An easy day trip from Seoul, the Suwon Fortress (or Suwon Hwaseong) is a massive and frankly underrated place to visit! Here’s everything you need to know about navigating your way around the various landmarks.
Okay, so maybe it’s only underrated in my mind because I managed to only just visit it well into my third year in Korea! I found out I had an odd Wednesday off recently, so I decided to finally visit my friend, Autumn since the Suwon Fortress has been on my list.
I’ll be honest — for some reason, I thought the fortress was just a small structure, and I wouldn’t really be impressed by it after seeing Seoul’s palaces and about a million temples throughout the country. Wrong. It’s incredible. Of all the fortresses and walled-in cities in Korea, it’s the only one left that’s fully intact, and it’s as stunning as that sounds.
Anyhow, if you’re planning on traveling around Seoul, definitely add in Suwon Hwaseong to your itinerary.
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History of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress
Holy shitnsacks, you guys, I did NOT expect the history of the Suwon Fortress to be this dramatic, but here I am after doing a deep dive through Wikipedia for the last hour. To explain its history, I kind of have to go back and explain why it even exists.
The Sad Story of Prince Sado
Okay, so once upon a time in the mid-1700s, there lived in a prince who suffered from severe mental illness. Korea is terrible at helping the mentally ill in 2018, so I can’t even imagine how bad things were for a crown prince during the Joseon dynasty.
Anyhow, Prince Sado needed actual help. His wife, Lady Hyegyeong, wrote a memoir* about her marriage to him, and he was pretty much an emotionally abused child at the hand of his father turned adult monster. They married when they were only 11 in 1744, so she’s witnessed the entire trajectory of his madness.
After a serious illness in 1745, he was never quite the same. It started with severe anxiety dealing with his father, and it worsened into him being physically violent as an adult. From small things like being terrified of thunder to full on beheading a eunuch in the midst of a manic episode, Lady Hyegyeong was genuinely afraid of her and her children’s’ wellbeing. The oldest of these children was Jeongjo.
Everything pretty much came to a head in 1762 when he threatened and tried to kill a court official’s son. Rumors spread that he was trying to kill his own father, and Sado was ordered to be executed.
This is the really messed up part. Royal bodies were not allowed to be defiled, and there was also the concern for Hyegyeong and Sado’s children. If he were to be treated like a criminal, they, by proxy, would be considered criminals as well.
Sado couldn’t be hung or executed in a normal, quick manner. Nope. His father ordered him to climb into a small, wooden chest in the middle of July. It took nearly 8 days for him to die of starvation.
King Jeongjo’s Loyalty
Anyhow, Jeongjo was only 10 when this happened, so I can imagine it left an impression. His grandfather pretty much banned Sado’s name from even being spoken and court and all but tried to erase him from history.
However, filial devotion is a real, strong thing in Korean culture, especially if your dad was a frightening but ultimately tragic figure. When Jeongjo was named king, his first words were, “I am the son of the late Crown Prince Sado.”
King Jeongjo then moved his father’s grave from Baebongsan to Suwon and began to build a whole fortress to be closer to the tomb. His initial intentions were to move the capital from Seoul to Suwon, and the fortress and temporary palace were his first steps.
He wasn’t successful in moving the capital, but Suwon is now considered an important city in Korea and Suwon Hwaseong is one of the top things to see.
What you see now was reconstructed in the last half of the century using the same blueprints used during its initial construction. The fortress was fully reconstructed in the 1970s and the palace restoration began in 1996 and is still continuing until today.
Suwon was damaged quite a bit both under Japanese colonial rule and during the Koren War where it constantly shifted between the North and the South. Autumn sent met these photos of what it looked like in the 1950s during! I still can’t believe how much as changed.
But, yeah, that’s the whole history behind the Suwon fortress. They recently made a movie about it called The Throne or Sado (사도)*, and it should be on Netflix! I guess if the Taj Mahal is considered one of the most romantic gestures ever, consider Suwon Hwaesong one of the most filial gestures ever.
A Walking Guide to Suwon Fortress
Start at Paldalmun or South Gate (팔달문)
Paldalmun is the starting point for anyone visiting the fortress. It’s a massive gate right in the middle of the road, and you’ll get dropped off here if you take a bus. Walk straight until you get to the palace’s main gate. It’ll feel like you’re not going the right way at first, but you are! It’s about 5-10 minutes.
View the 24 Martial Arts Performance at Sinpungnu (신풍루)
We managed to get to the main gate right on time for this fantastic performance! It’s at 11:00 a.m. every day besides Monday, and it’s a demonstration of the 24 different martial arts recorded and illustrated in MuyeDoboTonji in 1790. According to the brochure, there are over a thousand movements! The performance itself is only 18 of the 24 since the logistics of horseback is a bit much for every day.
It’s seriously beautiful, and Autumn and I took about a million photos!
Other performances to see in this area:
- Jangyeongyeong Guards Ceremony
- A special Saturday performance
Afterward, wander around Hwaseong Haenggung (화성 행궁).
After the performance, we went into the palace. You’ll see it called a temporary palace. It was one of a few built for the royal family if the ones in Seoul were too dangerous during times of war.
Haenggung (행궁) was also mainly built for King Jeongjo to stay in while he visited his father’s tomb. Otherwise, it was used as the Suwon governmental office. One big event I kept reading about was the celebration of Lady Hyegyong’s 60th birthday (who, IMO, 100% deserves any praise and love she got and still gets).
Pop over to Daeseungwon (대승원)
After you leave the palace, you’ll want to climb up a bit to visit Daeseungwon, or as Autumn and I called it, the giant gold Buddha statue. You can see it from the main palace courtyard, that’s how big it is!
Just note, you do have to climb back down and out of the palace to go see it. You can’t just cut across.
Before we started on the actual fortress wall, we decided to get lunch. We figured we’d be on the wall for over an hour, and there aren’t any food or snack stands up there if we get hungry.
Since it was so sunny and warm out, we were in the mood for some naengmyun more than anything else. We pretty much stopped by the first restaurant that advertised it. I don’t remember the name nor did I remotely remember to take photos, but it was near Rodeo Street.
Hike to Seonamammun (서남암문)
The easiest way to start hiking along the actual wall is to go back towards Paldalmun. If you’re facing the gate, the entrances and stairs are to the left. You have to buy a ticket for the fortress. Don’t lose it either! They checked ours at one point and I saw another checkpoint later on.
The first big landmark is Seonamammun (the Secret Gate). It’s not that far, but the steps aren’t particularly fun! This is probably the hardest part of the whole thing though, and it’s really not that bad. You’re pretty much flat or downhill from this point!
There’s a side area through Seonamammun that’ll take you to Seonamgangnu pavilion. It’s a nice little place to sit, but you won’t be able to see anything with all the trees. If you want to pack a little picnic, this is a good place to sit and eat.
Walk along to Hyowon’s Bell (효원의 종)
The next landmark you’ll see is Hyowon’s Bell, which was made to honor King Jeongjo. You can pay about 1,000 KRW to ring the bell and make a wish.
See the views from Seojangdae (서장대) and Seonodae (서노대)
This is pretty much the top of the fortress, and it has really pretty views of the city. It’s pretty cool because you can see the walls of the fortress and see just how big Suwon has grown since its Joseon days.
Walk to Hwaseomun or the West Gate (화서문)
I don’t really have much to say about Hwaseomun, but this is my favorite photo from the day!
Walk to Janganmun or the North Gate (장안문)
Janganmun (sometimes known as Bungmun) is notable because it’s the biggest gate in the whole country, including the ones in Seoul.
Walk down to Hwahongmun (화홍문)
We finished at Hwahongmun (or Buksumun). It sits right on Suwon River and is a nice place to stop and rest for a bit! If you want, you can keep following the wall towards Changnyongmun Gate and the east side of the wall. We chose to follow the river instead towards…
Haenggung-dong Mural Village (행궁동 벽화마을)
If you follow the river to the first bridge (it’s set a floor below the road), turn right to go towards Haenggung-dong Mural Village. It’s a small but very cute area and a nice place to relax after walking all along the wall.
Back to Paldalmun
If you’re like us, we were pretty beat after all of this! We started around 11:30 after the martial arts performance, took maybe an hour break for lunch and finished at the mural village around 4 or 5. We made our way back to Paldalmun to catch a bus back to Autumn’s apartment to clean up before dinner.
How to Visit the Suwon Fortress
- Korean Name: 수원 화성
- Address: 경기도 수원시 팔달구 정조로 910 (장안동)
- English Address: 910, Jeongjo-ro, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do
- Cost: 1,000 KRW for the fortress, 1,500 for Haenggung
- March – October: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
- November – February: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Best Time to Visit Suwon Hwaseong
There’s not a lot of shade at Suwon Hwaseong, so I can’t imagine July or August would be smart times to visit! It was pretty hot, and we pretty sun tired by the time we finished.
I imagine autumn is the best time with all the fall colors and leaves. It looked like there were a few areas with pretty cherry blossoms as well, and winter with the snow must be breathtaking!
How to Get to the Suwon Fortress
Suwon is only about 40-minutes to an hour away from the center of Seoul, and it’s even on the subway line! If you were to take the subway from the Insadong area to Suwon Station, it would be 52 minutes on the subway train.
From Suwon Station, you want to take a bus to Paldalmun (about five stops away). Head to the Tourist Information Center right outside, and the bus stop you need is right in front of that.
Tours That Go to the Suwon Fortress
- Suwon Hwaseong Fortress & Korean Folk Village Private Van Tour (Trazy) – If you’re traveling in a small group, you may want to take this private tour! The van holds up to 7 people. From your hotel in Seoul, they’ll come to pick you up and take you to the Fortress and the Folk Village. All in all, you’ll have 6 hours for both. Check prices and times here.*
- Suwon Hwaseong Fortress + Korean Folk Village + Uiwang Rail Bike 1 Day Tour –
If you want to fit a lot into one day, then this tour goes to the Fortress, the Folk Village, and the Uiwang Rail Bike. Check prices and times here*
- Seoul Vicinity: Suwon Hwaseong Fortress + Everland 1 Day Tour – Personally, this tour is a little much for me, but if you have a ton of energy for wandering around the fortress and enjoying an amusement park in one day, then you might want to check this one out. Check prices and times here*
Other Things to Do in Suwon
Korean Folk Village (한국민속촌) – Apparently every big EPIK orientation visited this village, so I’m a little bitter because I never got an orientation and thus have yet to go to this place. It’s big on introducing you to Joseon dynasty life, which is where most of Korea’s traditional culture comes from!
Toilet Museum (Haewoojae) – Yep, you read that right! Autumn and I were originally going to go here before we realize how much of the fortress there is to see! It’s shaped like a toilet and it’s all about Korea’s plumbing history from the Three Kingdoms Period to now. I can’t make this stuff up, you guys!
Flying Suwon – So when we were hiking up along the fortress wall, we kept noticing this hot air balloon rise and fall. It took me a second to realize it was tethered! If you want a view of everything from the hot air balloon’s position, then it’s about 18,000 KRW for adults. I’m kind of curious now to see how the city views differ!
Noelbit Observatory, Suwon Jeil Presbyterian Church – We saw this church from afar, and I think it’s pretty close to the area of the fortress we didn’t go to! When I looked at the map, it said there was an observatory there, so it might be worth visiting if you have an extra day.
And there you have it! A full guide to Suwon Hwaseong or Suwon Fortress. Let me know if I’m missing anything below!