There is an opportunity to see a lot more of the Changdeokgung gardens on the fourth Wednesday of each month, by reserving a place on the internet (upto 4 visitors per application) or on-site at the ticket office up to one hour before, if spaces are still available.
There are three slots – 10am, 1pm and 2pm – with the 10am visitors allowed to wander around at leaisure without a guide.
This visit provides access to the Ongnyucheon and the area of the Joseon dynasty royal tombs in the northern part of the complex.
My favourite of the palaces must be the neighbouring Changgyeonggung, with the largely unknown Umhyeongung - also nearby - a close second. The formerly massive Gyeongbokgung has lost much of its atmosphere through the demolition of so many buildings by the Japanese.
Each of the palaces has its merits and visiting any one of them (except Gyeonghuigung, of which virtually nothing is left) will give a good feel for the architecture and royal life of the Joseon dynasty.
For sheer romance and style, and a good walk through a beautiful park (and the Jongmyo royal shrines), Changgyeonggung would be the best choice.
For intimacy and a feel for court life and palace architecture and customs, head for Umhyeongung.
For the feel-good factor from visiting the primary royal palace, but also for some stunning architecture (and the excellent adjacent National Folk Museum), go to Gyeongbokgung, but make sure you see the changing of the royal guard.
For arguably the best single piece of Joseon architecture, go to Gyeonghuigung to see the Heunghwamun, although it is now positioned totally out of context and the presence of nearby skyscrapers has almost destroyed the impact: surely it would be better to place it back in line further up the slope? Also the park, and the rather forlorn palace building gives cause for reflection on the legacy of the Japanese occupation.
For grandeur, and for some beautiful garden scenes - even if they are rushed - head for Changdeokgung and its secret garden.
Changdeokgung is the only royal palace in Seould to be classified on UNESCO's World Heritage List, yet probably for this reason is the least accessible of Seoul's seven main royal palaces and residences. The only way to see the palace is on a 90 minute tour, which leave every fifteen minutes. The English tours start at 11.30, 13.30 and 15.30 (don't believe what the guidebooks say, especially Lonely Planet which seems to make a habit of being more wrong than right). There are also foreign language tours in Chinese and, surprisingly given how they destroyed most of the royal palaces, in Japanese.
The tour guide is charming, but, by definition, the tour delves quickly into the patronising, including such gems as "Did you know that silk comes from insects?"
The tour moves swiftly, leaving little time to enjoy the sights and the wonderful architecture, and even in the gardens, the group is whisked rapidly along the paths with barely a second to draw breath. Laggards are whipped into shape by a somewhat less charming attendant in a suit.
Be aware that the tour is out in the open for much of the time, so bright, hot sun or rain could make the 90 minutes an ordeal.
The first half of the tour runs you through the main part of the palace buildings, with the very occasional glimpse inside, and the second part is through the 'secret' garden on the slopes behind. Ironically, with most buildings shuttered up, it is difficult to see why the tours are necessary. Somehow, the palace loses a lot of its magic and ambience by the forced pace behind even a knowledgable tour-guide. I have now visited all seven of Seoul's royal palaces and residences, and this one felt the most sterile. It is beautiful, stunning even, but it doesn’t feel like a palace; it feels like a museum-piece, dusty and fragile. Furthermore, the tour misses many of the buildings, concentrating on the main buildings only.
Changdeokgung is a palace used by most Joseon kings. There are daily guided tours for the Palace and the "Secret Garden" which is available in different languages. English tours are scheduled trice a day at 11:30AM, 1:30PM and 3:30PM.
9:15AM to 5:15PM
9:00AM to 4:00PM, November to February)
Interesting things that I saw from this tour:
- The grand Main Halls: the King and the Queen maintained separate halls.
- The icons at the roof¡Kthat serves as guardians of the building.
- The "Lucky Gate"
- Colorful roof with flowers, designed by the Japanese to shame the Korean royalty.
- The "Secret Garden" which is not a secret anymore ;0)
- The "Poor Man's House" built for the King because he was curious and wanted to experience how the poor people live.
- The Concubines' rooms
Some of the older visitors find the trip exhausting. Those with knee problems may have difficulty climbing the stairs from the Secret Garden.
Changdeokgung is Seoul's secondary palace. That being said, I found it far more interesting and beautiful than Gyongbukgung, the First Palace.
Changdeokgung, unlike the First Palace, was spared most of the destruction that accompanied the Japanese colonial period. As a result, lots of the original architecture and many of the gardens remain intact. The Korean government is currently working on restoring some of the buildings that were destroyed. Because of these two points (the original structures and restoration), Changdeokgung may only be visited on a walking tour. The tours offered are in Korean, Japanese and English, along with a few others that escape me at the moment. The ticket and the tour will set you back 2-3000W.
Our tour leader provided us with a ton of information about the palace. We learned about the significance of most of the major buildings. We also learned about the construction and use of the palace's Secret Garden. We visited Changgyeonggung, which was home to the royal family right up until 1989. The only disadvantage of the tour was that it was quite fast-paced, so there wasn't a lot of time to absorb the palace atmosphere. The biggest advantage was that because the palace was only opened to people on a walking tour, we visited the palace in relative quiet (only about 20 people in our group). This was a blessing after visits to sites that were overrun with tourists!
To see some more pictures of the palace, check out my Photo Journal: Changdeokgung in Black and White.
13 of Korea's kings lived at Changdeok over the course of 270 years. It's supposed to be the most preserved of the palaces in Seoul. If this is your only chance to see an Asian palace, I'd strongly suggest visiting one here Otherwise, save your palace tours for China or another country and spend your Korea time elsewhere.
Changdeok Palace is right outside the Insadong neighborhood. Take the bus/subway to the Anguk station and walk east a couple of blocks (ask someone which way), or take a taxi.
You MUST be on a tour to visit the palace. They do English tours at 11:30, 1:30, and 3:30PM every day except Mondays. Expect to spend at least 90 minutes on the tour. The English tour was so packed on the day we were there that we couldn't even get close enough to the tour guide to hear everything. Keep that in mind if you see a big crowd forming.
Changdeokgung was built in 1405, by King Taejong, Joseon Dynasty. in 1412, the palace was completed with the construction of the main gate Donhwamun. King Sejo expanded the palace grounds about 500,000 square meters ( more than 110 acres ). Changdeokgung palace was included in UNESCO's world heritage list 1997. ( Historic Site No.122 )
Admission Fee : 3000 won/p
Closed : Mondays
Four languages guides.
Constructed from 1405 to 1412 East of Gyeongbokgung.
Even though destroyed in1592, Changdokgung is the best preserved palace of all since members of the royal family used to live here until quite recently.
Visits are only allowed as part of a 90-minute guided tour.
Tours include a visit to the famous Biwon (Secret Garden) within the palace's compound.
Opens daily except Monday.
Admission: 2,200 KRW
This is Seoul's best preserved palace. It was built in 1405 to supplement Gyeongbok gung. Visit is only by guided tour, there are 2-3 english guided tours each day along with hourly Korean tours.
The palace grounds are covered with buildings and pavilions, more than once can appreciate. Here are two pictures of the Yung Hwa Dang Pavilion and one of the Royal Hospital.