99 Yulgong-no, Jung-gu
HOURS: Apr.-Oct. Tues.-Sat. 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.,
Nov. and Mar. Tues.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.,
Dec.-Feb. Tues.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
COST: ₩3,000 adult, ₩1,500 child
SUBWAY: Anguk (Line 3)
Changdeokgung (Palace of Illustrious Virtue) was completed in 1412 by Joseon dynasty rulers as a second palace to the larger and grander Gyeongbokgung . However, most historians, and a good many visitors, agree Changdeokgung is the more sublime architectural expression.
Relatively modest and surrounded by winding paths, towering trees, and fragrant blossoms, Changdeokgung’s structures were clearly intended to blend in with their natural environment, and indeed the palace was listed as a United Nations World Heritage Site in 1997 partially due to the harmony it exhibits with its setting.
Like Seoul’s other palaces, Changdeokgung was leveled by war and rebuilt multiple times throughout the centuries, and today around a dozen of its major buildings survive. The most significant of these include Injeongjeon, the main throne hall, and Daejeojeon, the former quarters of the queen.
But the palace’s most significant feature is its huwon (rear garden), which served as a retreat for the royal family. Replete with lotus ponds, pavilions, and a wide variety of plant life, it still radiates a serene beauty.
As part of an effort to minimize visitor impact on the site, Changdeokgung can be visited only on guided tours, which run throughout the day in Korean, English, and Chinese. English tours are currently offered just three times daily—at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.—and are informative, if slightly rushed.
The exception to the tour rule is Thursdays from April to November, when for a higher admission price—₩15,000—visitors can wander around the palace at will. It’s a worthwhile investment for photographers and those who prefer to take things in at their own pace.