

Quick Info on Deoksugung

  • Construction Began: 1483
  • Other Names: Hyeongungung, Geongungung, Seogung
  • Location: Here
  • Open: 9:00 am – 9:00 pm
  • Closed: Mondays
  • Cost: 1,000 KRW

How to Get There

By subway, get off at City Hall Station and use either Exits 1, 2, or 3.

Stay Nearby Deoksugung

There are a lot of swanky hotels near Deoksugung probably because of how central Seoul Plaza is and City Hall is right there. Here are some options you may like:

Check here for other places to stay near Deoksugung

4. Changgyeonggung Palace | 창경궁

Changgyeonggung was originally built in mid 1400s under King Sejong for his father and then renovated in 1483 under King Seongjong. It was often used for secondary royal residences while Changdeokgung was the main one. Many concubines, princesses, etc stayed here.

One of the things the palace is most known for is the death of Crown Prince Sado, which I wrote about before when I wrote about Suwon Fortress. His actual death took place in front of Munjeongjeon, the council hall for Changgyeonggung. Sado was locked in a rice chest and starved to death for eight days.

The palace was destroyed multiple times over the centuries by the Japanese, and the most recent was under occupation in the 1900s. It was changed from a palace to a garden, and the Japanese added a zoo and botanical garden. The zoo has since moved to what is now Seoul Grand Park. The botanical garden, however, is still there and a unique little surprise!

Quick Info on Changgyeongung

  • Construction Began: 1483
  • Other Names: Suganggung, Donggwol
  • Location: Here
  • Open: 9:00 am 9:00 pm
  • Closed: Mondays
  • Admission Fees: 1,000 KRW for adults, 500 KRW for under 18, free under 6

How to Get There

The easiest way to get to Changgyeonggung is to take the subway to Anguk Station and use Exit 3. From there walk along Yulgok-ro for 1km and then turn left onto Changgyeonggung-ro. It’s about 300m more and you’ll get to the entrance.

You could also use Hyehwa Station, Exit 4, and it’ll be a 15 minute or so walk.

Stay Nearby Changgyeonggung

Honestly, your best bet is to stay in the same places I listed under Changdeokgung because the palaces are basically neighbors! If you still want to stay even closer, just check here to look at a map of hotels near Changgyeonggung.

5. Gyeonghuigung Palace | 경희궁

Gyeonghuigung is probably the least well known of all the palaces. It was the last one I finally visited! Originally built in the 1600s under King Gwanghaegun, it was used as a detached palace during a time when Changdeokgung was the main one.

It was once home to over 100 halls and even had a bridge that connected to Deoksugung, but much of it was destroyed. Even after restoration in the nineties, only about a third of the palace grounds have been restored.

Gyeonghuigung is in the same area as Seoul Museum of History and Heunghwamun Gate. I actually thought you had to go through the museum to get to the palace that’s how close they are!

Quick Info on Gyeonghuigung:

  • Construction Began: 1617
  • Other Names: Gyeongdeokgung, Seogwol
  • Location: Here
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday, 9:00 am- 6:00 pm
  • Closed: Mondays & January 1st
  • Cost: Free

How to Get There:

The closest subway station is Seodaemun Station, Exit 4. From there you’ll want to walk straight from the exit less than half a kilometer. It’ll be on your left.

You could also go from Gwanghwamun Station. Exits 1 and 8 are the closest, but if you come out of Exit 7, all you have to do is go straight along that main road. You’ll see Seoul Museum of History first.

Stay Nearby Gyeonghuigung

Since Gyeonghuigung is so close to Gwanghwamun and Gyeongbokgung, your best bet is to stay in a similar area. The Four Seasons Hotel or Silla Stay Seodaemun are the closest to the place.

by Steve46814 via Wikimedia

Bonus: Unhyeongung Royal Residence (운현궁)

Unhyeongung is right near Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung. It’s not an official royal palace, but it still has ties with the royal family and was once just as grand as the others. I have yet to visit, but it’s on my forever growing list of places to visit in Seoul.

Its most famous resident was Emperor Gojong and his father, Heungseon Daewongun. Like I said before, Gojong was the last king and second to last emperor of Korea. Because he was named king so young, Heungseon Daewongun was actually in charge until, basically, Gojong’s future wife, Queen Min, pushed back. If you want, you could actually see reenactments of their wedding ceremony twice a year. Check their event page to see dates.

Fun fact, part of the place is now used for Duksung Women’s University!

Quick Info for Unhyeongung

  • Location: Here
  • Open: April – Oct: 9:00 am – 7:00 pm, Nov – Mar: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
  • Closed: Mondays
  • Cost: Free

And there you have it! A very extensive guide to the grand palaces of Seoul!

general seoul tips

If its your first time in Seoul, I recommend reading through my Korea travel tips post and trip planner post. Once you’ve done that, then read my general Seoul travel guide to give you all the basics of visiting the city.

You’ll also want to read my tips on where to stay in Seoul if you haven’t picked out your hotels yet. As far as the palaces and traditional culture go, you’ll most like want to look at hotels in Insadong.

As for other fun things to do, don’t miss all the trendy cafes in Seoul, like Zapangi Cafe in Mangwon, the Stylenanda pink cafes, or Seoulism. Check out one of the theme parks, Lotte World or Everland, and you can even go up to the Seoul Sky Observatory or cruise along the Han. Don’t miss these fun day tours in Seoul either.

And, of course, my best advice is to skip Google Maps and download KakaoMap to navigate. It’s one of the many apps I recommend for Korea travel. Book your SIM card ahead of time if you’re going to use a tourist SIM as it’s cheaper and guarantees you a card.

If you still have questions and are a women, feel free to join my Facebook group!

share this on pinterest

Follow:

2 Comments

  1. November 9, 2019 / 8:52 am

    Wow these palaces look amazing. Korea was never in the top of my bucketlist but recently i have been seeing it more and more and i have to admit it looks very interesting.

    • Samantha
      Author
      November 12, 2019 / 8:00 am

      Aw, I’m glad! Korea is such a beautiful place that so many people overlook!