7 things to do this winter in and around Seoul – Fall in love with its Palaces

Posted on September 17, 2010

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1. Fall in Love with its Palaces

There is something very strange about Seoul’s palaces, and by that I’m not referring to their names. What I’m speaking about is that all in all, the Palaces which live on among the traffic and noise of modern Seoul are largely unremarkable and pretty much all the same, but one gets a wonderful sense of peace when exploring them. For this reason, and also because admission prices are cheap, when in Seoul do your best to visit as many as possible, and although they are all similar, you will discover that they each have something singular which you will remember after leaving, even if you consistently fail to remember their names.

 

The softer palace on any traveller’s tongue is certainly Jongmyo Palace, since its name is not that much of a mouthful. This palace seems to be a favourite of elderly Korean men on lazy Sundays, who come out in crowds to stroll through its dusty and simple grounds and to play card or board games with their friends in the nearby Tapgol park.

Next is the also popular…wait for it…Changdeokgung Palace, which at the time of writing could only be visited on a guided tour. Check with the tourist website  for English language tour times. Yes, they do have tours in English, but I must admit that I remember mine quite lovingly because the tour guide was a young Korean girl, who, while knowing the story behind the palace very well, had (to put it politely), an English accent so heavily influenced by Korean that made it difficult (Ok, lets say almost impossible) to understand her. While visiting in winter the palace will be devoid of its spring and summer cloak of flowers and vegetation, but it’s still worth the trip for the peaceful atmosphere away from traffic noises and its pretty little pond, often frozen over, with its regal pagoda perched on it. Don’t try to walk on the ice though, or the little Korean tour guide will be very angry.

For a little bit more action, head to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, where you can take pictures, (as more Koreans than tourists actually do), with the guards dressed in traditional clothes in front of the palace entrance. Once you enter, you are free to roam the palace grounds and gape at the beautiful mountains rising behind the complex and which make for some dramatic shots.

Last and least is Gyeonghuigung Palace, which while being delicate-looking and set against the same backdrop of haunting mountains, is so small that it will take you more time to find it (signs are few and far between) than to explore it. Having said that, go anyway, just in case, as was my case, you end up having a memorable day because of your trip to it. No guarantees, of course. Maybe I was just lucky.

– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com

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Posted in: Seoul