Seoul is usually known for its urban sprawl, skyscrapers, and neon lights; however, there are numerous historical treasures spread throughout this city of ten million plus people. Seoul was founded in 18 B.C. and has developed a storied history over the past 2,000 years. It was the capital of Korea even during the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire. The city is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites; including Changdeokgung, one of Seoul’s Five Grand Palaces, and my personal favorite.
The Grand Palaces were built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty who ruled the peninsula for nearly five centuries. Unfortunately, many of the palaces were damaged or destroyed by the Japanese during their invasion of Korea. Some of the original structures however still stand today and many portions have been restored to their former glory.
My favorites are Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung because of their peaceful gardens and city backdrop. Changdeokgung is the smaller of the two, but is identified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also more secluded and has a tranquil pond and garden which makes you feel as if you’re miles away from the hectic streets of Seoul. Changdeokgung was the most favored palace of the Joseon Kings and it’s easy to see why. The structures blend more naturally with the surrounding landscape and appear to be less contemporary than those at Gyeongbokgung. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the palace grounds as I found it to be very peaceful.
Gyeongbokgung is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces and is probably the most prominent due to the fact that it was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. The main draw of Gyeongbokgung is The Royal Guard-Changing Ceremony which takes place 6 times a day from 10:00 to 15:00 at every o’clock except Tuesday. The ceremony is a rare treat which allows one to experience a traditional display of Korean culture. You’ll surely love watching the straight faced guards as they march around with their epic beards that would surely put even Brooklyn’s finest hipster to shame. It was a unique cultural experience which I found to be highly entertaining.
The palaces are a beautiful cultural experience and easily accessible by the Seoul Metro, just hop off at the Gyeongbokgung, Gwanghwamun, or Anguk Stations where both palaces are just a short walk. I highly recommend adding these sights to your itinerary when visiting Seoul.