Changdeokgung (Changdeok Palace)#4 in Best Things To Do in Seoul
Changdeokgung may not be the oldest or largest of Seoul's five Joseon Dynasty palaces (that honor goes to Gyeongbokgung), but it is the most intact. Originally constructed in 1405 as a secondary palace for the king at the time, Changdeokgung, like its sister palaces, was largely razed during the Japanese invasion of 1592. After its reconstruction in 1610, however, the palace served as Korea's principal palace about 270 years after for 13 different kings. Of all the Joseon palaces, Changdeokgung is the longest lived-in residence for the royals. It's this historical significance, in combination with its architectural style and layout (it's lauded for being built around the land's geography, instead of adjusting the land to construct the buildings), that earned Changdeokgung the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
Visitors say that the vibrantly painted structures of the palace grounds are marvelous, but the rear garden – called "Biwon," or the Secret Garden – is nothing short of spectacular. Covering about two-thirds of the 110-acre attraction, the landscaped garden features a lotus pool, fountains and pavilions surrounded by 56,000 species of trees and plants, including a single tree that is more than 300 years old. Visit in the fall to witness the changing foliage, or in the spring to see the trees burst into bloom.
The closest subway stops to Changdeokgung are Anguk Station on Line 3 (exit 3) and Jongno 3-ga Station (Line 1, 3 or 5, exit 6). For most of the year, the only way to see Changdeokgung is on a twice-daily, 60-minute guided tour that costs 3,000 won (about $2.68) for adults and 1,500 won (about $1.35) for kids. English tours for the palace begin at 10:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday year-round (the facility is closed on Mondays). It's important to note that there are separate tours for the Secret Garden alone and a ticket option to see both the palace and the Secret Garden. For more information on tour times and pricing, visit the Changdeokgung Palace's website.
More Best Things To Do in Seoul
#1 Namsan Park and N Seoul Tower
Home to five warning beacons and a protective city wall during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Mount Namsan now hosts a park and a smattering of tourism sites like an aquarium, a library and a bevy of beautiful walking trails.
But most people visit Namsan Park for its panoramic views of Seoul. To scope it out for free, visit Palgakjeong, an octagon-shaped viewing pavilion that boasts alluring vistas of the city. For an even more breathtaking sight, shell out a few won to get to the observation platform atop N Seoul Tower, Namsan Park's real showstopper. Recent visitors said that on clear days, the view from 1,574 feet up is spectacular. Out on the sky deck, you can't miss the thousands of padlocks attached to the fence; couples lock them there as symbols of everlasting love (bring your own lock if you're feeling romantic). For an extra-special experience, reserve a table for dinner in the rotating French restaurant, n.GRILL, on the tower's top floor.
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