Thursday, January 17, 2019

Seoul: Visit These Houses for Free

There are many places to visit in Seoul that require no admission fee: parks, temples, villages, and... houses!

The House of Royalty

Unhyeongung Royal Residence

464, Samil-daero, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Tuesday to Sunday 9AM to 7PM
Admission is free

Unhyeongung Royal Residence was owned by the father of Gojong, the 26th King of Joseon Dynasty, and it was where King Gojong grew up.

In the present, one can view the Noandang Hall, Norakdang Hall, Irodang Hall, and Sujiksa in Unhyeongung Royal Residence. Noandang Hall was the men's quarters and Norakdang Hall was where the wedding ceremony of King Gojong and his wife was held. Both halls were built in 1864. Norakdang and Irodang Halls were the women's quarters. The latter was built in 1869. Sujiksa, located beside the main entrance, was the guard's quarters.

Some of the rooms in the halls are open for visitors to peek in (you cannot enter the rooms). Some rooms have items and figures to depict important people or events (such as a tea ceremony) or even just ordinary life (like kitchenware).

In Unhyeongung Royal Residence, there is an exhibit hall where one can see items related to the residence such as garments worn by King Gojong and his wife.

Unhyeongung is located near three large palaces (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung). Compared to the three, Unhyeongung is very small. Not too many people visit Unhyeongung—or at least it was only me and two others when I visited Unhyeongung. If you're around the area, drop by Unhyeongung for some quiet time.

Directions to Unhyeongung Royal Residence: Take the subway to Anguk Station. Take exit 4.

Norakdang Hall

Irodang Hall

One of the displays in the exhibit hall

The House of the President

Cheong Wa Dae

You can enter Cheong Wa Dae by signing up for a tour at least three weeks in advance.

Since this is the Korean President's residence, security is tight and protocols should be followed. At the meeting area in the parking lot of Gyeongbokgung, passports are checked and instructions are given (photography is allowed only in designated areas, no food and drink allowed during the tour, etc) then guests are told which bus they should board.

At Cheong Wa Dae, guests were led to the Chunchungwan or the Press Center. Bags were x-rayed and souvenirs were handed out (it was a mug when I visited), then we went inside the auditorium for a short introduction. After the short introduction, we were led to Nokjiwon, a garden with about 120 different tree species and commemorative trees planted by former presidents. In the center of the garden path is one lone pine tree which is more than 160 years old.

Then we went to the site of the former Cheong Wa Dae Main Building and then to the present Cheong Wa Dae Main Building. The present Main Building was built in 1991. The Main Building is where the president's office and rooms for cabinet meetings and summits are. (We were not allowed inside, of course.) The building's most striking feature is its blue roof tiles. An astonishing fact: it is made up of 150,000 tiles made to last for at least a century!

The next and last stop inside Cheong Wa Dae was the Yeongbingwan or the state guesthouse. This is where meetings and events with foreign guests are held. (This, too, is a no entry zone for the tour group.)

The tour, which was about an hour long, also included a visit to Chilgung (just outside the Cheong Wa Dae compound), which is where the ancestral tablets of seven royal concubines are enshrined.

Nearby is Cheong Wa Dae Sarangchae, a museum about the history of Cheong Wa Dae and the Korean presidency. Admission is free in Cheong Wa Dae Sarangchae. (This is not included in the tour.)

Directions to the meeting area for Cheong Wa Dae tour: Take the subway to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Take exit 5 and proceed to the parking lot on the east side of Gyeongbokgung, which is the meeting point for the tour.

Taking photos of the Main Building

Main Office Building



The House of Buddha

Jogyesa Temple

55 Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Main Hall is open 24 hours

Jogyesa Temple, built in 1910, is the center of Korean Buddhism. Jogyesa Temple's Main Hall is designated as a "Tangible Treasure"; enshrined in it is the Buddha Triad.

When we visited in autumn, the temple grounds had a festive atmosphere with many colorful chrysanthemum flowers.

If you want vegetarian food, grab a bowl of noodles (or whatever is on the menu) at Jogyesa Kitchen nearby.

Directions to Jogyesa Temple: Take the subway to Jonggak Station. Take exit 3-1 and go straight for about 100 meters.

Jogyesa Temple

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Sokcho+Seoul+Gwangju, Autumn 2018
Itinerary and Expenses: 10D/10N Seoul and Sokcho
Sokcho, Gangwon-do
Sokcho Accommodation: With U Hotel & Guesthouse
See Sokcho
Seoraksan National Park
Seoul Accommodation: Hostel Tommy
Finding Solace in the Midst of Seoul's Urban Jungle
Art Museums in Seoul
Food for the Seoul
Visit These Houses for Free (you're here!)
Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do
UNESCO World Heritage: Namhansanseong Fortress

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