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.

Gyeongbokgung Palace is one of the top tourist sites in Seoul, Korea and is a definitely must-see for anyone living here or coming for a visit. Just north of Gwanghwamun Square and south of the President’s Blue House, the palace is right in the heart of Seoul and easy to get to from anywhere.

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.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea

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Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PALACE: Gyeongbokgung Palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty, the last dynasty in Korea’s history. The palace was built in 1395 just after the capital of Korea was moved from Kaesong, which is in North Korea today, to Seoul, though back then it was known as Hanyang. Gyeongbokgung, calso called the Northern Palace due to it’s position, served as the home of Kings of the Joseon Dynasty and was the main palace until a fire destroyed the palace during the Imjin War that lasted from 1592 to 1598. After that time, the palace was actually abandoned for two centuries until the 19th century when Prince Regent Heungseon restored the palace and it’s 7,700 rooms during the reign of King Gojong (1852 – 1919). Though the 500 buildings were restored for a time, the palace was again dismantled and systematically destroyed during the Japanese colonization. Over time, the palace has been restored bit by bit and today is the largest and grandest of the five palaces in the capital city.

Here is my step by step guide to missing the crowds at Gyeongbokgung Palace.

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

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea

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

If this starts to get too confusing, I highly recommend joining a tour that would take you through the palace and some of the surrounding area. With a guide, it would obviously be easier to take a look and maneuver.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea

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

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea
Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, KoreaGyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea

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

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea

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.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea

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.

If you want to see Gyeongbokgung Palace on your trip to Seoul, check out a Klook Tour. You can join a tour to see the palace, Jogyesa Buddhist Temple, the Ginseng Center and the Korean Folk Village in ONE Day! It’s a great deal and a GREAT way to see all of the traditional stops at once easily.

Gyeongbokgung Palace is actually one of FIVE palaces in Seoul, Korea that you can visit. If trying to get away from the crowds and maneuvering through the palace grounds does NOT sound like something you want to do, definitely visit the other temples. Though Gyeongbokgung is the largest, the others definitely have their positive attributes and obviously one of the highlights is that you can see them on your lonesome. Here are some others to check out and why you might like them a bit better:

  • Changdeokgung Palace: Changdeokgung Palace is known for having the Secret Garden that is said to be beautiful in every season. This palace only offers viewing on a tour that you have to reserve when you arrive and English guides are only at specific times. The palace is beautiful and having a guide explain the architecture is a great highlight.
  • Changgyeonggung Palace: One of the most overlooked palaces of them all, this palace has a substantial park and features a Japanese colonization era greenhouse that is quite stunning. The palace is beautiful and you can often walk the grounds all on your own.
  • Unhyeonggung Royal Residence: This smaller residence is a bit different from the others in that none of the buildings have been painted in the colorful reds and greens of the other palaces. Quite a bit smaller, but FREE to enter, this stop is a bit more rustic, easy to get to and has some of the cheapest options for Hanbok rental in the area.
  • Deoksugung Palace: This palace is a popular stop for tourists because it’s just across the street from City Hall and right downtown. There is a changing of the guard ceremony that people watch daily and a mixture of Joseon era and modern elements in this palace.
  • Gyeonghuigung Palace: This palace, also free and a great stop if you want a bit more privacy while palace viewing is another palace that is often overlooked but is great if you just want to peruse the architecture quickly and easily on your own.

Gyeongbokgung Palace Map English

Know Where To Stay

Stay in something traditional and absolutely stunning, check out the Ihwa Hanok Stay. This is an entire Hanok House that is available for rental and features five bedrooms, four bathrooms and all of the amenities you’d want yet still in a traditional home. This spot is suitable for 12 guests and is really so well suited for any traveler that might not be quite sure about sleeping on the floor of a Hanok just yet, but wants to have the experience.

Gyeongbokgung Palace


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

Know Where To Go!

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Gyeongbokgung Palace: A step by step guide to missing the crowds


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25 Responses

  1. JM says:

    This is very detailed and i love it since we will be visiting Seoul next year. This will be very useful. I will definitely keep this in mind. Thank you.

  2. Jo says:

    Great tips, I think going early is actually the best idea for any popular place. You can skip crowds and get some fantastic pictures as well. I hate people in my pics lol

  3. Great tips. It would be a shame to let crowds ruin your experience of such a beautiful place. Getting to places I want to see early is always my strategy and it has not failed me yet!

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  2. September 26, 2016

    […] probably became famous due to it’s location in the high traffic area just west of Gyeongbukgung Palace, but over the years it has become popular with tourists for another […]

  3. September 27, 2016

    […] While tourists are scrambling to the other palaces these days, and seriously, the Chinese tourist bu… but this one is relatively devoid of tourists. On my visit, just a handful of tourists were there and a Korean family in Hanboks taking pictures to celebrate the birthday of their one year old.  This palace was the residence of Emperor Gojong, the 26th king of the Joseon dynasty. He lived here before he took the throne. The information explains that this residence was owned by Gojong’s father, Regent Heungseon and he ruled over the country from here for ten years after he took control in place of his son. Originally, there were gates that connected this palace to Chandeokgung Palace in order for King Gojong and the regent to go back and forth unfortunately now those gates no longer exist. This palace is more akin to an inner palace as it is quite small though what you see today is even smaller than it was in the beginning due to a portion of it being sold off after the Korean War. […]

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  5. February 2, 2017

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  6. February 7, 2017

    […] Every Sunday from March to October, traffic is blocked going southbound and tents are erected for a big flea market on the Gwanghwamun Square just in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace. […]

  7. March 26, 2017

    […] a perfect stop to make on the way to or from the nearby palaces including the main palace of Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace & The Secret Garden or the smaller but FREE and rather quaint Unhyeongung […]

  8. May 25, 2017

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  9. August 27, 2017

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    […] was named in 1395 by Taejo Lee Sung-gye who made the first Sajik altar, as well as built Gyeongbokgung and Jongmyo Shrine. Rites were held here regularly dating back to the Three Kingdom Period in Korea […]

  11. January 1, 2018

    […] will be sure to keep you in line. This part of the wall follows the mountain that sits just behind Gyeongbukgung Palace and the Blue House, where the president resides. Bugaksan is the guardian mountain of the palace, […]

  12. January 1, 2018

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    […] spring and once in the fall, meaning the limited time offer makes it even more of a must see. The palace is beautiful during the day, but is just a bit more magical when it’s lit up at […]

  16. June 17, 2018

    […] building, or buildings that make up the complex, sits on the eastern side of Gyeongbukgung Palace and the entrance looks more like an old school with brick walls and old windows with iron […]

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