Gyeongbokgung Palace: A Step By Step Guide To Missing The Crowds
These days, crowds and crowds of tourists coming off of those large tourist buses are filling up Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁) making it less than enticing to visit. It used to be one of those historical sites that you could visit and be assured that you’d also be able to enjoy some peace and quiet while inside the tall walls that surround the grounds. Currently, you’d likely walk from the peace and quiet directly into the noisy chirps of guides speaking numerous languages loudly into speakers and waving flags that could likely end up in those photos you try to set up just right. If you plan it juuuuust right though, you could miss those crowds (almost) entirely.
Here is my step by step guide to missing the crowds at Gyeongbokgung Palace.
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Step ONE: One of the first ways to miss the majority of crowds is to show up BEFORE the palace actually opens. The palace ticket booth will open at 9:00am and you want to be the first in that line to get your tickets. Get there by 8:45am to be sure you’re at least one of the first few people headed in. Most of the tour buses drop tourists off on the east side of the palace where there is another ticket booth available. DO NOT go there or you’re just asking to be enveloped by the hoards of tour groups. Get your tickets from the main ticket booth just inside of the main (southern )gate, Gwanghwamun Gate, to the right. While the free guides are available at other times in the day, and I know as a tourist you might feel like that is the best option in order to learn the most about the palace you’re walking around, you won’t get a lick of information when that guide is taking around 50 other tourists AND the palace will be full of even more tourists by those times later in the day, too. Either use the nifty guide that is free at the entrance for all of your informational needs or hire a private guide.
Check out the numbered map below as I’ll use it to let you know where to go via those numbers.
Numbered Map: 1 -> 2
Step TWO: Most of the Chinese tourists, who seem to be the largest number of tourists traveling by large groups these days, only seem to stop in the palace for three photo-ops and leave the rest as they’re off to their next destination SO, you can fairly easily miss them for the most part if you know how to side step them and get to those picture perfect stops they’re hogging between groups. First head into see the main throne room. Since you were, hopefully, one of the first in line, you’ll be one of the first up to the throne hall also known as Geunjeongjeon Hall. Take those pictures and stand in awe but then get a move on to the west. If you head from the main throne hall out the western open doors to see the party and banquet hall, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, that “floats” on water, you will be one of just a few taking this smart route through the complex this early. The number of times that we’ve gotten there and found not a soul has been numerous when timed just right and that means plenty of space, peace and quiet and beautiful photos.
Numbered Map: 2 -> 3 -> 5 -> 11
Step THREE: From the beautiful floating pavilion, head back east, but enter the walled in area through the entrance just north of the one you’d previously come out of. The halls going north of the main throne hall are the residences of the king and queen as well as where they ate and held other court meetings. You may run into some crowds here, but shouldn’t be too many. Many of the groups hang out around Gangnyeong-jeon, or number 6 on the map, so just take a look and keep heading north from there. You should hit all of the halls going back in a straight line.
Numbered Map: 11 -> 4 -> 6 -> 7 -> 8
Step FOUR: Now you’ve gotten through the main halls, you’ll need to make your way back to Hyangwon-jeong. From Amisan (8) you head out the door to the east and then head back north again. You will run into a TON of tourists on your way back to the pond and may likely feel like a salmon swimming up stream at this point. Don’t feel like you’re going backwards though. You’re seeing the palace from the main hall back whereas the bussed-in tourists start in the back and come forward. Seeing all of them come south now should give you delight as that means there won’t be nearly as many by the pond by the time you get there.
Numbered Map: 8 -> 12
Step FIVE: Now you’ve made it back to the pond and you have a decision to make. You’ve seen the major parts of the palace and depending on the weather, if it’s too hot in the summer or just too cold in the winter, you could make your way to the Folk Museum on the grounds for some inside time, exit or see just a bit more of the palace. Keep heading north, or away from the front gate that you entered from and see more of the palace as well as the back gate which leads back to the Blue House or the President’s House. Another option is to go east from the pond to the folk museum which is in a very tall pagoda looking building that you can’t miss. The third option from here, is to head toward the folk museum, but then steer towards the exit to visit Samcheong-dong or the Bukchon Hanok Village. And yet a fourth option is to head west into Tongin Market to eat up lunch. Gyeongbokgung has seen a number of restorations in the past decade in order to bring the palace, one day, back to what it looked like in it’s hey-day. It’s wonderful to continue walking the grounds to see more, but weather is always a factor and in the humid summer heat or the frigid cold winter, time inside the folk museum is also a great use of time.
Enjoy Gyeongbokgung Palace at just the right time and you’ll actually be able to enjoy it. Go any other time and you’ll likely come out needing a rest and wondering why the palace is a must see at all.
Planning a trip to Korea? I’m always asked about places to stay. Check out Ramada Hotel & Suites Seoul, Royal Hotel Seoul or Lotte Hotel Seoul. All three are located downtown close to the palace and numerous other can’t miss locations.
161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 종로구 사직로 161 (세종로)
Days: Closed Tuesdays
Hours: November ~February 9:00am – 5:00pm; March ~ May 9:00am – 6:00pm; June ~ August 9:00am ~ 6:30pm; September ~ October 9:00am – 6:00pm
Admission: Adults: W3,000; Children: W1,500
Amenities: restrooms, parking, wheelchair rental, free tours
English: 11:00am, 1:30pm, 3:30pm
Japanese: 10:00am, 12:30pm, 2:30pm
Chinese: 10:30am, 12:30pm, 2:00pm, 4:00pm