A Guide to Deoksugung Palace: The Smallest of Seoul’s Palaces
Deoksugung Palace is one of Seoul’s five main palaces. During the Joseon monarchy, members of Korea’s Royal Family lived there until Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910. It is one of the “Five Grand Palaces” built by the Joseon Dynasty’s kings and a major National Historic Site. Come and walk into the ancient world of Korea’s Royal Family at Deoksugung Palace!
You can avoid a stressful visit to Deoksugung Palace in Seoul by reading the following tips first!
Here is what you really need to know about visiting Deoksugung 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.
WHEN TO GO
While Deoksugung Palace is the smallest palace in Seoul, that doesn’t make it a less popular attraction. In fact, it’s very popular among locals who work in one of the nearby office buildings as a hangout place for lunch or after work.
Deoksugung Palace is also one of the top destinations during autumn season as it boasts some of the most beautiful fall foliage in Seoul.
However, you can still avoid the crowds if you stick to the following tips when visiting Deoksugung Palace in Seoul.
TIP #1 FOR VISITING DEOKSUGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL:
Show up before 9AM when the palace opens
If you want to escape groups of visitors at Deoksugung Palace, be sure to visit first thing in the morning. The palace ticket booth opens at 9AM but you want to get there by around 8:45 to make sure you’re among the first in line to snatch your ticket.
TIP #2 FOR VISITING DEOKSUGUNG PALACE IN SEOUL:
Visit in the early morning or in the late afternoon
I highly recommend heading to Deoksugung Palace as soon as it opens at 9:00 in the morning. The second best time to visit the palace is the late afternoon, or at 8PM (1 hour before closing time) to avoid people.
9:00AM – 9:00PM (Last Admission 8:00PM)
Deoksugung Palace is closed every Monday. The palace opening hours are subject to change depending on special conditions or circumstances.
Adults (ages 19-64): 1,000 won / Groups (10 people or more): 800 won
Children (ages 7-18): 500 won / Groups (10 people or more): 400 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 Deoksugung website for details
Changing of the Royal Guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace
The Royal Guard Changing Ceremony provides an excellent opportunity to witness a rare traditional scene. The magnificent costumes of the guards, with their brilliant primary colors, are a sight to behold. After the ceremony, visitors can take photos with the gatekeepers.
The ceremony takes place in front of Deoksugung Palace’s Daehanmun Gate, the entrance gate of the palace. The royal gate is opened and closed at regular intervals, and the gatekeepers in charge of guard duty and patrols hold a shift ceremony three times per day.
The Royal Guard Changing Ceremony is a must-see event for tourists.
11:00-11:40 / 14:00-14:40 / 15:30-16:30
* No performance on Mondays
* Event may be canceled in the case of rain.
How to Get to Deoksugung Palace
Deoksugung 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 “City Hall Station”. From there, take exit 2 or 3 and you’re right at the ticket office for the palace.
Address: 99, Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 중구 세종대로 99 (정동)
By Subway: Seoul City Hall Subway Station, exit 2 or 3
How to Get Tickets / Skip the Line at Deoksugung Palace
You can purchase your Deoksugung Palace ticket at the entrance ticket booth. A regular ticket costs 1,000 won. Groups of 10 or more get a discount and pay 800 won each. Children ages 7 to 18 pay 500 won, while groups of 10 or more pay only 400 won each.
However, if you wear hanbok, the Korean traditional clothing, 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 Deoksugung 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. Free 1-hour tours are available at different times during the day in English, Japanese and Chinese. You can check the guided tour schedule here.
Recommended tours at Deoksugung Palace in Seoul:
- 2-hour Deoksugung Palace tour
- 2-hour Deoksugung Palace Night Tour
- Hanbok rental with Korean Hairstyling
How Much Time Should You Spend at Deoksugung Palace?
There are 13 buildings at Deoksugung Palace in Seoul. Even though you cannot enter all of them, it 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 Deoksugung Palace in Seoul, especially if you also want to visit the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in the west wing of Seokjojeon Hall.
What to Wear When Visiting Deoksugung Palace?
There are no official guidelines or restrictions on what you can and cannot wear to Deoksugung Palace, but I definitely recommend wearing comfortable shoes.
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 Deoksugung when wearing a traditional dress.
What to See at Deoksugung Palace
The palace has 13 main buildings you can check out. You begin your visit at Daehanmun Gate, the main entrance of the palace. The Changing of the Guard Ceremony occurs directly in front of the gate everyday at 11:00, 14:00, and 15:30.
Once you’re inside, you’ll see another impressive gate to the right. This is Gwangmyeongmun Gate.
Continuing your way through the gate, you’ll see a large rectangle hall right in front of you. This is Hamnyeongjeon Hall. To the left of this hall is Deokhongjeon Hall. Both of these are among the newer buildings of the palace complex as they were built in 1911. These buildings were used by kings to conduct daily business of national government and to receive domestic and foreign dignitaries.
Japsang, small animal figurines on the ridges of the hipped-and-gabled roof are believed to expel misfortune and prevent fire.
This is the Junghwamun Gate, the main entrance to the main hall. Typically, all gates have walls that lead all around the building in a palace like this. However, you’ll notice that Junghwamun is open without walls. This is a clear indication that the surrounding courtyard walls were destroyed.
Junghwajeon Main Hall
The main hall of Deoksugung Palace is Junghwajeon Hall. It was the hall where state business was conducted, official meetings were held, and foreign envoys were received. It was originally a two-story structure that was rebuilt as a one-story structure in 1906.
Inside Junghwajeon Hall is the king’s throne. Behind you can see a colorful folding screen with the sun, moon, and five mountains known as Irwoloakdo. This represents the desire for the emperor’s ruled nation to be prosperous forever. It even accompanied the Emperor wherever he went.
Seogeodang is Deoksugung’s only building with a two-tiered roof. It also stands out because it is not painted. Queen Inmok, wife of King Seonjo, was imprisoned in Seogeodang for ten years during the Japanese invasion at the end of the 16th century.
Seokjojeon (석조전) / MMCA Deoksugung
Another building that stands for its Western-style architecture is Seokjojeon, designed by British architect Harding. In traditional Korean architecture, each building served a specific purpose and was occupied by a specific person. However, in Western architecture, multiple uses were housed in a single structure and Seokjojeon is no exception.
The first floor served as a waiting room for servants, the second as a reception area, and the third as Emperor Gojong’s residence.
Following Korea’s independence, a joint commission of the United States and the Soviet Union met here to discuss the formation of the Korean government. It was renamed the National Museum after the Korean War, and then the Royal Museum later on.
The West Wing of Seokjojeon today houses the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). Head here to marvel at the best of Korean modern and contemporary art.
What’s Nearby Deoksugung Palace?
The central location of Deoksugung Palace in Seoul is convenient to visit other popular places in the area.
Seoul City Hall
Seoul City Hall is an eco-friendly building with a distinctive exterior inspired by the eaves of traditional Korean houses. Interestingly, around 28% of the energy used in the city hall building comes from eco-friendly energy sources, including photovoltaic, solar thermal and geothermal. The vertical garden inside the building is its most famous attraction. Spanning an area of the size of a soccer field, this vertical garden climbs up all the way from the first to the seventh floor containing over 70,000 plants of 14 different species.
The vast space right in front of the city hall is called Seoul Plaza and hosts many different events throughout the year.
Address: 110, Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 중구 세종대로 110
Seoul Metropolitan Library (서울도서관)
Seoul Metropolitan Library has a large collection of documents and materials about Seoul Metropolitan City. You have access to a variety of city resources such as history, culture, urban planning, transportation, environmental issues, administration, reports on outbound visitors, research documents, video clips, and e-data.
Address: 110, Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 중구 세종대로 110 (태평로1가)
Jeongdong Observatory Café (정동전망대)
Jeongdong Observatory is located on the 13th floor of the Seosomun building of Seoul City Hall. Inside the observatory, visitors can enjoy a drink while admiring the magnificent view of Deoksugung Palace from above.
Limited operations until further notice to prevent the spread of COVID-19
Address: 15, Deoksugung-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 중구 덕수궁길 15 (서소문동)
The Other Four Main Palaces
There are five royal palaces located in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace being the largest and Deoksugung the smallest. 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.
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. Check out my detailed guide to Gyeongbokgung Palace for more details.
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.
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