Gyeongbokgung is the most famous palace in Korea and the most visited by visitors to Korea. However, this is exactly why you it might not be the best palace for you.
Before I begin I want to say that I am by no means against visiting Gyeongbokgung. In fact, I think that everyone coming to Korea should visit at least one palace while they are here. In saying that though, 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 only talk about Changdeokgung, but there are also many other palaces!
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. This means that the palace is very large, and you can easily spend a few hours there.
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. The added bonus of free palace entry makes it even more worth it! click here for more information on the entrance fees and opening hours.
There are many best times to visit Gyeongbokgung, just make sure you get there before closing time (which is usually around 6 pm). Personally, I wouldn’t visit in the summer at daytime as the palace is very exposed and you will be VERY hot, especially in Hanbok. Instead, you can check out these places for when the weather is hot! Any of the other seasons are great though. In winter the palace will be less crowded which is perfect for photo opportunities.
If you can visit at a time when the palace isn’t packed, it is a great experience!
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!
So, why shouldn’t you visit Gyeongbokgung?
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.
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 times I find it to be relatively empty are before 11 am in the morning.
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.
Just to the left of Changdeokgung you can see Gyeongbokbung’s location. They are very close to each other!
Gyeongbokgung is larger and more spread out, and I found Changdeokgung to be more compact and interesting. Not only that but usually it is much less crowded there.
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.
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!
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 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. A full tour timetable can be found here.
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 there are many other palaces you can visit. Gyeongbokgung is probably the best though, as you can learn about the history and culture while experiencing the sights and beautiful palace.
Have you experienced the palaces in Korea? If so, which one is your favourite?
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