It was another warm, sunny morning so after breakfast we took the metro to Gyeongbokgung station so that we could visit Gyeongbokgung Palace. As we had purchased a book of tickets the previous day covering all of Seoul’s palaces we did not need to visit the ticket office.
We had arrived at 9.20 a.m. in good time to watch the Royal Changing of the Guard training which takes place at 9.35 a.m. outside the palace side gate (to the left of the ticket office). It is well worth watching this parade ahead of the official one as the guards are dressed in full costume and accompanied by their musicians. The practice ceremony lasts for ten minutes and provides ideal photo opportunities away from the crowds.
Once the rehearsal had finished we moved through to the main entrance gates so that we could watch the official guard change at 10.00 a.m. Spectators are required to stand behind a cordon which was mainly occupied by school children. We had no difficulty in securing a good viewing position for the twenty minute ceremony.
This traditional Korean royal court cultural ceremony was first re-enacted in 1996 and has been a popular tourist attraction ever since. The ceremony is re-enacted exactly as it used to be with guards wearing colourful royal uniforms, carrying traditional weapons and playing traditional instruments. The ceremony takes place twice daily at 10.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. except on Tuesdays.
One of the guards positioned near to us was in charge of a huge drum that emitted an extremely loud noise when played. I loved all the the pomp and ceremony of the occasion and the brightly coloured costumes with tall black hats worn by the guards. As both the practice and official guard change take place outside of the palace they can be viewed free of charge but I would recommend buying tickets to go inside as these cost only 10,000 Won (£6.88) for a multi ticket.
After the ceremony finished we entered the palace grounds. It was very crowded around the entrance so we decided to view the furthest point first which was a good idea as it was much quieter.
The palace grounds were beautiful with flowering azaleas, mirror ponds and ornate buildings set around courtyards. The grounds cover a large area so it’s a good idea to visit on a fine day.
Back near the main palace gate, a group of ten year old school children came up to us with their teacher asking if we could spare a few minutes. When we agreed, they produced a folder with pictures and three of the girls asked us a question each in English about Korea and we had to place a sticker on the correct photos. Their teacher recorded the activity and the girls gave us packs of sweets and biscuits as a thank you for participating. We thought this was an excellent way for local school children to practice speaking to foreigners.
Continuing our tour, we then visited the National Folk Museum of Korea which is located just outside the palace grounds. This museum has free admission and is divided into three exhibition halls. These cover the history of Korean people, the Korean way of life and the life cycle of the Koreans depicting the deep roots of Confucianism in Korean culture. The galleries were interesting but as they were dimly lit it was difficult to take photographs.
Prior to our lunch we called into one final museum in the vicinity. This was the National Palace Museum which also has free admission and houses relics from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). There are over 20,000 artefacts on display with two royal cars in the basement.
After leaving the museum we continued on foot to Gwanghwamun Square which is historically significant as the location of the royal administrative buildings. The square is used to stage cultural events and is designated a demonstration and smoke free zone. At its centrepiece are statues of King Sejong the Great of Joseon and Admiral Yi Sun-sin who led the Koreans to victory during the 16th century Japanese invasions.
A short distance from Gwanghwamun Square flows the Cheonggyecheon Stream which runs through the centre of Seoul and is 11 km in length. Cheonggyecheon is a restoration of a stream that flowed through the city in the Joseon period (1392-1910).
After the Korean War (1950-1953) the stream was covered by an elevated road. In 2003 it was decided to remove the road and to restore the stream in a contemporary style. We enjoyed strolling alongside it admiring its design. It seemed popular with locals who were relaxing in the sunshine. I couldn’t resist walking across the stepping stones even though there are 22 bridges along the stream’s length.
Safely across the stream, we took the metro to Seoul station so that we could take a walk on Seoullo 7017. This is an elevated walkway built on a former highway flyover. The walkway is 1 km in length and is similar to the New York City Highline which I visited in January 2016. Seoullo 7017 takes its name from 2017 when the walkway opened and 1970 the year in which the flyover was dedicated. The walkway is landscaped with gardens and terraces and includes spaces for outdoor exhibitions.
From the elevated walkway we had good views of the old Seoul station and of the Seoul skyline as we walked in an easterly direction towards Hoehyeon passing Namdaemun market on our way. Reaching the end of Seoullo 7017 we caught the metro back to our hotel for a short rest.
A little later we walked to the neighbouring district of Insa-dong where we enjoyed our first ever Korean barbecue. Each table has its own gas burner to cook the meat. Our pork barbecue with soup and assorted side dishes was delicious and a perfect end to another fun filled day in Seoul.
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