Many visitors think that it’s good enough to just visit Gyeongbokgung (‘gung’ means palace), the largest of the five Joseon royal palaces in Seoul. While the palaces may seem similar, they each have their own charm and history. I particularly like Deoksugung for its unique mix of western and traditional Korean architecture, a coexistence of the past and present.
Best Season to Visit
Korean palaces are beautiful and colorful in any season with the bold dancheong colors of blue, red, yellow, white and black. These are used not only for decorative purposes but also to protect the building surfaces against insects and temperature changes. But in Autumn, the palace grounds of Deoksugung become even more colorful with yellow ginkgo and red maple trees.
As with the other Korean palaces, you can witness the Changing of the Royal Guards Ceremony outside the main gate, Daehanmun Gate (덕수궁 대한문) for free. Check the schedule here. The ceremony is then followed by a short photo-taking session with the guards.
You can follow the guards of the 11am and 3pm ceremonies on their patrols to Sungnyemun (Gate) and Seoul Square respectively. I remember they used to patrol to Bosingak where you can wear hanbok for free before the ringing of the Bosingak Bell at noon. Go here to find out how you can dress up in traditional Korean costume and here to take part in the bell-ringing experience at Bosingak.
You can also enjoy the traditional outfit wearing experience at Deoksugung itself. The booth is somewhere near the ticket counter. Go here for more information. But the most exciting experience you can have is to apply to take part in the changing ceremony of guards as a Royal Palace Chief Gatekeeper. Register here for this unique opportunity.
Do note that the guards changing ceremony may be canceled during bad weather or when there are rallys or other scheduled events. On my recent visit, there was a rally nearby in support of the former president of South Korea. Sights of demonstrations in Seoul are rather common but the ones that I had encountered were all peaceful.
I’m always fascinated by the those engraved stones found on the grounds in front of the main halls of Korean palaces. These pumgyeseoks are actually stones placed in order of the official rank (there were 18 ranks) that show military officers (on the left when facing the main hall) and civil servants (on the right) the places that they should stand during royal meetings.
Deoksugung Sunshine Exhibition, image source
Before going, I highly recommend that you check their Korean website for information on any cancellation of the guard changing ceremony and special events.
I just found out that I had missed the Deoksugung Sunshine event while I was there 2 weeks ago! Costumes and accessories from the K-Drama Mr Sunshine are being exhibited in the Deokhongjeong Hall of Deoksugung until 12 Dec 2018, catch it if you can! See more photos here and a video below:-
Deoksugung Stonewall Walkway 덕수궁 돌담길
Deoksugung is also famous for the stonewall walkway (Deoksugung Doldam-gil) that runs along the right side (when stepping out from the main entrance) and back of the palace. There is even a K-pop song about it, sung by YoonA of Girls’ Generation! “Deoksugung Stonewall Walkway” was, in fact, her first solo single. Check out the MV below!
The wide pedestrian footpath makes for a romantic walk but I read about a superstition that couples walking down this path together would break up eventually. This is likely to do with the fact that this road used to lead to the divorce court which has now become the Seoul Museum of Art. YoonA’s song is about a couple who promised to never break up, even if they walk on this street together.
K-drama Film Locations
If you are a K-drama fan, you will want to check out these film locations along the palace wall behind Deoksugung!
You can get a commanding view of Deoksugung (see feature photo at top of post) and Jeongdong-gil from Jeongdong Observatory that is located on the 13th floor of Seoul City Hall Seosomun Building, situated along the Deoksugung Stonewall Road. Admission is free!
In the cafe inside the observatory, there is an informative wall on the historical landmarks of Jeongdong. Check it out if you are exploring the neighborhood.
Located just next to City Hall Station on Line 1 and 2, Deoksugung is easily accessible. If you stay in Myeongdong, you can even walk to Deoksugung via the Euljiro Underground Pedestrian Arcade from Euljiro 3(sam)-ga or Euljiro 1(il)-ga Station to City Hall Station (exit 12) on Line 2. Along the way, you can check out these piano stairs, located at Citistar Mall (시티스타몰).
National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art within Deoksugung
Seoul Museum of Art
Appenzeller/Noble Memorial Museum (Paichai Hakdang)
Former Russian Legation (구러시아공사관)
Jeongdong Theater – Janggu Experience
Seoul Plaza (outdoor) Ice Skating Rink
There is also the popular Limburg Waffle 림벅와플 덕수궁 직영점 just around the corner of Deoksugung along the stonewall walkway.
Even though Deoksugung is the smallest of the 5 palaces, a visit is still worthwhile as its neighborhood is rich in history and culture as well. It is less crowded and it is one of the best sites in Seoul to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage. It is also the only palace that opens till late, with the last admission at 8pm and closing at 9pm. Other palaces – Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, and Changgyeonggung, have night admissions only during special periods.
Free Entry to Palaces
If you are in Seoul on the last Wednesday of the month (which is designated as Culture Day in Seoul), you can enter any of the palaces for free. You don’t need to get any pass or anything, just enter the gates confidently during the opening hours on that day.