It’s so hard to miss yet difficult to get in and out quickly to do those other things one has planned. That’s especially the case at Seoul’s Gyeongbokgung Palace. One of my biggest frustrations with the country is that everyone wants to visit the hotspots at the same time in Korea. Unless you’re a tourist or Seoullite lucky enough to visit on a weekday, waiting in line just to buy tickets to enter Gyeongbokgung Palace will take more than a moment. That’s saying something in Korea, when lines generally move fast!
Walking Around Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul
The queues and long waits make sense. I mean, Gyeongbokgung stands in the heart of so much in a place where roughly 50% of the country lives. There’s Mt. Bugak and the Seoul City Wall behind it. The Korean Presidential Blue House is close as well. Walking in the traditionally themed Gyeongbokgung Station presents an entrance that charges up one’s anticipation in case it isn’t yet brewing.
It’s more intriguing , however, to walk through Gwanghwamun Square in front of the palace. Here, passersby will come face to face with protestors that characterize the vocal and politically-charged spirit found throughout Korea. When visiting during a 3-day weekend in October, a walk through a Sewol Family hunger strike opened up wounds and reminders of that horrible tragedy that gripped country in April 2014.
Controversial moments happen right in front of Gyeongbokgung but the inside is what people come to see, and its vastness is hardly possible to encapsulate. Gyeongbokgung is huge, worthy of the thousands who descend upon it each day.
Walking inside gives one a look into a time before Korea was a modern nation state. After all, the Joseon Dynasty was the last ruler Koreans knew before Japan stole the show for a brief yet brutal time as colonizer. Gyeongbokgung is the last remnants of an era long forgotten, but what a reminder it is!
This is traditional Korea in its heyday, excessive and opulent as the grounds may come off to outsiders. The buck (or won) stopped at Gyeongbokgung for roughly 500 years, longer than most modern nations have existed. That means something, even if memories of the past are fading. And that must be why they come.
To take it all in, before going back out into that urban wilderness where the weak get eaten up and the strong survive to live as long as their hearts can keep up. Where bosses demand 150% and even that’s not good enough, but all that’s forgotten at Gyeongbokgung. This is a place where one can forget the chaotic present and uncertain future, to have a look at Korea’s past without regret. At Gyeongbokgung, they can turn it back.
This travel guide is part of our series on South Korea Travel and East Asia Travel. It was originally created on October 31, 2014. It has been maintained and updated (as of December 28, 2018) to reflect current viewpoints and travel trends.