Day 1: Gyeongbokgung
Originally constructed in the 14th century, Gyeongbokgung Palace was once the largest of the so-called "five grand palaces" from the Joseon era. Though less than fifty percent of the original palace complex remains intact (the palace's many buildings, bridges, gates, and other facilities were bombed or otherwise demolished during the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century), what remains is nonetheless impressive, and resotration efforts are advancing every day. With a name that translates as "Palace of Shining Happiness", the extensive grounds easily constitute a full day's investment.
Day 2: Changdeokgung and Deoksugung
If your first day out whetted your appetite for all things palatial, these two palace complexes are an excellent fix. Boasting UNESCO World Heritage Site status, Changdeokgung Palace was erected shortly after Gyeongbokgung in the year 1405. It also suffered extensive damage during several invasions by the Japanese over the centuries, but it has retained much of its original appeal, including a beautiful stone road, a pond and pavilion, and a massive tree that is over 300 years old located in the rear garden.
The walled compound of palaces that is Deoksugung features forested gardens, multiple palace buildings, an art museum, and a noteworthy statue of the late King Sejong.
Day 3: Changgyeonggung and Gyeonghuigung
Working your way in, as it were, to the heart of Seoul, you'll find Changgyeonggung Palace, which was constructed in the mid-15th century and served as the summer palace of the Goryeo Emperor. It's easy to see why. Converted into a zoo and botanical garden by the Japanese, the palace grounds have been restored to their original glory in recent years, complete with ancestral shrines, ornate arched bridges, and arresting mountain views.
The last of the aforementioned five, Gyeonghuigung Palace suffered a similar fate at the hands of colonial invaders, and has since been similarly restored. Today it is home to the Seoul Museum of History and the Seoul Museum Annex of Art.
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