Thursday was our free day, so we took full advantage of the opportunity to be true tourists.
We started the day at Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest of the five grand palaces built by the Joseon dynasty. It opened at 9am, and after purchasing tickets (we did the combination ticket), we started walking the palace grounds by 9:15am. I didn’t have a lot of background in what to expect, but it was absolutely beautiful! The structures have incredible artwork and detail, and you really get a sense of how the palace flowed in daily 14th century life. We also loved seeing how many tourists dress up in traditional Korean clothing (hanboks). I was super jealous. The women looked stunning! We were also really pleased at how many tourists didn’t arrive right when the grounds opened. Even though we only allotted 45 minutes, we felt like we got to see everything up close with no crowds or waiting.
By 10:00am, we returned to the opening gates for the guard changing ceremony. I thought this was a really fun (Josh said “pretty cool but very touristy”) little piece of the morning. And if you have kids, they have a little roped off area for kids so they get a great view! That was pretty precious.
After Gyeongbokgung, we walked down to see where the US Embassy is located, since we will need to go there with Sam on our next visit. The embassy is close to the statues of Sejong the Great and Admiral Yi Sun-Sin, so we included those in our walk.
Then we decided to enjoy the beautiful fall weather and walk to Bukchon Hanok Village. We popped into the Folk Museum grounds on the way, and we hope to go back to the free children’s museum next door on our next trip with Sam!
The walk to the village was absolutely beautiful — tree lined streets in all sorts of vibrant fall colors, highlighted by boutiques and small restaurants. We realized we were a full street over from where we needed to be and climbed up the steepest back alley ever until we were at the main streets of the hundreds of hanok houses (traditional Korean homes) in the area. I actually found myself wondering if there were more visitors in hanboks than in regular street clothes in this historic area!
We popped into a tiny little shop for some kind of fried cream cheese delicious treat. Then we headed over to Changdeokgung, which was my favorite palace of the trip. We spent probably 3 hours exploring the palace grounds and touring the Secret Garden. We lucked out because you can only do a self-guided tour of the secret garden during certain parts of the year, and we caught it on its last weekend of the season! It was absolutely beautiful.
Right next to Changdeokgung, you find another palace — Changgyeonggung. The palace grounds are HUGE. We got more than a little turned around. Also, there were a lot of cats hah!
We didn’t make it to Deoksugung this trip, but I kept the ticket in case we have unexpected warmer weather on our next trip. It’s pretty close to our hotel.
By the time we walked back to Namdaemun, we were pretty exhausted. We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant and did some laundry for the low, low price of $10 for one load (UGH), and then crashed early in hopes we would be well-rested for court!
Speaking of Namdaemun, we did explore the market on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon. I honestly can’t remember at the moment. It’s a bit of a blur. I’ve never seen anything like it! There are people and vendors absolutely everywhere you look. It was close to our hotel and not too far from a metro stop, so we actually walked through several times during our trip!