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Tips For Taking The Huwon Secret Garden Tour In Seoul

Tips For Taking The Huwon Secret Garden Tour In Seoul

The Huwon Secret Garden is a popular highlight of Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul. Now an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was loved by Seoul’s royal family because it was built in harmony with the surrounding nature. This secret garden is of the most important landmarks in South Korea.

In this guide, we’re going to show you exactly what to expect during a guided tour of Huwon Secret Garden including how to get tickets for your visit.

Our Experience In Seoul

Woman walking next to a wooden building in Huwon Secret Garden
Kristen inside the Huwon Secret Garden

We spent 14 days exploring Seoul in March 2023. During this trip, we personally took the tour of Huwon Secret Garden in Changdeokgung Palace. But you can not visit the secret garden on your own and you must book a guided tour.

After visiting ourselves, we enjoyed the Huwon Secret Garden, but it may not be for everyone. So in this guide, we’ll give you a walkthrough of our tour including what you can expect to see inside. We also tell you what we liked and didn’t like about the tour. Read more about us.

What Is The Huwon Secret Garden?

Intricate ceilings and colorful roofs inside the Seoul's Secret Garden
Beautiful stone work inside the Huwon Secret Garden

Stretching an impressive 78 acres through Seoul, the Huwon Secret Garden was created in the early 15th century during the reign of King Taejong. The beautiful grounds allowed access to both Changdeokgung or nearby Changgyeonggung Palace so it quickly became a private setting for the royal family.

Popular leisurely activities inside the garden included reading, poetry and thinking as well as archery, military drills and banquets. During our tour, we learned many of the trees in the garden are over 300 years old and the landscaping showcases minimal artificial features.

We think a tour through the Huwon Secret Garden is one of the most interesting ways to learn about the Joseon Dynasty. The garden itself takes up about 60% of the palace and it’s one of the best things to do in Seoul.

Visitor Information

Free guided tour departure point in Changdeokgung Palace
Free guided tours sign inside Changdeokgung Palace

The Huwon Secret Garden is found in the back of Changdeokgung Palace on the eastern side of Seoul. This is arguably one of the most beautiful palaces because it was built in harmony with surrounding nature. Open hours for the palace are 9:00-17:00 or 18:30 depending on time of year, but it’s closed Monday.

  • Address: 99 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Best subway stop: Anguk Station (line 3, exit 3) or Jongno 3-ga Station (line 1/3/5, exit 6)

The Changdeokgung Secret Garden is open shorter hours than the palace and it varies by season. Here are opening hours for the year:

  • March to June + September to October: 10:00-17:30
  • July-August: 10:00-17:10
  • November: 10:00-17:00
  • December-February: 10:00-16:10

While you can visit Changdeokgung Palace on you own, you can only visit the Huwon Secret Garden via tour by an official palace guide. Admission to the garden will be indicated by the tour time on your ticket and you won’t be allowed to enter at any other time.

If you do not have tickets for Huwon Secret Garden, we recommend you visit the Changdeokgung Palace early in the morning so you can secure your tickets for the garden. Once you’ve entered the palace, make a beeline for the Secret Garden ticket office in the back of the complex.

Huwon Secret Garden Tickets

Ticket office for the Huwon Secret Garden in Changdeokgung Palace
Ticket office for the Huwon Secret Garden in Seoul

It’s important to note, your ticket to the Changdeokgung Palace will not give you entry into the Huwon Secret Garden. You must purchase a separate ticket. Admission cost 5,000 KRW (US$ 3.75) for adults and visitors over 65 or 2,500 KRW (US$ 1.88) for children aged 7 to 18.

If you have a Royal Palace Pass, you do not have automatic entry into the Secret Garden. You must exchange the Secret Garden voucher in your pass booklet for a valid tour timed ticket. Visitors who rented a hanbok and received free entry into the palace will also have to purchase an additional ticket.

Additionally, admission is limited to 100 people per tour. You can book tickets on site or online via this website here. Half of the tickets can be reserved online and the other half are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis at the palace. When we visited, the ticketing website was not available so everyone had to book on site and it was extremely chaotic. We recommend you book online to secure your spot.

Here is the current tour schedule:

  • Korean: 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00 (Mar to Oct), 16:30 (Jun to Aug)
  • English: 10:30, 11:30, 14:30, 15:30 (Mar to Nov), 10:30, 11:30, 14:30 (Dec to Feb)
  • Chinese: 12:30 (Tues, Thurs + Sat)
  • Japanese: 13:30 (Wed, Fru + Sun)

All tours start at the entrance of the garden. Our tour started right on time after everyone had their tickets verified. You can visit the official website for more information.

Travel Tip: Tours and schedules are subject to change depending on unforeseeable circumstances so always verify times before your trip.

Huwon Secret Garden Tour Walkthrough

Long line of people waiting for entry into the Huwon Secret Garden
A long line of people waiting to enter Seoul’s Secret Garden

If you’re planning to visit Changdeokgung Palace and the Secret Garden during your trip to Seoul, we’ll show you exactly what to expect in our walkthrough.

It will take about 2 hours to visit Changdeokgung and then another 90 minutes to take the guided tour through the garden. So you can expect to spend 3-4 hours between both sites. If you’re on the fence about visiting, read through the rest of this guide to see if this experience is for you.

Our guide follows the exact route we took during our guided tour. Here are best things to do in Huwon Secret Garden:

1. Juhamnu Pavilion + Buyongji Pond

The two story Juhamnu Pavilion in Huwon Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace
Gorgeous view of Juhamnu Pavilion with Eosumun Gate

One of the first buildings you’ll see inside Seoul’s Secret Garden is Juhamnu Pavilion. The gorgeous two story pavilion served as a library on the first floor and reading room on the second floor. Juhamnu Pavilion was constructed in 1776 during the reign of King Jeongjo.

We learned the library was essential for King Jeongjo because he felt tremendous pressure in power and used the space to strengthen his mind. The small gate leading up to the pavilion is known as the Eosumun Gate. The name was a reminder to the king that a fish can not live out of water and he must always respect the people.

Buyongji is a rectangular pond with a small island in the middle located directly across from the large pavilion. It’s an incredibly peaceful spot inside the garden and one of our favorites. During our guided tour, we were given a short time to explore this area. Visitors can not go inside Juhamnu Pavilion, but they can walk up to Eosumun Gate.

Photography Tip: Juhamnu Pavilion is an extremely popular photo spot to see the beautiful fall foliage.

2. Yeonghwadang Pavilion

Tour guide inside Huwon Secret Garden
Our tour guide explaining the significance of Yeonghwadang Pavilion (not pictured)

Another interesting building from the Joseon Dynasty, Yeonghwadang Pavilion was occupied by the king and his visitors who enjoyed poetry or nature. However, this pavilion later become a place where important civil service examinations were organized and administered.

We learned the exams regulated under the Joseon Dynasty were very difficult and demanding tests. They assessed the candidates knowledge of Chinese Classics and technical subjects. Our tour guide went into many details about the examinations.

3. Aeryeonjeong Pavilion + Aeryeonji Pond

Aeryeonjeong Pavilion inside Huwon Secret Garden
The Aeryeonjeong Pavilion next to a calm Aeryeonji Pond

After passing the garden at Juhamnu Pavilion, you’ll come to Aeryeonjeong Pavilion, which was built in 1692 during the reign of King Sukjong. It’s located on Aeryeonji Pond hanging about half way over the water.

Aeryeonjeong Pavilion was originally placed in the center of the pond on an island, but it was eventually moved to it’s current location on the side of the pond so it faces north to allow for better reading light.

This entire area in Huwon Secret Garden is an excellent example of deign and beauty as these structures are in perfect unison with the surrounding nature. It’s easy to see why the royal family enjoyed their time in this garden together.

4. Bulromun Gate

The lucky Bulromun inside Huwon Secret Palace
The famous and lucky Bulromun Gate

During your secret garden tour, you’ll pass under Bulromun Gate. This gate is significant because everyone who passes underneath it will be blessed with a long life and good health. Our tour guide stopped for a brief second here so we could learn a little bit more about the gate.

Travel Tip: If you don’t make it to the Secret Garden, a Bulromun Gate replica can be found inside the Gyeongbokgung Station.

5. Seonhyangjae Hall

View of Seonhyangjae Hall with numerous trees and a small bridge
Exterior view of the buildings near Seonhyangjae Hall

After passing under Bulromun Gate, we visited a very private section of the garden where the royal family often resided and held banquets. One of these buildings was Seonhyangjae Hall, which was built as the study next to Yeongyeongdang Hall. This building served as a library and school for the royal family.

It’s interesting to note this was once one of the most luxurious buildings in Korea because it featured a sun shade on the western side, a wooden heated floor and a bronze plate that once hung from the roof.

6. Yeongyeongdang Hall

Exterior view of Yeongyeongdang Hall in Huwon Secret Garden
The beautiful Yeongyeongdang Hall inside Huwon Secret Garden

Built in 1828 by Crown Prince Hyomyeong for Jinjakrye (the royal banquet ritual), Yeongyeongdang Hall was used as a ceremonial place for his mother, Queen Sunwon and his father, King Sunjong.

However, this hall was sometimes used as the men’s quarters and it was also where the master of the house lived. All guests would be required to walk the three stairs, take of their shoes and wait on the wooden veranda before entering.

We also learned this hall was strategically created with windows on each side of the building that could be lifted in summer to let the breeze through. This was a major engineering feat back in those times!

7. Jondeokjeong Pavilion

Two dragons on the ceiling of Jondeokjeong Pavilion in Huwon Secret Garden
The stunning ceiling of Jondeokjeong Pavilion

Another important structure inside Huwon Secret Garden is Jondeokjeong Pavilion. It’s set on a small pond with beautiful views surrounding the garden. Our tour stopped here for another brief moment as our guide explained more about the royal family.

Travel Tip: We highly recommend you get close enough to look up at the twin colorful dragons playing with Cintamani on the ceiling of Jondeokjeong Pavilion.

8. Gwallamjeong Pavilion

The fan shaped Gwallamjeong Pavilion in Seoul
Gwallamjeong Pavilion view from a distance

Located along Bandoji Pong, Gwallamjeong Pavilion is shaped like an extended fan. The floor and the roof of this pavilion were built with curved materials to suit the morphology of the structure.

No one officially knows when this pavilion was constructed, but it’s estimated between the end of the Joseon Dynasty and the early colonial period. We loved how private this pavilion appeared as it seemed to be tucked hidden away from the rest of the secret garden.

9. Ongnyucheon Stream

A rice field with Cheonguijeong Pavilion
Cheonguijeong Pavilion next to a small rice field

The Ongnyucheon Stream and the Eojeong Well pass through Huwon Secret Garden. This stream was designed with a simple stone bridge connecting numerous pavilions throughout the complex.

These bridges are perfect for pedestrians to explore more of the gardens. Next to the Eojeong Eell, you’ll find a large natural rock, a curved waterway and a waterfall. Our tour guide highlighted Cheonguijeong Pavilion because it features a straw-thatched roof and it’s positioned in the center of a small rice field.

10. The Chinese Juniper Tree

Chinese Juniper Tree inside Changdeokgung Palace
The gorgeous Chinese Juniper Tree inside Changdeokgung Palace

As our tour concluded, we passed the 750 year old Chinese Juniper Tree, which is now designated and protected as a Korean National Monument. This impressive tree measures 12m (40 ft) in height and 5.9m (19 ft) in circumference.

The branches typically spread out in all directions, but it has been trimmed to to help the tree stay alive. We learned the Chinese Juniper Tree is significant because is has a very strong smell and is commonly used as incense for ceremonies. This type of tree is often found in gardens or parks in Korea.

Travel Tip: This tree will be located on the left hand side as you exit the Huwon Secret Garden guided tour.

Best Time To Visit

Pink and yellow flowers in bloom in Seoul during March
Gorgeous flowers in bloom during the spring season

The best time to visit Seoul’s secret garden is in late March to early April for cherry blossom season or late September to early October for the fall foliage. We visited mid-March and the cherry blossoms were only starting to come out because we headed to Japan that year for the peak of cherry blossoms.

But even if you can’t visit during these two times of the year, the grounds showcase stunning architecture of the Joseon Dynasty you won’t see anywhere else. We’ve even seen photos of Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon Secret Garden beautifully draped in snow so you can’t go wrong visiting any time of the year.

The Morgan Conclusion

Changdeokgung Palace is home to the Huwon Secret Garden and visitors will need to secure tickets for a guided tour if they want to visit the garden.

But is the Huwon Secret Garden worth visiting?

Yes, we thought our guided tour through Huwon Secret Garden was worth it. We visited in spring just as the cherry blossoms were blooming and it was absolutely stunning throughout the grounds. But the tour lasted 90 minutes with a lot of walking involved and tickets sold out on the day of our visit.

However, it was absolute chaos trying to get a ticket for the garden since it was cherry blossom season. We recommend you try to book your tickets online or you’ll run the risk of tickets selling out onsite.

If you can’t get tickets, you could visit Changgyeonggung Palace because it has an extensive garden anyone can visit. And if aren’t interested in gardens or you don’t have much time in Seoul, we don’t think the Huwon Secret Garden will be worth your time.

Here are pros and cons to visiting the Huwon Secret Garden:

Pros

  • Ability to tour a garden loved by Seoul’s royal family
  • The guided tour provides insight into the history of the grounds
  • Unique experience you won’t get at the other palace in Seoul

Cons

  • Tickets can sell out quickly in peak season
  • You can’t visit the gardens on your own and you must be with a tour
  • The guided tour takes about 90 minutes so you need enough time

Our Personal Photos

We enjoyed our visit to the Changdeokgung Palace Secret Garden and took many photos. Here are a few of our favorites so you know exactly what to expect:

Numerous wooden buildings inside a royal palace in South Korea
A section of wooden buildings inside a royal palace in Seoul
A small pavilion and pong inside Huwon Secret Garden
A small pavilion and pond inside Seoul’s Secret Garden
Tourists on a guide tour inside the Secret Garden in Seoul
Our tour group inside Huwon Secret Garden in Seoul
Eosumun Gate near Juhamnu Pavilion in Seoul, South Korea
Close up view of Eosumun Gate near Huwon’s large two story pavilion
The large stone walls of Huwon Secret Garden in Seoul, South Korea
Large stone walls leading to the Secret Garden
Perspective photo of Ongnyucheon Stream inside a wooden pavilion
Ongnyucheon Stream view from a pavilion
Exterior view of buildings inside the gardens of Changdeokgung Palace
Gorgeous wooden palace buildings with intricate roofs
Lockers for personal storage inside Changdeokgung Palace
Lockers for storage inside Changdeokgung Palace
Visitors outside Changdeokgung Palace with a line forming for the cafe
Long line of visitors waiting to get inside the cafe at Changdeokgung Palace
Visitors on a guided tour in Huwon Secret Garden
Our tour group exploring Huwon Secret Garden
Two informational signs describing an important building in Seoul
There are a few informational signs inside the garden (but you’ll learn more from your guide)
Bright pink flowers in bloom
Vibrant flowers blooming inside a royal palace in Seoul

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We hope this guide featuring the Huwon Secret Garden helps with planning your visit to the Changdeokgung Palace!

Please let us know if you have any questions about visiting Seoul’s Secret Garden in the comments below!

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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