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.
The palace is often extremely busy, and these crowds have a few implications. They make the palace noisy, they bring congestion, and they greatly change the experience. While the crowds themselves may not bother you, I think that it’s hard to get the authentic palace experience with them.
Gyeongbokgung is the biggest palace in Seoul, and it is a lot more focused at tourists. There are multiple cafes within, and there are also museums located around the premises. Although these are often attractions in themselves, if you just want to experience a palace you may be better off looking elsewhere.
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.
This is the palace that the vast majority of visitors to Korea will visit. It’s very easy to reach due to its convenient location, and it’s by far the most publicised palace in the country. This is for good reason! The palace has many different activities and attractions.
However, as previously mentioned, this means that there will typically also be large crowds at Gyeongbokgung. On top of this, since the palace is so big, there is a lot of ’empty’ space. Although most visitors will only experience the front area of the palace, there is a lot more towards the back – it’s a very expansive area!
In saying this, it is true that Gyeongbukgung also has many unique experiences that are unique to this palace alone. For example, the summer lights festivals that take place on the lake can’t be seen anywhere else. The same goes for the changing of the guards.
If you are looking for the full experience (museums, changing of the guards, shows, and exploration) then Gyeongbokgung really can’t be beaten. However, if you want the chance to explore a palace, take photos (without crowds), and get a more calm and laid back experience then Changdeokgung or the other palaces in Seoul may be a better fit!
Gyeongbokgung Palace Cost
Wearing hanbok in the palaces makes for a very unique Korea experience!
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.
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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This very low price also applies to Changdeokgung – the other major palace in Seoul. The fees are identical to Gyeongbokgung there, and you will find that the palace overall offers a similar experience. The two smaller palaces, Changgyeonggung and Deoksugung are even cheaper (although they are smaller). Here, the entry fee is only 1000KRW for adults.
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
Gyeongbokgung Palace in winter.
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.
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.
Although the palaces are arguably more beautiful in winter (the snow really makes them stunning!), summer is a great time to visit as there are often special events that go on during this period. For example, the Gyeongbokgung lake lightshow only takes place during the warmest months of the year.
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.
The National Palace Museum of Korea is a great place to learn about Korean history – especially if you would like to learn about more recent Korean history (from the past few hundred years). The museum focuses on history from the Joseon Dynasty and you will learn not only a lot about their lives but also their achievements.
On the other hand, the National Folk Museum has a wide variety of information about the lives of Korean people in the past. Where the Palace Museum of Korea focuses more on the Joseon Dynasty, the National Folk Museum covers a broad history in less detail.
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
For the best memories, why not do a Gyeongbokgung Palace Photoshoot!?
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.
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
Front gates of Gyeongbokgung Palace.
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.
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.
Wearing Hanbok at Changdeongung Palace.
Changdeokgung is another palace that is located very nearby Gyeongbokgung. Despite being located within 15 minutes of walking, this palace is far less discussed, and even less frequently visited. However, in many ways, this is a great advantage of Changdeokgung.
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. This makes it a great place to explore in peace and an even better place to take photos!
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. Despite costing a lot more than the entry fee, I would highly recommend taking this tour – the secret garden is by far one of the best highlights of any of the palaces in Korea!
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.
As with the other palaces of Seoul, Changdeokgung also offers free entry for those wearing hanbok. You will find many hanbok rental stores around Changondeokgung, especially considering it is quite close to Gyeongbokgung and therefore many of the stores overlap.
Changdeokgung Royal Garden
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 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! These tours are a great way to learn about the palace while you explore it. Although there are signs that explain significant landmarks within the palace, there is no better way to learn about the history than a guided tour.
Changdeokgung Garden tours also run at set times throughout the day. Tickets for these tours can be purchased within the palace at the entrance to the secret garden. These tours will take you through the garden and will also give you some time to take photos. These tours are the only way to enter the garden, and they are well worth it because the garden is beautiful!
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 ten to fifteen minutes away.
The lack of crowds come with a variety of benefits. Not only is it less crowded, but you can also experience the palace with less noise. This makes the atmosphere of the palace feel more calm and makes it an overall more enjoyable experience.
Also, the lack of crowds means that Changdeokgung allows for much better photo opportunities. While many of the photos that can be taken here are similar to Gyeongbokgung, the lack of crowds can make the photos far easier to take.
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, Changgyeonggung 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.
Gyeongbokgung is a great palace to visit, and I think that many people will have a great time there. However, at the same time, I can’t help but recommend the other palaces of Seoul over them in many cases. These palaces offer many similar attractions, but with far fewer crowds and at a cheaper price.
These palaces can also feel more authentic at times as they are less targeted at tourists. Nearly everyone only visits Gyeongbokgung (and sometimes Changdeokgung) and it’s sad that these other fantastic palaces receive so little attention.
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!
Gyeongbokgung Palace FAQ
When Is the Best Time to Visit Gyeongbokgung?
Gyeongbokgung (and the other palaces in Seoul) are best visited in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds. Typically the palace will be quite empty before noon, and it will become far busier as the day progresses.
Why Should I Visit Gyeongbokgung?
Gyeongbokgung offers a great insight into Korean history and culture. On top of this, it is also a lot of fun to explore and it offers some fantastic (and unique) photo opportunities.
Is Gyeongbokgung or Changdeokgung Better?
Gyeongbokgung is a bigger palace and is also far more popular. This means that it has some unique attractions such as the National Folk Museum. However, Changdeokgung is more compact and also has a secret garden that is worth exploring.
How Much Does Gyeongbokgung Entry Cost?
Entry to Gyeongbokgung Palace costs 3000KRW for adults and 1500KRW for children. However, if you wear a hanbok to the palace then you can enter for free!
How Can I Get to Gyeongbokgung?
You can reach Gyeongbokgung Palace by taking line 5 (purple) to Gwanghwamun Station. Alternatively, you can take line 3 (orange) to Gyeongbokgung Station. From these, the palace is only a 5 minute walk.