Wouldn’t it be a shame to come to Seoul and miss out on some of the capital’s most beautiful historic palaces? These must-sees will transport you back in time and dazzle you with their charm. Are you ready? Here’s my guide!

You can visit all 5 palaces in one day, but I wouldn’t recommend it, as you risk getting bored or missing out on all they have to offer, and thinking “it looks just like the one before, I can’t see any difference…”. So my best advice is to spread out your discovery over 2 or 3 days to take full advantage of your surroundings and the beauty of these historic sites!

Plus, each site is very close to the other, so all you need is a bit of stamina and fit legs, and the other great advantage is that the entrance is pretty cheap, which makes it a joy to learn more about these places.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the Joseon era and discover these breathtaking palaces.

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1. Changdeokgung Palace (창덕궁)

In Changdeokgung palace

Address: 99 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
How to get there: 14-minute walk from Jongno3ga station (orange, blue and purple lines)
Entrance fee: 3,000 KRW ($2)
Opening hours: 09:00-(17:30, 18:00 or 18:30 depending on season) & closed on Mondays

Built and used as Gyeongbokgung’s secondary palace, Changdeokgung was the first of five sites to be rebuilt after being destroyed by fire during the Japanese Invasion in 1592. It’s also home to the Donhwamun Gate, Seoul’s oldest main entrance. But the palace is not only known for these facts, as it enjoys natural beauty and peaceful surroundings, being situated at the foot of Baegaksan Mountain.

It’s also famous for its magnificent Secret Garden: a haven of peace right in the middle of the capital. It’s best to book your ticket early (5,000 KRW), as it sells out very quickly (within hours), especially in high season. Here’s the link to the website where you can buy your ticket.

So if you’re looking to start your exploration in a tranquil atmosphere, this is the place!

2. Changgyeonggung Palace (창경궁)

Bridge in Changgyeonggung palace
Photo by Hoyoun Lee on Unsplash

Address: 185 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
How to get there: 15-minute walk from Hyehwa station (light blue line)
Entrance fee: 1,000 KRW (less than a dollar)
Opening hours: 09:00-21:00 (closed on Mondays)

Nearby attractions worth a visit:
– Jongmyo Shrine

Built by King Sejong to house queens and concubines, it was originally called Suganggung Palace, but was later renamed as we know it today: Changgyeonggung. People tend to skip visiting this site as they often find it less interesting, but it actually boasts many stunning architectural landmarks such as the Myeongjeongjeon Main Hall and the charming Okcheongyo Bridge (pictured above).

One thing you may not realize now that you’re strolling through its grounds is that it once housed a zoo as well as a botanical garden, making it more of a park than a palace, thus losing some of its beauty and prestige. It wasn’t until 1983 that the site was restored to its former grandeur, much to everyone’s delight.

As the site is located right next to Changdeokgung, you should visit both on the same day!

3. Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁)

Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul

Address: 161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
How to get there: 9-minute walk from Gyeongbokgung station (orange line) or you can also walk there from Changdeokgung Palace (40mn).
Entrance fee: 3,000 KRW ($2)
Opening hours: 09:00-(17:00, 18:00 or 18:30 depending on season) & closed on Tuesdays

Nearby attractions worth a visit:
– National Palace Museum of Korea
– National Folk Museum of Korea
– Gwanghwamun Plaza
– Jogyesa Temple

The palace of all Seoul’s palaces, Gyeongbokgung, is the one I was most looking forward to visiting, while fearing that the sheer number of tourists would make the experience uncomfortable and stuffy, but that was until I stepped inside and saw just how huge the place is!

This is the first royal palace of the Joseon dynasty and although its name “Gyeongbok” means “the new dynasty will prosper with great blessings”, it has in fact had many tragic stories: from assassination to fire to betrayal, I guess it makes you think twice about which era you’d like to travel back in time or be reincarnated to. But the largest of the five sites remains my favorite, thanks to its many fabulous sights.

From the Gwanghwamun Gate to the Gyeonghoeru pavilion, magnificently set in the middle of a pond, to Taewonjeon and Geunjeongjeon, prepare to be amazed!

As the area is quite vast, allow at least two hours to explore, while marveling at the dancheong (bright colors you’ll see on wooden buildings and artifacts), curved tile roofs, majestic courtyards and authentic architecture.

What do you think? Are you ready to immerse yourself in the royal life of the Joseon era?

Pro tip: the Changing of the Guards takes place every day (except Tuesday), just outside the Gwanghwamun Gate, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

4. Gyeonghuigung Palace (경희궁)

Gyeonghuigung palace
Photo by Bundo Kim on Unsplash

Address: 45 Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
How to get there: 10-minute walk from Seodaemun station (purple line) or you can also walk there from Gyeongbokgung Palace (30mn).
No entrance fee
Opening hours: 09:00-18:00 (closed on Mondays)

Nearby attractions worth a visit:
– Seoul Museum of History

Probably the least visited place, Gyeonghuigung was officially built as a “refuge” for the king in case of trouble or unrest. But the site actually became the place where the king discussed business when the palaces of Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung were destroyed, and it was also the scene of some coronation ceremonies.

Most of its buildings were then demolished or relocated during the Japanese colonial era and converted into a Japanese school. Today, some structures have been rebuilt while others remain in their new location. However, less than 50% of the palace, which once housed hundreds of buildings, has been rebuilt…

Although it’s now the smallest of all the palaces, its beauty and deeply engraved history are nonetheless a must-see in Seoul!

5. Deoksugung Palace (덕수궁)

Dancheong inside Deoksugung palace

Address: 99 Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul
How to get there: 15-minute walk from Gyeonghuigung Palace or 4-minute walk from Sicheong station (blue line).
Entrance fee: 1,000 KRW (less than a dollar)
Opening hours: 09:00-21:00 (closed on Mondays)

Nearby attractions worth a visit:
– Seoul Museum of Art
– National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
– Deoksugung Doldam-gil (famous Stone-Wall Road)

Originally called Gyeongung Palace and the private residence of a prince, the site has undergone numerous transformations over its 400-year history. It was only after the proclamation of the Korean Empire and the place’s qualification as an imperial palace that its name was officially changed to Deoksugung in 1907 (following its destruction and restoration).

Located just off the popular Stone-Wall street and characterized by its traditional and Western architecture, Deoksugung is a must-see, if only for its rich history and unique sights.

Tips

1. Free admission on Culture Days

Culture Days, or the last Wednesday of every month, is a free day, which means you can visit the palaces at your leisure without spending a single cent. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

2. Enjoy the vacations

The same goes for the Chuseok and Seollal vacations: the main royal palaces (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung and Deoksugung, including the Jongmyo Shrine and the royal tombs of the Joseon dynasty) can be visited free of charge.

3. If you’re under 18, you’re in luck

Since June 2023, foreign visitors aged 18 or under have been eligible for free admission to Gyeongbokgung and Deoksugung. Ideal for those visiting Seoul with their little ones!

4. Immerse yourself in the culture and choose to wear a hanbok

Many people who choose to explore the royal palaces do so in hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) for several reasons:

  • firstly, because it gives you the impression of having truly stepped back in time during the Joseon dynasty, immersing yourself totally in the culture (moreover, Koreans really appreciate it when foreigners wear them, as it’s perceived as a cultural exchange rather than cultural appropriation).
  • it also allows you to take superb photos inside the palaces.
  • and best of all, it gets you into the palaces for free.

Here’s a great place to rent your hanbok: Daehan Hanbok (located right next to Gyeongbokgung).

5. You can visit Gyeongbokgung at night

Gyeongbokgung Palace offers a special night tour in spring and autumn! And while it sounds like a magical experience to be able to visit this place in a different light, tickets are limited and tend to sell out very quickly, so I hope you get lucky!

Best time to go

There’s no “best time to go” to visit Seoul’s palaces, as each one offers something beautiful and unique. But if you ask me, my favorite seasons are spring and autumn, because the temperatures are pleasant and you can watch the flowers bloom or the magnificent autumn foliage.

However, the best thing to do is to get there as early as possible, i.e. when the various sites open to enjoy the peace and quiet, or in the late afternoon!

In a nutshell

The palaces are definitely not to be missed on a trip to Seoul, as the contrast between ancient architecture and the capital’s skyscrapers, which blend perfectly into one another, is something to behold. These symbols of a rich and tumultuous history also prove that the country knows how to rise above its various trials and restore the grace and glory of these majestic monuments.

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44 Comments

  1. This is a fantastic guide to: Visit Of The Five Palaces Of Seoul, South Korea. Pictures are gorgeous. My daughter visited a few years ago and LOVE South Korea and Vietnam and Thialand!

  2. This blog post is a fascinating exploration of the five palaces of Seoul in South Korea. The detailed descriptions and beautiful photos make me feel like I am right there experiencing the rich history and culture of these incredible landmarks.

  3. I will never be able to pronounce the names of the palaces you reviewed, but they all seem like a fun and interesting places to visit. Changdeokgung seems to offer a more naturistic vibe. Thanks you for your exposing us to this side of the world.

  4. This is a fantastic guide! The detailed descriptions and tips make planning a visit to Seoul’s palaces so much easier. I appreciate the advice on spreading the visits over a few days to fully enjoy each palace. The photos are stunning and truly capture the beauty of these historic sites. Thanks for sharing such valuable information!

  5. I enjoyed reading this Visit Of The Five Palaces Of Seoul, South Korea guide! The history behind the palaces is fascinating. I love the colors and designs on the buildings. Thanks so much for sharing your tips and directions!

  6. Such an awesome guide, the photos are beautiful and learning about the history of each palace is fascinating! South Korea is on my bucket list, I’ll be saving this to come back to later when I visit Seoul!

    1. I love Thailand, can’t wait to go back! If you like food, historic places and beautiful scenery, then you’ll love South Korea! 😉
      Thanks for stopping by, Elaine!

  7. What a great article on such a unique place. I think I would be most interested in visiting the Gyeonghuigung Palace but really each spot is so beautiful in its own way and sounds like they each have a lot to offer!

    1. Yes, Gyeonghuigung is also my best option if you’re looking for a quieter but equally beautiful experience! Thanks so much for your visit and comment, Cherie!

  8. The most beautiful palaces! I can’t wait to visit South Korea soon. Thank you so much for sharing these gorgeous gems 🙂

  9. I visited Seoul when I was little, and would love to go back! When I think of Seoul, I think of the impressive and major city. But these temples are such gems!! Thank you for sharing this, and I love the photos!

  10. These are very beautiful palaces! The Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul is particularly impressive! Thanks for sharing.

  11. The pictures and your descriptions are lovely. I hope i do get to visit the five Palaces of Seoul one day but in the mean time I am enjoying the details through your post.

  12. If i ever get to Seoul i would definitely visit the palaces. Your photos and descriptions are great and the history is so interesting.

    1. Yes, the palaces are definitely a must-see and a one of a kind experience that I can’t recommend highly enough! Thank you for stopping by, Under flowery sky!

    1. Welcome to South Korea where culture is often free or cheap! 😊 Thanks for stopping by, Saviour, and I hope you’ll get to visit South Korea one day!

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