Rent hanbok on the cheap and get free admissions at Seoul's major palaces, hang out at Gyeonbokgung’s secret pavilion where the kings and queens threw parties back in the day, or get a free tour of Joseon's most well-known recreation site or Korea’s first European-style stone building located inside a traditional palace.
Hanbok — to wear one usually means you are headed to an extremely formal event. Well, that’s how it used to be. More and more, hanbok-wearing crowds in Seoul are becoming a common sight, especially in the trending Bukchon and Seochon areas of Northern Seoul, with the palaces providing a fitting atmosphere allowing young couples and groups of friends alike feel comfortable enough to adorn themselves with the traditional attire. Interestingly enough, while many have assumed that this is merely a passing trend, being out and about in a more traditional or modern hanbok seems to be only growing in popularity. Among over 80 hanbok rental shops in the Jongno-gu district, Time Out has picked out a selection for all you traditional, modern and postmodern souls.
Set in the foothills of the Namsan Mountain is Namsangol Hanok Village. Back in the Joseon era, the settlement was a well-known recreation site. For its beautiful scenery which included a stream and a pavilion, the area was also called Cheonghak-dong which translates to "the land of blue cranes." The Namsangol Hanok Village as we know it was opened in 1998, after the history took its toll on the city. Along with relocated and restored hanok buildings housed inside, a traditional garden and a village were recreated to offer a peak of what life might have been like for royalty and commoners during Joseon Dynasty. There is a range of activities you can participate here for free. First, the main tour of the area provides insights into the village along with interesting stories behind it. The tour will last for 50 minutes and is available in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese. What we recommend you try along with the tour is the tea ceremony offered inside a beautiful hanok, where you can learn the traditional way of making Korean tea (and also drink it).
Anyone who’s been to Bukchon will agree that there is no better way than walking to fully immerse oneself in the area's old charms. Comprised of a cluttered network of narrow alleyways housing nearly 900 hanok buildings, the 600-year-old estate is home to many of Seoul’s cultural assets. Interested in exploring Bukchon in-depth? Join the 2 walking tours offered by the City of Seoul. Starting at Unhyeongung Palace, both routes will take around 3 hours. They are free of charge, but a reservation should be made on the website 3 days in advance. The languages offered are in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese. Visit Bukchon’s website for detailed information on what each route will offer. Don’t leave the area right after the tour though—getting yourself lost in the neighborhood once occupied by high-ranking officials and nobles of the Joseon Dynasty will let you discover some of the best photo spots in Seoul.
Seokjojeon's neo-classical architecture, complete with iconic style colonnades and a triangular roof, was built in 1910 and served as an audience hall and sleeping quarters of King Gojong. It presents indeed an interesting dynamic having Korean style palace architecture placed next to a European style chateau. Starting at the reception room located on the first floor, the tour takes you to the second floor with the center hall and finally, the third floor dedicated to the private bedrooms of the emperor and empress. Arched windows along with ivory colored walls detailed with golden ornate decorations reflect the influence of European aesthetics, yet nevertheless exudes an aura of medieval Joseon.
The Baek In-je House is a glamorous mansion with an unforgiving past. Built in 1913, the house was constructed by a pro-Japanese business tycoon with the intention of utilizing the mansion for political purposes. Japanese housing elements such as Tanami rooms, a middle corridor, and black pine can be found, all used as a method of proving his allegiance to the Japan. The house was later bought by one of Korea’s first generation journalist and later to Baek In-je, an independence activist and renowned surgeon. Baek’s wife was the last resident of the house, where she died in 2011 at the age of 103. The Seoul Metropolitan Government purchased the house in 2009 from the last resident, Baek’s wife who passed away in 2011 at the age of 103. Now a converted into a museum, the historic Baek In-je house is open from 10am to 5pm everyday (except Jan. 1 and Mondays) and admission is free. Guided tours run four times and day and reservations can be made at yeyak.seoul.go.kr.