Autumn in Seoul 2019: Bukchon Hanok Village, Gyeongbokgung, & Cheonggyecheon

Bukchon Gyeongbokgung COVERR 1 - Autumn in Seoul 2019: Bukchon Hanok Village, Gyeongbokgung, & Cheonggyecheon

If you’ve come here to look for an extensive guide about exploring Bukchon Hanok Village, Gyeongbokgung, & Cheonggyecheon, then I’m sorry to say you’ve come to the wrong place. I decided to publish this post not because I wanted to guide you through these three popular places to visit in Seoul, but because I wanted to share the different look I managed to get when we visited during autumn a few years ago.

That’s the thing about countries with four seasons: The same places always look and feel so different when the seasons change. As someone who comes from a country where the only options are heat and rain, this is something I greatly appreciate. Different seasons will give the same old place a different vibe. Which is why despited having visited the three places in this post in the past, we decided to visit them again. We’ve never been around here during the autumn season, you see.

Bukchon Hanok Village


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Arguably one of the top places tourists visit in Seoul, the charm of Bukchon Hanok Village lies in its old-soul vibe. Here you will find hundreds of well-preserved hanok, or traditional Korean houses, that date back to the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). If you’ve watched your fair share of sageuk or historical dramas, this place is enough to transport you into the world of one of them. (On that note, might I suggest the K-drama ‘Mr. Queen’ for a mighty fun sageuk!)

The word ‘bukchon‘ literally translates to “northern village”, and in modern day Seoul, this village is located to the north of Cheonggyecheon Stream (which I will talk about later). It is also in between Changdeokgung Palace and Gyeongbokgung Palace (which I will also talk about later), so if you do decided to come here, there are plenty of other places to explore nearby. You will have to time it a little later in the year however, because the autumn leaves had not fully turned in Seoul when we visited end of October. Many of the trees in the city were still in a state of in-between. It does little to diminish the loveliness of the area however.

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Regardless of what season you swing by here, there will always be tourists in hanbok, posing for pictures in a location that is literally just waiting for a sageuk-themed photoshoot. I think autumn is one of the best times to try walking around in hanbok just because the weather is so nice– neither too hot nor too cold. 

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I almost felt like I was existing in two different time bubbles as I took the following photos. I’m surrounded by ancient stone houses around me, and yet when I look in the distance, I see the modern-looking Namsam Tower standing tall and proud. Times like these I would wonder if anybody from the olden times ever imagined how the world would evolve. Times like these I find myself in a state of awe and disbelief; feeling like I’m standing between two very distinct time periods. It’s a pretty cool place to be watching from. 

On that note, I just want to say I am constantly amazed by the ability of certain countries to gracefully embrace both their past and their future, then find balance within it all. 

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Hundreds of years ago, Bukchon Hanok Village was home to Joseon nobility. These days, it is partly an actual neighborhood where people live. Some of the hanok may have been converted into cultural centers, restaurants, teahouses, and even traditional guesthouses, but some are real homes with real people residing inside. Shouting and talking loudly is definitely not advisable. Occasionally you will spot some people in vests keeping an eye on tourists just to make sure nobody gets rowdier than is necessary. They will also help you take photos!

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Unfortunately, a more in-depth experience of traditional Korean culture was not in the cards for us this time. We wanted to visit a traditional Korean teahouse but the waiting time was too long! We ended up just walking around and snapping photos. Next time, maybe we’ll try to organize an actual walking tour.

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As we wandered, we stumbled upon this viewpoint where we got to see a very nice cityscape of Seoul as she begins to turn from green to orange and red. After a while, all I could think was, ‘How awesome is that rooftop cafe?’ I would love to have a rooftop where I can see a view like this everyday. You can bet I’d be out with my morning coffee all the time, watching the seasons change.

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HOW TO GET HERE: Alight at Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3); take Exit 3.


Gyeongbokgung

Because the palace of Gyeongbokgung is nearby, we decided to walk over and hang inside the compound. The exercise of walking the streets of Seoul during autumn is, in itself, a wonderful experience. You won’t mind walking miles and miles in this pleasant weather while enjoying the pleasant views, but do make sure to watch the traffic signs when you cross. Don’t get too caught up gawking at the trees! Make sure you’re standing in a safe place before taking selfies like we did lol.

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Anyway, back to Gyeongbokgung. We managed to get to the place grounds in the late afternoon, and unfortunately most parts of the palace grounds were closed off. I can’t remember if it’s because they were doing some restorative work, but this was the only area we were allowed in– the area where the National Folk Museum of Korea is located.

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The view is not too bad right? We probably could’ve visited the museum itself too if we really wanted to, but due to the late hour the museum was nearing closing time. It would be impossible to appreciate the things inside if we had to rush through it. This particular museum houses over 98,000 artifacts after all. That’s not counting the replicas of historical objects located in its three main exhibition areas. That sort of thing is something you need at least 2 hours to sift through and absorb, and so we stayed outside and were happy to enjoy the autumn foliage. (In any case, you can visit the National Folk Museum of Korea’s website to get an idea what you can find inside.)

We spotted two young ladies in hanbok taking photos in one of hanok on display. They’re clever about it too, because they have this place all to themselves compared to the more packed Bukchon Hanok Village.

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I really like this little open air exhibition area with the hanok, complete with a front yard! It reminds me of all those hilarious scenes from the sageuk ‘100 Days My Prince’! The main characters spent a lot of time out in a yard like this one, both working and playing. Watching that show, I felt like it provided a very authentic glimpse into life in the Joseon era for the simple folk, minus the hijinks of course.

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Walking around, you’ll probably catch sight of a lot of different statues and sculptures, in particular, those that symbolize fertility. You’ll know them when you see them because they’re shaped very distinctly. 

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Despite not actually doing “anything” at the Gyeongbokgung grounds, we headed towards the subway station with a satisfied heart. Like I said, just walking the streets in this area of Jongno-gu is a treat for the eyes.

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We even managed to catch a beautiful sunset.

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HOW TO GET HERE: Alight at Gyeongbokgung Station (Seoul Subway Line 3); take exit 5. OR alight at Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3); take exit 1. OR alight at Gwanghwamun Station (Seoul Subway Line 5); take exit 2. OR alight at Jeongdok Library Bus Stop or National Folk Museum of Korea Bus Stop.


Cheonggyecheon

One of my favorite places in Seoul, hands down, is the Cheonggyecheon. I have never missed an opportunity to visit this stream whenever I’m in Seoul. I even come here during the most chilling of winters to watch the Christmas installations. (I have done it twice and I regret nothing!) And so right before hopping on the train to go to the airport, we paid a short visit to Cheonggyecheon. We didn’t walk the entire 11-kilometer stretch of the stream, but we explored maybe half.

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Some people may feel that, well, it’s just a stream! What is there to it? The best way I can explain is by asking: Do you have these little quiet spots around your neighborhood where you just like to sit to be alone and do nothing for a few minutes? This is what it feels like to be here at Cheonggyecheon for me. When I’m standing or sitting by the stream, everything just feels quiet and calm. Not even the bite of winter cold can ruin my mood.

And while yes, indeed, the winter’s harshness does not ruin my mood, it does render me physically cold. I inevitably have to run into one of the numerous establishments lining Cheonggyecheon-ro after a while. And yet I cannot rightly say that the two best times to visit Cheonggyecheon is during spring and during autumn, because the Christmas installations here are not to be missed! 

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As you can see, they also had some installations up in October. I wasn’t expecting anything to be honest, but I was happy when I saw they had something up. Not sure if this is the leftover Chuseok display or the set-up stage for the winter festivities, but I’m glad either way. Too bad I didn’t get to see this place in the evening.

I love the idea how this stream is right smack in the middle of this big city, mostly because I can see myself frequenting this place if I ever became a resident of Seoul. Stressed? Sad? Down? Off to Cheonggyecheon I go! 

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Sometimes I forget that this stream had to undergo so many restorations before arriving at this point. There is actually a museum that lays out the entire history of Cheonggyecheon and the process of restoring it through the years. It definitely has not been easy, considering at some point in its past, Cheonggyecheon actually got buried underground. Ironically, everything I know about Cheonggyecheon is from what I’ve read online. For someone who loves this place so much, the fact that I have not been to the museum feels really wrong lol.

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HOW TO GET HERE: Alight at Gwanghwamun Station (Subway Line 5); take exit 5. OR Alight at City Hall Station (Seoul Subway Line 1 or 2); Take exit 4.

To see what else we were up to in Seoul in October 2019, check out this video:

Other posts in the SEOUL AUTUMN 2019 SERIES:

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