Suwon’s Hwaseong Fortress

The Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, with its incredible defensive wall, is a fascinating World Heritage Site.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Visiting Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon

Just south of Seoul, the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress makes a perfect day trip from the capital, to a historic site with a bloody story.

There's lots to see when you visit Hwaseong Fortress, so I want to share some advice on making the most of your time in Suwon.

What would you do if the heir to the throne was a serial murderer and rapist who showed no signs of stopping? Oh, and just to add in a twist, nobody – not even the king – is allowed to hurt him.

It’s exactly the conundrum that King Yeongjo of Korea faced in the middle of the 1700s.

His son, Crown Prince Sado, was his heir and due to become king at some point. But he was also clearly very mentally ill (although that’s presumably something that wasn’t properly understood at the time).

Visit Suwon Hwaseong Fortress from Seoul

Reports from the period talk about how the crown prince, who was in his twenties at the time, was scared of things like thunder – and even clothes. The fear of getting dressed was so bad, that there were some occasions when he murdered the servants who were trying to get him dressed.

Yes, you read that right. He would just kill the person laying out his clothes for him… and nobody could stop him.

Sado would also often force himself on women in the palace and rape them and beat them (even if they didn’t resist). He even bashed one of his concubines so badly that she died, and he just left her on the floor and acted like it had never happened.

You get the idea… whatever the cause, he was not a nice person.

Visit Suwon Hwaseong Fortress from Seoul

His father, King Yeongjo, wasn’t allowed by court rules to execute his son because he was also royal. But he found a technical work-around of these laws when it all became too much in 1762.

He told his son to get inside a box and then locked it. And then he just left him there. No food, no water, no nothing.

Eight days later, Crown Prince Sado was declared dead, at the age of just 27… and nobody had technically executed him.

So, why am I telling you all of this in a story about the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress?

Well, because Hwaseong Fortress was built as a tribute to Sado by his son, Jeongjo, after he became king in 1776 (taking over from Sado’s father).

The history of Suwon's Hwaseong Fortress

Jeongjo believed his father had been wronged – that perhaps his crimes had been exaggerated and stories of his behaviour were part of a conspiracy by political opponents.

(And, it’s worth noting, that although most historians accept the accusations against Sado, there are some who still say he was unfairly killed by his rivals at the royal court.)

One of Jeongo’s missions as king was to restore the reputation of his father Sado, and building this enormous fortress around his grave at Suwon was part of that campaign.

Why is Suwon Hwaseong Fortress important?

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress has been listed as a World Heritage Site because of its defensive walls that fused European and East Asian techniques to create a new form of military architecture that had a big influence on Korean styles.

When was Suwon Hwaseong Fortress built?

King Jeongjo started work on Suwon Hwaseong Fortress in 1794 to build the large walls and defensive towers to surround his father’s tomb and other new political buildings. It took two years to construct and was finished in 1796.

Is it worth visiting Suwon Hwaseong Fortress?

Although it’s outside central Seoul, the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress makes for a great day trip. There’s lots to see amongst the remains of the fortress and the trail along the walls is a beautiful walk through a fascinating history.

The idea of a ‘fortress’ in Korea is different to the way the word is often used in other countries. This was not a single building or a contained complex like a castle. It was basically a small city, about 1.5 kilometres in diameter.

Although there were buildings in the centre of the city – the most prominent one being a palace called Hwaseong Haenggung – the really important aspect of Hwaseong Fortress was the wall that went around the site.

Walking the walls of Suwon Fortress

It’s this wall – with its gates, defensive towers, and other structures – that makes Hwaseong Fortress so significant, with its innovative design the primary reason the fortress is listed as one of South Korea’s World Heritage Sites.

I think it’s also the main attraction when you visit Hwaseong Fortress today. The palace has been rebuilt in the middle of the site, but the rest of the area has been filled with the modern city of Suwon.

The walls, on the other hand, still show you how the fortress looked centuries ago (although many parts have had to be restored).

Although you can visit independently, you’ll save a lot of time with this half-day tour of Hwaseong Fortress from Seoul.

I think the best way to visit Hwaseong Fortress is to walk along the length of its walls, which now create a wonderful trail past most of the highlights of the World Heritage Site. I’ve got some detailed information later in this story about how to do that.

Michael Turtle walking the walls of Suwon Fortress

You’ll also want to see the Hwaseong Haenggung palace, but that’s easily incorporated into a day trip to Suwon from central Seoul. If you have the time and the inclination, there are also some interesting museums that will add even more context.

The story of Suwon Hwaseong Fortress

Construction started on the Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon in 1794 and took just over two years to complete.

As I discussed earlier, one of the main reasons King Jeongjo wanted to build the fortress was as a tribute to his ‘executed’ father, Crown Prince Sado. So he exhumed Sado’s body and buried it in a tomb on Mount Hwasan.

The mountain was chosen because it had good geomantic properties (in other words, its shape and location were thought to bring good fortune). But the mountain was also to be used as one side of the fortress, offering additional natural defences.

Bell at Suwon Fortress

There was more to the formation of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress than just a paternal tribute, though.

King Jeongjo also wanted to stop the factional divisions that were threatening to tear apart his government (and may have led to the death of his father). By moving his political base to this new fortress in Suwon, he could reestablish his authority and use the large walls as a defence from any threats.

Within the town of the fortress there was the palace, as well as an altar to make sacrifices to the guardian deities. During this Joseon Dynasty period of Korean history, there was no official religion (as I explained in my story about Jongmyo Shrine) so there weren’t any temples built, as such.

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon

The most important aspect of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress was its defensive wall, which used techniques that hadn’t been seen in Korea until this point.

Almost six kilometres in length, the walls follows the topography over the land, going up hills and down onto the flat lands. It was also laid out so the main stream flowed right through the centre of the city, providing drinking water behind the defences.

Designed by an architect called Jeong Yakyong, the Suwon Fortress and its wall incorporated ideas from East Asia and from Europe, and was particularly interesting in the way that it combined military, political, and social functions.

North Gate at Suwon Hwaseong Fortress

In the end, after the reign of King Jeongjo when power moved back to Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul, Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon wasn’t used much. It was badly damaged during the Japanese colonial and then even further during the Korean War.

But King Jeongjo had been so proud of his new city that he had asked for records to be put together of how it had been built. The ten-volume document, complete with blueprints and construction details, was so comprehensive that it was able to be used from 1970 onwards to reconstruct much of the fortress.

Things to see at Suwon Hwaseong Fortress

The complete site of Hwaseong Fortress covers a fair bit of area in Suwon, with a large variety of different features. It would take a whole day to cover all the things to see at Hwaseong Fortress – although you can get to all the highlights in less time than that.

There are some museums in Suwon that I’ll mention at the end, and I’ll talk about the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace separately in a moment.

First, I want to run you through the main part of the fortress that is the long wall surrounding the area that was once the historic city.

Walking the path that follows the wall is the best way to visit Suwon Hwaseong Fortress because it leads you past all the main features, with small constructions at regular intervals along the circumference.

These are the highlights to look out for:

Paldalmun Gate

If you approach from the south, from the direction of the main train station, the first part of the fortress you’ll probably see is Paldalmun Gate.

It now stands separate from the rest of the wall, acting as an enormous roundabout in the main street through the compound.

Paldalmun Gate, Suwon Fortress

It is two stories high with a traditional sloped roof making it seem even more imposing amongst the nearby modern buildings. The barbican has a semicircular shape for protection.

Other gates

There are three other gates around the wall that are each also interesting, and I’ll include them together in this section.

The western gate, known as the Hwaseomun Gate, has just a single story tower above the stone entrance, which also has a crescent-shaped wall around it. Although it’s the smallest of the gates, it’s one of the most photographed because you get a stunning view of its design from the wall as it climbs up the adjacent hill.

Hwaseomun Gate, Hwaseong Fortress

The northern gate, called Janganmun Gate, was the main entrance to Hwaseong Fortress, and is the largest of the four entrances. It’s the one the king would pass through when coming from Seoul, and has a grand two-story building above the stone base.

Janganmun Gate, Hwaseong Fortress

The eastern gate, Changryongmun Gate, is easy to overlook because it’s just across from a large command post (more on that in a second) and many visitors walking the wall path will take a shortcut that goes in front of it, rather than over it. Still, it also has an elegant design with a single story tower and semicircular base.

Changryongmun Gate, Suwon Fortress

Between the gates, you’ll find plenty of small turrets, archery points, and a few secret entrances.

Seojangdae command post

There are two main command posts along the wall. The western one, Seojangdae, is particularly scenic because of its beautiful setting up on the hill surrounded by forest.

It was used as a defence training facility and was also open on every side so the troops stationed here could watch what was happening in every direction.

Seojangdae command post, Hwaseong Fortress

These days, just one building remains here, but it’s a wonderful place to stop on the walk along the fortress walls because of the impressive view across Suwon.

Buksumun floodgate

The Suwon Hwaseong Fortress was designed so that a stream ran through the middle of it, and water gates at either end were needed to let through the flow (but no enemies).

The northern water gate, known as Hwahongmun or the Buksumun floodgate, is particularly special because of the ornately decorated building above it, along with the adjacent pavilion and pond.

Hwahongmunn floodgate, Suwon Fortress

Together, this section of the wall shows how the natural landscape was incorporated into the design to not just provide good defence, but also create a sense of beauty.

Dongjangdae command post

The second command post, Dongjangdae in the east, is much larger and I think offers the best example of how the military part of Hwaseong Fortress operated.

Also called Yeonmudae, it is situated up the top of a slope so there are good vantages across the city. But it also has a large space where troops would do training in skills such as swords, spears, and archery.

Dongjangdae command post, Hwaseong Fortress

In this spirit, there is now an archery experience here where you can try to shoot some arrows at the targets.

The Hwaseong Haenggung Palace

I wanted to mention the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace separately partly because it’s a particularly significant part of the fortress – but also because it’s not along the wall, so you’ll need to visit it separately.

Hwaseong Haenggung is a large complex of accommodation and official buildings that is referred to as a ‘temporary palace’, which means it’s not the king’s official residence.

Most of the time it was used by bureaucrats as the main government office of Suwon. But when King Jeongjo visited, he would stay here are there would be extravagant events like royal banquets.

Visit the Hwaseong Haenggung temporary palace

The majority of the temporary palace was destroyed but a restoration project began in 1996, opening in 2003, and now there are quite a few things to see at Hwaseong Haenggung. It may take at least 30 minutes (or more) to walk through and see all the rooms.

Look out as you enter for the main gate called Sinpungnu, which means ‘a new hometown’, an indication of how King Jeongjo considered Suwon.

Hwaseong Haenggung temporary palace

The main building, called Bongsudang, was where some of the biggest events were held over the years, including a grand 60th birthday party for the king’s mother.

The building called Nangnamheon, which was used for civil service examinations and other ceremonies is one of the few buildings not destroyed and is still an original construction.

And don’t miss the peaceful little pagoda on the hill at the back of the palace, where you’ll get a lovely view of the layout of the royal compound.

Hwaseong Haenggung temporary palace

There is a separate entrance fee to visit Hwaseong Haenggung, although you can also get a combination ticket. I’ll run you through those details in the next section.

Visiting Hwaseong Fortress

Because it’s not just a single building, but the remains of a large city, it can feel a bit intimidating at first to plan a visit to the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. But once you get your head around it, your visit will actually be quite straightforward.

The best way to think about the Hwaseong Fortress is as three main parts:

  • There is the wall that goes around the site and has a walking trail alongside its entire length.
  • There’s the Hwaseong Haenggung temporary palace that is not connected to the wall, but is within its boundaries.
  • And there is a collection of smaller attractions, including a museum and art gallery, that you can also include in your visit if you’re interested.

My recommendation for visiting Hwaseong Fortress is to first walk the wall, starting at Paldalmun Gate and going clockwise. The very first stretch is a steep uphill climb, but then it’s pretty much downhill or flat the rest of the way.

You don’t have to go the entire length, which may take up to two hours if you’re stopping to see things along the way. But I would suggest going to at least the Buksumun floodgate. From there, you can cut back along the stream, through the city, to where you started.

(If the uphill climb at the start is inaccessible for you, just concentrate on the flat areas along the northern edge.)

How to visit Suwon Fortress from Seoul

You should also visit the Hwaseong Haenggung temporary palace, which will take about 30 minutes to explore properly. You could start there, but it probably makes more sense to finish there so you’re not doubling up on the walking too much.

There is an entrance fee for the wall, but the ticket booths aren’t open every day, so you might be lucky. When the booths are open, you’re expected to buy a ticket, even though you may not walk past one initially. There are sometimes spot checks along the wall.

There is a separate entrance fee for the Hwaseong Haenggung temporary palace. There is also a combination ticket, but this will only save you money if you’re also planning to visit the Suwon Museum.

I’ve got some information below about public transport from Seoul, which is easy enough. If you would like to avoid the hassle of working it out, and you would like to learn more about the fortress, this half-day tour is a really good way to see Suwon.

Otherwise, I would recommend setting aside most of the day, not rushing as you walk around the wall, and seeing a few of the other things in Suwon while you’re here.

Where is Hwaseong Fortress?

Hwaseong Fortress is in the large city of Suwon, about 30 kilometres south of central Seoul. The fortress is near the middle of the city, about two kilometres from the main train station.
You can see it on a map here.

How do you get to Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon?

The first step for visiting Hwaseong Fortress is to get to Suwon. By public transport, the cheapest option to Suwon station is to catch the subway (line 1), while the fastest option is the train from Seoul station (there are a few options costing between 2,700 (US$2.05) won and 8,400 won (US$6.40).) From Suwon station, there are a lot of buses that go to the fortress.
Another option with public transport from Seoul is to catch bus 1007 from Jamsil station or bus 3000 from Gangnam station, which will take you directly to the fortress.

When is Hwaseong Fortress open?

Although much of the Hwaseong Fortress is integrated into the city of Suwon and accessible 24 hours a day, it does have official opening hours when everything is available.
The Hwaseong Fortress opening hours are:
March – October: 09:00 – 18:00
November – February: 09:00 – 17:00
The Hwaseong Haenggung (Temporary Palace) is open at the same hours as the rest of the fortress.

How much does it cost to visit Hwaseong Fortress?

Entry to the main part of Suwon Hwaseong Fortress (including the wall and its defences) costs 1,000 won (US$0.75) for adults, 700 won for concession (US$0.55), and 500 won (US$0.40) for children.
Entry to the Hwaseong Haenggung (Temporary Palace) is an additional fee of 1,500 won (US$1.10) for adults, 1,000 won (US$0.75) for concession, and 700 (US$0.50) won for children.
There is also a combination ticket that includes the fortress, the palace, the Hwaseong Museum and Suwon Museum. It costs 3,500 won (US$2.60) for adults, 2,000 won (US$1.50) for concession, and 800 won (US$0.60) for children.

Are there tours of Hwaseong Fortress?

If you’re interested in having a guide show you through the site and bring it to life, the best ones leave from central Seoul and include transportation.
There’s this half-day tour from Seoul. Or, for something special, there’s this evening tour of the fortress.

There are a few other things to do in Suwon, some related to the fortress and some not.

To make the most of a day trip, I would recommend a visit to the Suwon Hwaseong Museum, which will give you much more of an insight into the story of the fortress.

Next to the temporary palace, you may also be interested in the Suwon Museum of Art, one of four locations in the city where the institution has a gallery space.

Things to do in Suwon, South Korea

Walking back towards Paldalmun Gate, there’s Suwon Chicken Street alongside the river, where you can grab some famous Korean Fried Chicken if you’re hungry (or even if you’re not). While a bit to the west is the Heanggung-gil Craft Street for local shopping.

With even more time, you can explore some of the city’s hidden attractions – its markets, Toilet Museum, Mural Village, and Culture Centre.

For me, though, the fortress is clearly the highlight and is one of the best things to do in Seoul. Even on a tight trip, it’s worth taking half a day to pop down and see it.


For most first-time visitors, I would recommend accommodation around Myeongdong or Insadong, although I’ve also got a detailed story about where to stay in Seoul.


Colourful and cosy, the One Hostel Hongdae has comfortable beds with curtains and a nice rooftop terrace to meet people.


Right in the middle of Insadong, Top Hotel & Residence has lovely staff and plenty of good amenities for your stay.


There are some really funky features at Moxy Seoul Insadong, which also has a cool bar on site.


Along with a fantastic location and a colourful design, Le Méridien Seoul Myeongdong also has beautiful views and a lovely pool.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

6 thoughts on “Suwon’s Hwaseong Fortress”

  1. Thank you for a very well explained and organized information . A beautiful place to visit, knowing its background and importance is a must. History … is always “telling” us to understand the past and appreciate our present.

  2. Thank you for the info! I am visiting Korea for the summer and I was wondering where and how did you book the tickets. Did you book a guide? (is it worth it) and if you did, where did you booked it?

    Thank you!


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