Gyeongbokgung, the largest and arguably the most beautiful of the Five Grand Palaces in Seoul, was the main palace during the Joseon Dynasty. Built in 1395, the Northern Palace is a huge complex that was destroyed twice by Japanese invasions: once in the 1500s by fire and again, systematically, in the 1910s. There was a grand-scale restoration project between these times, with around 500 buildings within the complex at its most dense.
The main sections of the palace are the entrance area, the Inner Royal Court, the King’s study, the King’s chambers, the Queen’s chambers, the Empress Dowager’s chambers, the crown prince’s residence, the kitchen, and various halls in the far northern section of the complex.
The National Palace Museum of Korea and National Folk Museum (both free) are located within the complex but with separate entrances.
- 3000 won for adults 19-64
- 1000 won for kids 7-18
- Free for children 6 and under, seniors 65+, and those wearing hanbok
Hours of operation:
- January-February 09:00-17:00 (last admission
March-May 09:00-18:00 (last admission 17:00)
June-August 09:00-18:30 (last admission 17:30)
September-October 09:00-18:00 (last admission 17:00)
November-December 09:00-17:00 (last admission 14:00)
Nearest subway stops:
- Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3) Exit 5
- Anguk Station (Line 3) Exit 1
- Gwanghwamun Station (Line 5), Exit 2
Tip: use Naver or Kakap maps to type in “Gyeongbokgung”, hit the directions icon, and it’ll give you various options to get here!
Official website (English): http://www.royalpalace.go.kr:8080/html/eng_gbg/main/main.jsp
How to Get the Most of The Palace
There are many free tours available in various languages, mainly English, Chinese, and Japanese. Here are the ways you can get more information from your visit:
- The palace itself hosts tours everyday except Tuesdays, when the palace is closed. English tours are at 11:00, 13:30, and 15:30. Just show up a few minutes beforehand at the information booth and ask to join.
- The city of Seoul hosts walking tours for free, one of them being this palace. They host regular walking tours that must be reserved ahead of time. Here’s their website: http://english.visitseoul.net/walking-tour
- Youth Cultural Corps also hosts free walking tours by youth who are ambassadors to introducing Korea’s culture to tourists. You can find information on booking a tour with them here: https://www.facebook.com/ycc.officials/
- Seoul Mate hosts tours on weekends that can be reserved online: http://www.seoul-mate.com/
Other amazing things to do at the palace:
- Book at least a day in advance for the chance to go into the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, the largest water pavilion in Korea. This can be done on the official website. This is only available from April to October, 3 times a day.
- See the various changing of the guards:
- Changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony: 10:00, 14:00 (running time 20 minutes -get inside 10 minutes early for a good spot)
- Gwanghwamun Gate Guard on Duty Ceremony: 11:00, 13:00 Royal Guard Costume Experience: before and after the Changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony
- Gatekeeper Military Training: 9:30, 13:30 (running time 15 min.)
- Have tea and snacks at the Royal kitchen, but go early to choose from the full menu as they sell out quickly! Open from 10:00 to 17:00 April 3-June 30 and Sep 1-Oct 31.
Some helpful tips:
- Go early since there’s not much shade and it can get pretty hot if you’re going in the summer!
- There’s free entrance if you wear a hanbok – traditional Korean clothes – which can be rented from one of many stores outside Gyeongbokgung station.
- Avoid weekends if you can, as that’s when there’s the highest number of visitors!
- If you plan on visiting all the palaces and the shrine, buy the 5 palace + shrine entrance pass for just 10,000 won (about $10) to save a few bucks
- Bring a snack or lunch to eat since it’s a big place and will take you 2+ hours to visit
- Bring a water bottle – you can refill it at the water fountain outside the Empress Dowager’s quarters.
- There’s a reading room in the Parujeong Pavilion, an octagonal library, so you can bring your laptop or a book and get some work done here!
Note: Hyangwonjeong Pavilion was under restoration from August, lasting a few months.
- There were over 500 buildings in this complex between the two Japanese occupations
- The uneven stone floor in the inner royal court was multipurpose: no running, no sunlight glare, and no slipping on rainy days
- The King had a painting (seen in photo) that was brought with him everywhere he went so it would be obvious that this was the King
- There was hardly any furniture in the king’s sleeping quarters to mitigate potential weapons against him
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