Exploring Changgyeonggung Palace (창경궁) – A Uniquely Designed Royal Palace in Seoul

Located in the city centre of Seoul, Changgyeonggung Palace (창경궁) is next to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Changdeokgung Palace (창덕궁) & collectively known as the East Palaces (동궐), because of their geographical location. Although it is so close to the famous site, I have never visited this secondary palace for queens & the king’s father before. It is also not a common destination for tour groups to head to. When I read that this is 1 of the prime spots for viewing cherry blossoms in Seoul, it immediately went into my itinerary, since chasing after cherry blossoms was my main motive for this trip. 🙂

My friend & I had a filling lunch at the country’s oldest traditional market – Gwangjang Market near Jogno 5-ga Station (종로5가역, Line 1) so she suggested we take a walk down Changgyeonggung-ro (창경궁로) to the palace. It took us about half an hour to arrive at the palace main entrance – the Honghwa Gate (홍화문), great breezy stroll on a sunny spring day. If you’re taking the subway, the nearest station is Anguk Station (안국역, Line 3), closest to exit 3. You’ll pass by Changdeokgung Palace before arriving at Changgyeonggung Palace.

Changgyeonggung 1

Visitors can purchase admission ticket at KRW1,000 per adult (S$1.20) & KRW500 per child/teenager aged 7 to 18 years old at the ticket counter in front of Honghwa Gate. Just like Changdeokgung Palace & Deoksugung Palace, it is closed every Monday. Since it is just next to Changdeokgung Palace, a combined tour of both palaces is possible but separate ticket must be purchased at Hamyang Gate. If you are game on exploring the royal palaces of Korea, you can also purchase an integrated admission ticket at KRW10,000 (S$12) so that you can access the 4 palaces – Changdeokgung Palace (including Huwon, Secret Garden), Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace & Gyeongbokgung Palace, as well as the Jongmyo Shrine.

As the 3rd palace to be built in Joseon Dynasty, after Gyeongbokgung Palace & Changdeokgung Palace, it was originally meant to be the residence of 3 queen dowagers due to a lack of living space at Changdeokgung, not as a seat of government.

Upon passing the main gate, there is the Okcheongyo Bridge, an arch bridge over a pond, a typical design of the Joseon Dynasty palaces. Cross the Bridge & pass the Myeongjeong Gate (명정문), is Myeonjeongjeon (명정전) – the oldest office of the king during the Joseon Dynasty. Unlike other Joseon Dynasty palaces that were built according to strict royal principles regarding design featuring a north-south orientation, Honghwa Gate, Myeongjeong Gate, Myeongjeongjeon & the throne hall all face Mt. Naksan to the east. This more liberal design in an east-west orientation was common during the Goryeo Dynasty. However, the major residential buildings & other administrative hall still face the south.

Furthermore, there are only a few small halls in this palace with a non-specific layout. Buildings were positioned according to the topography & not strictly aligned in a particular direction like Gyeongbokgung Palace. In addition, the residential “inner” halls are bigger & more elaborate than the administrative “outer” halls as the compound was originally intended for residential use. In case you are getting bored with the hard facts, see below for some photos I took of this uniquely designed palace.

Changgyeonggung 2

Haminjeong was where banquets were held and where the king received high performing civil and military officials at the palace

Haminjeong (하민정) was where banquets were held & where the king received high performing civil and military officials at the palace

Vast spaces between halls planted with towering trees

Vast spaces between halls planted with towering trees to beautify the compound

Guess what? I had a special tour experience in this palace, thanks to my Korean friend. As she’s very interested in history, when we entered the palace compounds & realised that a Korean guided tour had just started at the Myeongjeongjeon, we joined the free tour. I never knew I would be able to join in & listen to a full Korean speaking guided tour in the palace without the guide doubting my listening ability 1 day. Afterall, I only joined either English or Chinese guided palace tours in my previous visits to Gyeongbokgung & Changdeokgung. What surprised myself more was I could comprehend 60 to 70% of what the guide was talking about (although I don’t really remember the contents now until I read the English information brochure again haha). But oops… I must admit my attention span for history tours is not very long generally. 😛 I got restless halfway through the 1-hour guided tour & that was when I needed more “translation service” from my friend haha. Fortunately, I “woke up” as we approached the Tongmyeongjeon (통명전) – the main hall in the inner court built in 1484 that served as the residential quarters for the king & queen at the palace. We walked up the stones past Tongmyeongjeon to Jagyeongjeon (자경전), an elevated spot where we could get a beautiful view of the palace compound.

The biggest hall in the palace - Tongmyeongjeon

The biggest hall in the palace – Tongmyeongjeon

Shortly after, we were brought to Chundangji Area (춘당지 일원), now considered the rear garden of the palace with pretty cherry blossom trees all around! This was where our comprehensive guided tour ended & we were free to roam around within the palace. I must salute the friendly tour guide for her professional service, especially when she’s just a volunteer guide who conducts such informative tours out of pure interest for Korean history!

Romance in a beautiful historical palace

Romance in a beautiful historical palace

The Octagonal Seven-story Stone Pagoda, Treasure #1119

The Octagonal Seven-story Stone Pagoda, Treasure #1119 that can be found in the Chundangji Area

Changgyeonggung 4

When Changgyeonggung Palace was 1st built, there was no garden to call its own & the residents shared the garden behind Changdeokgung Palace (the renowned Huwon Secret Garden with restricted access to visitors), as the 2 compounds were directly connected. The current Chundangji used to be 11 rice paddies on royal farmland, where the king personally plowed to serve as an example. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Japanese Colonial government turned it into a pond with little ships floating on it, as well as established a zoo & botanical garden here. After the Japanese administration left, Chundangji pond was reconfigured according to the traditional style in 1986. So now this area has become a popular cherry blossom viewing spot in spring. 🙂

After snapping photos of the lovely pond, we proceeded to Korea’s 1st modern conservatory – the Great Greenhouse, Daeonsil, an enclosed botanical garden built in 1909. The design of the greenhouse, which features pointed arches and window frames, is based on the design of The Crystal Palace in London, England. At the time of construction, it was the biggest conservatory in Asia, with exhibitions of wild flowers, rare & native plants. In 2004, it was designated as registered cultural heritage.

Changgyeonggung 5

Since it is a greenhouse, you’ve been warned that it may get a bit too warm & stuffy for your comfort, particularly when it gets crowded. But we spotted many one-of-a-kind flowers & plants, great place to visit for those with green fingers. But before you want to hurry down to this palace to check out this iconic building, please be patient & wait for it to reopen its doors to visitors, as it is currently closed for maintenance work till November 2017 (scheduled). Glad that I made it in time before it closed from 17 May 2016! 😉

If you have more time & love exploring historical buildings/ palaces, I highly recommend you to also visit Changdeokgung Palace next door. Why? Because even a layman like me who has short attention span for history stuff finds the latter a mesmerizing beauty (especially in autumn) & has visited twice. If you can, try booking the 90-min Huwon Secret Garden guided tour at http://eng.cdg.go.kr/reservation/reserv_01.htm as tickets for this popular attraction sell out fast!

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