It’s now our time for our 8th day (and Sam’s last day, she is heading back to Manila two days ahead of me) in South Korea, we had three destinations in our itinerary: Gyeongbokgung Palace (and National Folk Museum which is inside the palace compound), shopping at Myeongdong, and Seoul City Night Tour (and Gwangwhamun Square where the tour starts). This post will include the times we spent exploring the Gyeongbokgung Palace and National Folk Museum. And I’ll be sharing to you more about Myeongdong and Seoul City Night Tour on a separate post.
Gyeongbokgung Palace which literally means “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven”, was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. It is also referred to as the Northern Palace as it is located in the furthest north compared to its neighboring palaces. It’s the largest and the most beautiful of all the Five Grand Palaces. Currently, it has a national status of being South Korea’s Historic Site No.117.
To go here take Seoul Subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Palace Station and get out from Exit 5 or take Seoul Subway Line 5 to Gwanghwamun Station and get out from Exit 2. Admission Fee to the palace is 3,000 KRW and it’s open from 09:00 AM to 6:00 PM (and even later for some months). The palace is closed on Tuesdays.
Tip no.1: There’s an available Integrated Palace Pass for 10,000 KRW which includes admission to the four palaces (Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Gyeongbokgung), Jongmyo Shrine, and Changdeokgung’s Secret Garden. Admission to Changdeokgung and its Secret Garden combined already cost 8,000 KWR, so if you’re planning to visit all that’s mentioned, do buy the pass. It’s available at all the said locations, do ask about it at the counter as they don’t openly advertize it.
Gwanghwamun (The Main and South Gate) is what will greet you as you enter the palace coming from Gwanghwamun Station’s Exit 2. It is the main gate of the main palace and has a double-roofed pavilion over three arched openings set on a high stone foundation. The gates in other palaces stand on low steps, but those of Gyeongbokgung are replicas of fortress gates (with high stone foundations and arched entrances in the center). The fact that Gyeongbokgung is the Joseon Dynasty’s main palace was evident by the style of its gates, and Gwanghwamun is the most formal of these gates.
We were lucky to have witnessed the changing of the Royal Guards Ceremony. You can check the ceremony’s schedule at the ticketing booth. And if you want to know more about Gyeongbokgung, there’s also a free tours that depart in front of the Information Center at Heungnyemun Gate, you can check the schedule at the ticketing booth as well.
Heungnyemun is the Second Inner Gate. The corridors extending out from Heungnyemun form an enclosure. In the middle of this enclosure is Geumcheon Stream (there was no water), which was designed to flow through the palace from the west to the east after coming down from Mt. Baegak.
Geunjeongjeon (Diligence Helps Governance Hall) is the throne hall of Gyeongbukgung Palace. It was were the important state functions were held, such as court officials’ audiences with the king and receptions for foreign envoys. There is a spacious courtyard in front where important events were held. The hall is now considered as South Korea’s National Treasure No. 223.
Constructed mainly of wood, Geunjeongjeon has a two-tier edifice that stands on the center of a large rectangular courtyard, on top of a bi-level stone platform. This platform is lined with detailed balustrades and is decorated with numerous sculptures depicting imaginary and real animals, such as dragons and phoenixes.
Gyeonghoeru Pavilion which was the The Royal Banquet Hall, and currently labeled as South Korea’s National Treasure No. 224, was built on the pond west of Gangnyeongjeon, the king’s living quarters. The man made pond that surrounds the pavilion was used by royalty for boating in the summer months. Gyeonghoeru was originally surrounded by a gate which allowed access to only the highest officials and the king.
Constructed mainly of wood and stone, Gyeonghoeru is a wooden structure setting on top of 48 massive stone pillars, with a wooden stairs connecting the second floor to the first floor. The outer perimeters of Gyeonghoeru are supported by square pillars while the inner columns are cylindrical. The second floor consists of bays set at different levels. The highest ranked officials sat closest to the center. The center bays symbolize heaven, earth, and man. Around them are 12 bays which symbolize each month of the year. Around them are 24 more bays which symbolize the 24 seasonal subdivisions.
It is one of the largest elevated pavilions in Korea by floor area. The location offered great views of Mount Inwangsan and the surrounding palace grounds. It was used on joyous occasions, like when the king threw feasts for foreign envoys or his court officials. The name Gyeonghoeru means that the king is capable of handling national affairs only when he has the right people around him.
These three palace buildings (from left to right) are Parujeong, Jibokjae and Hyeopgildang. They were used as an art hall to enshrine royal portraits, as a library, and as an audience hall for the reception of foreign envoys. The architectural style of Jibokjae differs significantly from that of other palace buildings, clearly displaying the influence of Chinese architecture, which at that time was regarded as modern by Korean builders.
Geoncheonggung Residence was built on a secluded place in the northernmost part of the palace for the king and the queen to enjoy peace and quiet. The residence followed the architecture of a typical scholar’s residence, except for a few ornate decorations.
The Gyotaejeon Compound is the residence of the queen. At the back of Gyotaejeon Hall, it has an Amisan Garden with flower terraces laid out on its hill along with the chimneys that draw out smoke from the heating flues in Gyotaejeon. The garden is named after Mount Emei, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China. The garden and mountain are named ‘Emeishan’ in Chinese, or ‘Amisan’ in Korean. It is built on a mound of earth, created from the excavation of the nearby pond that surrounds Gyeonghoeru Pavilion.
National Folk Museum is located inside the premises of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It has an indoor and outdoor exhibits. The indoor exhibit has 3 levels each with different themes: History of the Korean People, The Korean Way of Life, and Life Cycle of the Koreans. We didn’t took photos inside since it’s just the typical tabletop and framed exhibits.
On the eastern side of the National Folk Museum of Korea grounds, there are these statues known as Muninseok. These are statues are of civil officials, and would often be placed outside the graves of noble or royal people.
There were also Jangseung. These are wooden spirit posts carved with faces that were placed at village boundaries to scare away evil spirits. They said that villagers would also pray to them in an attempt to prevent calamity and to bring a bountiful harvest.
After passing through the exhibits of traditional folk life, is the exhibit of stores during the late 19th century, when Korea opened its ports to foreign powers. In this “Streets of Memory”, the exhibits show the lifestyle during the 1970-1980’s. It’s a replica of a street in a traditional village which recreates what life was like at a time when electricity was first made available. There were comic book shops, barber shops, dressmaking shops specializing in western style garments, and coffee shops, etc.
We spent around 4-5 hours strolling around Gyengbokgung Palace and National Folk Museum and I think we haven’t saw everything that has to bee seen just yet, at the least, we’re able to cover the notable ones. We need to leave early as we still have to do some souvenir and cosmetics shopping in Myeongdong, since Sam will be leaving for Manila at night.
Tip no.2, Gyengbokgung Palace and National Folk Museum combined is really huge, a half day around the area is not enough to be able to roam around in a leisurely and relaxed phase and be able to check-out every single area. I suggest as an alternative itinerary to reserve the whole day just for Gyengbokgung Palace and National Folk Museum, and once done, just cross the street in front of Gwanghwamun Gate and stroll around Gwanghwamun Square while you wait for the departure time of your Seoul City Night Tour. Then after the tour which ends at Cheonggye Plaza, conclude your day by having a walk by Cheonggyecheon Stream.