Myeong-dong, Dongdaemun, and Gangnam are famous shopping spots and extremely popular with tourists and are usually on the itineraries of Seoul’s visitors. Seoul’s palaces are other places of interest that should not be missed. Korean heritage and style can truly be felt and seen at the palaces. Where better to experience Korean traditions and heritage than at Korean palaces?
Seoul’s palaces are: Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Gyeonghuigung. Each palace has its own energy and charms. All five palaces waive admission fees for visitors wearing hanbok. The fee is waived for hanbok wearers even on holidays and on special event days. These days hanbok can be rented for a relatively low price. Eulji-ro Underground Shopping Center, located near Myeong-dong and Jongno, has a number of shops that rent out hanbok at fixed rates and times. You can dress from head to toe in traditional Korean clothing as even hair accessories and purses are available at these shops. In colder weather, you might want to rent a traditional fur vest to stay warm. Lately, the hanbok and palace experience has become popular with Korean women, particulary young women and girls. But it’s not just Koreans who are taking part, more and more foreign tourists are renting out hanbok and touring palaces. Wearing hanbok and touring Seoul’s palaces can make for a unique experience and a lasting memory.
The Visit Seoul editing team took part in the hanbok and palace experience in order to write the most thorough article for visitors.
A panorama of the beautiful Gyeongbokgung Palace can be taken in from Gwanghwamun Square. It is the oldest of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Construction of the palace began in 1394 and ended in 1395. Its name means, “the greatly blessed palace.” Gyeongbokgung is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces and in the early Joseon Dynasty was crucial to the king as it housed major government offices. Its location, with running water before it and a mountain, Bugaksan, was considered very auspicious. Haechi (mythical lion-like creatures) stand in from of the palace’s main gate, Gwanghwamun Gate. The buildings within the palace and the haechi were built to align in straight lines so as to ward off danger.
The first building you will see after entering Gyeongbokgung is Geonjeongjeon Hall, where coronations and other important state events were held. Geonjeongjeon Hall was of great symbolic significance to the royal family during the Joseon dynasty. Behind the hall are the royal residences, the Council Hall where the King handled state affairs, and a variety of other buildings as the banquet hall and several pavilions.
Out of the Five Grand Palaces, Changdeokgung Palace is the only that’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located east of Gyeongbokgung Palace. While Gyeongbokgung Palace’s structures were built in straight lines to ward off danger, Changdeokgung Palace was built in line with the contours of the surrounding land so as to harmonize with nature. After Gyeongbokgung Palace was razed in 1592 during the Imjin War, Changdeokgung Palace took its place as the primary residence for the royal family and major government offices. Changdeokgung’s importance would hold for the next 300 years, until the end of the Joseon Dynasty. The Joseon Dynasty’s royal families resided in Changdeokgung Palace longer than any other palace. Because Changdeokgung’s layout follows the curves of its location’s natural topography, it differs greatly from the other palaces. Some buildings can feel hidden away, so it’s great fun to wander the grounds and “discover” the buildings for yourself.
Injeongjeon Hall is symbolic main hall of Changdeokgung Palace. Just behind it is Seonjeongjeon Hall. Pass through Seonjeongjeon and you will arrive at Huijeongdang Hall. Huijeongdang was the king and queen’s residence and government affairs were conducted here. It may feel like walking through a maze while going from hall to hall. There is also the Nakseonjae Complex, a fine example of hanok architecture. Sunjong, the last monarch of Joseon, resided here with his wife. Although located inside of Changdeokgung Palace, it feels separate from the palace.
Changgyeonggung Palace sits right next to Changdeokgung. Government affairs were never carried out at Changgyeonggung; instead it was the residence of queen mothers and other high ranking ladies of the court. Many historical tv shows and movies have used this palace as a filming location as many famous events have occured here. The machinations of Jang Hui-bin against Queen In-hyeon during King Sukjong’s rule and the sad story of Prince Sado took place here. Although many sad events took place at Changgyeonggung Palace, the palace was also the birthplace of many the Joseon Dynasty’s kings. There is almost no chapter of Joseon history where Changgyeonggung does not make an appearance.