A year ago, I was in Seoul for a business trip. Because we were organizing an event, we didn’t have time to really explore the city. In fact, I really only had half a day free to do some sightseeing so I had to decide what I wanted to see most. In the end, I opted to go down the history route as I felt that to understand a place, you have to first understand its roots. So of I went to see Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace as they were closely situated to each other.
To get to Gyeongbokgung, you have to take line 3 of the Seoul metro to Gyeongbokgung station, which exits directly inside the Palace complex. From there, you can walk to Changdeokgung or, if you don’t feel like walking, take the same line to Anguk.
Gyeongokgung used to be the main palace of the Joseon dynasty and was the biggest among the palace complexes in Seoul. It was built by King Taejo, the first ruler of Joseon who overthrew the old Goryeo empire. If you watched Scarlet Heart, you would be familiar with Taejo of Goryeo, but he’s not the same one as the Taejo of Joseon. Interested in knowing more about the history of the kings (in relation to Kdrama)? You can read this blog post.
Upon entering the complex, you immediately feel the grandiosity of the place – an expression of the great power that rulers wanted to convey to perhaps emissaries from foreign dynasties or their measly subjects if they were ever so lucky to step foot inside. The complex is huge! I spent around 2 hours just walking around, although I did stop a lot to take pictures and read the plaques.
While exploring the different buildings inside, you can more or less imagine how people from the past once lived. I was walking there on a cold winter day, imagining the footsteps that also used to walk there before. It was such a lovely experience! Unfortunately, you cannot go in any of the structures. Perhaps it’s for the better, though, so tourists won’t ruin the place. Also, beware of the hoards of tour groups loitering around. Their noise can sometimes ruin the mood.
Aside from walking around to see the architecture, one of the things to look forward to while here is the changing of the royal guard ceremony that happens at 3 places within the palace complex at certain times of the day. You can check the schedule here. I got the see the changing of the guards early in the morning but forgot to take photos so later on, I took some with the guards stationed at Gwanghwamun gate, the palace’s main entrance.
Sad fact: During the Japanese occupation of Korea, they burned and flattened most of the structures inside the Gyeongbokgung palace complex. The palace we see now was only mostly rebuilt starting in 1989.
Changdeokgung Palace also suffered a similar fate under the Japanese. However, 30% of the original structures remained. It also served as the seat and home of Kings during the Joseon dynasty. The most interesting part about it is the secret garden, which served as the king’s private garden. There are scheduled tours to enter the garden. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to wait for the tour so I have to reserve that for next time.
In only half a day, I already learned so much about Korean history and experienced what it was like to be in a Korean historical drama! 😀 Next time, I’ll rent a hanbok (Korean traditional dress) and walk around Gyeongbokgung in that to have an even more immersive experience.
Seoul has so much to offer from food and shopping to history, art, and nature! Half a day is definitely not enough to see everything! However, if you only had half a day to see Seoul, what would you do?