Located in the heart of Seoul, Sungnyemun Gate is one of three original gates of the fortress wall that surrounded the ancient city at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty. Five other gates were constructed later, when the city expanded. Gaze up at this ornate temple-like structure on a solid fortress wall, which has become a symbol for South Korea.
Upon arrival, look for the tablet on the gate with the name written vertically. Officially called the Sungnyemun Gate, which means Gate of Exalted Ceremonies, this famous landmark is also well known as Namdaemun (Great South Gate) and gives its name to the fascinating Namdaemun Market beside it.
Contemplate the craftsmanship involved when this gate was first built between 1395 and 1398, under the supervision of King Taejo of the Joseon Dynasty. Unfortunately, the original wooden structure on top of the gate was destroyed during an arson attack in 2008. Sungnyemun Gate has been rebuilt since and looks victorious once again.
As well as being used to greet important foreign visitors, Sungnyemun Gate was one of the few ways people were allowed in and out of the city back in the day. Stroll through the stone archway of the gate and imagine what it was like to enter the city like this in earlier times. Some days, guards in colorful traditional uniforms still can be seen standing to attention, despite there no longer being a city wall.
The original fortress wall has been removed to meet the requirements of the modern city. This stone wall originally served to keep out invaders and Siberian tigers that once roamed the area.
Take a taxi or use the efficient and clean Seoul subway to find this gate in the bustling Namdaemun area. The nearest station is City Hall, a 15-minute walk away. Since the gate is surrounded by busy roads and there is not much to do on site, combine your visit with some shopping at the Namdaemun Market, which you can easily reach via a pedestrian underpass.
Entry to the gate is free. Consider visiting at night to take in the view of the beautifully lit gate from a distance after visiting the market. The small green space behind the gate is accessible, except at night and most Mondays.