Seoul boasts five major palaces, but the most beautiful of the bunch is the architectural masterpiece and UNESCO World Heritage site Changdeokgung. Blending in perfectly with its surrounding natural landscape and sprawling over almost 462,000 square metres, this palace served as the royal residence of the longstanding Joseon Dynasty for hundreds of years, from 1392 to 1910.
King Taejong constructed this historic building in 1405. Sadly, along with Seoul’s other palaces, it was the victim of arson during the Japanese invasion of 1592. But Changdeokgung would not go down without a fight. The palace was reconstructed in 1610 and saw the reign of 13 kings over the course of 270 years.
Don’t miss the Injeongjeon Hall throne room, with its ornate ceiling, and Daejojeon, the queen’s residence, which still contains the original bed chambers of the last king and queen. But for the ultimate highlight, visit Changdeokgung Palace’s exquisite Secret Garden. You can do so only by guided tour, which requires a separate ticket. (And only 100 tickets are on sale for each tour.) The garden takes up two-thirds of the palace grounds and is home to more than 56,000 species of trees and plants, including white oak, maple, chestnut, gingko and pine. Stroll past its tranquil ponds, streams and pavilions year-round, but if you want to see it at its most enchanting, time your visit for autumn, when the hues of warm gold, red and amber are truly breathtaking.
Changdeokgung Palace is closed on Mondays. The grounds are open from 9am till at least 5:30pm the rest of the week; the Secret Garden doesn’t open until 10am. To get to the palace, take the subway to Anguk Station (Line 3). Take Exit 3 for the five-minute walk to the palace. Also within walking distance is the historic Bukchon Hanok Village, which teems with beautiful traditional Korean homes, the hanok, as well as artisan workshops, galleries, restaurants and museums.