Gyeongbokgung is the most famous palace in Korea and the most visited by tourists to Korea. However, this is exactly why it isn’t the best palace to visit.
Before I begin I want to say that I am by no means against visiting palaces in Korea, even if you do visit Gyeongbokgung. In fact, I think that everyone coming to Korea should visit at least one palace while they are here. It’s one of the activities that every visitor to Seoul should do.
In saying that, I don’t believe that Gyeongbokgung is always the best choice of palace to visit. There are many palaces in Seoul (and Korea), and mostly they are completely overlooked by visitors. In this article, I want to talk about one specific palace in Seoul that is a much better place to visit!
Gyeongbokgung is the largest palace in Seoul and has been standing for over 600 years. It is located very centrally in Seoul, right next to Gwanghamun – a place that nearly everyone who comes to Seoul will visit. The palace is very large, and you can easily spend a few hours there.
Gyeongbokgung Palace Cost
Entry is very cheap, with an entrance fee of 3000KRW (around $3) for adults and 1500KRW for children. However, this fee can be totally avoided if you wear traditional Korean clothing – the Hanbok. Hanbok can be rented on an hourly basis and is usually quite cheap. Wearing hanbok is a uniquely Korean experience and it makes for some beautiful photographs and memories.
Wearing hanbok in the palaces makes for a very unique Korea experience!
Best Hanbok Experiences in Seoul
If you would like photos by me (Seoulinspired!) you can also book here and request Ethan Brooke. All hanbok photos in this post are my own.
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I definitely recommend wearing hanbok at Gyeongbokgung and exploring the palaces with it. The added bonus of free palace entry makes it even more worth it! more information on the entrance fees and opening hours. However, if it isn’t for you, then the palaces by themselves are also great.
When To Visit Gyeongbokgung
There are many best times to visit Gyeongbokgung, just make sure you get there before closing time which is usually around 6 pm. If you want to visit the palace when it isn’t too busy (more on this soon!) try to visit before lunchtime. It will make the experience far more pleasant.
Gyeongbokgung Palace in winter.
Seoul has four distinct seasons and the palaces are beautiful and totally unique in each. If you are wondering when the best time to visit Seoul is, check out this post on the best seasons to visit Seoul. The palaces are great in all seasons but avoid the very hot summer days and very cold winter days if possible.
You can expect to spend a few hours exploring Gyeongbokgung. Not only is the palace very large with lots of areas to explore, but there are also a few museums located within the palace and close by.
Gyeongbokgung Palace Museums
Within the palace, there are also other attractions such as the National Palace Museum of Korea, and the National Folk Museum. There is a garden located at the back of the palace and it makes for a great place for photos. However, the biggest attraction, in my opinion, is the lake located at the back of Gyeongbokgung. The lake is stunning, and in summer evenings there is often a light show with dancers. If you can visit on a summer evening, don’t miss the opportunity!
Gyeongbokgung Palace Tours
Gyeongbokgung Palace is massive and there is a lot to take in. Luckily, there are some fantastic tours available if you would prefer to have a guide.
The History of Joseon Dynasty Tour is a tour that focuses on… You guessed it, the history of the Joseon Dynasty. This tour visits a few locations around Seoul, including the palace. The tour has a low price, and with it you can expect to learn a lot about Korea history.
For the best memories, why not do a Gyeongbokgung Palace Photoshoot!?
Another popular tour that visits Gyeongbokgung Palace is the Day Tour in Seoul. This tour visits lots of the top attractions around the centre of the city and gives you great coverage of Seoul.
If you are interested in only a palace tour and nothing else, Trazy has a fantastic deal that will put you with a knowledgeable tour guide for a low price.
Finally, if you are interested in a cultural tour, I recommend the History of Seoul Tour. This tour also covers Namdaemun Market and Insadong. A great option if you are interested in learning the history behind the metropolis.
Why You Shouldn’t Visit Gyeongbokgung
So far this post has only covered Gyeongbokgung and by now, you are probably thinking that the title was very misleading! However, let me explain why I chose that title.
Gyeongbokgung is the biggest palace in Korea, and the convenience of its location makes it extremely popular. It is primarily for this reason that I recommend against visiting it.
The palace is incredibly busy on most days, and the crowds ruin much of the appeal. Whether you are just exploring, wanting to take photos, or trying to browse the museum, the crowds can ruin the experience if you visit on a wrong day.
Front gates of Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Interestingly, one of the biggest attractions at Gyeongbokgung can also be witnessed without actually entering the palace. The changing of the guards happens multiple times throughout the day (you can check the times here), and this is at the entrance of the palace. If you are interested in watching this ceremony you won’t need to actually enter the palace.
Not only this, but I find that Gyeongbokgung offers nothing unique compared to the other palaces. It’s a Korean palace, and that is great. But there is nothing that makes it stand out other than the pure size and historical significance. I definitely think that visiting a palace in Korea is worth it! However, why not visit another less crowded palace that has some special sights?
If Gyeongbokgung is the only palace you are able to visit, or if you have already made a booking, never fear. Gyeongbokgung is still great, and in the end, any Korean Palace is worth visiting. My advice is this: Visit in the morning if you wish to avoid the crowds. I have visited the palace over 20 times, and the only time I find it to be relatively empty is before noon.
On the other hand, if you are still creating your travel plans or contemplating where to visit, why not visit Changdeokgung? It is very close to Gyeongbokgung and is easily reachable if you are in the area. However, what makes it stand out is the royal garden located at the back of the palace.
On top of this, it is also a lot less crowded and it’s located a mere five-minute walk from Gyeongbokgung! The palaces are actually incredibly close.
Where Gyeongbokgung is larger and more spread out, I found Changdeokgung to be more compact and interesting. Not only that but usually it is much less crowded there.
Changdeokgung’s biggest attraction is the royal garden located at the back of the palace. The garden is only open in specific seasons, but it is a stunning place and if you visit in time for a tour, make sure to use the opportunity!
Changdeokgung Palace Price
Changdeokgung costs the same for entrance as Gyeongbokgung. However, the garden tour (you can only enter as a tour) is an added 8000KRW.
This price is well worth it, however, and if you can, do it! You can find the timetables and more information for the tours here. Alternatively, if you are interested in exploring Changdeokgung and the surrounding areas as a tour, check out the Seoul Half-Day Walking Tour.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get any general photos of the garden when I visited. However, you can believe me when I say that the garden is beautiful!
Changdeokgung Royal Garden
The Royal Garden in Changdeokgung was reserved for the royal family and was left as untouched as possible by human hands. The garden was intended to be as natural as possible, with only a few pavilions being constructed for the enjoyment of the garden.
The cost to enter the garden is larger than the cost to enter the palace, and as such it may be hard to justify. However, this is a cost that is well worth it – especially if you love nature.
If you get a chance to visit in fall or spring, these gardens are truly stunning. Unfortunately, since you have to be a part of a group, you can’t experience it at your own speed. However, even so, it is well worth it.
The garden isn’t open at all times of the year, so please be sure to refer to the link above to check that it is actually open at your ideal time.
If the garden isn’t open, then the rest of the palace is also beautiful. While the garden is the highlight, it is by no means the only attraction that the palace has to offer.
Changdeokgung Palace Tours
If you are looking to learn about the history of Changdeokgung and would prefer to have an experienced guide then you are in luck. Palace tours are available from the low price of 15,000KRW.
The tour will be with an experienced guide who will make sure that you don’t miss anything important!
Why Changdeokgung Palace is Better to Visit
There are many different palaces and historical buildings around the city!
Changdeokgung Palace is, in my opinion, the better palace to visit compared to Gyeongbokgung. Gyeongbokgung gets nearly all of the attention, however, and Changdeokgung is overlooked by most visitors.
While Gyeongbokgung is bigger and definitely more famous, this also brings the issue of crowds. Changdeokgung however, doesn’t suffer this issue even though it is located only five minutes away.
On top of this, Changdeokgung offers a few unique attractions that make it a fantastic visit. The Royal Garden is stunning and I can’t wait to visit it again. On the other hand, Gyeongbokgung doesn’t offer anything similar.
Other Palaces in Seoul
Deoksugang and Gyeonghuigung are two more palaces in Seoul. They are smaller than Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung but they are still a great way to experience palaces in Seoul. I won’t cover them in-depth in this post as it has been a long time since I visited them myself. However, this site here has a fantastic overview of the palaces.
Do you have a favourite palace in Seoul? If so, which one is it and why?
I would love to hear what you think in the comments below! If you have any further questions or comments leave them down below and I will be sure to answer them as soon as I can!