If you want to know more about the rich history and culture of Seoul, a visit to any of the Five Grand Palaces (or all five if you're a history junkie) is a must. Much of modern Korea's culture, norms and language is influenced by its last kingdom, the Joseon Dynasty, which lasted for 5 centuries.
The first one we went to was Changdeokgung Palace, which is the most well preserved of the Five Palaces and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. It is also known as Donggwol (Eastern Palace) because of its location to the east of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was originally built as a secondary palace to the Gyeongbokgung, but after the Japanese invasion in the 16th century, it was reconstructed first and served as the main seat of the dynasty for 250 years.
Donhwamun Gate, the main gate of the palace
Changdeokgung has a garden attached to its rear, called the Huwon (Secret Garden). The Huwon makes up 60% of the land area and was built for leisure purposes of the royal family and palace women. It is only accessible with a guided tour which requires another pass and entrance fee, but it's definitely worth it :)
We went to Changdeokgung before noon and got tickets there at the gate. We explored the palace grounds first while waiting for the next Huwon tour, which starts at 1 PM. I've also read that you could pre-purchase tickets for the Huwon tour online.
Signs of spring
The residential complex of Changdeokgung:
Girls in hanboks...Wearing this traditional Korean costume actually gets you inside the Grand Palaces for free!
The start of our Huwon guided tour:
Our tour guide
The 2 storey Juhamnu Pavillion was used as a library by the king
Vivid colors on the beams were reserved for the royal family
If you decide to visit more than 2 palaces, it might be better to get a combination ticket for all 5 palaces, which costs 10,000 won. We got this one because we were also planning to go to Gyeongbokgung. It expires within 3 months of issuance though, so if you intend to stay long, be sure to use it as soon as possible :)
Other tips: Wear comfy shoes, especially if you're doing the Huwon tour. It's 90 minutes long and involves quite a bit of walking, and some parts of the garden are hilly. The walk during the last part was actually a bit challenging and we got left behind by the tour group because we had to rest several times hahaha!
Also check palace schedules, as most of them close at least once a week.
Regular Tour (Changdeokgung Palace)-Adults 3,000 won/Children 1,500 won
Huwon Tour (Secret Garden area)–Adults 5,000 won/Children 2,500 won
Changdeokgung is closed on Mondays.