There is plenty of modern to explore in Seoul if that’s your thing. Generally for me, however, history is the name of the game. So rather than head out to Gangnam for neon and skyscrapers an afternoon wandering through Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Hanok Village was on order. The palace dates back to the 14th century, though there have been several cycles of destruction and reconstruction. So, no, I wasn’t really walking entirely amongst buildings from a previous era, but some of the restorations are close to true while other buildings are well done reconstructions.
The palace grounds are quite spread out and, while I’m sure it is possible to take in the experience just wandering on your own, I recommend going along with one of the guides. We happened to show up about 2 minutes before an English-speaking tour was starting so we lucked out on that one. I’m pretty sure we would have missed out a bit had we just gone on our own. For example, I doubt I would have figured out on my own that these small markers were used to “sort” those awaiting access to the throne room by social status.
Really some impressive buildings to wander amongst.
And it doesn’t hurt that all the leaves were changing; the foliage put on quite a show.
There is also the “secret garden” portion of the tour available at Gyeongbokgung Palace. You need to sign up in advance for that and apparently I thought I did but managed to not do so. Oops. Everything I’ve seen about it says it is worth doing so don’t be like me and screw that one up.
The tour of the main area is free once you buy a ticket or you can wander on your own. For the Secret Garden tickets and a guide are compulsory.
Last time I was in Seoul I more or less had the Hanok Village to myself. It was quiet and pleasant to explore the old residential neighborhood without the crowds. This trip was quite a different experience. The old buildings are still very cool and there was more street food available which I consider a bonus. There were also massive crowds, most of whom were wielding selfie sticks and generally just making for a crazed scene. It was not the same as 5 years ago; hardly too much of a surprise, I suppose. Still unfortunate, though.
I still think the Hanok Village area is worth visiting. There are some cute shops and cafes scattered throughout and the views are still very cool. But it wasn’t quite as spectacular as last time I was there, and I can only think that is mostly related to the crowds. Then again, I’m a tourist, too, so I suppose I cannot really complain too much on that front.
Bonus “Old Seoul” bit: We stayed at the JW Marriot Dongdaemun Gate and one of the evenings I set up my GoPro on the balcony of the executive lounge to record a time lapse of the traffic passing by the centuries-old site. Lots of fun there.
Stephan and I also recorded an episode of the Dots, Lines & Destinations podcast while in Seoul; well worth a listen.
Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.