Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1395, is one of the most popular and historic attractions in Seoul, South Korea. The palace served as the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built for the Joseon Royal Dynasty. At its height, the palace grounds held more than 500 buildings and covered 100 acres. In the early 20th century, much of the palace was destroyed by Imperial Japan. Since that time, it has undergone a process of restoration.
Today, Gyeongbokgung Palace is regarded as the grandest of the historic palaces in and around Seoul. It features more than 10 truly impressive structures that were once used as the residence of the ruling dynasty. The grounds are open to the public every day, except on Tuesday.
The grounds are remarkably accessible to wheelchair users. Ramps are available to cross steps and ledges built into the walls which run throughout the palace. The buildings themselves are not accessible because the addition of ramps would jeopardize the historic integrity of the structure. Let's take a look inside the palace walls to see the sights that will make your trip to Gyeongbokgung worthwhile, even with the limited access afforded to wheelchair users.
Gwanghwamun Gate, located at the northern end of the Sejongno avenue, is the primary entrance to the palace grounds. Pictured above are two members of the Gwanghwamun Royal Guard. Pomp and circumstance is on display during the changing of the guard, which occurs every hour on the hour, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Visitors to the palace will not want to miss this spectacle!
The ticket booth is located through this gate, on the right side of the courtyard. Admission for adults is priced at 3,000 KRW (~$3.00 USD). There is no discount provided to seniors or visitors with disabilities.
After you have purchased a ticket, you'll need to pass through the Heungnyemun Gate. A wheelchair ramp is located on the right side of the gate and stairway. The courtyard is covered by a clay-like layer of sand/dirt, but it is very easy to roll on. You won't get stuck!
Visitors are given a brief security inspection at this gate. You should expect a request to open your bag, but a pat-down is unlikely. I passed right through the security screening.
Geunjeongjeon Hall (Throne Hall) is at the top of the list of most impressive buildings you can't access in a wheelchair. The Royal throne chair of the Joseon Dynasty is located inside this building, but there is no ramp to allow access. The building itself is stunning, though.
The surrounding courtyard made of large cobblestones, making it difficult to cross in a wheelchair. Expect a bumpy ride. The rest of the palace grounds are easy to cross, with relatively smooth walkways.
Perhaps the most picturesque spot in the entire palace is at the foot of Chwihyanggyo Bridge. The "Bridge Intoxicated with Fragrance" crosses a man-made lake and leads to the Hyangwonjeong Pavilion. The pavilion's Korean name roughly translates to "Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance."
Sorry to burst your bubble of excitement, but no one is allowed to cross the bridge - "for safety reasons." Still, you can admire it from afar. The picture above was taken on a beautiful, but chilly November morning.
Walls located throughout the palace grounds have been fitted with wheelchair accessible ramps. These wooden ramps make it possible for wheelchair users to access all parts of the palace grounds. Some walls will have more than one passageway. If a particular access point has stairs, the ramp will be located nearby at another passage.
The King's bed chamber and residence is located inside Gangnyeongjeon Hall. The structure was destroyed on three separate occasions, but was rebuilt to its original design and specifications in 1994. Like the other halls and pavilions on the property, there is no ramp to allow wheelchair access.
Located on the palace grounds, The National Folk Museum of Korea uses replicas of historical objects to illustrate the historical realities of life in Korea through the ages. The museum contains some 98,000 artifacts spread across three primary exhibition halls. These exhibits, History of Korean People, Korean Way of Life, and Life Cycle of the Koreans reveal the history and development of Korean life, culture and national organization. Visitors will learn about the Joseon Dynasty’s rise and fall, the people’s link to Confucianism and the development of a national identity. Admission to the Folk Museum is provided free of charge to all. The museum is fully accessible to wheelchair users.
The museum also offers a number of open-air exhibits. Pictured here is a Muninseok statue. These sculptures represent Korea's civic officials and were routinely placed by grave sites or outside of buildings for protection.
A visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace will be primarily an architectural tour for wheelchair users. Access to the palace's structures is not possible, with the exception of the National Folk Museum. Still, the grounds are steeped in history and contribute to a beautiful Korean landscape.
All visitors will have the opportunity to surround themselves in an important piece of Korea's culture and witness the incredible changing of the guard.
More information on visiting the palace can be found on the Cultural Heritage Administration's website.
Would you like to visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace? Tell us why in the comments section below. Don’t forget to check out our Seoul, Korea Wheelchair Accessible Travel Guide!