Side Quests

Palace Detour: Changdeokgung, Changyeoggung, and the Secret Garden

UNESCO world heritage feels, a secret garden, an overly friendly caterpillar, more walking than I’ve done all year.

I see now why Gyeongbuk Palace is the most well known and first shown palace in Seoul because if you brought me to Changdeokgung first, the former would be a disappointment.

Quite accidentally and even without reading every placard I spent 4 hours lost in the palace grounds. These palace grounds are less than half a mile away from Gyeongbuk and served as a secondary residence to the King’s family. As such, the planning didn’t have to follow such strict royal architecture rules and instead the buildings flow with the landscape.

There are some very intriguing architectural and historical notes such as one building of the Changdeok Palace burned down in 1917 so upon its reconstruction more western features like glass windows and elevated seating were used. During the last Japanese occupation, the second palace was turned into a zoo and was only recently reclaimed and refurbished.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t as careful as I usually am to read every placard; my haste was driven by seeing the Secret Garden where many dramas have been filmed and possibly getting there early enough to video chat my parents and show them the grandeur. Unfortunately they were asleep but I enjoyed the views nonetheless and I did gasp aloud several times.

It was so beautifully green and smelled like nature which is something I realized I have missed during these times of pollution, yellow dust, and continuous mask wearing in addition to the general lack of nature in very tightly squeezed city living. I sat in the shade on some moss where no one was around, took off my mask, and listened to the birds while smelling what was essentially a reminder of my evergreen hometown.

Inside a greenhouse, certainly not historical, one little boy in a hat stared at me so I waved. He waved back and his family and I laughed. Another cute toddler caught my eye and his dad saw me smizing and said “hi”. And even though I was in the middle of Seoul, one elementary boy tugged in his dad’s sleeve and urgently whispered “Dad, a foreigner!”

It was a good day.

If you find yourself in Seoul, I recommend all three. Go out of exit 3 at Anguk station and follow the signs. General admission for Changdeokgung is 3,000 won, the secret garden is 5,000 won, and Changyeoggung is 1,000 won. You can buy together at the gate or buy individually; there’s a ticket stand at the entrance of each attraction in case you change your mind. If you’re debating between the hugely famous Gyeongbuk Palace and this, I will contentiously say that this should be your first choice.

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