A Tour of Changdeokgung Palace
I enter a meditative state as I gaze at the repeating wooden beams that fan out before me in geometric floral patterns. I almost forget I’m in the middle of the city until I see Seoul’s skyscrapers peeking over the palace walls. If you only have time to visit one of the five palace complexes while in South Korea’s capital, Changdeokgung is the one to see. Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Changdeokgung Palace is a prime example of pungsu, a style derived from principles of Confucianism that harmoniously blend with the surrounding landscape. Think of it as the Korean version of Feng-shui.
Changdeokgung was originally built in 1412 as a secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung Palace. But Changdeokgung eventually became the main seat of the Joseon Dynasty – Korea’s most celebrated empire – when it was rebuilt in 1610 after both palaces were destroyed during a Japanese invasion in the late 16th century. One of the reasons the palace grounds was so beloved by the royal families was due to Huwon, a naturally landscaped garden filled with pavilions, ponds, and terraces. The only way to access Huwon is to take the Secret Garden Tour. It is well worth the entry fee, especially when the foliage changes in the fall. To miss the gardens is to miss 60 percent of the complex.
Donhwamun: Main Gate of Changdeokgung
- Take Line 3 to Anguk Station and get out at Exit 3. Walk 2-3 blocks and the palace complex will be on your left.
- Or, take Line 1, 3, or 5 to Jongno 3-ga Station and get out at Exit 6.
To view the most current schedule, visit eng.cdg.go.kr/guide/guide_cost_01.htm. There are separate tours of both the Palace Building and Secret Garden available in Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese. Admission can be bought at the entrance or reserved a day ahead online.
If you purchase the Secret Garden Tour tickets onsite, it’s recommended to buy them 1-1.5 hours before the tour – they tend to sell out quickly. You can use the time beforehand to explore the complex. Brochures, maps, and panels are placed throughout the complex written in Korean and English for self-guided tours.
Both the Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon are closed on Mondays
Wear Comfortable Shoes
W3,000 (around $3 USD) per person
- Secret Garden Entrance and Tour: An additional
W5,000 adult/ W2,500 child (around $5/$2.50 USD); gardens may only be toured with a guide
- Combination Ticket:
W10,000 (around $10 USD) to access Seoul’s five palace sites and Secret Garden; valid for three months from date of purchase
- Moonlight Tours:
W30,000 (around $30 USD) per person; this two-hour evening event is limited to 100 people from April through June and includes a tour of the palace and Secret Garden, plus a traditional performance; reserve in advance from Interpark Ticket
The Nakseonjae Complex is set in a neutral and natural palette. This residence was originally built for the king’s concubine – vivid paint colors were reserved only for royalty.
Mesmerizing motifs of saturated color decorate the ceiling; the property’s design had a large influence on the development of Korean architecture, art, and landscaping.
Injeongjeon: Throne Hall
The Secret Garden Tours run 1.5 hours long. Expect approximately 50 people on the tour and that the guide will stop for several minutes at each stop so visitors can snap pictures and explore.
The Secret Garden covers 60% of the complex and is filled with pavilions, ponds, and complexes.
It was believed those who walked through these gates to Aeryeonji Pond would experience eternal youth. One of many pavilions in the Huwon Secret Garden where the royal family and guests could retreat.
Location and Contact
Which palace has left you in awe? Leave your experience in the comments section below for other travelers.
Lara was instilled with the travel bug at an early age and has visited over 25 countries. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of exploring the world. She recently relocated to Seoul, South Korea, where she hopes to explore some of Asia for the next couple of years. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as a freelance Art Director in graphic design. In her spare time, she contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, instructs Zumba, dabbles in photography and, of course, travels as much as possible.