Seoul has a perfect mix of history, culture, and tradition with the thrum of modern life. A brilliant way to peek into its illustrious past is to explore the majestic royal palaces in Seoul.
In this guide, I’ll show you the most stunning Seoul royal palaces, with information and tips you need to plan an unforgettable visit.
Useful tips for visiting Seoul palaces
The Seoul palaces are not just architectural wonders; they are windows that offer glimpses of South Korea’s vibrant past.
Here are some golden nuggets of advice to truly make your palace visit shine:
Opt for a guided tour
Don’t just admire the buildings; dive deep into their stories. Plenty of tour agencies and guides offer insightful anecdotes about Seoul’s palaces.
These tours often come with bonus visits to neighboring temples and museums, so you can soak in the city’s rich history in one swoop.
For example, you can join the Gyeongbokgung Palace and Bukchon Hanok tour.
Get Discover Seoul Pass
Want to explore multiple palaces without emptying your pocket? Discover Seoul Pass have you covered.
It offers free entry to several palaces and other attractions, like museums or cultural performances.
Wear a hanbok for free entry
Feeling adventurous? Don the traditional Korean attire – a hanbok – and waltz into many of the Seoul palaces for free.
Hanbok rental shops abound near the palaces and even online. So, go ahead and truly step into the shoes (or hanbok) of ancient Koreans!
Mark Culture Day on your calendar
Culture Day, which falls on the last Wednesday of every month, is your golden ticket to free entry into many palaces, including Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, and Deoksugung.
Take this chance to wander the beautiful palace gardens without shelling out a single penny.
When is the best time to visit royal palaces in Seoul?
I highly recommend visiting Seoul’s royal palaces during the spring or fall seasons. The weather is mild, and the gardens and trees are in full bloom with vibrant colors.
Spring offers the bonus of cherry blossoms in the palace gardens, while in the fall, the foliage turns into a stunning array of red, orange, and yellow.
Winter might be a bit chilly for some, but don’t write it off completely! Some palaces host unique events like ice skating and light festivals in winter, making for a charming visit.
Best royal palaces in Seoul
Let’s explore five grand palaces in Seoul!
1. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Despite being destroyed and reconstructed numerous times, the palace remains a proud symbol of Korean sovereignty.
The palace exudes a fusion of traditional Korean and Chinese architectural styles. Do not miss out on the Geunjeongjeon Hall, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, and the National Palace Museum of Korea.
To truly appreciate the palace’s significance, take a guided tour or rent an audio guide.
2. Changdeokgung Palace
Nestled in the heart of Seoul, Changdeokgung Palace is a majestic structure built in 1405.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the palace is one of the Five Grand Palaces that the Joseon Dynasty left as their legacy.
Here, the beauty of traditional Korean architecture intertwines with the principles of Confucianism. The buildings, built with wooden frames, stone walls, and tiled roofs, follow a feng shui layout.
But it’s the gardens that I adore the most, especially the renowned Secret Garden. It’s like a green retreat amid the urban sprawl.
The Throne Hall, used for critical ceremonies, and the Injeongjeon Hall, serving as the king’s audience chamber, are both must-see attractions.
3. Deoksugung Palace
The Deoksugung Palace is a gem that deserves a spot in your Seoul itinerary.
Built in the 15th century, this palace was once home to Korean royalty, symbolizing their power and authority.
The highlight for me at Deoksugung Palace is its unique blend of traditional Korean and Western architectural styles.
You’ll find Eastern-style buildings with curved roofs and wooden pillars share the space with Western-style structures featuring brick walls and arched windows.
Don’t miss out on the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Daehanmun Gate – a vibrant showcase of traditional Korean martial arts and music.
Also, take the time to visit Jeonggwanheon Hall, a banquet hall built for King Gojong. The curved glass ceiling and walls offer captivating views of the palace grounds.
Constructed in 1483 during the Joseon Dynasty, Changgyeonggung Palace has worn many hats – a royal residence, a secondary palace, and even an educational institution.
Despite damage from the Japanese occupation, restoration efforts have preserved its grandeur.
The serene ambiance of Changgyeonggung Palace, surrounded by lush gardens, is what I fell in love with. True to its name, “Palace of Flourishing Gladness,” it’s a perfect escape from the city’s bustle.
The architecture is worth a mention too – think of traditional Korean elements like wooden pillars and tiled roofs.
Stepping into Gyeonghuigung Palace, built in 1623, is like taking a step back in time.
It served as a secondary palace and later as a military headquarters during the Japanese occupation.
The architecture is a treat to the eyes, showcasing a harmonious blend of traditional Korean and Western styles.
Check out the Geoncheonggung Residence, King Gojong’s home. The beautiful gardens and tranquil pond make it a great spot to relax. And if you love books, a visit to the Seogeodang Hall, the king’s library, is an absolute must.
Additional tips for visiting Seoul Palaces
Palaces in Seoul are stunning by day, but they take on a magical aura under the starlit sky. Some palaces, like Gyeongbokgung and Changgyeonggung, offer night openings during specific periods, and it’s an entirely different experience.
The beautifully lit structures against the dark backdrop create a romantic and serene atmosphere.
So if you’re a night owl or a photography enthusiast, this is something you shouldn’t miss. Make sure to check their websites for night opening schedules and tickets.
Learn a bit of history before your visit
A bit of pre-visit reading can go a long way! Having some knowledge about Korea’s history, particularly about the Joseon Dynasty, will significantly enrich your palace visit.
Understanding the context behind these beautiful buildings will allow you to appreciate them even more.
Respect the rules and be mindful
Remember that these palaces are important historical sites. Follow any rules posted, like not touching artifacts, not climbing on structures, and respecting designated paths.
Also, if you are visiting in hanbok, bear in mind that it’s traditional attire and not a costume, so it should be worn with respect.
FAQs about palaces in Seoul
What is the most famous palace in Seoul?
Gyeongbokgung Palace is definitely the most famous palace in Seoul as the main royal residence during the Joseon Dynasty. From here, you can catch the changing of the guard ceremony, explore the many buildings and pavilions, and even dress up in traditional Korean hanbok for a unique photo opportunity.
Can you enter palaces in Seoul for free?
Each palace has their own admission fee, but you can enter for free waering Hanboks.
The palaces in Seoul will take you on a journey through time, and each palace has its own unique charm and history. Whether it’s the grandeur of Gyeongbokgung, the beautiful gardens of Changdeokgung, the architectural fusion of Deoksugung, the tranquility of Changgyeonggung, or the cultural richness of Gyeonghuigung, you’re in for a regal treat.
I hope my tips and suggestions will make your palace-hopping experience in Seoul an unforgettable one.