The bustling city of Seoul has a lot to offer any first time visitor. With the emerging cosmopolitan scene, immersed into the historical landmarks, the South Korean peninsula is the country’s epicenter of culture, fashion, and the theme,”More side dishes than main dishes.” While in Seoul, it’s important to indulge in every aspect of the culture. Below is a list of things to do and see in one of my new favorite cities.
Gyeonbokgung is consider Korea’s most popular palace and once the former seat of power. The palace houses traditionally designed Korean buildings with impressive architecture. Give yourself an hour max to stroll around the pavilions and the walled grounds.
Be sure to get there at 10AM or 3PM for the changing of the guards.
Cheonggyecheon Stream is my favorite spot in city of Seoul. The walk along the 3.5 mile stream is great for achieving a piece of mind – such a serene environment! The stream is located beneath street level, in a semi-dugout crevasse. I recommend going at night to take in the beautiful waterfalls, laser light shows, and over head bridges staring into the picturesque backdrop of Seoul.
Gwanghwamun Square, just a short stroll from Cheonggyecheon Stream, is another great night-time destination to see Seoul under the city lights. Here you can see the King Sejong Statue and people watch, as locals and foreigners alike jump, hop, and pose for a pic in front of the illuminated statue.
Bukchon Hanok Village
For me, Bukchon Hanok Village was the most authentic experience in Seoul. Here you’ll find a cluster of traditional Korean wooden homes, commonly referred to as hanok, and dozens of tiny alleyways boasting amazing architecture.
While in Bukchon Hanok Village, swing by Aridan Rice Cake shop and try the delightful array of traditional Korean rice cakes.
Many people visit Insadong to indulge in traditional Korean arts and crafts. However, Insadong was more in-tuned with my appetite than my need to collect a variety of goods. From spicy BBQ chicken skewers and deep fried shrimp dumplings to traditional tea and ice cream cones, Insadong is the place to be.
North Seoul Tower
The North Seoul Tower offers panoramic views of Seoul and the surrounding areas. More importantly, it’s home to tens of thousands of “love locks” hanging from the observation terrace. If you’re the romantically inclined individual, come prepared with a lock and your dying testament for love.
The view from the top of the tower.
The famous Locks of Love.
War Memorial of Korea
The War Memorial of Korea is a military war museum portraying Korea’s past that was plagued by constant invasions. The grounds are filled with guns, planes, tanks, and ships. On any giving day, it’s easy to spot soldiers marching out front and twirling their rifles in harmony.
Namdaemun Traditional Market
Namdaemun is the largest traditional market in Korea. The market is fueled with life from vendors selling everything from electronics, local produce, clothing, and imported crafts. With over 5,000 stalls, it’s quite easy to leave with tons of goods and a full stomach. Namdaemun is undoubtedly one of the busiest locations in Seoul.
If the local shopping scene in Namdaemun is not your cup of tea, head on over to Myeong-Dong for a more “western” atmosphere. Myeong-Dong has been coined as the “Mecca of Fashion” for obvious reasons. This exclusive outdoor shopping center is plastered with shopping malls, well-known standalone shops, and mini street stalls that caters to every taste and budget levels.
Myeong-Dong is also a good place to see what’s in-style, and obviously, what’s not.
Every city has at least one area that can be dubbed as the “Blank” of Europe. Garosgil in Sinsa-dong, is quickly becoming one of the trendiest spots in Seoul. The street lined neighborhood is filled with boutique shops and restaurants on every corner, dotted by cozy, yet overpriced cafes in-between.
My favorite chill-spot in Garosgil is Monreve. The ambiance is warm, the drink menu is reasonably priced, and it’s a great location to people watch on the street below.
If you find it hard blending in with the local community, head to Itaewon for a more international environment. With a military base close by, English is frequently spoken here. This area is widely known for its large expat community, bars, clubs, and flavorful restaurants.
No trip to Seoul is complete without satisfying your appetite with a glutinous Korean BBQ meal. The Maple Tree House in Itaewon is sure to leave your palettes begging for more as your waitress grills generous portions of your favorite meat. Be careful when ordering, as Korea is known for having more side dishes than main dishes. For every entree, expect at least five accompanying side dishes. Consider this is food heaven!
For the fitness lovers, one of the best climbs in Seoul is Bugaksan, surrounding the Seoul Fortress. The trail is quite exhausting to be honest, but the experience and the views are well worth it. A passport is required to start the trail – don’t forget it!
Dragon Hill Spa
After a few days of exploring Seoul on foot, a day at the spa was well needed. After reading the raving reviews from CNN Travel and The New York Times, I decided to give Dragon Hill Spa a visit. Dragon Hill Spa is one of the largest Korean bath houses, otherwise known as Jimjilbang, in Seoul. The spa is open 24 hours offering massages, sauna rooms, ice rooms, heated pools, indoor/outdoor baths, and lounge areas to mingle with other guests. Please note that there are strict rules about showering before using any of the facilities. These showers are open with no covering. In the same sex areas, be prepared to strip down to your birthday suit and let it all out. It may feel a bit weird at first, but you’ll get use to it in no time.
One delightful surprise in Seoul was an outing at NANTA, the most popular show in Korea. Despite the lack of dialogue, expect an entertaining evening as four hilarious chefs begins an impossible task of preparing a wedding banquet in one hour. This story is told through a rhythmic, up-tempo banging of knives, pots, pans, and whatever the chefs can get a hold of. This is a must see when visiting Seoul!
Navigating through Seoul’s transportation system can be tricky at first. I recommend downloading the following subway app. It works without wifi and can easily guide you to each destination. It even tells you which train cart to exit from!
Seoul is truly amazing and definitely worth an extended visit to capture all the city has to offer. Come hungry for culture, entertainment, and of course, some Korean BBQ!
Until next time, cheers to the Vagabonding Life!