Seoul Day 6 (part 1)- Gyeongbokgung Palace

Posted on March 1, 2011


You can read about my other days in Seoul HERE. Click on images to view bigger versions!

I’m going to have to break the post for this day into two because on this particular day I visited two, large landmark sites that just can’t be fully justified in explanation in one short post.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Palace's entrance looking from within

To fulfil my wish of visiting all (or at least most) of the palaces in Seoul I had gladly saved the best till last- the grandeur of Gyeongbokgung!

Nothing could prepare us for how beautiful and all-encompassing this palace was. If you’ve only got time to visit one palace in Seoul then make sure it is this one, because here you’ll be able to experience every bit of old tradition and in some aspects, maybe more so, compared to the other palaces!

It’s deathly history.

This is a highly fortified palace and given its history, it’s not surprising; apparently, one of the last King’s who occupied the palace had to go into hiding when the palace was infiltrated by enemy soldiers who then went on to murder his wife, burning her body into a cinder and only leaving behind a finger as a macabre message. Because of the potential of coming under attack, you can see this reflected in the architecture- before you can reach the building that houses the King’s throne, you have to pass 2 large gated entrances and the dozens of soldiers that man them.

Look how giant the guards are! I'm 5ft4.....

During my visit to the palace soldiers and royal court people stand and guard at these gates. My sister and I each took a picture with the main soldier standing at the front gate, but I’ve got to admit, with their platform footwear adding an extra 3 inches in height, these soldiers felt pretty scary to stand next to as they loomed over us- I know that they weren’t real but the look in their eyes (like a vacant stare) and posture were all very real.

After you’ve walked through the two gates, you’ll immediately enter into a courtyard where (in the distance over the fortified Walls) you can see a set of 3 pagodas (to the right) and a jaw-dropping backdrop of mountains (to the left), whilst slap bang in the middle (right in front) is the King’s building which is situated on a plinth and houses the King’s gold throne; this is one of those sights you’ll remember for a lifetime! It was a bit of a jostle to get a look into the King’s building as only the small front door was open (there were barriers in front so you can’t enter the building) and there were dozens of people pushing to get as close as possible. Inside the wooden room, sits the King’s throne, bringing light into the dark space with its gold veneer, scattered around the room are old relics (stands, trunks etc) that give a feel for what it must’ve once looked like.

Building that houses the King’s throne

The King's Throne

Getting off this plinthed area you have two directions you can choose to begin your tour; for us, we wanted to leave the pagodas for last, so we headed off to the left side of the palace.

Modernity amongst tradition

Walking through the wooden doorway, we were hit with a hive of activity; the area is vast but there were a lot of people milling around exploring every nook and cranny. In amongst the immediate vicinity was a cafe, several, old traditional buildings (which I’ll explain in detail in a moment) and, first and foremost, a fun area where you could pretend to be part of the royal court using some cardboard cutouts.

My impression of a royal court person

Every part of this area was different; interestingly enough, of the palaces we had visited thus far, only Gyeongbokgung had a traditional building that visitors could walk around in and get a feel for. Because I was wearing trainers (which were a pain to take off and put on) I let my sister do the exploring; she said, you could take a closer look at the decorated floors, Walls and windowsills, and best of all was the awesome view out of one of the windows, which overlooked the beautiful lake.

The lake in the Western half of the palace

This lake had a large pillared building built over it, one that nobody can go inside or near, also on the lake was an old, traditional boat moored up on the side. On the edge of the lake is a small pagoda, which I imagine must have made a good ‘thinking’ place for past royalties.

Just as we were having fun exploring the palace the rain decided to pour down and we had to take shelter in one of the buildings. Since we had visited a fair few palaces by now, we didn’t really explore these buildings much because their architecture had become pretty formulaic by now; the eves of the roofs were all prettily decorated in red, green and White and the rooms inside the buildings are all empty. Compared to the other palaces, the rooms in the buildings here were all locked up so visitors aren’t able to look inside and see the finer details such as the wooden floors or paper screen doors that make up the room, which may be a bit disappointing to visitors who’ve yet to see this.


After the rain had subsided we explored a few more buildings until we reached the top right hand side of the palace where the beautiful pagodas would be located; the first one we came across was situated on the second lake within the palace. I was pretty familiar with this pagoda as I had seen and used it for a promotional video I created about Seoul. This pagoda was inaccessible to the public, but it still had an old bridge leading up to it, which I imagine people used to walk down. The surrounding lake was equally beautiful, with lotus flowers and lotus pads floating on the surface and the occasional ripple as a fish came to the surface for a bite.

Disappointingly, the set of pagodas we had seen from afar when we entered the palace weren’t actually part of the palace and were part of a museum located within the palace’s grounds. You’d have to pay an additional entry to enter the museum and because (by the looks of things) it seemed as if these pagodas were also inaccessible to the general public, my sister and I decided not to go into the museum.

Beautiful mountainous views

Before my sister and I headed off to our next tourist spot “Lotte world,” (which you can read about HERE) we found a quiet little spot within the palace where we sat and ate lunch, this was our mountain view! Beautiful!

Changing of the guards

The highlight of our visit to Gyeongbokgung had to be the changing of the guards ceremony, which we were lucky enough to catch at 2pm as we were just planning to leaving the palace; a tannoy announces the start of the ceremony and the wonderful spectacle begins.

In another post (you can read HERE) I wrote a bit about the feng shui that people used to follow when building palaces, whereby certain doorways were in a certain position or of a particular size depending on who was to walk through them- well, for this ceremony, all of the soldiers and royal court (who had been standing at the main entrances), left the palace grounds through a side door, then a new set of soldiers entered and so the guards literally changed places. I will try to post up a video of this ceremony on my YouTube channel soon, so you can see and hear it all! You see, during the ceremony loud pipe music and drums would be played to announce this change. The (I assume) lead general would also shout out orders which I assume indicated when they’d have to turn and walk etc. The whole ceremony took about 5 minutes and was as loud as it was eye-catching!

Changing of the guards ceremony

I don’t know what times this ceremony takes place, but if you can then definitely hang around to check it out- it certainly makes for good viewing if you film it and show it to those back home!

Overall, this palace can be explored  within 2 hours- unless you choose to eat at the cafe within the grounds, which may stretch out your visit a bit. And for the price you pay, you certainly get value for money. Even though I didn’t visit the museum within the grounds, I can’t imagine the tickets costing too much. On a side note, I found sightseeing in Seoul to be so much cheaper compared to my London hometown and the Far Eastern influences are certainly more jaw dropping!

Posted in: Seoul, Uncategorized