One of the must-do’s in Seoul is none other than taking a visit to the city’s ancient palaces - Gyeongbokgung Palace, Gyeonghuigung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon. These architectural gems were not only residences of kings and queens, but were also the center of politics and city life during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).
Changgyeonggung Palace, in particular, is the perfect destination for anyone who is interested in seeing Korean palaces. Designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1997, Changdeokgung Palace is said to be the most traditional and authentic of Seoul's five palaces. It has been praised for its architectural sensitivity to its natural surroundings and lauded as a representative masterpiece of East Asian Palace Architecture. The palace is also believed to have the perfect geographical location according to ancient philosophies like that of Feng Shui.
As amazing as it is in daylight, the palace is even more magical when you take a stroll along the palace grounds under a full moon. Take The Moonlight Tour at Changdeokgung Palace for a pleasant evening walk within the royal palace as well as discovering interesting historical facts related to the royal family.
Donhwamun Gate is the oldest of Changdeokgung Palace's gates. First built in 1412, it was burnt down during a period of conflict and later restored in 1608. The two-story high gate was given the name Donhwa, which means "to teach and love the subjects with compassion." This is where the Moonlight Tour officially begins with a cheongsachorong (a traditional candle lantern from the Joseon Dynasty covered with red and blue silk cloth) to light the path.
Located at the center of the palace is Injeongjeon Hall. Injeongjeon Hall was used as a banquet venue for foreign diplomats and as well as for King's coronation. Inside this prestigious room, visitors will be able to see the King's throne and folding screen behind, called Ilwoloakdo byeongpung (partition used as a decoration as well as to block strong winds from outside), embroidered with the sun, moon, and five mountain peaks. One can see Seoul's modern cityscape looming in the background.
Nakseonjae was built as the study and sarangchae (living quarters of the head of a household) of King Heonjong (24th king of Joseon, 1827-1849). Literally meaning “to enjoy virtue,” Nakseonjae implies that a king should serve his people with virtue so that both the people and the king himself will be happy. After King Heonjong passed away, the compound was used by King Gojong (26th king of Joseon, 1852-1919) and King Sunjong (27th king of Joseon, 1874-1926) to carry out state affairs.
A hexagonal pavilion is located atop the hill of Nakseonjae Huwon, providing a panoramic view of the surrounding garden. Participants of the tour will be able enjoy the mood of a moonlit night with a daegeum (traditional Korean instrument) performance here.
Buyongji Pond and its surroundings are the most beautiful and tranquil area inside Changdeokgung Palace and is one of the finest examples of landscapes designed during the Joseon period. This garden where kings would take leisure walks in the past consists of small but pleasant Buyongji Pond and the striking Buyongjeong Pavilion with its pillars steadfast in the pond. The surrounding trees that have endured hundreds of years create cozy and elegant scenery. Next to the pond is Yeonghwadang, a venue once used for holding state exams during the Joseon Dynasty.
Another pond as beautiful as Buyongji Pond within the palace is Aeryeonji Pond, a charming pond with a name meaning “a pond where lotus flowers blossom.” To the north of the pond is Aeryeongjeong Pavilion, with its half standing over the water, which is known to offer a gorgeous view of the pond’s scenery from inside the pavilion.
Yeongyeongdang Pavilion is a wooden building built in the same style as the houses of the noblemen during the Joseon Dynasty. The building was built in the 19th century and was used as a venue to hold ceremonies and performances for the royal family by the best performers at that time. During your moonlit journey, Yeongyeongdang Paviliion will serve as the venue for an array of gukak (traditional Korean music) performances. The building's expansive yard and temporary stage are complete with enough seats for the audience. Korean tea and snacks are served as well.
After the performance, visitors will be led into the forest of Changdeokgung Palace, known as Huwon. For centuries its access was strictly limited to the royal family. Now open to the public, guides dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) lead visitors through the trees using the light of the cheongsachorong. Guided by the delicate glow of this traditional lantern and the serene light of the full moon, visitors are guaranteed a unique and unforgettable evening.
* This column was last updated in June 2017, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details from the official websites before visiting.