Visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace In Seoul

Complete Guide To Visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace In Seoul

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Gyeongbokgung Palace is undoubtedly one of the most visited historic sites in Seoul and should be on anybody’s list of must-sees when coming to Korea. I’ve visited the palace more times than I could count and know what to do and what not to do when it comes to visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul.

You can avoid a stressful visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul by reading the following tips first!

Here is what you really need to know about visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace!

Also be sure to check out these 25 awesome and FREE things to do in Seoul and if you’re only in Seoul for a layover, you might be interested in booking a FREE Seoul transit tour from Incheon Airport.

VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL

A Bit of History of Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 and remains the largest of all five palaces in Seoul. It was the palace of the last dynasty of Korea. 

The palace was finished three years after the establishment of Joseon, the last Korean kingdom, in 1392. It was a monumental architectural feat heralding the birth of a new dynasty.

A leading Confucian scholar named Jeong Do-jeon designed and oversaw the construction of the palace. He wished to express the goals of the new dynasty in accordance with Confucian ideals, which state that before one can teach others and rule the world, one must first train his mind and body.

Therefore, the Confucian scholar reasoned that a palace should not be a symbol of sovereign power, but rather a place where the king cultivates his mind and rules over his people with the assistance of good government officials. As a result, the Confucian architect desired to construct a palace that is simple and elegant rather than grand and imposing.

The palace’s name, ‘Gyeongbok,’ is derived from one of the Confucian scriptures and means ‘enjoy good fortune and prosperity.’

The name also conveys good fortune to the new dynasty. It’s the same with the names of other buildings on the palace grounds, which are all named after Confucian philosophies.

When to Go

Since Gyeongbokgung Palace is among the top attractions in Seoul, it’s pretty much always packed with tourists, both foreign and local. However, you can still avoid the crowds if you stick to the following tips when visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul.

TIP #1 FOR VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL:

Show up before 9AM when the palace opens

TIP #2 FOR VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL:

Visit in the early morning or in the late afternoon

I highly recommend heading to Gyeongbokgung Palace as soon as it opens at 9:00 in the morning. The second best time to visit the palace is the late afternoon, 1 hour before closing time at the latest.

Gyeongbokgung Palace is closed every Tuesday. Gyeongbokgung Palace opening hours are subject to change depending on special conditions or circumstances.

Months Opening Hours Ticketing Time
January to February 9:00 – 17:00 9:00 – 16:00
March to May 9:00 – 18:00 9:00 – 17:00
June to August 9:00 – 18:30 9:00 – 17:30
September to October 9:00 – 18:00 9:00 – 17:00
November to December 9:00 – 17:00 9:00 – 14:00

Admission Fees
Adults (ages 19-64): 3,000 won / Groups (10 people or more): 2,400 won
Children (ages 7-18): 1,500 won / Groups (10 people or more): 1,200 won

* Free admission: Preschoolers (age 6 and younger), seniors (ages 65 and older), people wearing hanbok, the last Wednesday of every month (Culture day)
* Refer to the website for details

VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL

Changing of the Royal Guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace

Since 1469, the Joseon Dynasty royal guards would keep watch and guard the main entrance of Gyeongbokgung Palace from where the king ruled the country. Today, this tradition is kept alive by daily changing of the royals guards at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul based on royal documents of the ceremonies.

The changing of the guards is a great opportunity to get a glimpse into Korean tradition and history. When visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, be sure to time your visit according to the changing of the guards schedule.

Performance Times

Sumunjang (Royal Guard) Changing Ceremony
10:00, 14:00 / 20 minutes per ceremony
Gwanghwamun Gate Guard-on-Duty Performance
11:00, 13:00 / 10 minutes per ceremony
Sumungun (Gatekeeper) Military Training (outside Hyeopsaengmun Gate)
09:35, 13:35 / 15 minutes per ceremony

* Please note that the schedule is subject to change.
* Event may be canceled in the case of rain.

VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL

HOW TO GET TO GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE

Gyeongbokgung Palace is located in the heart of Seoul and is very easy to get to. You can either take a taxi or hop on the subway and get off at “Gyeongbokgung Station”. From there, take exit

 

 

VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL

WHERE TO ENTER GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE

Gyeongbokgung Palace is situated in the Jongno District in one of the oldest parts of Seoul. It is very accessible from all different directions.

You can enter Gyeongbokgung Palace through the four main gates: the southern gate Gwanghwamun, the northern gate Sinmumun, the eastern entrance of National folk Museum of Korea and the western gate, Yeongchumun. However, if you have never been to Gyeongbokgung before, the most impressive way to enter is definitely from the southern gate Gwanghwamun.

There are two recommended ways to reach Gwanghwamun:

#1: Take the subway line 5 to Gwanghwamun station and take exit no. 2. Follow the impressive walkway up to Gwanghwamun. This is the most impressive way to enter the palace if you will as it lets you pass by the statue of King Sejong, the creator of the Korean alphabet. 

#2: Take the subway line 3 to Gyeongbokgung station and take exit no. 5. This way will lead you directly into the palace entrance, right in front of the National Palace Museum of Korea.

VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL

HOW TO GET TICKETS / SKIP THE LINE AT GYEONGBOKGUNG

You can purchase your Gyeongbokgung palace ticket at any of the four entrances. A regular ticket costs 3,000 won. Groups of 10 or more get a discount and pay 2,400 won each. Children ages 7 to 18 pay 1,500 won, while groups of 10 or more pay only 1,200 won each. However, if you wear hanbok, the Korean traditional dress, there is no Gyeongbokgung palace entrance fee and you can enter for free. This also means, you won’t have to line up to purchase tickets, but can simply skip the line and enter.

I highly recommend booking a guided Gyeongbokgung Palace tour. This allows you to learn more about the palace and the individual rooms and halls inside the complex. There aren’t too may signs and explanations so a guide can fill those gaps.

Recommended tours at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul:

VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL

HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD YOU SPEND IN GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE?

There are 7,700 rooms at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. Even though you cannot enter all of them, it’s still a huge place and will take quite some time to explore and really take in. I would say anywhere between 2 and 3 hours seems like a good amount of time to really experience Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul.

VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL

WHAT TO WEAR WHEN VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE

There are no official guidelines or restrictions on what you can and cannot wear to Gyeongbokgung Palace, but I definitely recommend wearing comfortable shoes as you will walk a lot! Also, don’t forget to bring a lot of water, especially during the hot summer months. You might also want to wear sunscreen and a hat in summer. In winter, Seoul can get very cold, so warm shoes and a thick coat is also recommended.

Renting a Korean hanbok dress is very popular among tourists and locals alike. Not only will you take some seriously beautiful photos at the palace grounds, but you also get free admission to Gyeongbokgung when wearing a traditional dress.

wearing hanbok at Gyeongbokgung
wearing hanbok at Gyeongbokgung

VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL

What to See at Gyeongbokgung Palace

The palace consists of 7,700 rooms in some 500 buildings – there’s A LOT to see! Not all rooms and buildings are open to the public (and it would be nearly impossible to see them all during a visit), so here are the most important buildings and rooms you should see when visiting Gyeongbokgung.

Gwanghwamun Gate

Gyeongbokgung Palace has four gates, one to the north, one to the south, one to the east, and one to the west; each for different ranks and classes of people. Gwanghwamun Gate is the southern entrance.

Confucianism defines the order and logic of all things human. The philosophy holds that the King must sit facing south, and all palace buildings during the Joseon period were designed with this in mind.

This gate has three doors, the middle of which is reserved for the king. The door to the east was for academic officials, while the door to the west was for military and technical personnel.

In front of the front gate is a granite rock sculpture of an animal. It’s a sculpture of a fictitious animal named ‘Haechi.’ It is said that its large eyes can distinguish between right and wrong. It was placed there to remind all officials who came to the palace to have a conscience and to be fair in their political activities.

As you pass through the gate, look up at the ceiling. You’ll notice that a mythical creature known as ‘Jujak,’ a Korean equivalent of the phoenix, was painted there to guard the gate. It represents the direction south.

Gwanghwamun Phoenix

Heungnyemun Gate

Next, you’ll pass through Heungnyemun Gate, the second gate to Gyeongbokgung Palace. This gate used to be heavily guarded by gatekeepers. The Royal Guard Changing Ceremony is still held today to show visitors how things used to be done here.

Yeongjegyo Bridge

Yeongjegyo Bridge is made of stone, and the stream beneath it is known as ‘Geumcheon,’ or the ‘Forbidden Stream,’ in Korean. This is because you’ll be entering the king’s domain and should be careful what you say or do.

According to feng shui, an auspicious location is one with a mountain behind it and a stream of water flowing in front. Gyeongbokgung Palace was surrounded by a mountain, but there was no water flowing in front of it. That’s why they had to draw in water to make this stream.

Geunjeongmun Gate

This gate leads to Geunjeongjeon Hall, which hosted official royal events. The middle of the stairs in front of the gate have a sculpture of a Korean phoenix known as ‘bonghwang.’

For many centuries, the bird has been the king’s symbol, and legend has it that the mythical creature only appears during a reign of peace.

The bird sculpture clearly indicates that the passage is only for the king.

However, it is steep and can be very slippery on a rainy or snowy day. So, how did the king use this path?

He was carried on a palanquin, of course.

Geunjeongjeon Hall, the Royal Court Yard

This is the central area of the palace. From here, you can see the entire palace complex with Bukaksan Mountain in the background. The ridge of the roof is in harmony with the ridge of the mountain. It’s a perfect marriage of nature and architecture.

Geunjeongjeon Hall hosted important government events such as the king’s enthronement, the crown prince’s appointment, the official morning assembly, and a reception for foreign envoys.

Notice the stone monuments in rows on the ground before the hall. They represent the person’s title who is standing behind it. The higher the rank of the person standing behind the stone slab, the closer it is to the hall where the king is. The rows to the east are reserved for civil officials, while the rows to the west are reserved for military officials.

The open corridors surrounding this building were filled with rooms for different purposes. Unfortunately, all of them were demolished in the past and only open corridors remain today.

wearing hanbok at Gyeongbokgung

The Guardians at Geunjeongjeon Hall

Geunjeongjeon Hall is guarded by 36 mythical creature sculptures. Their purpose is to drive away evil spirits from the King’s residence.

In addition to the four guardian kings who protect the north, south, east, and west, there are sculptures of a rat, an ox, a tiger, a rabbit, a dragon, a snake, a horse, sheep, a monkey, a rooster, and other animals.

Each of these animals is guarding a different direction and looking in various directions.

Sajeongjeon Hall, the King’s Office

Every morning, a Cabinet meeting was held there. The King also studied Confucian scriptures with the officials and held political discussions with them. Everything that happened here was documented by chroniclers, and what they wrote is known as ‘sacho.’

The Royal Secretariat kept the king’s diary. Every day of the year, they wrote down how the King spent his day, what his orders were, what was reported to each government division, and every word spoken or movement made by the King. The ‘Seungjeongwon ilgi,’ or ‘Diary of Seungjeongwon,’ is the title of this record collection.

Gangnyeongjeon Hall, the King’s Bedroom

This was the King’s chamber. It was here that the King rested after a long day’s work. The room’s layout is quite unique. Between the sliding paper doors are nine rooms, with the king’s bedroom in the center. When all of the sliding doors are open, the nine rooms merge into one large room.

The Joseon kings began their day very early in the morning. Even for the King, acting with propriety was one of the most important virtues during the Joseon period. As a result, the King had to rise early, greet the elder members of the royal family, and then begin a meeting with government officials. He wouldn’t have time for breakfast until after the meeting.

Gyotaejeon Hall, the Queen’s Quarters

The Queen resided in Gyotaejeon Hall. Joseon’s code of ethics was Confucianism, which prohibited men and women from mixing in activities. The king and queen were subject to the same rule. As a result, this hall was one of the most restricted areas in the palace. To enter this area, even the queen’s own father and brothers required special permission.

The queen ruled over all females in the palace, including concubines and court ladies. She was especially important in the planning of official events such as ancestral rites and funerals.

Behind the quarter’s is a beautiful garden designed for the Queen, who was unable to go outside.

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion served as the Joseon Dynasty’s banquet hall. It was built to entertain the King and officials, as well as to receive foreign envoys. It sits on an artificial island in the middle of a man-made pond. The pavilion has 48 columns in total to add grandeur to the architecture.

This structure has no walls or doors, making it an ideal spot for admiring the surrounding nature. However, if you want to make the most of your visit, head to the second floor. To go up to the second floor, you must make a reservation and go with a tour.

Hyangwonjeong Pavilion

This is the back garden at Gyeongbokgung Palace. The pond, island, and pavilion all have interesting shapes. The pond is square, with a round island in the center and a hexagonal pavilion on it. The square, round, and hexagon shapes represent the Oriental philosophy that the ‘sky is round and the land is angular.’

The pavilion is called ‘Hyangwonjeong,’ a word taken from a Chinese poem that means ‘the further the scent of a lotus flower travels, the clearer the scent becomes.’

Fun fact: Hyangwonjeong Pavilion was the first structure in Korea to be illuminated by electric bulbs, seven years after Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. The Joseon government sent Edison an official letter, and Edison dispatched one of its top technicians to this palace to install a generator and light bulbs.

What’s Nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace?

Statue of King Sejong

Right in front of Gwanghwamun Gate lies Gwanghwamun Plaza, a public open space featuring statues of Admiral Yi Sun-sin of Joseon Dynasty and King Sejong the Great of Joseon. King Sejong is probably the most famous king in Korean history as the Korean alphabet “Hangul” was invented under his reign as an effort to create a script that all Korean people could easily learn.

Bukchon Hanok Village

Situated on the top of a hill between Gyeongbok Palace, Changdeok Palace and Jongmyo Royal Shrine, Bukchon Hanok Village is a Korean traditional village. The traditional village is boasts beautiful traditional alleys, hanok and is preserved to show a 600-year-old urban environment.

Museums near Gyeongbokgung Palace

Underneath the middle section of Gwanghwamun Plaza are exhibitions on the life and work of two of the most important historical figures in Korean history: King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sunsin. Both exhibitions are completely free to enter and offer an interesting glimpse into the life of two of South Korea’s most famous historical figure. The exhibitions are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:30am–10:30pm (final admission at 10pm, http://m.sejongstory.or.kr/eng).

Other museums you shouldn’t miss that are close to Gyeongbokgung Palace are:

  • The National Folk Museum of Korea
  • National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art – Seoul
  • Kumho Museum of Art
  • National Museum of Korean Contemporary History
  • Daelim Museum
King Sejong Statue in Seoul
Bukchon Hanok Village Seoul
View of Gwanghwamun Plaza with Gyeongbokgung Palace
View of Gwanghwamun Plaza with Gyeongbokgung Palace

VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL

The Other Four Main Palaces

There are five royal palaces located in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace being the largest. They are officially called “The Five Grand Seoul Palaces” and were all built between 1300 and 1500 during the Joseon Period. However, due to destruction by Japanese invasion (16th Century) occupation (20th Century) and fire outbreaks, only reconstructions of the buildings remain.

Changdeokgung Palace & Changgyeonggung Palace

Both of these palaces are situated right next to each other and are often combined together as “East Palace”. Visit these two palaces for genuinely old buildings (rather than modern reconstructions of old buildings), and for the beautiful surrounding gardens.

Gyeonghuigung Palace & Deoksugung Palace

Connected by an attractive tree- & sculpture-lined walled road, these two palaces are the smallest palaces in Seoul – ideal for anyone not too much into palaces as they make for a nice and manageable visit. There’s a pretty good museum at Gyeonghuigung, ideal for a half-day of Korean culture that isn’t too heavy on the palaces.

View of Deoksugung Palace

Recommended Travel Guides for Korea

If you want to learn more about South Korea and have a handy travel guide in your pocket, check out these three options below:

DK Eyewitness Top 10 Seoul

This Top 10 Seoul guide is a great pocket guide that breaks down the best of Seoul into helpful lists of ten – from selected highlights to the best museums and galleries, and the most authentic restaurants, tearooms, bars, shops, and markets. I personally helped update the most recent version of this guide. Buy this book.

Lonely Planet Korea

You really can’t go wrong with a lonely planet guide in your hand luggage! I’m a huge fan of Lonely Planet and own this guide myself. What I love is the brand-new pull-out, passport-size ‘Just Landed’ card with wi-fi, ATM and transport info – all you need for a smooth journey from airport to hotel! Buy this book.

South Korea: The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide

Calling all my solo female travel ladies out there – this guide is amazing! Part of the #1 Travel Guidebook Series for Women (and couples), this take on South Korea will help you avoid the scams, creeps, and tourist traps and skip ahead to the cities and adventures that are worth your time (and money)! Buy this book.

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Linda

Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

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