Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Village and Tongin Market in a Day
Out of the ample choices of palaces, hanbok villages, and traditional markets in Seoul, we shortlisted one of each “type” to visit. We covered them all in one day.
Jump to your preferred attractions:
- Of Palaces in Seoul
- Gyeongbokgung Palace (Other attractions in and around the palace are also mentioned)
- Tongin Market
- Bukchon Hanok Village (Seochon Village mentioned)
Of Palaces in Seoul
Fans of Korean historical dramas have four palaces in Seoul to immerse themselves in. To explore all of them, including Jongmyo Shrine, get an adult combination ticket for ₩10,000 (S$12.20). With this ticket, you can visit each of these five places once within three months: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace (Secret Garden included), Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine.
With a toddler, it would be tiring and time consuming to go to all four palaces. Also, we reckoned palaces would look the same after a while. So we shortlisted Gyeongbokgung Palace (“Gyeongbokgung”), and Changdeokgung Palace and planned to visit them on the same day.
However, we underestimated the time to travel around the sprawling big Gyeongbokgung and to walk to and fro Tongin Market for lunch. Hence, we forfeited our reserved time slot to visit Changdeokgung Palace and its Secret Garden.
Gyeongbokgung was our first choice because there were free parades and it was also the first and largest royal palace built during the Joseon Dynasty. Built in 1395, it was used as the main palace. Greatly damaged by fire during the Japanese occupation in 1592, it was thereafter rebuilt and restored.
In December 2018, the palace’s western gate was opened to public. Hence, public can now enter the palace in all four directions.
National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea are located on palace grounds. And these are where you can find diaper changing stations. There’s also a hidden playground behind National Folk of Museum.
BABY DIAPER TIP: Before you roam the palace, get your child’s diapers changed at National Palace Museum. It’s not that easy to come across another diaper changing room. For more, baby.joogostyle.com/nursing-rooms-in-south-korea.
Royal Guards Parades / Ceremonies
Everyday except Tuesday, the public get to enjoy free parades or ceremonies by the royal guards*.
- Gatekeeper Military Training: 9:30AM, 1:30PM
- Changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony: 10:00AM, 2:00PM
- Gwanghwamun Gate Guard on Duty Ceremony: 11:00AM, 1:00PM
*Number of guards may be reduced during winter and summer due to extreme temperatures. Ceremonies may be cancelled in bad weather.
We reached before 9:30AM and watched the first two parades, Gatekeeper Military Training and Changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony. Due to time, we skipped Gwanghwamun Gate Guard on Duty Ceremony.
All the parades are held around or near Gwanghwamun Gate. From Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3, Exit 4), it’s a straight path to Gwanghwamun Gate, the main gate. Google map shows that the station’s Exit 5 brings you inside of the palace, near to Gwanghwamun Gate too.
Where to find the first parade? As you enter Gwanghwamun Gate, you will see the ticketing booth on your right. As you faced the ticketing booth, look out for a smaller gate on its left. Walk through the gate and the first parade will be there. Basically, the small gate is on your right after you enter Gwanghwamun gate.
After the first parade, head out to the main square, where the ticketing office is. Here, find a good spot and enjoy the second parade (changing of guards). Staff will be putting up barriers so you will know where to get first row spots.
Duration of both parades are relatively short, perhaps about 15minutes.
Hanboks in Palace
Many people wore hanboks and walked on palace grounds. It’s free admission for those wearing hanboks! So it’s killing two birds with one stone – be pretty and get free admission. ;)
To sweeten the experience, engage a photographer to capture you in the beautiful hanbok and your travel memories in Korea. Rent your hanbok and have your Gyeongbokgung hanbok photoshoot with HAB KOREA or Hanbok That Day.
Library in Palace
The only building we entered in Gyeongbokgung is the library at the northern part of the palace. It has beautiful architecture and interior, with a modern touch as books lined the shelves in the building. We came across this library as we re-entered the palace through the North gate after our lunch at Tongin Market.
Known as Jibokjae Hall, it was built in 1891 and used to be King Gojong’s study room and meeting hall. Now it has become a public library that contains books about Joseon and the dynasty’s royal documents, proclamations and publications. Beside Jibokjae hall, the Palwoojeong Pavilion that used to be King Gojong’s resting space is also now converted into a cafe, serving coffee, tea and desserts.
In and Around the Palace
We were not very impressed by the palace. Many constructions or restorations were taking place at our time of visit. Also, the place was so big that it takes quite a bit of walking from point to point. So the place felt sparsely attractive. The saving grace was that certain parts of the palace bloomed beautifully during autumn. Also, the yellowish green trees that lined the palace made our walk a scenic and romantic one.
For those with older toddlers, you might want to check out the entertaining Children’s Folk museum.
To rest your legs after the palace tour, head to Anguk-dong. This neighbourhood near Gyeongbokgung is full of trendy cafes to choose from. Here, you will also get to see juxtaposition of the old and new, traditional Korean houses beside modern shops.
Not knowing which cafe was good, we went to the one that looked crowded. So it was that we ended up in Radio M to rest and chill. Sitting under the whimsical decorations of cherry blossoms, hubby sipped a cup of coffee while I dug into their desserts to satisfy my sweet tooth. Interesting fact, a romantic scene of Korean Drama, What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim, was shot in front of this cafe.
- Address: 128-4 Sogyeok-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
- Hours: Daily, 11:00AM – 10:00PM
- Nearest Stations: Anguk (Line 3, Exit 1) or Gyeongbokgung (Line 3, Exit 2)
- Hours: Closed on Tuesday. 9:00AM to 5:00PM – 6:30PM (varies according to month, last admission 4:00PM – 5:30PM)
- Website: www.royalpalace.go.kr:8080/html/eng_gbg/main/main.jsp
- Nearest Station: 3 minutes’ walk from Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3, Exit 5). 7 minutes’ walk from Gwanghwamun Station (Line 5, Exit 2).
- Free: 6 years old and under, 65 years old and above
- Individual Ticket: 19 – 64 years old, ₩3,000 (S$3.70); 7 – 18 years old, ₩1,500 (S$1.90). Group discount available.
- Combination Ticket: Adults ₩10,000 (S$12.20); Youth ₩5,000 (S$6.10). Admission to four palaces and one shrine within three months.
About 15-20 minutes from the palace, you will arrive at Tongin Market. If you just finished parades, exit through the gate near National Palace museum for a shorter route.
Dating back to 1941, Tongin market is famous for Yeopjeon Dosirak (Yeopjeon Lunchbox). What’s interesting about this market is the use of Yeopjeon (brass coins) currency to purchase food.
- Exchange cash for Yeopjeon, ₩500 (S$6.10) each. You have to buy a string of 10 brass coins each time at ₩5,000 (S$6.10). 10 coins is usually sufficient for one person. In the middle of the market, there will be someone seated at a table with black trays. Exchange currency with him.
- Look for stalls with membership mark on them by Yeopjeon. Usually you can buy each type of food with 1 or 2 Yeopjeon. We didn’t spot the signs but follow the crowd or simply ask the stall owners if they accept the Yeopjeon.
Against my hubby’s wishes, I insisted we try Tongin Market’s famous stir fried rice cakes, Gireum Tteokbokki (기름 떡볶이). In the end, he liked the dish more than me. There was an online recommendation: Jeong Halmony Hyojadong Tteokbokki (정할머니 효자동 옛날 떡볶이) with a yellow signboard. They sell two flavours and is priced at two Yeopjeon per serving.
With so many spicy food ordered, I was so looking forward to eating them with rice. However, the lunchbox cafe on the 2F and 3F was under renovation. Hence we went to a temporary eating space where no rice, soup and drinks were served. By right, the lunchbox cafe sells boiled rice and soup for ₩1,000 (S$1.20), where you can either pay with Yeopjeon or cash. Drinks or coffee is at ₩500 ($0.60).
The food was generally nice and experience novel. However, there were not as many food stalls as expected and the food are also more or less the same.
- Address: 18, Jahamun-ro, 15-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Hours: 11:00AM – 5:00PM (Coin exchange ends at 4:00PM). Closed every 3rd Saturday and Monday
- Nearest Station: Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3, Exit 2)
- Website: tonginmarket.co.kr
Bukchon Hanok Village
Korean traditional house is called hanok and dates back to the Joseon Dynasty. So as the name suggests Buckhon Hanok Village is home to hundreds of such traditional houses. Perched on the top of a hill that is between Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung and Jongmyo Royal Shrine, it is a tiring climb to reach the 600-year-old traditional village.
Surprisingly, there are people who actually still live in these houses. Since it’s a residential area, visitors are advised to be respectful and speak in low volume at all times.
“Security guards” or volunteers could be seen walking around with a board or directly asking visitors to lower their voices. Nevertheless, we still saw rowdy tourists who didn’t care. And with so many people around, it’s hard to keep the bustling quiet too. For the introvert me, this is definitely not a conducive environment to stay in.
During the late afternoon that we were there, the crowd was insane. Most people would crowd around two or three alleys of the village. Not sure if it’s because of the scenery or it’s the “official spot” of the village. In any case, your photos taken with the hanoks will turn out nice if there is no one to photobomb you. But this feat was near to impossible for us.
It was not easy for us to locate Bukchon Hanok Village and we almost missed the turn towards it. The turn was near to the tourist information office at Samcheongdong. Just pop in and ask for directions. They pointed us back in the right direction and gave us a map. That made finding our way easier.
Oh we enjoyed the nice scenery on our way to the village, and posed with interesting wall murals too. I spotted the couple mural that was made famous by Running Man‘s Ji Hyo and Kang Gary! :)
- Address: 37, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Website: hanok.seoul.go.kr/front/kor/town/town01.do
Alternative: Seochon Village
If you are not a fan of crowds and cliche tourist spots, you might want to just hang around Seochon Village. This is where Tongin Market is located in. Compared to the more famous Bukchon, Seochon Village is less clustered while having bigger hanoks (traditional Korean houses).
Seochon Village (or Sejong Village) is west of Gyeongbokgung Palace, and thus its name ‘West Village’. Once known as the center of Korean literature, the village now sees many boutique shops, cafes and art galleries emerging over the years. Thankfully the village still retains its old Seoul charm with its hanoks and the many alleys.
Check out the shops and cafes along the main streets of Jahamun-ro 1-gil & Jahamun-ro 7-gil. Look out for Dae-o Bookstore, the oldest bookstore in Seoul.
Or dig into delicious and affordable food at Sejong Village Food Street (Jahamun-ro 1-gil), famous ginseng chicken soup at Tosokchon Samgyetang (Jahamun-ro 5-gil), and the food at Tongin Market (see above section).
The ginseng chicken soup of Tosokchon Samgyetang is worth a try if there’s no long queue. Initially we wanted to order rice for our soup but seeing that no one ordered, we refrained ourselves. Good decision, because the rice was hidden in the chicken!
As you continue to explore Seochon village, look out for King Sejong Stone Plaque (just after Jahamun-ro 9-gil) as this is his birthplace. King Sejong, the face of Korean 10,000 bank notes, is the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty and the creator of Korean Hangul.
- Nearest Station: Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3, Exit 2). Walk along the main road, Jahamun-ro. Most attractions are on the left of it.
Samcheongdong is famous for its Bukchon Hanok Village. Like I mentioned earlier on, we had to make a turn somewhere along these streets and climb a tiring climb up to the hanok village. Ask the tourist information office when in doubt!
Although we were not impressed by Bukchon Hanok Village, the streets of Samcheongdong has an enchanting allure that left a good impression on us. Perhaps it’s the mix of distinctive-styled cafes, trendy shops with beautiful displays and chic galleries that created a nice overall atmosphere. Spend some time here to stroll, eat and shop.
- Address: Samcheongdong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Nearest Station: Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 1). 10 mins walk.
Let me know if you know of other interesting places or good food around this vicinity. Would love to recommend them here. For more Korea travel tips, refer to our itinerary for our South Korea trip (Jeju and Seoul).
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