South Korea // Seoul //

The palace district

The area of central Seoul bounded by the five grand palaces is by far the most interesting in the city. During the Joseon dynasty, which ruled over the Korean peninsula from 1392 to 1910, each of the palaces at one time served as the country’s seat of power, and no visit to Seoul would be complete without a visit to at least one or two. By far the most visited is Gyeongbokgung, the oldest of the group, though nearby Changdeokgung is the only one to have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Literally a stone’s throw away across a perimeter wall is Changgyeonggung, which probably has the most interesting history of the five, as well as the most natural setting, while further south are the smaller pair of Gyeonghuigung and Deoksugung. Note that the suffix –gung means palace, and once it’s removed you’re left with the two-syllable name of the complex.

While visits to only one or two of the palaces should suffice, there’s much more to see in the area, from the trinkets and teashops on Insadonggil to the more laid-back areas of Samcheongdong and Bukchon Hanok Village, the former studded with galleries, the latter with traditional hanok buildings. Also in the area, just north of Gyeongbokgung, is Cheongwadae, the official residence of the Korean president.

One popular itinerary is to start the day at Gyeongbokgung and take in the on-site museums before heading to Insadonggil for a traditional Korean meal and a cup of tea; energy thus restored, you can then visit one or two nearby galleries and shop at the stalls, or the nearby palace of Changdeokgung, before taking a well-earned rest at Tapgol Park.

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