Palaces of Joseon: Deoksugung 덕수궁

If you get the chance to visit Seoul, visiting one or more of the palaces is something you should experience. While Gyeongbokung tends to be the more popular option, down the street from there is Deoksugung. 

Table of Contents: 


The 1500s

Entrance to the throne room

Deoksugung first became used as a palace in the late 1500s after a Japanese invasion burned down the other palaces in Seoul. Both King Seonjo and his successor Prince Gwanghaegun used it as a palace, and for a period of time, it was named Hyeongungung. 

For almost three hundred years after Gwanghaegun was overthrown, the palace sat unused by kings and it wasn’t until the reign of King Gojong that it became a palace once more. 

Deoksugung has a mix of both traditional Korean-style buildings and western-style within the same walls.

Emperor of Korea

King Gojong was the last king of the Joseon Dynasty during a time where foreign governments were vying for influence and control in Korea. 

Jungmyeongjeon was first built in 1897 to serve as King/Emperor Gojong’s Royal Library, and the American Legation at the time was situated between Jungmyeongjeon and Deoksugung. A fire in Deoksugung later made Jungmyeongjeon a place where Emperor Gojong had audiences with foreign dignitaries. 

King Gojong renamed the palace Gyeongugung to coincide with the start of his Daehan Empire (대한제국) and worked to expand the palace. After King Gojong’s abdication, the palace was given its current name of Deoksugung. 

Deoksugung in English means the Palace of Virtuous Longevity in the wish that Gojong would live a long life. 

After Gojong was forced to abdicate, he continued to reside in Deoksugung until his death.

Foreign Influences

After the forced annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910, much of the structures in Deoksugung were lost due to fire and reconstruction of the palace into a zoo and art museum in the 1930s. 

In the 2000s, Deoksugung underwent restoration and is visited today by Korean and foreign visitors alike. 

Highlights of Deoksugung

Changing of the Royal Guards

The Royal Guards heading to Daehanmun Gate

Three times a day the Royal Guard-Changing Ceremony takes place at the Daehanmun Gate (Entrance to Deoksugung). These happen daily aside from Mondays when the palace is closed (weather permitting) and lasts typically about 30-40 minutes. 

During the performance, the guards will play drums and other musical instruments and the ceremony ends with the guards patrolling outside the wall. There’s a signup sheet at the entrance of the museum and is limited to 

Two Royal Guards stand watch at the entrance to Deoksugung

The times are: 

  • 11:00-11:40pm
  • 2:00-2:40pm 
  • 3:30-4:30pm

Daehan Empire History Museum

Seokjojeon was originally completed in 1910 and was commissioned by King Gojong to serve as his residence and place where he could give audiences to visitors. This is one of the few western-style buildings left within Deoksugung and today serves as a museum showcasing the Korean Empire and the royal family. 

The basement is open to visitors and has various smaller exhibits and you can enter the first and second floor through a free guided tour. Each tour can have up to 20 people and is on a first-come-first-serve basis for the signups and the tour lasts between 45-75 minutes. 

Deoksugung Stonewall Walkway 

During the Royal Guard Changing Ceremony, the guards will patrol along this pathway that extends around the palace grounds. This iconic area has appeared in K-Dramas such as the Goblin, the Beauty Inside, and One Spring Night.

This pedestrian path can be a good place to take pictures and can get crowded due to its popularity.

Other Places in the Area

Jeong-dong Observatory

Located on the 13th floor of the Seoul City Hall Seosomun Building is the Observatory along with a cafe where you can relax. From here, you can see the whole Deoksugung complex and Seoul City Hall. 

You can get some great pictures from this view, and the best part is that it’s free to enter the observatory. Get here early or arrive during non-busy times since the spots closest to the windows tend to fill up quickly. 

Seoul City Hall/Seoul Plaza

During the winter you can go ice skating at the Plaza for only 1,000 per hour. During warmer weather, the plaza is transformed back into a grassy field where you can experience concerts and other events. 

The old city hall building is currently the Seoul Metropolitan Library and there are various exhibitions and other things you can see during your visit. On most Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, you can take a tour of Seoul City Hall through the Tong Tong Tour in English and are free to join. You can get more information about times and make a reservation online by visiting the VisitSeoul website

Gyeongbokgung (Palace)

One of the most popular palaces to visit in Seoul, it’s only a 12-minute bus ride from Deoksugung. Even better, it’s just a 20-minute walk where you can see different sights along the way. Gwanghwamun Square is on the way and has the popular statue of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun-sin. If you visit during the week, Gyeongbokgung tends to be less crowded. If you wear a hanbok, entrance is free. You can read more about Gyeongbokgung here

Getting to Deoksugung

Please note that Deoksugung doesn’t have any public parking spaces, so you’re encouraged to come by bus, subway, or be dropped off by a taxi. 

By Subway: Line Number 1 and Line Number 2 are the best options for getting to Deoksugung. You will arrive at Seoul City Hall Station 

By Bus (From Central City Bus Terminal): Bus #143 and #401 can get you here in about 40 minutes.

From Yongsan Station: 

  • Line #1 Subway (Towards Namyeong Station): 13 minutes by subway
  • Bus: #506, 502, 150, 501 (approximately 30 minutes) 

Prices/Info for your Visit

Deoksugung is only 1,000 won for adults and 500 won for children between 7-18. 

Here’s how you can get free admission: 

  • Wearing a hanbok (traditional Korean clothing. There are many hanbok rental shops around the area for under 10,000 won). 
  • Seniors (65 or older) 
  • Children under 7 years old. 
  • The last Wednesday of every month (Culture day)

If you’re going to visit some of the other palaces or will be in Korea for some time (at least a month), you can purchase the Royal Palace Pass at any of the four palaces or Jongmyo Royal Ancestral Shrine. The cost is 10,000 won and you end up saving 4,000 won over purchasing the tickets individually. The tickets expire after three months but enable you to spread out your visits over multiple trips. 

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art has an annex within Deoksugung as well. If you want to visit the MMCA, there will be a separate entrance fee. It can vary depending on what the exhibit is, but when I went it was only 3,000 won. 

Where’s the next place you want us to check out? Comment below and let us know. We welcome any thoughts and suggestions and invite you to take a look at some of our other blog posts about living and working in Korea. 

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