See more from my On This Day series here, where I celebrate travel memories on their trip anniversaries.
On November 7, 2018, I was in Seoul, South Korea.
As the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea, this bustling city of 9.7 million people is a study in old and new. Seoul is a mash up of historic temples and palaces, set amongst technology-forward, cutting-edge modern design.
We started the day exploring more of the city’s traditional side. Following another delicious home cooked breakfast at our hanok, we ventured over to nearby Gyeongbokgung. Originally built by King Taejo of the Joseon Dynasty, this palace served as the principal residence of the royal family until 1592, when it was burnt down during the Japanese invasions. It lay in ruins for nearly 300 years until Heungseon Daewongun, regent and father of King Gojong, started its rebuild in 1865.
Nowadays, a visit to Gyeongbokgung offers an opportunity to tour the grounds and observe the Changing of the Guard. This reenactment of the traditional Korean royal court cultural ceremony takes place at 10 am and 2 pm daily, except on Tuesdays.
There are five Grand Palaces in Seoul, and we managed to fit in a visit to one other. Changdeokgung is located east of Gyeongbokgung, built as the secondary palace for kings of the Joseon Dynasty.
Changdeokgung was significant for maintaining many elements from the Three Kingdoms of Korea that were not incorporated into the more contemporary Gyeongbokgung. One such element was the blending of architecture with its surrounding natural topography, best highlighted by the Biwon “Secret Garden”. We arrived at the perfect time to see the garden’s colourful fall foliage.
We followed our afternoon of Korean history with a transition to the modern side of Seoul. Heading toward the trendy Dongdaemun district, we stopped first for a bite of KFC, Korean Fried Chicken.
Then we walked over for a look at Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which features a walkable rooftop park, global exhibition spaces, retail stores, and restored parts of the Seoul fortress. This urban development landmark created by architects Zaha Hadid and Samoo has a distinctive neofuturistic design that helped Seoul earn its title as the World Design Capital in 2010.