Travel Guide to Seoul
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a mix of skyscrapers and shanty towns, narrow alleyways and major shopping thoroughfares with bars and markets that stay open for 24 hours.
Published 20 October 2011 in Travel Articles
Since the end of the Korean War, the country of South Korea has been continually progressing towards its current status as a global economic force and major player in the worlds of technology and culture. Currently there are around 10 million inhabitants making it one of the world's most densely populated cities.
The Han river, provides calm, placid views in an otherwise cluttered city. It flows through the city with twenty-nine bridges that span its waters enabling people to shuttle from north to south of the city via trains, busses or cars.
One of the city's accolades is that it is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Changdeokgung, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
Here's a round-robin of what to do when you get there:
The Palaces: Glimpse Seoul's 600-year-old history and culture at one of the five royal palaces built by King Taejo at the end of the fourteenth century.
National Folk Museum: Located inside the palace is the National Folk Museum. It comprises three tall interconnecting buildings and they house artifacts, relics and paintings from the different periods of Korean history ranging from pre-history right through to occupation by the Japanese. Entry is free. Metro line 3, Anguk Station, exit 1
Namdaemun Market is Seoul's largest traditional market. Open daily around the clock, it is massive and hosts over 10,000 vendors spread through a maze of intertwining streets. Many of the shops sell handmade items. From leather belts, jewellery to ginseng, the market has a little bit of everything including camping gear. Though it is very crowded, and you will get bumped around, it's a great place to wander, people watch and perhaps pick up a souvenir at a bartered price. Seoul Metro Line 4 to Hoehyeon Station. Tourist information line: 02-752-1913.
Yongsan Market: the Electronics Market,great for gadget nuts, has over three thousand stores housed in over twenty buildings (as well as bootleggers in tents) open from 10 til 7.30, with discounts of up to 50% over other retail outlets. You could build a computer from scratch and buy all the games you could ever want to play on it. Don’t forget to haggle if you want a great deal; some vendors will drop prices drastically, while others won’t budge.
Seoul Folk Flea Market: You’ll find everything from Korean antiques and taxidermy to military paraphernalia and all kinds of randomness. While amongst these treasures, take a minute to try some fresh honey tea that’s made with honey fresh fromthe comb. If that’s too sweet try a refreshing concoction of milk, Korean red ginger, honey and a plant mountain ma. Places like these have a lot of historical significance in Korea and this particular market has been moved around more than once in its 100+ years of existence. Who knows how long it will stay in its current form, so enjoy it while you can and don’t be surprised if you are the only foreigner in the place.
Itaewon District: If you are in Seoul long enough you will likely end up here at least once. Situated near the main US army base in Korea, Itaewon attracts both foreigners and locals alike. Trendy restaurants, imported food stores, nightlife and shopping are just a few of the many reasons so many people flock to this part of Seoul. It might not be the most traditional of places but it’s a prime example of the way foreigners have weaved their way into the fabric of Korean society and what makes expat life in Korea different from anywhere else.
Must shop department store: Between Namdaemun market and the Myeongdong shopping areas is Shinsegae's flagship downtown store. It is the place to go for top notch, if expensive, shopping. Join Korean women in the basement, in buying prepared dishes and fresh fish at the end of the day. Be sure to sample Korea's beloved kimchi, a spicy cabbage normally fermented in huge jars dug into the earth. Upstairs, you can buy the latest designer shoes and clothes. For time out, visit the store's roof garden. Metro line 4 to Hoehyun Station.
Explore Insadong Street: This is arguably one of Seoul's most famous and historic thoroughfares. The main street and the alleyways intersecting it are a great place to window shop Korea's culture. Storefronts are flanked with
Relax in a spa: Chill out in a bath house or jjimjilbang. Dragon Hill Spa is a popular one but most neighbourhoods have a spa and many are open 24 hours with a very modest entrance fee. You can even sleep in some of them – popular after a long night of drinking. Just ask at your hotel for one nearby.
Take a hike: the city is ringed by mountains and one of the best things in South Korea is the hiking in national parks where you can also visit working, traditional Buddhist temples.
Bugaksan Mountain: Bugaksan, is the highest and most well known of Korea's mountains. While there you can also visit the nearby Cheongwadae or “Blue House” where current President Lee Myung-Bak lives.
Seoul Seonggwak is a 18.7 km fortress encompassing inner-Seoul. The fortress connects the four cardinal mountains of the city, Inwangsan, Bugaksan (the peak behind the Blue House - home of the president, Naksan, and Namsan. The hike will take a day and requires some endurance. Walking Seoul's fortress will take you through quiet neighbourhoods and provide aerial views of Gyeongbokgung Palace. The hike is free but on site registration is required with a passport. Seoul Metro Line 3 or 4.
Best view in town, 63 Building: – Back when Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” first debuted and Mikhail Gorbachev had just become the new Soviet leader; a pink glass tower known as the 63 building had just become tallest building in the world outside of North America. Today it is still the tallest building in Korea and the headquarters for some of Korea’s biggest companies.
Fun by the river: The Cheonggyecheon was once a natural stream running through the heartof Seoul. In the 1950's it was paved and made into a highway. Today it hasbeen restored beyond its original state. The Cheonggyecheon is 8km long and its banks serve as a gallery for an array sculptures, architecture, fountainsand art. Through the year it plays host to a myriad of festivals and exhibitions, as well.
Floating islands: The city's newest attraction is Seoul's islands. There will be three in all when completed and will float on the surface of the river using an enormous buoy secured in place by 28 mooring chains, a design which ensures it can withstand changing river levels and bad weather.
The fist islet is 3,271 square meters, it is the second-largest of the three and is home to a three-storey structure housing a 700-seat convention hall and several other attractions such as restaurants and video games. There are parks, outdoor terraces and viewing points surrounding the center, while at night, the exterior of the building is illuminated with brightly colored light shows.
Hotels in Seoul start from around KEW 40000 (about €25/£22/US$35) for a double room.
Seoul's main international airport is Incheon, located about 70km west of Seoul and served by over 70 airlines. Find flights to Seoul Incheon:
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