Changgyeonggung

Palace in Northern Seoul

Image by Robert Koehler Getty Images

Originally built in the 15th century by King Sejong for his father, this is one of Seoul's 'five grand palaces'. It backs onto the more impressive Changdeokgung – the two palaces shared the secret garden. The throne hall, Myeongjeongjeon, is the oldest surviving hall of all Seoul's palaces. It was rebuilt in 1616, making it a rare example of intact 17th-century Joseon architecture. The oldest surviving structure here is the Okcheongyo stone bridge (1483), which crosses the stream ahead of the front gate.

The smaller buildings beyond the main hall were where the kings and queens lived in their separate households. From here, paths wind past a European-style garden and ornamental pond to the Great Greenhouse, a splendid Victorian-esque glass structure built by the Japanese in 1909.

Like Seoul's other palaces, Changgyeonggung was destroyed twice by the Japanese – first in the 1590s and again during the colonial period from 1910 until 1945, when the palace suffered the indignity of being turned into a zoo. Only a fifth of the palace buildings survived or have been rebuilt.

Look out for dates (usually in early May) when the palace is open for night viewing and illuminated, making it a romantic spot – if you can ignore the crowds. There are free English guided tours at 11am and 4pm daily.

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