Going for an educational stroll through Seoul“The building that stands before you is Gangneungjeong, where the kings lived,” the tour guide said. “Within the square building, there are nine rooms, and the one in the middle is the king’s bedchamber.”
The tour group of a dozen or so, mostly foreigners, looked at the building on the Gyeongbok Palace grounds with interest as the guide explained what they were seeing. Someone quietly said, “Wonderful.”
“I’ve visited Gyeongbok Palace before, but it’s my first time hearing about the historical background, as well as a detailed description of the place,” said an 81-year-old foreigner.
The woman made a “thumbs-up” gesture, adding that she didn’t feel fatigued, even though the group had been walking for more than two hours.
Even a Korean on the tour said it was teaching her new things. “Seoul feels different and new after getting to know more about the cultural heritage that I usually just pass by,” said Kim Ji-yoon, a 38-year-old housewife, who was touring the palace with her son.
Free walking tours of historic sites in central Seoul, organized by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, are becoming more popular among Seoulites as well as foreign visitors.
Since the tours began last August, more than 5,600 visitors have signed up. Guides who can speak Japanese and English are available.
There are three tours. The first, given every day except Mondays, covers sites relevant to the events of 1905, when Japan forced Korea to sign a treaty that stripped it of its diplomatic rights.
It’s a two-hour walk that includes Gyeonghui Palace, the old Russian Embassy and Deoksu Palace; an alternate route includes the Seoul Museum of Art.
The second tour, available every day but Tuesdays, centers on traditional culture, passing through Gyeongbok Palace, Insadong and the Blue House, with an alternate route through Samcheong-dong.
The third tour, available every day, stresses the religious practices of the Joseon Dynasty. It includes Jongmyo and Munmyo, two royal shrines.
Tours are at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.; reservations should be made three days in advance. The tours themselves are free, but tourists will have to pay nominal entrance fees at some sites, such as the palaces.
For more information, or to make a reservation, call (02) 3707-9458.
by Shin Eun-jin