One of Korea’s biggest mysteries is Cheongwadae— also known as the Blue House in Seoul. It’s quite a secluded place, and was heavily restricted for a long time. The only thing passersby could see were the buildings and pavilions that had the iconic blue tiles formed to honor traditional Korean architecture.
For 74 years, it served to house the South Korean president, and only they were able to enter the building. However, special access was granted to some of the president’s trusted colleagues, as well as special foreign delegates who had business to do in Korea.
Visiting the Blue House in Korea can teach you about Korea’s extensive political and cultural past, and how it has shaped the country into what it is today.
Cheongwadae is conveniently located in the heart of Seoul, and the nearest station is the same one that directly takes you straight to Gyeongbokgung Palace, another political heritage site that offers a free guided tour on all days except Tuesdays.
Note that the guided tours of Cheongwadae Seoul are only given to those who have made prior reservations. If you wish to reserve a slot, please visit their official website. Also, keep in mind that the Blue House is closed on Mondays and special holidays.
Getting to The Blue House
To get to the Blue House, the closest subway station is Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3). You can also ride the Seoul Autonomous Bus, which has a stop outside Gyeongbok Palace, and then the route eventually takes you to the Hyojaro entrance of Cheongwadae.
Note that these buses run from 9AM to 5PM. Beyond 5pm, you can ride a taxi from the Seoul Station and the fee is just ₩6900. There are three notable landmarks near Cheongwadae other than Gyeongbokgung Palace.
We have National Museum of Korea, which contains the best collection of Korean history and art, followed by Bukchon Hanok Village, a traditional neighborhood that has preserved its traditional charm, and finally Namsan Tower, a communications tower that is also a skyscraper that offers the best views of Seoul.
What Is Cheongwadae?
As some people may initially think, the Blue House is definitely not a rip-off of the US White House. But it definitely fulfilled the same purpose; that is, until the current president decided to change the site into a public park, and moved all operations to a military facility in Yongsan-gu.
So, if it’s not a parody of the White House, then where did the Blue House get its name? It comes from the Korean nickname for Cheongwadae, which has a vivid blue-tiled roof that has remained unchanged throughout the years. Several renovations were made to improve the presidential home, but the roof has stayed on over the years.
The blue tiles go all the way back to the Goryeo dynasty, and I’m not a historian, but during my research I learned that it was a belief during this period that a home with a blue roof is a symbol of wealth. Also, if you’ve seen the White House before, and then came to visit Cheongwadae in Seoul, you may be surprised that it’s not a single building, but a complex of multiple structures.
The Blue House is actually three times larger than the White House. It’s also in a pretty ideal location, and is just a convenient walk away from several historical landmarks, like Gyeongbokgung Palace and Bukchon Hanok Village.
One of the most notable features of the Korean Blue House is the elegant mix of traditional Korean architecture with modern elements. These are beautifully incorporated into the main building, its surrounding pavilions, and the fountain at front.
If you also take a stroll in the large garden, you get a clear view of the Bukhansan, flanked by the Naksan and the Inwangsan mountain ranges. If you plan to visit, make sure you have secured a reservation on the Korea Blue House website first, although you can just walk in as long as you do not have plans to join the tour.
Visitors are required to wear formal attire like a suit, but you can also rent a hanbok for a day and still be considered suitable. Moreover, if you wear a hanbok, you can get into the nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace for free.
History of the Blue House in Seoul
The Blue House originally was a villa built by the royal family during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1932), and was later considered during the Joseon Era (1392-1910) to be a site so sacred that no king could dare to enter.
In the mid-19th century, it was turned into a military training ground called the Gyeongmudae, and was also wide enough to host the gwageo, or the civil service examinations. When the Japan-Korea Treaty was imposed on the Korean Empire, a building was erected to house the Japanese Colonial Government General throughout the Japanese occupation.
After defeating Japan in 1948, it became the official residence of Korea’s first president.
For years it kept the name Gyeongmudae, until it was officially changed into Cheongwadae, following the inauguration of Yun Boseon during the Second Republic. Park Chung-hee, the controversial president that served for 18 years until his assassination in 1979, was largely responsible for adding structures to the lot.
The gregarious main building, along with several embellishments, were completed during the sixth president Roh Tae-woo’s term after the successful 1988 Summer Olympics. More sections were made to accommodate the incoming foreign leaders and delegates that were impressed by Korea, and thus came for state visits.
Back when it served as a presidential home, tours were allowed in limited areas only. It was only just recently that people were granted full access; and this was merely because the president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol decided to relocate the presidential office.
It was rumored that the reason for moving was “bad feng shui”, but the president also argued that making the former home into a public park is a touching gesture that promises open communication and transparency with the people.
Currently, the president has opted to commute from his home to the new office, built in a Defense Ministry complex near Yongsan Park. Now that you can freely explore areas that were not open to the public before, there were some recent additions to the tour that you will for sure enjoy.
Some of the memorable places you encounter are the Cheongwadae Bongwan, or the former executive office of the president, the Yeongbingwan, or the state reception hall large enough to hold banquets, and three sections of the Daetongryeong Gwanjeo, where the presidents and their families used to live.
The most interesting part of the tour, however, is the Chilgung Palace, which literally means “Seven Palaces”. Here, you can find seven spirit tablets of the concubines who birthed seven notable Joseon kings.
Other interesting spirit tablets can be found in Jongmyo Shrine, which is in a different location entirely, but is still near that area. A fun tidbit that you should know is that there is a once-secret trail leading to Bugaksan Mountain behind Cheongwadae.
It’s somewhere near the Presidential Residence, and along the short trail, you will discover a Stone Buddha seated on a square pedestal. This is just mentioned in passing during the tour, so once it ends, you should definitely check it out.
Expect the tour to last around an hour and thirty minutes. Dress appropriately to avoid any snags, and remember that the event starts strictly on time, so report to the Public Information Hall at least 20 minutes before the set time.
Taking pictures of the area is permitted, but only at designated places indicated by the tour guide. You are also expected to honor privacy, so if there are events going on, do not take pictures unless allowed to do so.
How to Visit the Blue House As a Tourist
To visit Cheongwadae Seoul, make a reservation on the official website; simply click “Visit Cheongwadae” on the homepage to get started. Then in the drop-down menu, click “Visit for Tourists” and fill out the online reservation form and state your preferred visit date.
Within the day, a confirmation of your reservation will be sent to your email (so if you haven’t received it, check your spam folder). Note that, to be able to register on the official website, you need to have a local mobile number, which you can get by purchasing a sim card at Incheon Airport.
You can also register on-site by heading over to the General Information Center of the Main Gate, but only a maximum of 500 visitors are allowed per session. This is the best option you can take if you don’t have a Korean phone number.
Make sure to bring important IDs for verification purposes (like your passport or Alien Registration Card). But still, to be able to join the tour, it’s best if you secure a reservation online ahead of time, because about 10,000 people come to see the Korean Blue House weekly.
Tips for Visiting The Blue House
If you are not proficient in hangeul (the site is in Korean), and the staff handling the registration may not speak a lick of English, you should download Papago (find the download link here). This app is the most accurate translating tool, commonly used by locals to communicate with foreigners, along with a few other common apps.
Before coming to the Blue House, you must keep in mind that this is an official landmark that requires visitors to dress formally or in traditional Korean clothing. Avoid revealing outfits and shorts, in particular. If you violate the dress code, be understanding as to why they cannot let you in.
Arrive to the meeting place at least 20 minutes before your tour starts. They will not wait for you and will not let you join midway because you missed the instructions. The park is also pretty big, so never lose sight of your tour guide and follow their instructions.
Be mindful of your gestures and jokes, because certain jokes may offend locals who join you on the tour.
Seoul Blue House FAQ
Why is the blue house so famous?
– The Blue House is known as the former residence of past South Korean presidents. It also has a vibrant blue roof curved elegantly on top of the main building, which has withstood the test of time. Tourists flock to this place to have an in-depth understanding about the presidents that shaped the country into what it is today, and admire the traditional architecture
Can you visit the Blue House in Korea?
– Yes, unlike before, Cheongwadae in Seoul is no longer limited to official delegations and invited guests. The scope of the tour has changed tremendously, and it now features areas that were off-limits to guests before. To join a Blue House tour, make sure you have secured a ticket online ahead of time, though you can always take your chances by arriving really early at the General Information Center.
Where does the South Korean president live now?
– Upon the inauguration of President Yoon Suk-yeol in May 2022, Cheongwadae was converted into a public park. For his office he now reports to the Defense Ministry Compound in Yongsan-gu, and has made arrangements to commute there from his house in Southern Seoul.
Has BTS been to the Blue House?– BTS has definitely been to the Blue House. In late 2018, former President Moon Jae-in invited the group to discuss their role as Cultural Ambassadors, after recognizing the impact their music has on the world and how their contributions have supported the nation in its economic growth and tourism.