Seoul Experiences: Changgyeonggung Palace (창경궁)

There's five major royal palaces in Seoul with the most famed and popular being Gyeongbokgung (the main administrative one), Changdeokgung (the pretty residential one and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and Deoksugung (famed for its changing of the guards ceremony and the unique mix of old and "new" buildings). Gyeonghuigung, just behind the Seoul Museum of History, is quite nice but small and what I would personally say is least worth trekking out for.

Changgyeonggung, which I'm introducing today, is far overlooked by visitors and locals alike which is quite a pity as it is quite lovely. For such a nice place, it has its share of tragic and scandalous history which is what adds to its intrigue.

Changgyeonggung was first built by the fourth king of Korea's Joseon Dynasty, King Sejong the Great, who you might know as one of the "great" kings of Korean history for his many achievements including creating Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. As his father, King Taejong was retiring, he decided to commission the creation of Changgyeonggung, just next to Changdeokgung as a sort of "retirement" palace. Its sprawling beautiful grounds later made it a favored residence of queens and concubines and there are quite a few interesting anecdotes and events involving a few of them from over the years.

Like many of the royal palaces, Changgyeonggung was severely stripped down during the Japanese colonial period but Changgyeonggung experienced one of the biggest degradation when it was converted into a park and zoo and demoted from its palace status. It was only in 1983 that the palace really began its restoration with its zoo and botanical gardens relocating down south to what is now Seoul Land.

After entering the main gate, Honghwa Gate, you’ll face Okcheongyo Bridge and beyond that the Myeongjeongmun Gate. Unique about the houses of Changgyeonggung is that, unlike other palaces whose houses face south, the houses here face east. The reason? South of Changgyeonggung lies Jongmyo Shrine, the ancestral shrine of the royal family so east went the buildings’ direction.

As I mentioned, the palace has survived numerous events such as invasions and methodical destroying but it does have some rich surviving aspects including the Okcheongyo, or okcheon bridge, that was first built in 1484 and the Myeongjeongjeon, the main hall, which was rebuilt in 1616 and is the oldest main hall of all the Seoul palaces (though smaller). 

Changgyeonggung has a lot of green space including fields, various flowers, and even cherry blossoms (in spring). Unlike the main administrative palace of Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung served largely as a residential palace (it was often the residential quarters for queens and concubines) and, as such, has a homely feel to it. 

Though originally built in the 15th century, it was mostly destroyed during the Japanese invasions of the Imjin Wars in the late 16 century. It was rebuilt by successive kings but largely destroyed again in the early 20th century during the Japanese colonial era to make room for a modern park. Down went many of the historic buildings and sites and in their place the Changgyeonggung grounds were converted into space for a zoo, botanical garden, and even a museum. It mostly remained this way up until the 1980s when the zoo and botanical garden was relocated to Seoul Land. Interestingly enough, even my parents, who grew up in Seoul, recall visiting the zoo here as kids.

While much of the remnants and evidence of the deconstruction and reconstruction from the Japanese colonial era has been removed, one of the very last leftover of that is the enclosed botanical garden known as Daeonshil. Despite the somewhat bitter lingering sentiments it may evoke, it is quite a pretty structure to observe. 

As I mentioned, Daeonshil is an indoor botanical garden and it is quite a lovely experience to stroll around in.

So ornate is the interior that I've even spotted signs on the front saying wedding photo shoots inside were now not allowed.

Gives off a very, "Secret Garden"-kind of vibe.

The pond (Chundangji) are actually two ponds that are new additions- they were also constructed by the Japanese. Over parts of them used to be a rice field that the kinds used to tend to which was said to help him with empathizing with the efforts and hard work of the commoners.

Old pagoda brought over from China.

It wouldn't be a palace without buildings and there are plenty. In particular, Changgyeonggung's ample greenery gives it a much more residential feel to it, akin to palaces like Changdeokgung, rather than the administrative-heavy feeling Gyeongbokgung Palace.

And, as mentioned previously, the main throne hall faces east and not south as royal palace halls usually do because directly to the south of Changgyeonggung is Jongmyo Shrine.

Changgyeonggung is also home to a few very, very interesting anecdotes in Korean royal history that play out almost like scenes from a Korean version of Game of Thrones.

The courtyard in front of Jungjeongjeon was the site of the infamous and tragic live sealing of Crown Prince Sado by King Yeongjo. Allegedly, Prince Sado was a promising but mentally ill man who is said to have, among his worst deeds, killed and raped. King Yeongjo was enraged but he was also a very law-abiding, deeply Confucian man and since it was forbidden to do anything that could harm or even make a bruise on a royal's body, ordered the crown prince to be sealed alive in large rice chest on the courtyard with no food or water. It also happened to be the middle of July, and after undoubtedly suffering for 8 days, Sado died. 

His son, King Jeongjo would show deep devotion to his father for the rest of his life most symbolically by ordering the construction of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to house and honor his father's remains. He would go onto hold a large-scale tomb visitation procession for his father annually. 

Much of this is depicted in the 2015 film, "The Throne" or "사도" which stars Song Kang-ho and Yoo Ah-in with a much more sympathetic angle to the doomed Sado. 

So there you have that interesting connection between Changgyeonggung and Hwaseong Fortress. 

Another interesting story involves the concubine Jang Hui Bin, who is described as a cunning, power-hungry young woman who would make the amazing ascent to eventually become queen consort. She would eventually become demoted and was later allegedly found by the king to be in her room, here in Changgyeonggung, with a shaman priestess practicing black magic and laughing over the recently dead queen who had died mysteriously and suddenly of an unknown illness.

Jang is said to have practiced various black magic against the queen such as creating a puppet of the dead queen and burying it in the palace grounds with dead animals. She was eventually sentenced to death and the king even passed a decree prohibiting concubines from becoming queen consort. Jang Hui Bin’s legendary episode of witchcraft and merriment was said to occur right here in Changgyeonggung.

You can even check out the Taeshil- shrine with umbilical cord and placenta- for King Seongjeong. 

Which is to say Changgyeonggung Palace is quite a crowd-pleasing site to visit. Picture takers, nature lovers will love the beautiful grounds and structures, families will love the wide open spaces, and history buffs will have the chance to learn a bit about Korean royal life and history.

Address: 03072 185, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Phone: +82-2-762-4868


Hours of operations: Feb-May, Sep-Oct: 09:00~ 18:00 Jun-Aug: 09:00 ~ 18:30 Nov-Jan: 09:00 ~ 17:30 Ticket booth will close 1 hour prior to closing

Fee Admission: 
Adult (aged 19-64): 1,000 won
Youth (aged 7-18): 500 won

Groups of 10 or more, per person:
Adult (aged 19-64): 800 won
Youth (aged 7-18): 400 won

Combination Ticket (valid for three months provides entry to Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, and Jongmyo Shrine):
Adult: 10,000 won
Children: 5,000 won
Free Admission: Children under 7 yrs. old Senior Citizens older than 65 yrs. old

And remember, entry is free for palaces during the day if you're wearing hanbok!

The palace is closed on Mondays.

Visiting Changdeokgung Palace is possible through Changdeokgung's Hamyangmun Gate and visa versa (additional ticket purchasing necessary)