I’ll get the preliminaries out of the way first… here is how to pronounce “Gyeongbokgung”, only you must say it about 300% faster to sound convincing!)
Seoul, South Korea, is dotted with royal palaces that have been built (and rebuilt) throughout the country’s turbulent history. The Joseon Dynasty left five grand palaces near the heart of the city, the greatest of which is Gyeongbukgung, originally built in the late 1300’s. Since then, it’s been badly damaged or even largely destroyed at least four times, most recently during the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1911.
But, it stands today after being reconstructed once more as part of an ongoing 40-year (!) building project to restore the site to its former status, which once included over three hundred buildings.
We were able to visit Gyeongbukgung accompanied by a native South Korean guide who had an excellent command of both S. Korean history and architecture, as well as the English language. (Thank goodness!)
The palace is located in the heart of Seoul, protected by guards in full military regalia, and opens into a series of gates and courtyards that are quite immense.
As you can see, we didn’t exactly have the place to ourselves… Gyeongbukgung is quite the tourist destination for Korean and international travelers, and the main entrances and courtyards were quite busy. (Best time to visit: early morning.)
However, once you work your way past the entrances and into the main grounds, the 50+ acres of natural environments and historical buildings offer plenty of room to move about, and it doesn’t feel nearly as crowded.
Some of the most beautiful areas were the garden landscapes, like this (described to us as “the King’s backyard”):
Historic Korean architecture certainly has some resemblances to other Asian building traditions, but also has enough of its own characteristics as to be truly unique.
Most of the buildings in Gyeongbukgung are free-standing and single-purpose, with larger walking areas surrounding them, so the site is not overwhelmed by any single particular edifice.
The King’s throne room is a building like this, set by itself, with one of the most spacious interiors. It makes for an extremely impressive sight, and each attribute of the layout has its own unique significance.
The area set apart for Gyeongbukgung is shared with two museums featuring the national South Korean culture and folk traditions, and it wouldn’t be hard to spend at least half a day exploring the area.
The Korean people and government have made it a major priority to invest in restoring these historic landmarks, and they represent some of the most unique artifacts of their country. If you are in Seoul for a short visit or an extended stay, you should find easy access to Gyeongbukgung via the subway system (orange line) and consider it highly recommended!