Sun, Jun 26, 2022, 17:22 KST (UTC+9)  Seoul  Korea

imagine your korea

Travel Highlights

Travel Highlights

Need-to-know Tips for Exploring Seoul’s Royal Palaces!

  • Tag History Tour
  • Date06/02/2022
  • Hit3866

Myeongjeongmun Gate at Changgyeonggung Palace

Among Seoul’s numerous attractions, the sites that continually draw in tourists are none other than the four palaces of Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace and Deoksugung Palace, as well as Jongmyo Shrine. At these locations, visitors can easily glimpse the beauty and culture that lasted over 500 years during Korea’s historic Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).

The palaces may all appear similar to the untrained eye, but spend more time here and you will see that each palace has its own charm and story. Visit the four palaces and Jongmyo Shrine for a closer look at the rise and fall of the royal family of the Joseon dynasty.

Basic Information on the Royal Palaces

There were multiple palaces built for a variety of reasons. When one palace was under repairs, the royal family could move to another, equally comfortable location. In the case of political change, the new ruling family would wish to create a fresh start by living in a new location. For these many reasons, Seoul has more than one palace. The king lived at the main palace, known as the legal palace, or beopgung, while the secondary palaces were referred to as yigung.

Each palace is divided into an inner area, where the king and royal family lived, and the outer area, where royal rulings were conducted with officials and where ceremonies and events were held. The outer area contained the palace’s main building, Jeongjeon Hall; the king’s private office, Pyeonjeon Hall; and the buildings where the king’s councils and court officals worked. In addition, most palaces had a back garden with ponds and pavilions where the king and royal family could relax.

Pumgyeseok

During the Joseon dynasty, government officials were divided into 18 ranks. Pumgyeseok were engraved stones placed in the open plaza before Jeongjeon Hall in the order of official rank. When there would be a gathering at the plaza for important events or national ceremonies, the court officals were to stand by the stone of their rank. Facing Jeongjeon Hall, the officials to the right were civil servants, while the officials to the left were military officers.

Dancheong

Dancheong refers to the five colors of blue, red, yellow, white, and black which were used in various designs to decorate wooden buildings. Originally applied to protect the wood from damage caused by insects and the weather, dancheong can most often be seen at palaces and temples throughout Korea. The drawings and patterns vary by the use of each building, but common designs include symbols to prevent fire and evil spirits.

Korea’s royal palaces

Legal palace of Joseon, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung’s main hall, Geunjeongjeon Hall

Constructed first among the Joseon palaces, Gyeongbokgung Palace was the representative legal palace of the Joseon dynasty. The original palace, completed in 1395, was destroyed by fire during the Imjin War (1592-1598), and remained in a state of disrepair for approximately 270 years. It wasn’t until the end of the Joseon period in 1867 that it was reconstructed to show the grand majesty of the royal family. Later, during the Japanese occupation, the majority of the palace was destroyed again. In 1990, a detailed plan was created for the complete restoration of the palace which is still on-going. The work on Gyeongbokgung Palace’s main gate, Gwanghwamun Gate was finished in 2010.

Area of Gyotaejeon Hall

Entering Gwanghwamun Gate, the first thing your eyes will set upon is Korea’s largest wooden structure, Geunjeongjeon Hall. Used for the coronation of kings and important court events, this hall was the physical representation for the power of the king. The buildings behind Geunjeongjeon Hall include Sajeongjeon Hall, the king’s executive office; Gangnyeongjeon Hall, the king’s private quarters; and Gyotaejeon Hall, the queen’s quarters.

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion

Leaving Geunjeongjeon Hall to the left will lead directly to Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which was used for banquets. A two-story, open-walled pavilion appearing to float over a man-made lotus pond, the pavilion is one of Gyeongbokgung Palace’s most attractive locations. Admission to Gyeonghoeru Pavilion requires a separate reservation, but the panoramic view of Seoul and the mountains offered from the second level is well worth the extra step. The special admission is free of charge but viewing is limited to 40 minutes. International tourists interested in signing up can make a reservation via phone call at +82-2-3700-3904 (foreigner exclusive line).

  • Address: 161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 사직로 161)
  • Directions: Walk approx. 4 min from Gyeongbokgung Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 5
  • Operating hours: March-May, September-October 09:00-18:00 / June-August 09:00-18:30 / November-February
  • Docent tour
    - Korean: 11:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00
    - English: 11:00, 13:30, 15:30
    - Japanese: 10:00
    - Chinese: 13:00
    - Indonesian: 11:00
    - Vietnamese: 15:00 (Fridays only)
  • Admission: Adults 3,000 won / Children 1,500 won
    * Adults (ages 19-64) / Children (ages 7-18)
    * Free admission: Preschoolers (ages 6 and younger), senior citizens (ages 65 and older), visitors wearing hanbok, all visitors on the last Wednesday of each month
  • Website: www.royalpalace.go.kr (Korean, English)

Changdeokgung Palace, palace of harmony and nature

Main hall of Changdeokgung Palace, Injeongjeon Hall (top), Interior of Injeongjeon Hall (left) & Nakseonjae Hall (right)

Changdeokgung Palace, west of Gyeongbokgung Palace, was built in 1405 as a secondary palace for King Taejong, the third king of the Joseon dynasty. Changdeokgung Palace’s most outstanding charm by far is the use of nature throughout the palace. Perfect harmony is achieved between the buildings and gardens, as well as with small stones and trees placed artfully in open spaces. The beauty of the extensive gardens made this palace more popular than Gyeongbokgung for the Joseon kings to spend their time, making it the longest lived-in residence of all the Joseon palaces. Changdeokgung Palace is the most well-preserved of the four palaces in Seoul, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

At the easternmost end of the palace is Nakseonjae Hall, a simple building built for the royal consort of Joseon’s 24th ruler, King Heonjong. It was also the final residence of the last Joseon princess, Princess Deokhye.

Gwallamjeong Pavilion (top) & Buyongji Pond (left) in Changdeokgung Palace’s Huwon, Yeongyeongdang Residence (right)

Surrounded by hills and mountains, Changdeokgung Palace’s back garden, also referred to as “huwon” in Korean or “Secret Garden,” is the largest garden of all the royal palaces, and offers amazingly beautiful views. As expected, the buildings in the garden are in perfect balance with the surrounding nature, appearing to be merely an extension of the earth and trees. The garden was a site for official events like government exams, as well as for casual conversations between the king and his servants.

Located in the palace’s garden, Yeongyeongdang Residence is simple and understated in comparison with the royal residences at other palaces. The building was constructed in the style of Joseon’s yangban (aristocracy) houses, and was commonly used when the king and queen entertained guests.

Major attractions of Changdeokgung Palace like Injeongjeon Hall and Nakseonjae Hall are open to self-guided tours, but the back garden is only accessible by signing up for a guided tour. Reservations can be submitted online or on-site, with docents speaking Korean, English, Japanese, or Chinese depending on the time.

As a special treat, the palace is opened for a guided tour from Donhwamun Gate through the back garden every spring and fall during the Moonlight Tour at Changdeokgung Palace. Purchasing tickets for this event can be quite competitive; not only does the tour include a docent who explains the history and customs of the palace, participants will be treated to dagwa (traditional refreshments) while watching a performance of traditional dance and music.

* Related content

Cultural Heritage Sites

  • Address: 99, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 율곡로 99)
  • Directions: Walk approx. 5 min from Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 3
  • Operating hours: February-May, September-October 09:00-18:00 / June-August 09:00-18:30 / November-January 09:00-17:30
    * Closed Mondays
    * Last admission 1 hour before closing
  • Admission (Foreigners)
    - Changdeokgung Palace: Adults 3,000 won / Children 1,500 won
    * Adults (ages 19-64) / Children (ages 7-18)
    * Free admission: Preschoolers (ages 6 and younger), senior citizens (ages 65 and older), visitors wearing hanbok, all visitors on the last Wednesday of each month
    - Back garden tour: Adults & senior citizens 5,000 won / Children 2,500 won (Changdeokgung Palace admission charged separately)
  • Website: www.cdg.go.kr (Korean, English)

Overflowing with filial devotion, Changgyeonggung Palace

Myeongjeongjeon Hall, main hall of Changgyeonggung Palace

Changgyeonggung Palace was built during the reign of Joseon’s 9th king, King Seongjong, as a residence for his grandmother, mother, and other elders of the royal family. It was built near Changdeokgung Palace, making it easy for the elders to travel between the two locations. Because it was largely planned for use by the family, the living quarters take much more space than the government section of this elegantly sized palace. Because of this unique use of area, the palace has more stories about family issues than political scandals, from filial devotion, to love and hatred between the king and crown prince and discord between the queen and royal consorts.

Changgyeonggung Palace’s greenhouse

The greenhouse at Changyeonggung Palace, built in 1909, was the first Western-style greenhouse in Korea. Designed after the Glass Palace at the World Expo in France, it was the largest greenhouse in Asia at the time. Exuding a romantic ambience, the greenhouse is a popular date spot for couples and photo op location for tourists.

  • Address: 185, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 창경궁로 185)
  • Directions: Walk approx. 15 min from Hyehwa Station (Seoul Subway Line 4), Exit 4
  • Operating hours: 09:00-21:00
    * Closed Mondays
    * Last admission 1 hour before closing
    * Passage to Changdeokgung Palace: February-May, September-October 09:00-17:00 / June-August 09:00-17:30 / November-January 09:00-16:30
  • Admission (Foreigners): Adults 1,000 won / Children 500 won
    * Adults (ages 19-64) / Children (ages 7-18)
    * Free admission: Preschoolers (ages 6 and younger), senior citizens (ages 65 and older), visitors wearing hanbok, all visitors on the last Wednesday of each month
  • Website: cgg.cha.go.kr (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)

Deoksugung Palace, where traditional and modern beauty coexist

Junghwajeon Hall, Deoksugung Palace’s main hall (top) & Jeonggwanheon Pavilion (bottom)

Originally called Gyeongungung Palace, Deoksugung Palace was the second-most used palace of the Joseon dynasty. Gyeongungung Palace was first used as a temporary palace by the 14th king, King Seonjo, after the Imjin War (1592-1598). It was not until the reign of the 26th ruler, King Gojong that it became the legal palace. The name changed to Deoksugung Palace when King Gojong stepped down from the throne for the accession of Sunjong, the last king of the Joseon dynasty.

Jeonggwanheon Pavilion served as a meeting place for banquet guests, as well as a resting space. Designed by a Russian architect, the pavilion is a beautiful mix of Korean and Western styles with a name carrying the meaning of “a space to quietly view the world.” King Gojong would come to this pavilion when worried about the nation’s increasing insecurity to sit and consider solutions.

Seokjojeon Hall

Seokjoseon Hall was completed in 1910 and is the most outstanding of the Western-style buildings constructed near the end of the Joseon dynasty. The building has two floors, as well as a basement used as a living space by the chamberlains. The first floor contained the public area of the Imperial family, while the second floor was the Imperial family’s private living quarters. These days, the basement is open for public tours, while the first and second floors require a docent tour online reservation in advance.

  • Address: 99, Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 중구 세종대로 99)
  • Directions: Walk approx. 5 min from City Hall Station (Seoul Subway Line 1, 2), Exit 1
  • Operating hours: 09:00-21:00
    * Closed Mondays
    * Last admission 1 hr before closing
  • Admission (Foreigners): Adults 1,000 won / Children 500 won
    * Adults (ages 19-64) / Children (ages 7-18)
    * Free admission: Preschoolers (ages 6 and younger), senior citizens (ages 65 and older), visitors wearing hanbok, all visitors on the last Wednesday of each month
  • Website: www.deoksugung.go.kr (Korean, English)

The symbol of legitimacy of the Joseon dynasty, Jongmyo Shrine

Jeongjeon Hall

Jongmyo Shrine holds the ancestral tablets of kings and queens of the Joseon dynasty, a kingdom founded on Confucian principles. With the lack of ornamentation, Jongmyo Shrine can appear rather dull next to the splendor of the royal palaces, but this simplicity was intentional in order to create an atmosphere of dignity and sanctity befitting a shrine. For its significance in the aspect of Korea’s traditional, historical, and artistic values, Jongmyo Shrine was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

Samdo Road

When entering Jongmyo Shrine, you can’t help but notice the three-tiered road. This path is called Samdo Road, and was the path walked on by the spirit, the king, and the crown prince. The highest level, called sin-ro (spirit road), was exclusively for use by the spirit of the deceased kings and queens; not even the reigning king were allowed to step foot on this level. To the right of the sin-ro was the path for the king, and the left path was for the crown prince. To protect and respect this important cultural heritage, visitors to Jongmyo Shrine are also prohibited from walking on Samdo Road.

Following the Samdo Road will lead to the entrance of Jongmyo Shrine’s main building, Jeongjeon Hall. With a length of 101 meters, Jeongjeon Hall is Korea’s longest wooden building. The hall houses the ancestral tablets of 19 kings, including the founder of Joseon, King Taejo, as well as 30 queens. Joseon had a total of 27 kings but only 19 of them were deemed to have made great achievements and were considered virtuous enough to have their tablets placed in this hall.

Yeongnyeongjeon Hall

The ancestral tablets of other remaining kings and queens were placed in Yeongneyongjeon Hall, built beside Jeongjeon Hall. The two buildings may seem identical, but closer inspection will reveal that the roofs are different, as well as Yeongnyeongjeon Hall being smaller in size, holding only 34 tablets.

To this day, Jongmyo Shrine continues to hold memorial services to the spirits of the royal family through Jongmyodaeje. Held on the first Sunday of May each year, the music and dances performed at Jongmyodaeje are called Jongmyo Jeryeak. These performances were so unique to Korea that they were added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list in 2001.

Jongmyo Shrine is only open to self-guided visits on Saturdays and the last Wednesday of each month. Admission at all other times require joining a guided tour. The tour schedule rotates between languages including Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese.

  • Address: 157, Jong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 종로 157)
  • Directions: Walk approx. 15 min from Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station (Seoul Subway Line 1, 3, 5), Exit 11
  • Tour schedule
    - Korean: 10:30, 11:30, 13:30, 14:30, 15:30
    - English: 10:00, 14:00
    - Japanese: 13:40
    - Chinese: 15:00
    - Guided tour is not available on weekends, the last Wednesday of every month, & public holidays
    - Self-guided tour: February-May, September-October 09:00-18:00 / June-August 09:00-18:30 / November-January 09:00-17:30
    * Closed Tuesdays
    * Last admission 1 hour before closing
  • Admission: Adults 1,000 won / Children 500 won
    * Adults (ages 19-64) / Children (ages 7-18)
    * Free admission: Preschoolers (ages 6 and younger), senior citizens (ages 65 and older), visitors wearing hanbok, all visitors on the last Wednesday of each month
  • Website: jm.cha.go.kr (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)

Maximizing your visit to Seoul’s palaces and Jongmyo Shrine

Combination ticket

If you are looking for the most cost-efficient way to tour Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung (including the garden), Changgyeonggung, and Deoksugung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine, then be sure to purchase the combination ticket. Available from the ticket booth at all four palaces and the shrine, the ticket costs 10,000 won and is valid for three months. One point to take special care of is that the ticket covers the admission fee to Changdeokgung Palace’s back garden but visitors must apply for the tour either online or on-site to enter the garden.

Guided tours

Seoul’s four palaces and Jongmyo Shrine each operate guided tours with docents who are knowledgeable and experienced at explaining the history and culture in a fun and easy-to-understand way. The guides are free with admission and are available in Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese. The hours vary by palace and language so be sure to check the schedule in advance when planning your trip. We recommend signing up for a tour online!
* Changdeokgung Palace back garden requires guided tour reservation to enter

Night admission

Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung Palaces are open for special nighttime admission throughout the year (Moonlight Tour of Changdeokgung Palace is a separate event). During this special period, admission is generally extended until 10 PM, with tickets for international visitors available for reservation online or over the phone. The dates of these special periods vary each year and by palace so if you’re interested in visiting in the evening, be sure to check the dates in advance!

More info

  • Websites
    - Cultural Heritage Administration: www.cha.go.kr (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
    - Seoul Tourism Organization: www.visitseoul.net (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese, Russian)
  • 1330 Korea Travel Hotline: +82-2-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, Thai, Malay)

* This column was last updated in May 2022, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details before visiting.

PERFECT FOR YOU! view
Make an inquiryff

1330 Travel Hotline Live Chat

Open KTO Live Chat(Download not required)

Open messenger app(Messenger app must be installed)
top