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Five Grand Palaces

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Courtesy of Korea Tourism Organization

Gyeongbokgung Palace was the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty.

The last kingdom of Korea, the Joseon Dynasty, was in power for more than 500 years, from 1392 to 1910. During its reign, Seoul became the center for state affairs and the site of many royal palaces. The Five Grand Palaces are open to the public and continue to exemplify unique architecture, art and cultural history.

With a name that means, “palace greatly blessed by heaven,” this was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. Completed in 1395, it not only was the first of the five palaces to be built, but it was also the largest and is regarded as the most beautiful. Inside the palace walls, visitors can see the former offices of the state government, living quarters of past kings and queens, and historic artifacts. The National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea are also housed here.
How to get here: Exit 5, Gyeongbokgung Station, Subway Line 3; 10-minute walk from Exit 2, Gwanghwamun Station, Subway Line 5
March-April: W-M 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
May-August: M, W-F 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sa.-Su. 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
September-October: W-M 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
November-February: W-M 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Price: Adults approx. $2.75, Students approx. $1.50
Phone: 82-2-732-1932

Built at the turn of the 20th century, the “palace of virtuous longevity” is significant for its history as the main palace of the last king of the Joseon Dynasty, who later became the first emperor of the Great Han Empire. It is the smallest of Seoul’s palaces—today, it it only one-third of its original size. The palace is located at the corner of Seoul’s busiest downtown intersection, which makes its architecture a stark contrast to the surrounding western-style buildings.
How to get here: Exit 2, City Hall Station, Subway Line 1; Exit 12, City Hall Station, Subway Line 2
Hours: Tu.-Su. 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Price: Adults approx. $1, Students approx. $.50 
Phone: 82-2-771-9955

Constructed in 1405 as a secondary palace, Changdeokgung, the “palace of prospering virtue,” was actually home to the Joseon kings longer than any of the other palaces. Renowned for its harmony with nature, the palace’s secret garden is full of flowers, and its backyard is a serene forest with trees hundreds of years old. Changdeokgung was added to UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list in 1997, and it is the most preserved among the existing Joseon palaces.
How to get here: Ten-minute walk from Exit 6, Jongno 3-ga Station, Subway Lines 1, 3 and 5; Five-minute walk from Exit 3, Ahngook Station, Subway Line 3
March: Tu.-Su. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
April-October: Tu.-Su. 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
November: Tu.-Su. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
December-February: Tu.-Su. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Guided English tour: Tu.-Su. 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Price: Adults approx. $2.75, Students approx. $1.50
Phone: 82-2-762-8261

Separated from Changdeokgung by only a stone wall, Changgyeonggung, the “palace of flourishing gladness,” was built by the fourth ruler of the Joseon Dynasty in honor of his father. During the Japanese colonial rule, the site became a park with a zoo and botanical garden. Those aspects were removed in 1983. Today, visitors can tour several halls within the palace including offices of former kings. A ticket to this palace also includes entrance into Jongmyo Shrine, where the spiritual tablets of all the Joseon kings and queens are kept. Here, the Joseon royals honored their ancestors, and a special ceremony is still held every May to pay respects to the dead. Jongmyo was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995, as it is the oldest and most authentic of the Confucian royal shrines to have been preserved, dating back to 1395. Derived from the Chinese philosopher Confucius, Confucianism was adopted as the Joseon Dynasty’s state religion.
How to get here: Ten-minute walk from Exit 4, Haehwa Station, Subway Line 4. Pass through National University Hospital.
March: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
April-October: Tu.-Su. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
November: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
December-February: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Price: Adults approx. $1, Students approx. $.50
Phone: 82-2-762-4868

This palace, west of downtown Seoul, was once comprised of more than 100 buildings. Today, the “palace of shining bliss” consists of a gate and one main hall, but it is regarded as one of the best palaces to take a walk. Here, you’ll find more locals than tourists enjoying the grounds. Several performances take place inside the palace walls, including Taekwondo. Visitors can learn the martial art by participating in the Taekwondo Experiential Program. After your visit, take a trip to the Seoul Museum of History located next door.
How to get here: Ten-minute walk from Exit 4, Seodaemun Station, Subway Line 5
Hours: Tu.-F 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sa.-Su. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Price: Free admission
Phone: 82-2-724-0123

Editor’s tip: Purchase an all-inclusive ticket to gain entrance into four of the palaces—Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung and Deoksugung—as well as Jongmyo Shrine. Adults approx. $9, Students approx. $5.

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