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Visiting The 5 Royal Palaces In Seoul, South Korea

Visiting The 5 Royal Palaces In Seoul, South Korea

There are five royal palaces in Seoul. While most visitors add Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung to their bucket list, there are two more palaces to consider including Deoksugung and Gyeonghuigung. So the difficult question is which one do you visit?

In this guide, we’re going to tell you the highlights about the 5 palaces in Seoul including pros and cons to each one to help you make the best choice for your trip.

Our Seoul Experience

Two people visiting a royal palace in Seoul
Mark and Kristen at Gyeongbokgung Palace

We spent 14 days exploring Seoul in March 2023 to see the cherry blossoms. During this time, we personally visited all of Seoul’s royal palaces. After visiting each one, we think the palaces are one of the best things to do in Seoul and highly recommend you see at least one.

But if you only have a few days in the city, you might not have time to see all 5 which is why we created this guide. We think each palace offers something different for visitors so we’ve created a list of what we liked and didn’t like about each one. Our goal is to help you figure out which palace to prioritize for your Seoul trip. Read more about us.

Entry Into The Palaces

Combination tickets for the best Seoul palaces and royal shrine
Our Seoul royal palace pass

Before we get into all the details about Seoul’s best palaces, it’s important you know about the different ways you can gain entry into the various complexes.

The first option is the royal palace pass. It costs 10,000 KRW (US $7.53) and it’s valid for three months from the date of purchase. This pass can only be purchased from the sites listed below:

  • Gyeongbokgung
  • Changdeokgung
  • Changgyeonggung
  • Deoksugung
  • Jongmyo Shrine

We used this pass to enter all of the royal palaces in Seoul. While it’s not a massive savings because the admission prices are very reasonable to begin with, we did save some time by not having to wait in the long ticket line. So if you plan to visit all of the palaces in this guide, be sure to purchase your pass at the first palace you visit.

Free entry is also given children 18 and under as well as seniors over the age of 65. Additionally, you can entry for free on Culture Day which is the last Wednesday of every month.

Travel Tip: The royal palace pass will also grant you entry into the Huwon Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace, but you’ll have to exchange the voucher for a timed entry ticket.

Rent A Hanbok For Free Admission

Two visitors walking around Seoul wearing hanboks
Two visitors wearing a hanbok walking through a palace complex

Another one of the most popular ways to visit a palace in Seoul is with a hanbok. During our visit we saw hundreds of people dressed up to showcase the traditional clothing of Korea. This is not only a fun way to remember your trip, but you’ll also receive free entry into the palaces!

Hanboks can be rented per hour or for the entire day. It’s also common for women to have their hair styled to wear along with their Korean clothes. Here are popular hanbok rentals in Seoul if this something you want to do.

If you’re planning to visit during the cherry blossom season like we did, we recommend you reserve your hanbok rental online in advance because we did see many hanbok shops with sold out signs.

Travel Tip: You should look for a hanbok rental location near the palace you plan to visit to make the most of your time.

As we mentioned earlier, you should try to visit at least one of the five palaces in Seoul because they offer an incredible glimpse into South Korea’s history.

Many of the palaces offer free guided tours in various languages which we highly recommend. Tours are offered in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese. Or you can choose to purchase an audio guide and walk around at your own pace. We include links to tour times below.

Without further ado, let’s explore the beautiful palaces of Seoul:

1. Gyeongbokgung Palace

Tourist standing outside Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea
Kristen at Gyeongbokgung Palace standing in front of the main gate

The Gyeongbokgung Palace was the main royal palace originally established for the Joseon Dynasty in 1395. This is the oldest and most popular palace in Seoul which means it’s also one of the busiest.

  • Address: 161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Subway Stop: Gyeongbokgung Palace Station (line 3, exit 5) or Gwanghwamun Station (line 5, exit 2)
  • Hours of operation: 9:00-17:00 or 18:30 depending on time of year, but closed Tuesday

Unfortunately, Gyeongbokgung has been destroyed several times by numerous Japanese invasions, but the complex has gone through an extensive restoration project in the 1990’s. You can also see the changing of the guard ceremony at 10:00 and 14:00 everyday.

Admission tickets for Gyeongbokgung Palace cost 3,000 KRW for adults (US$ 2.26), and 2,400 KRW (US$ 1.81) with groups of 10 or more.

Here are important links for tours and rentals:

Pros And Cons

Changing of the guard at one of the best palaces in Seoul
Changing of the guard ceremony in Seoul, South Korea

This is what we liked and didn’t like about visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace:

Pros

  • Most popular palace in Seoul
  • Ability to see changing of the guard
  • Beautiful pavilions make this palace unique

Cons

  • Crowds can be very large
  • The complex is big so you need a few hours to see it all
  • You’ll walk a lot because the grounds are expansive

We like Gyeongbokgung because it’s the biggest complex you can visit and it has beautiful traditional architecture. During our visit, we took the 11:00am English tour and thought it was worth it because we learned so much about the complex. However, it was extremely busy and we had to wait awhile to take photos in certain areas. We spent about 3.5 hours here including our guided tour.

READ: How to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace

 

2. Changdeokgung Palace

Small pavilion and intricate wall in a royal building
A small raised pavilion inside the walls of Changdeokgung Palace

While Gyeongbokgung is known for being the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty, Changdeokgung was built to be the secondary palace in 1405. This is the second oldest palace in Seoul.

  • Addresss: 99 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Subway stop: Anguk Station (line 3, exit 3) or Jongno 3-ga Station (line 1/3/5, exit 6)
  • Hours of operation: 9:00-17:00 or 18:30 depending on time of year, but closed Monday

But this complex served as the main palace in Seoul for 270 years after Gyeongbokgung was destroyed by the Japanese invasion. A popular highlight of the Changdeokgung Palace is Huwon Secret Garden. This garden was loved by numerous kings and queens and it’s one of the most unique attractions in Seoul.

Admission tickets for Changdeokgung Palace cost 3,000 KRW for adults (US$ 2.26), and 2,400 KRW (US$ 1.81) with groups of 10 or more. You’ll also have to pay an additional 5,000 KRW for adults (US$ 3.76), and 2,500 KRW (US$ 1.85) for children to enter the Huwon Secret Garden unless you have a royal palace pass.

Here are important links for tours and rentals:

Pros and Cons

Tickets for the Human Secret Garden in Seoul, South Korea
Our tickets for the Huwon Secret Garden

This is what we liked and didn’t like about visiting Changdeokgung Palace:

Pros

  • Arguably the best preserved palace in Seoul
  • Blue glazed roof tiles you won’t see anywhere else
  • Ability to visit Huwon Secret Garden
  • Close proximity to the Korean Folk Museum

Cons

  • Second most visited palace in Seoul so it can be very crowded
  • Smaller palace complex with limitations if you don’t visit the gardens

We saw both Changdeokgung Palace and the Huwon Secret Garden in the same day. When we visited, you couldn’t book tickets for the garden in advance, but you can now on this official website. If you can’t get tickets for the garden online, plan to arrive when the palace opens and make a beeline for the secret garden ticket office to secure your spot. We spent about 4 hours visiting both with a 90 minute guided tour of the garden and a 90 minute guided tour of the palace.

READ: Tips for visiting Changdeokgung Palace

3. Changgyeonggung Palace

Man posing for a photo at Changgyeonggung Palace
Mark posing for a photo at Changgyeonggung Palace with N Seoul Tower in the background

Off all the palaces in Seoul, Changgyeonggung has one of the most colorful histories. It was destroyed many times by the Japanese, but it’s also been a zoo and botanical garden. This was the third palace complex built during the Joseon period.

  • Address: 185 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Subway Stop: Anguk Station (line 3, exit 3) and Hyehwa Station (line 4, exit 3/4)
  • Hours of operation: 9:00-21:00, but closed Monday

Originally constructed to be an additional residence for the royal family, this palace is different compared to Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung because it has extensive garden grounds that you can explore on your own. So this is a great option if you can’t get tickets for the Huwon Secret Garden.

Admission tickets for Changgyeonggung Palace cost 1,000 KRW for adults (US$ 0.75), but only 800 KRW (US$ 0.60) with groups of 10 or more.

Here are important links for tours and rentals:

Pros And Cons

Cherry blossoms in Seoul during spring
Japsang are often perched on palace buildings to help ward off evil spirits

This is what we liked and didn’t like about visiting Changgyeonggung Palace:

Pros

  • Smaller palace complex and can be seen in a few hours
  • Chundangji Pond and the Grand Greenhouse are unique
  • This palace is located directly next to Changdeokgung

Cons

  • Not one of the most popular palaces in Seoul
  • Large gardens require lots of walking
  • The gardens can be very crowded with visitors taking photos

We like Changgyeonggung because it’s adjacent to Changdeokgung Palace so you can easily see both in one day. However, the gardens are very big so if you want to explore all of the gardens, you’ll need to plan for additional time. We walked around Chundangji Pond, saw the Placenta Chamber and walked through the Grand Greenhouse in about 2.5 hours.

READ: Changgyeonggung Palace visitor guide

4. Deoksugung Palace

A tourist exploring buildings within a royal palace
Mark exploring the grounds of Deoksugung Palace on a sunny day in spring

Located directly across the street from Seoul City Hall, Deoksugung was originally built as a residence for descendants of the royal family, but it become an important palace throughout the years. As the smallest palace in Seoul, Deoksugung has been significantly downsized which makes it a good option for visitors short on time.

  • Address: 99 Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Subway Stop: City Hall Station (line 1, exit 2 and line 2, exit 12)
  • Hours of operation: 9:00-21:00, but closed Monday

Highlights of the palace complex include numerous museums and a unique hall with romanesque elements. This is the first royal palace in Seoul to feature European architecture design elements.

Admission tickets for Deoksugung Palace cost 1,000 KRW for adults (US$ 0.75) and 800 KRW (US$ 0.60) with groups of 10 or more. There are free guided tours offered, but you can also take a guided tour of the exhibition floor in the Daehan Empire History Museum. A booking is required and you’ll need to add your name to the waiting list at the museum entrance.

Here are important links for tours:

Pros And Cons

This is what we liked and didn’t like about visiting Deoksugung Palace:

Numerous buildings displayed on small tiles
Intricate floor tiles along the Gojonguigil Pathway near Deoksugung Palace

Pros

  • Smallest place complex in Seoul so it’s easy to visit
  • Ability to see changing of the guard
  • Great location downtown near other attractions

Cons

  • One of the lesser known palaces
  • Some museums in this palace cost an additional entry fee
  • Many of the buildings have been moved from their original location

We like Deoksugung because it contains museums and unique architecture you won’t see at the other complexes. It’s also a small palace so it’s not as overwhelming as some of the other options we listed in this guide. You can also see changing of the guard here if you missed it at Gyeongbokgung Palace.

READ: How to visit Deoksugung Palace

5. Gyeonghuigung Palace

Gyeonghuigung Palace with Seoul city buildings in background
Modern day buildings can be seen from the inside Gyeonghuigung Palace

Known as the western palace due to it’s location west of Gyeongbokgung the main palace, Gyeonghuigung was built in 1620 during the reign of the 15th Joseon king.

  • Address: 161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Subway Stop: Seodaemun Station (exit 4, line 5) or Gwanghwamun Station (exit 7, line 5)
  • Hours of operation: 9:00-18:00, but closed Monday

It’s believed the original palace once contained 190 buildings and gates, but it has unfortunately been destroyed by fires and the Japanese occupation. Today, visitors will only see three palace buildings which have been renovated.

Admission to Gyeonghuigung Palace is free for all visitors making this the only free royal palace in Seoul. Since admission is free, you don’t need to worry about the royal palace pass.

Here are important links for tours:

Pros And Cons

This is what we liked and didn’t like about visiting Gyeonghuigung Palace:

Pros

  • Free admission
  • Located close to the Seoul Museum of History
  • Can be easily visited in an hour

Cons

  • Least known palace in Seoul
  • Only a few of the original buildings have been renovated
  • No guided tours offered

We like Gyeonghuigung because it’s free to enter and there are only a few buildings to see so it can be visited quickly. However, this is probably the least interesting palace so if you’re short on time, we’d skip this one.

READ: What to know about Gyeonghuigung Palace

The Morgan Conclusion

Light pink cherry blossoms and an old palace building in Seoul
Vibrant cherry blossoms on display in a Seoul Palace during spring

After reading our guide, you now know there are five royal palaces including Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung and Gyeonghuigung.

But what’s the best palace in Seoul?

We think each palace is unique in its own way and these beautiful complexes showcase an enormous amount of South Korean history. If you’re having trouble deciding which palace to visit, here is our conclusion with a high level overview:

  • Gyeongbokgung – Largest and most popular option with lots of history
  • Changdeokgung – Most unique palace with Huwon Secret Garden
  • Changgyeonggung – Best preserved buildings with a beautiful greenhouse
  • Deoksugung – Smallest palace complex with numerous museums
  • Gyeonghuigung – Least visited with only three buildings and free admission

Additionally, if we had to choose one palace you should not miss in Seoul, it would be Gyeongbokgung because this is the most famous one. However, we also like Changgyeonggung and Deoksugung because they are very different from Gyeongbokgung so if you have more time, visit one of those options too.

Keep in mind, each palace is closed either Monday or Tuesday so verify opening hours before visiting.

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We hope this guide featuring the best royal palace to see in Seoul helps with planning your trip!

Please let us know if you have any questions about visiting these palaces or Seoul in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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