When we think of Korean palaces, our minds most often go to Gyeongbokgung. But there is a palace literally a couple blocks away that was “loved more than any other palace by Kings of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910)”, and its name is Changdeokgung (alt. Changdukgoong).

“Changdeokgung Palace was constructed in 1405 as a secondary palace of the Joseon Dynasty. After its destruction during the Japanese invasion (1592-1598), it was rebuilt in 1610 and served as the main palace for about 270 years”.

Changdeokgung has beautiful architecture and aesthetic, much like Gyeongbokgung.

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View from the outside

What sets this palace apart, though, is the Secret Garden.
The Secret Garden was intended to be a place for kings and royal family members to relax and partake in outdoor activities. Apparently, “the Secret Garden takes up almost 60% of the entire area of Changdeokgung Palace…[but] the beautiful sights are hidden in a series of valleys, so the entire layout cannot be seen at once. One must walk down into each of these valleys… and its pavilions in order to truly appreciate the beauty of the place”.

And beautiful it was.

Buyongji Pond

Access to the Secret Garden is only available through guided tours. Even though you must pay to get in, this system makes sense to me because it retains its sense of sacredness and probably makes it easier to upkeep the place as much to the original as possible. The garden grounds are 78 acres and has different species of plants and trees, with some specimens being over 300 years old. The name is appropriate; it truly feels like you are walking in on some secret hideout, a treasure, a small peaceful Eden.

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View of the beginning of the Secret Garden grounds (taken from the perspective of Yeonghwadang, looking at Buyongjeong, Sajeonggibigak Pavilions and Juhamnu Pavilion where the King stayed)

The Secret Garden grounds hold ponds, pavilions, sacred buildings, trees, and flowers.

The ceiling on Yeonghwadang Pavilion
I felt even more like I had stepped into another time because I got to do a 한복 체험! This is basically where you get to rent out hanbok, traditional dress, for a short period of time and wear it around. Shops like these are scattered all throughout neighborhoods close to cultural sites. Although I was the only one wearing one in the sea of foreigners, it enriched my immersion so I was happy.

Changdeokgung Palace (and primarily, its Secret Garden) was breathtaking to the fullest extent of that word and I cannot believe it is so underrated. I feel like I’ve said this numerous times before but this truly felt like we stepped into another world– as if we were time travelers to the Joseon Dynasty, where time had been stopped for a moment while we wandered. It was a calming, grounding, meditative, and humbling experience.


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