Changgyeonggung: The Hidden Palace In Seoul
There are five palaces in Seoul and not all of them attract equal attention. This is good to know if you want to walk around a gorgeous Korean palace WITHOUT all of the crowds. As far as Korean palaces go, Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main palace in Seoul, and Changdeokgung featuring the Secret Garden always seem to top the lists but if you were to ask me, I’d say visiting Changgyeonggung (창경궁) is even better… for a number of reasons. Different palaces for different feels I guess. I do love Gyeongbokgung from time to time and always take short term tourists there, but if I want to visit a palace and be almost assured there won’t be a ton of people to battle to see the wooden door frames and colorful window lattices, then Changgyeonggung is a very safe bet.
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Built during the Joseon Dynasty, it served as a more residential palace and was where the queen and concubines resided. Originally built in 1418, it served as the royal residence for King Sejong’s father, King Taejong. There is a gorgeous pond and park on the palace grounds and during the Japanese colonization of the country, the palace was turned into a zoo and botanical garden. The demotion from a palace to a zoo was a bit scandalous but after much restoration and the zoo being relocated to Seoul Land in the 1980s, the palace and gardens are just beautiful today. A little tidbit that’s good to know, the gardens of Changgyeonggung Palace or connected to the gardens of Changdeokgung Palace in the rear.
The palace comes with it’s own stories of intrigue for anyone interested. If you watched the 2015 film “The Throne” or “사도” which stars Song Kang-ho and Yoo Ah-in you may have some idea of what happened here.
The courtyard in front of Jungjeongjeon is where the sealing of Crown Prince Sado by King Yeongjo, his father, took place. Allegedly, Prince Sado was a mentally unstable man who killed unnecessarily and raped among other bad deeds. The royal family, worried about what would happen should Prince Sado, heir to the throne, become king, wanted to prevent his rise. King Yeongjo, angry about his son’s deeds but law-abiding, ordered the crown prince to be sealed alive in a large rice chest in the courtyard without food or water. It was forbidden to make even a bruise on a royal’s body and this was his compromised punishment. After eight days in the box in the middle of July, Sado died. The crown prince’s death was actually kept secret and wasn’t revealed until 1776 after the death of Yeongjo.
While the other palaces in the capital city were built to strictly abide by royal principles of design and featured a north-south orientation, this palace has a more liberal style. The palace was built in an east-west orientation which was more common during the Goryeo Dynasty. After entering the main gate, visitors come to Myeongjeongjeon, the main throne hall which faces Mount Naksan, where the Ihwa Mural Village is located FYI, to the east while the other palaces have main structures which all face south.
One of the only remnants from the days when the grounds held a zoo and botanical garden is Daeonshil, an indoor botanical garden at the northern end of the pond. After a 15 month restoration, the greenhouse was reopened to the public in November of 2017. The Great Greenhouse was originally built in 1909 in a white Renaissance style and after circling the pond, the color really stands out against the green trees in the summer or the colorful hues of autumn. Though it’s called the Great Greenhouse, it is not as immense as you might expect but a very good size for when it was built. The structure itself is absolutely stunning and the restoration immaculate.
This is a great place to go if you want to see cherry blossoms in the spring or autumn foliage in a palace setting without the crowds. Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main palace in Seoul, definitely surpasses this palace in terms of size of not only the grounds but also the buildings on the grounds. It also comes with a ton of crowds and the only way to maybe see the palace without the crowds is to get there right when it opens. Changdeokgung, the next popular palace has this beat because of the popularity of the Secret Garden that is said to be beautiful in every season for one reason or another. This palace is a bit more homely, the structures a bit smaller, but it has its own perks and stories to tell that is for sure. Another royal residence that is oft overlooked but is FREE and has really different vibes because the exterior of the buildings aren’t painted in colorful hues as the other palaces are is Unhyeonggung Palace. I think all of the palaces have their own unique advantages. If there’s only a little time, go to the more popular ones. They’re popular for a reason, but if you want something different and maybe featuring an ornate greenhouse, this is the palace to find.
185 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 종로구 창경궁로 185 (와룡동)
Hours: Feb-May, Sep-Oct 9:00am-6:00pm; Jun-Aug 9:00am-6:30pm; Nov-Jan 9:00am-5:30pm
Admission: Adults: W1,000
Tours: English – 11:00, 16:00 ; Japanese – 10:00, 14:00 ; Chinese – 09:30, 15:00
The area around the palace can be rather quiet, but if you know where to go, there are some great places to be found. Hey, Juli is one of those places. This two floor cafe has chairs that look out over the Jongmyo Shrine walls to the west. It’s a great little hidden spot that serves up simple delicious eats and some very pretty drinks. If you head from the palace to this little eatery, then you’ll also be halfway to Sewoon Market or the new Maker City which has an amazing rooftop with views overlooking Jongmyo Shrine from above and you can see Namsan Tower too!
Address: 212-4 Wonnam-dong Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울시 종로구 원남동 212-4)
LidArt is a very cool cafe/gallery just around the corner from the entrance to the palace. The cafe is a cool minimalist spot with some brightly colored surprises. Check out the light installations and enjoy the backdrops and white walls in this quiet cafe full of energy. If you just want a quick coffee with a little pizzazz after visiting the palace, then this is definitely where you should head.
Address: 185 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울시 종로구 율곡로 185 2층)
This Cuban style eatery serves delicious Cuban sandwiches and a brunch set hits just the right spot. The interior is super appealing with great palm leaf wallpaper and retro wooden accents. Music pours from the sound system. It’s the perfect spot to eat brunch… lunch… or dinner and it’s easy to find just across the street and up the road from the palace.
Address: 118-1 Wonnamdong Jongno gu, 110-450 Seoul (서울시 종로구 원남동 110-450)
Know Where To Stay!
Hotel The Designers has branches all around Seoul and they are chic beautiful and comfortable. Check into Hotel The Designers Jongno to stay right downtown near this beautiful palace and all the delicious eats. Stay here and you’ll be near the shopping, sightseeing all of the fun that Seoul has to offer. There are 81 rooms on 11 floors in this particular branch with all of the modern amenities every traveler needs.