Seoul’s palaces have gorgeous architecture and can make for great locations for a family photoshoot while you’re here. One of the most common questions I get from anyone enquiring is “Which palace should I choose?” In this article, we’ll make that decision a lot easier for you. There are several things to consider, including the time of day, the variety of images, and the size of the crowds. Let’s take a look.
Should We Rent Hanboks for our Family Photoshoot?
Before we jump into the palaces themselves, let’s consider renting Hanboks. Many people ask me if it’s a good idea. Honestly, I can’t give you that answer. They look great in Seoul’s palaces, that’s for sure! However, it really depends on how you want your pictures to look. Typically, I recommend that we use Hanboks for half of the session and then do the other half in regular clothing. This way, we get some great variety from our session.
When Should We Wear Them?
I usually recommend picking up your Hanboks and wearing them to the session. Firstly, this gets you free entry to the palaces. Secondly, you can wear your regular clothes underneath them, which makes the change extremely quick. This will also give you another layer of warmth during the cooler months!
Can you Recommend a Rental Store?
Absolutely! My first pick is always Gureumi Hanbok. They’re extremely friendly and helpful. They also open at 8:30, so you can get your Hanbok before a morning session. They have basic English, Mandarin, and Japanese speaking staff on hand as well.
Gyeongbokgung – The Main Palace (Closed on Tuesdays)
Gyeongbokgung is the palace we see on all the ads, the one that is listed first in all the guidebooks, and the most visited of them all. It is located at either Gyeongbokgung Station (Metro Line 3) or Gwanghwamun Station (Metro Line 5). Both stations are a short walk from the palace. Here is Google Maps link for the main gate (Gwanghwamun).
It has the most variety of colours and the largest amount of hidden nooks and crannies. This makes it a great spot for getting a lot of variety in a family session. The palace grounds are very well manicured. There is a small pine forest, two ponds, and some open grass areas. There are also some great views of the city with the palace walls in the foreground. There are many ornate gates and some beautiful brickwork that can make stunning backgrounds. Gyeongbokgung lends itself well to wide photographs that incorporate the grandeur of the palace.
Once your session is over, you can also head to the two museums in the complex for a look around. These are both well maintained and interesting for all. The museum near the east gate is specifically targeted at children.
Because of its popularity, Gyeongbokgung gets extremely busy. A quick look at Google’s traffic will show you that 9am-10am is really the only time of day that the palace is relatively quiet. The palace is also quite large, making getting to all that variety a little tough on children. With younger children, it’s often better to choose one of the more compact palaces. We also often find that parts of the palaces are under maintenance as the Ministry of Culture improves the facilities and reconstructs buildings.
For a family shoot, I recommend starting at 9am and only booking a one-hour session for this palace. We can quickly move through the prettiest parts of the palace before the tour groups come in. Both sunny and cloudy days work really well at Gyeongbokgung. On a cloudy day, we can use all areas of the palace to great effect. If it’s sunny, we can make use of the richness in colour that comes from the morning light.
Afternoons in Gyeongbokgung are usually too busy for a family session. So, I recommend using another palace for afternoon sessions.
Changdeokgung – The Secret Garden Palace (Closed on Mondays)
This palace is known for it’s “Secret Garden.” While we cannot use the garden for a photo shoot as it is only accessible on a guided tour, we can make use of the rest of the palace. Changdeokgung is closest to Anguk Station (Metro Line 3) and Jongno-3-ga Station (Metro Line 5). Here is a Google Maps link to the main gate.
Changdeokgung contains three distinct architectural styles from our perspective. At the entrance, it looks much like the other palaces. As we go deeper, we find unique brickwork and colours. At the back of the palace, we find unpainted brown wood that gives a unique feel to the space. All of this is in a much tighter proximity than the different parts of Gyeongbokgung. That makes it ideal for younger children.
Changdeokgung also offers a really great gift shop. High-quality souvenirs are for sale at really reasonable prices. I recommend stopping by.
Again, Changdeokgung gets quite busy during the day. There are also very few places in the palace where we can find nice light to work in during the day. Thus, it is best used in the early morning or late afternoon. There are very few natural spaces that work well here, so our images are limited to using the palace as a background.
This palace is great for families with younger children. It is compact enough that we can get a lot of variety in a very short time. The crowds are smaller than Gyeongbokgung, so we can use it in the afternoons as well. The hour after the palace opens and the hour before it closes are usually very quiet, so I recommend those.
Changgyeonggung – The Little Brother (Closed on Mondays)
While not the most well-known palace, it is slowly getting more popular. Changgyeonggung can be accessed easily from Hyehwa Station (Metro Line 4). However, the gate is quite a long walk for families from any metro station, so it can be best to take a taxi. Here is a Google Maps link to the main gate.
Changgyeonggung is the most compact of all the palaces. It offers a lot of variety in a very small space. It is also surrounded by trees and grass, so we can combine both palace and nature in one session. It also has the smallest crowds of any of the palaces. Some of the buildings are frequently re-painted, while others are not. This means that we can get some more rustic feeling images here as well.
Recently, Changgyeonggung has lengthened its opening hours well into the evening. This means we’re able to get sunset light here, which is also excellent for family photography if your children can handle the time.
Again, there are few places to hide from the harsh sun once it gets high in the sky. Crowds, while not as large as the other palaces, do tend to fill the small palace quite quickly. It is best to avoid this palace as well from 10am to 4pm.
This is a great spot for a family session. It offers something a little different from the other two palaces in terms of colour palette. It also has the natural surroundings that give us a chance to get something other than palace photos. It is good for both morning and afternoon sessions.
The Other Palaces (Unhyeongung, Gyeonghuigung, Deoksugung)
When it comes to family sessions, the main palaces above are generally better for our photoshoots. The smaller palaces can be great for other activities, but not so much for family photography. Unhyeongung is quite simple in style and often holds traditional music shows. Gyeonghuigung is very small and almost entirely rock floors. They do have Taekwondo demonstrations from time to time, however. Next door, you’ll also find the Seoul Museum of History and an old tram car from the days when Seoul used them as public transport. Deoksugung is great for a quick walk around to see some modern architecture and how it fuses with the traditional buildings. They also offer a changing of the guards ceremony that you can participate in!
I hope this guide has been helpful to you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions you might have.