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

After my last trip, 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!

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 official royal 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 took me an absurd amounts of visits to Seoul to finally go inside Deoksugung instead of just seeing it from the observatory. The one time I tried to go before, it was crowded around the entrance with a protest, so I just kind of noped out of there.

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!

Quick Seoul Guide

  • Stay: Luckily all the palaces are in fairly close proximity. I recommend staying in Insadong, which is Seoul’s historic center. Some of my favorite options include Nine Tree Premier Hotel Insadong, Yehadoye Guesthouse, Mini Hotel Insa, or NamHyunDang.
  • Getting in: Don’t spend a ton of money on getting a taxi into Seoul. Just use the subway which is super nice and easy to use from all of the airports, train stations, and bus terminals. If you do need a private transfer, book ahead.
  • Stay in Touch: Korea has the best thing ever – eSIMs! No need to worry about losing your physical SIM card anymore. Just buy here and you’ll be emailed a QR code to get set-up.
  • Where to Book Activities: I always like checking Klook or Trazy for the best deals on anything related to tours and day trips in Seoul.
  • Getting Around: When it comes to Seoul, you’ll most likely do a combination of subway and walking (so much walking). Under each palace, I have the specific station or directions you’ll need.
  • Absolute Needs: Good walking shoes; there’s always SO much more walking in Seoul than you’d think. I like Birkenstocks or just a cute pair of white sneakers.

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, even 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. I’ll list tour options with each palace below.

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 (한복). A hanbok just means traditional Korean clothing, and they’re always fun to see when wandering about! Both Koreans and foreigners dress up in them, so don’t feel like it’s something only tourists do.

You can find rental places near all the entrances and in Bukchon, but if you want specific spots, try experience/rental options below:

  • Hanbook Rental & PhotoshootChoose between either a traditional or fusion hanbok and then add on a fun indoor or outdoor photoshoot at either the National Folk Museum or Gyeongbokgung.
  • Hanbok Experience Choose from as short as 1.5 hours to as long as one day for traditional or themed hanboks. It also comes with hairstyling and the option for a photoshoot in the Hanboknam Studio.
  • Hanbok Rental Near ChangdeokgungChoose between 2 or 4 hour rental at this shop with over 30 years experience. Near Anguk Station and about 10 minutes from Changdeokgung on foot.
  • Hanbok Rental & Pedicab TourA very cute experience where you can rent a hanbok and sightsee via pedicab.
  • Hanbok RentalOffers up to 3XL from 2 – 4 – all day.

I say if you’re going to dress up, really go all out and get your hair done and do a little photoshoot. Heck if you’re here with your partner, you could even go so far as to do a traditional Korean wedding ceremony experience!

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 in Changdeokgung, 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. Each one also has a specific day they’re totally closed.

7. Sometimes there are night tours

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

8. 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:

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:

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.

Unhyeongung, Seoul, Korea

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.

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 can 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

How to Get There:

Unhyeongung is quite literally right outside of Anguk Station, Exit 4. You can also use Exits 2 and 3 or 5 and just cross the street.

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

for more tips on seoul

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 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.

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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!

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