Peer through the arches of Gwanghwamun gate, and the skyscrapers and giant outdoor LED TV's of downtown Seoul seem a world away. Gyeongbokgung Palace has been restored; feast your eyes on the colors of the 14th century, when the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) first established this as its seat of government.
Twice a day, the medieval heritage comes to life with the changing of the guard and patrol ritual. The courtyard between Gwanghwamun and the first gate to the Throne Hall, where the reenactments take place, was occupied for most of the 20th century by the massive General Government Building, built by the Japanese during their colonization of Korea (1910-1945). The placement of the domed granite structure was highly symbolic—blocking the access from Gyeongbokgung's Throne Hall, symbol of national rule, to the rest of the city: foreign imperialism, set in stone. The building was torn down in the mid-1990s.
Today, the harmony of mountain and tiled roofs reigns again at the center of the South Korean capital. (Few cities have changed as much as Seoul did during the last century—from a medieval backwater through the rubble of the Korean War, it's now one of the world's largest and most Internet-connected cities.) The cloisters, courtyards, and gardens offer a pedestrian refuge from the swirl of traffic outside the palace walls.
To get here via subway: Line #3—exit #5 of Gyeongbokgung Station. Line #5—exit #2 of Ganghwamun Station.