The Royal Palaces of Seoul, South Korea

Gyeongbokgung Palace: Geunjeongjeon throne hall) and the Geunjeongmun (gate).

The main cultural attractions of Seoul are its royal palaces, dating from the Joseon Dynasty that lasted from the 14th century to the early 20th century, with the Japanese annexation of the Korean peninsula. Unlike Tokyo where you can only peer at the palace gate and moat, one actually gets to enter each of the palaces and walk where the emperors (and his consorts) walked and imagine what it was like during the glorious old days. There are five major palaces, with the massive Gyeongbokgung Palace receiving the most visitors. The Changdeokgung Palace and Jongmyo Royal Shrine have been designated as UNESCO Heritage Sites, while the Changgyeongung and Deoksugung Palaces are relatively quiet despite being located in such a bustling city such as Seoul. All the palaces have received major restoration (after all those palace fires and Japanese vandalism), and therefore appear pristine and somewhat artificial to the visitor. Who cares, as these sites are a major source of pride for the Koreans.

A major inducement to visit is the low price of entry, just W3000 for each of the major palaces and W1000 for Deoksugung and Jongmyo Shrine. Alternatively, one can buy a passbook for all five palaces for W10,000, which is valid for up to one month.


Gyeongbokgung Palace: the gate and perimeter wall just behind the throne hall.

Gyeongbokgung Palace: the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion (royal banquet hall), built on the edge of a little lake is Seoul's answer to Beijing's Floating Pavilion.

Gyeongbokgung Palace: perhaps its most picturesque site is the Hyangwonjeon Pavilion, built on an artificial island and connected by a wooden foot bridge. 

Changdeokgung Palace: the Injeongjeon (main throne hall).

Changdeokgung Palace: the Buyeongji Pond and Juhamnu royal library, part of the Huwon Secret Garden. Entry  to this part of the palace is strictly by language-specific group tours at designated times.

Changdeokgung Palace: a truly intimate setting within the Secret Garden.

Jongmyo Shrine: the Jeongjeon is the larger of two shrines where according to Confucian  beliefs, the spirits of past emperors and emperesses are honoured. Every year in early May, an elaborate ceremony of pageantry and music is conducted to the most stringent details and customs. 

Changgyeonggung Palace: located just east of the Changdeokgung Palace,  this  quiet  palace is a rare oasis of tranquillity .

Deoksugung Palace: right smack in the centre of Seoul's business district, this palace has  a unusual  combo of traditional Korean and more modern neoclassical Western architecture. The grounds also house the Museum of Modern Art.