Changdeokgung, Seoul, South Korea

One of Seoul’s Five Great Palaces, Changdeokgung was built during the Joseon Dynasty, after Gyeongbukgung. It came about as part of a power struggle between members of the Royal Family. King Taejong had killed his own brothers in Gyeongbukgung, so built a new palace further to the east.

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This Palace is packed. I mean very, very busy. Seoul’s Palaces offer excellent free tour guides at certain times of the day for various different languages, and those guided groups are the only way to enter Changdeokgung’s Secret Garden, which means that at the times of those tours, the area becomes flooded with tourists seeking to join them.

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Injeongjeun Hall is where major state affairs were conducted, including coronations. The rows of standing stones leading up to it are markers for courtier ranks: Each row of attendees were lined up across the plaza according to their status, as indicated by these stones.

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Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, and like most tourist destinations in South Korea there was also an excellent free guidebook so that you have a take-home reminder of her amazingly in-depth information. And, oh… That Secret Garden? She leads you right there, and hands over to another guide whose sole job is giving tours of the 78-acre “garden” (park!).

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The garden was for the exclusive use of the Royal Family and the palace women, and is landscaped with ponds, waterfalls, buildings and pavilions. Did I mention that it’s 78 acres of land?

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You absolutely cannot gain access to the Secret Garden unless you are with the guide, so make sure you don’t wander off before she arrives. You also need to have purchased your ticket for it when you bought your entry ticket for the Palace itself.

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This archway is said to grant longevity and good fortune to those who walk beneath it. Judging by the early deaths of just about every Joseon monarch from Taejong onward, I’d say it doesn’t work.

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Beyond the archway are small rooms for the Prince’s personal use.

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Further into the garden is the Crown Prince’s personal mansion. Yes, not content with an entire palace, the Crown Prince felt the need for a sprawling mansion out the back, where he could retire to compose poetry and chase ladies. We are still in the Secret Garden here.
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The garden takes approximately an hour and a half to visit, over and above however long you choose to spend in the Palace, but it is well worth the time and money. At the end, you can follow the tour group to one exit or, like a sneaky ninja, run off back the way you came to take lots more photos without other tourists in them. I believe the second option is slightly naughty, but I think you can guess which one I did.

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Changdeokgung is stunning. A real treat. And while it’s burned down and been restored more times than I care to count it still has that strong sense of history about it. It is home to Seoul’s oldest stone bridge, built in 1411. It was home to Japanese military officials during the Second World War. There were even silkworms raised here.

Visiting Changdeokgung:

Take Subway Line 3 to Anguk Station and use Exit 3. Proceed straight ahead for five minutes.

Admission: ₩8,000 with Secret Garden ticket, or ₩3,000 without. Closed on Mondays.

There is also an Integrated Admission ticket for four Palaces and the Jongmyo Shrine for ₩10,000.

For more information, and for tour times, see the KTO website.

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