All You Need to Know about the Main Royal Palace of Joseon Dynasty
Gyeongbokgung Palace is the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. Besides its historical and cultural importance, this palace in Seoul is a must-visit place for anyone visiting the capital city of South Korea.
This detailed guide is all you need to know from how to go to Gyeongbokgung Palace to history and architecture. It includes special programs you do not want to miss, such as Gyeongbokgung Palace Changing of Guards Ceremony, guided tours, Gyeongbogkgung Palace at Night seasonal viewing, and Starlight Tour, etc.
I don’t always recommend visiting the same site multiple times, but would make this gorgeous palace a rare exception. Since high school, I have visited many times. Most recently, I went to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Autumn twice in 2017 with a guided tour and in 2019 for Gyeongbokgung Palace at Night. I fall in love with it all over again each time I go.
The ancient palace is a hidden gem in the bustling metropolitan city like Seoul. Once you go to Gyeongbokgung Palace, you will appreciate the beauty of the Korean palace, its rich history, and its stunning architecture.
I included a lot of information for you. To get to the information you need fast, jump to different sections using the table of contents below.
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Gyeongbokgung Palace Hours & Fees
Admission: ₩3,000 (Free if worn hanbok) | Age 7-18: ₩1,500 | Children under 6 or Seniors (Age 65+): Free
Total Admission Pass (Four Palaces and Jongmyo Shrine): ₩10,000 (valid for 3 months after purchase)
Free Admission: Free if worn hanbok. Everyone enters free on the last Wednesdays of the month.
Hours: Spring (March – May) & Autumn (Sept. – Oct.): 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. | Summer (June – Aug.): 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. | Winter (Nov. – Feb.): 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Closed on Tuesdays)
How to Go to Gyeongbokgung Palace
You might be surprised to find that an ancient palace, like Gyeongbokgung Palace, is in the heart of Seoul. Gyeongbokgung is in the central location near Gwanghwamun Square and super easy to get to from anywhere in Seoul.
Address: 161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul [Open Kakao Map]
The best way to go to Gyeongbokgung Palace is to take the subway if you are already in Seoul. Two subway lines go to Gyeongbokgung. It is only a few minutes of walk from the stations.
- Line 3, Gyeongbokgung Station, Exit #5
- Line 5, Gyeongbokgung Station, Exit #2
Note: Line 3, Gyeongbokgung Station, Exit #5 is closed during nighttime. For a limited-time evening program, use Exit #4 instead.
Because of its central location, there can be traffic. As said, the subway is the best way to reach Gyeongbokgung Palace. However, from Incheon airport or outside of Seoul, the bus can be a convenient way to get there. From Incheon Airport, take bus #6011.
Gyeongbokgung Palace Map
Gyeongbokgung Palace History
1392: King Taejo (Yi Seong-gye) founded the Joseon Dynasty.
1394: King Taejo declared Hanyang (today’s Seoul) as the new capital, moved from Gaegyeong (today’s Gaeseong in North Korea).
1395: The construction of Gyeongbokgung Palace as the main royal palace was completed.
- Gyeongbokgung Palace means the palace (gung) blessed by heaven (gyeongbok).
- The location was selected according to Chinese geomancy, Fengshui. It was deemed auspicious with Mt. Bugaksan in the back and Mt. Namsan in the front.
1952-1598: During the Japanese Invasion (Imjin Waeran), Gyeongbokgung was destroyed and left abandoned for the next 273 years. In the meantime, a secondary palace, Changdeokgung Palace, was built and served as the main royal palace.
1867: The Prince Regent Heungseon reconstructed Gyeongbokgung.
1910-1945: The Palace was dismantled and torn down during the Japanese occupation.
1927: As a symbolic gesture to destroy the spirit of Korea, Imperial Japan constructed a massive architecture in the front area of the palace to house the Japanese Government-General that blocked the view of the palace.
1968-2010: Different parts of Gyeongbokgung were restored at various times.
1997: Korea demolished the Japanese Government-General house as part of the government initiative to restore Korean heritage.
Gyeongbokgung Palace Tour
You can only see as much as you know at the historic sites like Gyeongbokgung Palace. While you can purchase a ticket and explore on your own, the best way to enjoy Gyeongbokgung Palace is to learn the history and understand the cultural significance with a professional guide.
Here, I will include a few Gyeongbokgung Palace guided tours for you.
Gyeongbokgung Palace Free Guided Tours
Gyeongbokgung Palace offers free guided tours in diverse languages – including English, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, and Vietnamese. It is offered on the first-come, first-serve basis up to 30 individuals per session. Groups with 10 or more people must reserve in advance.
You are responsible for admission and any other incurred fees. No tips required.
English: 11:00, 13:30, 15:30
Japanese: 10:00, 12:30, 14:30
Chinese: 10:30, 13:00, 15:00
Indonesian: 09:20, 11:00, 14:00 (every Thur. Fri. Sat.)
Vietnamese: 10:30, 15:00 (every Thur. Fri. Sat.)
Tour Meeting Point: Find the standing sign in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace Information Center inside the Heungnyemun Gate (흥례문).
Tour Duration: 1-1.5 hours
Gyeongbokgung Palace Free Walking Tour
Even as a Korean who studied Korean history at school and watched many Korean epic dramas, I joined this walking tour with a certified tour guide to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace. I learned so much more from this group tour that I cannot recommend it enough for you.
Seoul Tourism Organization manages this free walking tour program. You can request a certified volunteer tour guide service at the time/date you wish (Submit your application here). It is not guaranteed until they find your match. (There is also a minimum headcount.) You are responsible for admission and any other incurred fees. No tips required.
Tour Meeting Point: In front of Gyeongbokgung Ticket Booth
Tour Duration: 2 hours
Gyeongbokgung Palace History Walk Tour
Free guided tours are great if you can make it. But it comes with some restrictions. Instead, take this history walk tour with a guide (includes admission). Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, head over to the Jogyesa Temple, and check out other historical places in the neighborhood.
Gyeongbokgung Half-day or Full-day Tour
Watch the changing of guards and tour Gyeongbokgung Palace with a professional guide. This half-day tour also takes you to the National Folk Museum and Jogyesa Buddhist Temple.
If you got more energy to go on, explore more in Seoul (Insadong, N Seoul Tower, and Namsan Hanok Village), or venture out to the Korean Folk Village in the outskirt of Seoul with this history full-day tour.
Gyeongbokgung Palace Changing of Guards
Changing of Guards Ceremony (수문장 교대의식)
Where: Square inside of Gwanghwamun Gate (광화문)
When: 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (about 20 minutes)
The royal guards of the Joseon Dynasty were responsible for guarding and patrolling the royal palaces and the city gates – including Gwanghwamun, Heunginjimun, and Sungnyemun Gates. The Commander of the Gate Guards, called Sumunjang (수문장), was the chief military officer who led these royal guards.
The Changing of the Guards Ceremony was first established in 1469 of King Yejong’s rule and carried out since when their day and night shifts change.
The ceremony has been re-enacted since 1996 by actors in traditional royal uniforms and weapons, with traditional music played in the background. The reenactment ceremony takes place twice daily (except Tuesdays) at the Gwanghwamun Gate.
Note that the outdoor ceremony can be canceled or reduced in scale during the severe weather.
Insider’s Tip: You can also experience the Royal Guard costume before and after the ceremony.
Gate Guard Duty Performance (광화문 파수의식)
Where: Outside of Gwanghwamun Gate (광화문)
When: 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (about 10 minutes)
In case you miss the Changing of Guards Ceremony, you can opt-in for the Gate Guard Duty Performance. It would be slightly different and briefer; however, you should be able to enjoy the gate guards in traditional costume.
Royal Palace Walk
Where: Gyeonghoeru → Gangnyeongjeon → Sajeongjeon → Gyeonghoeru
When: Daily in April – Nov. (break in July – Aug.)
Another impressive reenactment ceremony you might not want to miss is the Royal Palace Walk. This daily parade shows the morning ritual of the King and the Queen. They take a walk around the palace.
Gyeongbokgung Palace Architecture
Gwanghwamun Gate (광화문)
Gwanghwamun Gate is the main gate of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, which faces the Gwanghwamun Square of today’s Seoul.
As Gyeongbokgung Palace was the Joseon Dynasty’s principal palace, the gates were built like fortresses with high stone walls and three arched entrances. The king entered through the central arch while the crown prince and government officials used the side ones. The architecture features a double roof. A bell inside the building announced the time of day.
Gwanghwamun Gate was rebuilt in 1968 as a concrete structure and restored to its original structure in 2020. (The original gate had been moved to the north of Geonchunmun Gate, but got bombed during the Korean War.)
Since the Joseon Dynasty, the front of Gwanghwamun Gate has served as the main square for citizens to gather and express their political opinion. If you watch Korean dramas taken place during the Joseon Dynasty, you might have seen people sit in front of this gate and chant, which is a type of protest against the king.
With the Blue House close by and the US Embassy across the street, Gwanghwamun Square still serves as the area for significant protests and political events today. It is also the place for national celebrations. When Korea hosted the World Cup in 2002, Koreans gathered to watch the matches projected on the exterior of high rises. (I was there! I remember sitting in the middle of the road, enjoyed the festivity, and marched to the City Hall celebrating the Korean team’s victory.)
Geunjeongjeon (National Treasure No. 223) means a diligent government. It was the Throne Hall for Joseon kings to handle important state affairs such as coronations, cabinet meetings, state visits, etc.
The current hall was built in 1867 after getting burned down during the Japanese Invasion in 1592. Symbolizing the sacred monarchy, this largest hall in the palace stands high on top of stone steps. Behind the throne features a colorful painting of the Sun, Moon, and a five-peaked mountain. A pair of seven-clawed dragons, which signify the king and the state, decorates the ceiling of Geujeongjeon Hall. (see photos above)
In front of Geunjeongjeon, you will see a stone-paved square. The court officials lined up in order of rank (as indicated in the stone marks) during official functions at Geunjeongjeon. (Again, if you have watched Korean dramas, you will know exactly what I mean.)
At the center of the flight of steps, you will see a set of Haetae stone sculptures. Haetae is the legendary animal of judgment.
Insider’s Tip: There is a reenactment of King Sejong’s coronation on August 10th of the lunar calendar.
Sujeongjeon inside the office quarters is the only building on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung that survived from the Japanese Invasion.
During the Great King Sejong’s reign, space used to be Jiphyeonjeon, where he created Hangeul (Korean letters) with scholars. King Gojong later used it as residential quarters.
Sajeongjeon (Treasure No. 1759), inside the office quarters, was the main office of the king to handle state business. Joseon’s rulers held daily morning assemblies with the highest-ranking officials here. It was also used as the library for kings to study Chinese classics with a small group of scholars and discuss how to be a wise king.
Sajeongjeon is the main office for Joseon kings.
Gangneyongjeon was the king’s living quarters and home office. While it was a private area, Joseon kings often had private meetings with cabinet members and studied/read books here.
The building got burned down three times since the Japanese Invasion in 1592. The current building was built in 1995.
The official residence of Joseon queen consorts, Gyotaejeon (National Treasure No. 811), is located right behind Gangnyeongjeon. (In Joseon, the king and queen’s living quarters were separated.) Just like Gangnyeongjeon, it was destroyed, rebuilt, and dismantled before restored in 1995.
Behind the Gyotaejeon is a cozy garden called Amisan. The women of the palace were not allowed to visit the outside world, except for special occasions. The area elaborately decorated with flowers and ornamental chimneys was a small outdoor terrace for women to hang out and stroll.
Jagyeongjeon (Treasure No. 809) was built for the Dowager Jo, the adoptive mother of King Gojong. Its walls are uniquely decorated with geometric patterns, flowers, and birds.
Donggung was the crown prince’s residence on the Eastside of the palace. As the sun rises from the East, the East Palace symbolizes crown prince rising to the throne.
It was not the original part of Gyeongbokgung Palace; King Sejong added it in 1427. The current building was rebuilt in 1999.
Hyangwonjeong Pavilion (향원정)
When King Gojong built Geongcheonggung Palace, he redesigned the back garden and created Hyangwonjeong Pavilion (Treasure No. 1761) in the middle of the pond. It used to be a place for royals to take a break.
The pavilion is supposedly an exquisite architecture in the Hyangwonji Pond. Unfortunately, it was closed for restoration during my visit.
Geoncheonggung Palace (건청궁)
Geoncheonggung Palace was built in 1873 in the north end of Gyeongbokgung Palace to be used as a residence of King Gojong – the last King of Joseon Dynasty – and his Queen Myeongseong. The current hall was restored in 2007.
Interestingly, it was the first building in the country to install electric lights, only 7 years after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.
In 1895, it became the tragic place of the Eulmi Incident, where the Imperial Japanese brutally assassinated Queen Myeongseong. Now it hosts a special exhibit related to the Eulmi Incident. Visitors are allowed to enter to see the exhibition.
Gyeonghoeru Pavilion (경회루)
Gyeonghoeru Pavilion (National Treasure No. 224) is the royal banquet hall, used as a venue for state events, royal feast, receptions of foreign diplomats, and seasonal rituals for rains.
Surrounded by the pond, it is the most beautiful architecture in Gyeongbokgung Palace, in my opinion. Inside the upstairs rooms, windows frame the magnificent view of Inwangsan Mountain. The royals and special guests also used to enjoy boating in a pond. The 12 rooms in the pavilion refer to 12 months while 24 pillars outside stand for 24 solar terms.
In 1997, the pond clean-up project revealed two bronze dragon sculptures inside. Each dragon weighed 66.5kg and was H 146.5cm x W 14.2cm in size. Joseon people believed that the dragon controls water and rains. They dropped these dragons in the pond to protect the wooden architecture from fire and wish rainfalls for a prosperous harvest. Currently, the National Palace Museum exhibits these dragons.
The current pavilion was re-built in 1867 after completely burned down during the Japanese Invasion in 1592. Other structures in the palace had burned down at various times, but this pavilion survived. The entrance is limited to a small group of tours led by the palace’s certified guide – called Cultural Heritage Interpreter (문화해설사) – to preserve the delicate ancient architecture.
Reservation required. Each session is open to up to 30 Koreans and up to 10 foreigners. Booking opens 7 days to 1 day before. Bring the confirmation printed or captured on the phone. Show up 5 minutes prior as doors will be closed after the meeting time.
Admission: No additional fees. Need to purchase Gyeongbokgung Palace admission.
Hours: 10 a.m./2 p.m./4 p.m. | Sat & Sun: Offers an additional session at 11 a.m. (Gyeongbokgung closed on Tuesdays.)
Duration: About 40 minutes.
Language: Only in Korean.
Reservations: Online only. Reserve Gyeonghoeru Pavilion here.
Tour Meeting Point: Hamheung Gate next to Gyeonghoeru Pavilion. Meet 5 minutes before the reserved time.
Always remember to look up in Gyeongbokgung Palace. You will see colorful patterns decorating the ceilings.
Heading to Seoul?
If you are traveling to Seoul, check out 20+ unique experiences in the capital city of South Korea. This list includes places to visit, food to eat, and things to do for your planning.
Gyeongbokgung Palace at Night
Each year, Gyeongbokgung Palace is open to the public at night. Dates can change but typically select dates in early summer to fall. Only a small group of people can enter the complex to enjoy the beauty of the illuminated palace during this limited time.
In 2019, daily tickets were available up to 4,500. For Koreans, admission must be booked online in advance. It is on super high demand and completely sold out within a minute.
However, foreign tourists can purchase up to 4 day-of tickets per person ON-SITE to the daily quota of 500. If you plan to wear hanbok, you can get in free as usual. In this case, you must reserve the night ticket online in advance (up to 2 tickets per person).
Going to Gyeongbokgung Palace at night was on my bucket list for a long time. I finally was able to time my travel to Seoul during this special viewing period in 2019 and successfully booked the tickets online!
Having visited Gyeongbokgung Palace many times only during the day, the nighttime visit was extra special. Contrary to the busy, bright Seoul skyscrapers right outside of the palace, the illuminated palace was gorgeous and calm. Quite frankly, I appreciated the palace at night much better than the crowded daytime with brawling tourist groups. So if you can make it, I highly recommend enjoying Gyeongbokgung at night.
By the way, other palaces in Seoul also open at night during the limited time. With such an enjoyable experience at Gyeongbokgung Palace, I will try to make it to unique nighttime visits to other palaces in Seoul next time!
2020 Gyeongbokgung Palace at Night
Date: Sept. 2 – Dec. 4, 2020
Admission: ₩3,000 (Free if worn hanbok.) Reservation opens up from Aug. 21 here.
Hours: 7 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Last admission at 8:30 p.m. (Closed on Tuesdays.)
Gyeongbokgung Palace Night Concert
Only during the nighttime visit period, you can join the special night concert in front of Sujeongjeon. You can enjoy the lively traditional performances such as Korean dance, Pansori singing, royal music concert, etc.
While anyone can freely stand to watch the outdoor performances, limited seatings are available. If you want to take a seat, be there at least 30 minutes before the performance.
Where: In front of Sujeongjeon
When: 8 – 8:50 p.m.
Gyeongbokgung Royal Dining
The kings of the Joseon Dynasty ate special meals called Surasang with 12 different dishes. Royal chefs prepared daily meals for the king and queen using seasonal and exquisite ingredients at the royal kitchen, Sojubang. (Anyone watched K-drama hit Dae Jang Geum?)
Gyeongbokgung Royal Dining is a popular cultural experience program offered during the Gyeongbokgung Palace at Night viewing period. It is an extraordinary opportunity to sample traditional royal food and tea ceremony while watching traditional performances.
Admission: ₩25,000 (₩3,000 Gyeongbokgung admission included.)
Hours: 7 pm & 8:10 pm (Special period only.)
Duration: About 50 minutes.
Language: Korean and English.
Reservation: Required. Capped at 60 people per session. Book through Auction Tickets or by calling +82-1566-1369.
↡↡ A Night with Royal Cuisine & Traditional Performances↡↡
You won’t be in Seoul for the special royal dining event? No worries, you can still experience this highly recommended cultural event by the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation. Treat yourself out for a memorable evening with royal cuisine and traditional performances in Korea House. >> Join this unforgettable cultural event! (currently unavailable)
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Gyeongbokgung Palace Starlight Tour
Similar to the Gyeongbokgung Palace at Night, Starlight Tour at Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁 별빛야행) is another limited-time evening program. Participants can access areas of the palace that are usually restricted – including the Huwon (backyard garden) and Gyeonghoeru Pavilion.
How does it differ from the Gyeongbokgung Palace at Night? Both programs happen in the evening during the special viewing periods for a small group of people.
Gyeongbokgung Palace at Night is an extension of admission hours with special events. Whereas, the Starlight Tour is a guided tour course in the evening. Its program includes an explanation of historical background and architecture, tasting royal cuisine in the Sojubang while watching traditional Korean music Gugak performance, watching sand art at Gyotaejeon, and enjoying Gugak solo recital at Gyeongheoru Pavilion.
The tour takes place twice a day during the special period (dates to be announced each year). International visitors can join foreigner-exclusive English tours offered at specific dates. Passport and reservation numbers are required to enter.
Admission: ₩50,000 (Must be 7 or older to participate.)
Hours: 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. & 7:40 p.m. – 9:40 p.m.
Duration: 2 hours
Tour Meeting Point: Heungnyemun Gate
Reservation: Required. Auction Tickets (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
Gyeongbokgung Palace Hanbok Rentals
I highly recommend wearing hanbok when you visit Gyeongbokgung Palace. As Korean, I had so many opportunities to wear hanbok since young. So I decided not to bother. Once I got there, I immediately regretted not opting in for this unique opportunity. When I went back for the special evening program, I thought it would not be worthwhile after dark. Boy, was I wrong!
The ancient palace is a perfect backdrop for hanbok. Your photos will come out so much better. Also, anyone in hanbok can enter free of charge to all palaces in Seoul, including Gyeongbokgung Palace.
It is not difficult to find hanbok rentals near Gyeongbokgung Palace. As it became a trendy thing to do even for Koreans, there are so many rental shops.
These shops offer many different styles of hanbok and traditional costume for men, women, and children at affordable prices (₩10,000 – 35,000). They also help with matching the couple’s looks. You can be the king and queen, or couples from noble families, or even royal guard and courtesan. If you are not sure, do not hesitate to ask for help. The stylists usually help you find the hanbok and style your hair and accessories to match.
By the way, I noticed some Korean men wear women’s hanbok costumes or vice versa. Just so you know, they are not cross-dressers or transgenders. They usually do it for fun group photos.
Insider’s Tip: If you are renting hanbok, visit Gyeongbokgung Palace and nearby Bukchon Hanok Village on the same day. Both are excellent places to visit in hanbok.
What to Do Near Gyeongbokgung Palace
National Folk Museum of Korea
National Palace Museum
Samcheongdong Cafe Street
Bukchon Hanok Village