We left our hotel, the Hotel Manu, in the morning for another sightseeing day in Seoul. By subway, we went to the City Hall Station, just one station away. There, we took Exit 3 and walked straight ahead to the north to the huge King Sejong Statue. King Sejong was the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty and ruled Korea after 1418. He is credited with creating the Korean alphabet and progress in science and education, among others. Apparently, the Koreans still like him, as he got a beautiful statue.
The statue is in the middle of a pedestrian area between the streets. It is nicely planned, as this pedestrian area leads directly to one of Seoul’s biggest draws, the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The Gyeongbokgung Palace Complex is the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty and consists of many great architectures, like the Throne Hall, pavilions, and grand gates. Today it also houses two major museums. We entered the complex through the impressive Gwanghwamun Gate and bought tickets.
Next, we went through the Heungnyeun Gate towards the huge Geunjeongjeon Hall, which was used for ceremonies.
We went through the Donggung Palace, the compound of the crown prince and princess.
Next up was the National Folk Museum, which was included in the Palace-Ticket. Outside we were welcomed by statues of the Chinese zodiac. Inside we found a lot of interesting information regarding the Joseon Dynasty, traditions, and culture. The museum is also quite a sight from outside.
Eventually, we came to Hyangwonjeong Hall, a beautiful pavilion.
We came to another beautiful pavilion, the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which was used by the king, court officials and foreign envoys.
A little bit outside, but still connected to the Palace-Park, we found the National Palace Museum of Korea (free entrance!), where we looked around a bit. It started to rain, unfortunately, so it was also our refuge. You can see and learn there more about royal life and symbols.
The Exit 5 of the Gyeongbokgung Subway Station is located just a few steps from the museum. So, we took a subway with our T-Money-Card for one stop to the Anguk Station. We took Exit 3 and then the first street to the left, the Gyedong-gil, into the Bukchon Hanok Village, which is a huge area with traditional houses, museums, and restaurants. First, we had delicious lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant.
A few steps further, we were already at the Bukchon Cultural Center. There we got a free tour by a friendly guide who gave us a lot of interesting information regarding Hanok architecture. The houses are built in accordance with nature and are designed, to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The construction lends consideration to the positioning of the house with its surroundings, with thought given to the land and season. We also learned, for example, some beliefs, like that the Hanoks are built above ground as the underground is the realm of the afterlife.
When we walked further, the rain got a lot worse, combined with wind. It was awful and so we took shelter at a bakery! They have so many delicious bread, biscuits and cake in South Korea. While it was full inside, we got a seat outside, where we were (mostly) shielded from the rain and had coffee (and cake, of course!). When the rain eased up, we walked through some little streets past Seongsim Arts & Craft, which was closed (it was Monday), and the Myeongin Museum.
I really needed a toilet, and so we entered the Bukchon Arts & Culture Museum just to the opposite side of the road. They presented mostly ancient cabinets. It was much more interesting, than that sounds, due to an informative tour they offered. They explained the different mechanisms, use, and secrets of these cabinets.
It was raining again, unfortunately, and we skipped the idea of walking through more of the large area. You can really spend most of the day there (at best not on a Monday or a Sunday, when many museums are closed). Aside from the houses and restaurants, there are many more attractions we missed, like the Samcheongdong-gil Road, the Owl Art & Craft Museum or the Gahoe Museum.
We walked back to the Anguk Station and took a subway to the Jogno 3(sam)-ga Station, just one stop away, and went through Exit 7. From there, we soon reached the entrance of the Jongmyo Shrine, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the oldest and most authentic preserved of the Confucian Royal Shrines. And we were lucky, as an English tour of the Shrine just started, as we arrived.
We had a friendly guide, who brought us to the Mangmyoru Pavilion and Hyangdaecheong, a storage building, first. She also explained us a lot about the park and how it was built. The walkway, for example, has a middle path, that is reserved for the spirits, while another part of the walkway is reserved for kings.
Eventually, we came to the Jongmyo Shrine, which houses the spirit tablets of the former kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty. It is an impressive building, which was thought to be one of the longest in Asia when it was built. It was a grand tour, as there was enough time, to stroll around, but also some interesting information.
After seeing so much of Korea’s history, it was now time for the new Korea. So, we went back to the Jogno 3(sam)-ga Station and took the subway to Gangnam Station, which took some time but involved just one change of trains. We weren´t really prepared and had planned to just take a look and walk a few steps there. Gangnam surely has attractions, but when we only saw streets like everywhere else, we decided to take a photo and move on…
Next, we wanted to see Seonjeongneung, which consists of two royal tombs, the Seolleung Royal Tomb and the Jeongneung Royal Tomb and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is just two subway stations away from the Gangnam Subway Station and has long opening times. Unfortunately, it was closed on that Monday, which we didn´t know before. We could just see a little bit of it from the outside. Fortunately, we saw some comparable sites later in the journey, when we came to Gyeongju.
It had been already a long day, and we were getting tired, but we decided to at least pass by the nearby Bongeunsa Temple. We walked from the tombs to the temple but then were too tired to really visit it and just took a look at the entrance. From there we walked to the Bongeunsa Subway Station and while it took some time and was somewhat crowded, eventually came “home” to the Seoul Station, where we had dinner at the food court.