Austin’s parents and sister visited us for a few weeks in September, increasing the number of Wandering Browns to seven! It was great to have them and the next few posts will feature some of the things we did together. This was their first time in Korea, so many of the sights we visited are perfect for first-time visitors who do not have weeks and months to fully explore this beautiful country. Our first sight-seeing day, we headed to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest palace in Seoul. I was torn between this palace and the beautiful Changdeokgung palace next door, with its scenic “Secret Garden,” but because of the colorful and interesting changing of the guard ceremony, as well as the Korean Folk museum on site, this palace won. Changing of the guard ceremonies are at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm and should not be missed!
We approached the palace from the line 1 Jongno station, so we had a long walk up the pedestrian-friendly central median with monuments and sculptures of past Korean rulers. Gyeongbok palace was originally built in 1394 at the beginning of the Joseon dynasty. Almost completely destroyed by fire during the Japanese occupation in the 1500s, this palace was restored in the 1800s and early 1900s. The changing of the guard ceremony dates back to the Joseon dynasty, and the performers wore traditional uniforms and played traditional instruments. At the information booth just outside the gates were pamphlets explaining the ceremony, and it was narrated in Korean. My favorite part was the guard on the gate who blew a conch shell several times during the ceremony!
Note: Our 4-year-old was enthralled with the music, drums, weapons, and costumes for about 10 minutes. The ceremony lasted about 15 minutes, so he had trouble staying put to watch the entire thing. Also available at this palace are costumes to try on for photos, although we did not take advantage of that opportunity during our visit. Tours are available in a variety of languages, but since the tour did not start until 11:00 am, and we had two little guys with us, we explored the palace complex on our own. For more information on all things Gyeongbokgung palace related, visit their website. Like many Korean attractions, ticket prices were very reasonable. There are single tickets for this palace, or a combined ticket for admission into all of the palaces in Seoul. I would only recommend this ticket if you are 1) really into Korean palaces/ history or 2) staying in Seoul for awhile. Otherwise, it is not worth it.
Last time we visited this palace, it was pouring rain, so the changing of the guard was canceled and we dashed from one building to the next. Needless to say, this visit was much more pleasant as we wandered through the complex. First, we visited the throne room:
Because this was our second visit here, I tried to capture the neat details that stood out to me, like the pattern on this roof peak, and the worn, tiny door that leads to underneath the floors.
The Gyeonghoeru pavilion was where the king held feasts and other big entertaining events. After being burnt down by the Japanese, it was rebuilt in the 1860s. The pond surrounding it makes this one of the more picturesque spots of the palace compound. The pavilion is not open to the general public, but tourists can enjoy it from the shores of the pond, not too far away.
No visit to Gyeongbokgung palace is complete without visiting the Korean folk museum. It is a great place to visit to get a snapshot of all of the major aspects of traditional Korean customs and culture. We happened to visit the day after Chuseok, which is Korean Thanksgiving. There was a big celebration and culture fair going on in the area around the folk museum. Landon participated in a few of the activities, banging on drums and making an awesome button with a traditional Korean symbol that he colored himself. There were traditional children’s games in the courtyard as well.
We tried to get into the children’s part of the folk museum, but tickets were sold out for several hours. Instead of going inside, Landon just played on the playground. Insider tip: if you want to go in the children’s section of the folk museum, head there first when you arrive at the palace to ensure that you get a ticket! Tickets are free, but there are a limited number! We walked back toward the front of the palace through a side garden with memorial stones for past emperors. If time is a factor, Gyeongbokgung palace is the palace to visit in Seoul.Make sure to bring walking shoes as this palace complex is huge! For those with babies, a baby carrier vs. stroller would be a better choice because some areas of the complex are not stroller friendly, and there are stairs up to see inside buildings. We still brought our stroller for our preschooler because of the distances involved walking between buildings. This palace’s beauty, historical relevance, and changing of the guard ceremony, along with the informative Korean folk museum, make this palace the best palace pick in Seoul.