11 Things To Do In Seoul, Korea
Seoul is the capital city of the Republic of Korea and is one of the fastest growing cities in Asia. Marketed as “The Soul of Asia” it is a city that definitely intrigues. Arpan Mandal was in Seoul for a few weeks and put together a list of 11 places he thinks are a must visit for any tourist visiting Seoul.
1. The Changdeok-gung
Big and grand as any palace should be, Changdeok-gung has separate areas that you can visit, such as the area the King used for his official work, (where he met with officials, place where he welcomed foreign diplomats and the like). There is a secret garden where he liked to relax with his queen. The Red Crimson maple trees and blooming flower gardens accentuate the beauty and grandeur of this magnificent palace. Guided tours in English, Japanese and Koreans are organised many times during the day for the visitors. It is walking distance from the Anguk subway station.
2. The Bukchon Village
A short walk away from the palace is the Bukchon village which gives you an insight into the traditional hanok houses that the residents of this village used to live in. Some still do. The area has a lot of small art galleries and museums, and used to house the high ranked officials of the dynasty.
3. The Gyeongbok-gung
This palace is definitely bigger in size and in historical significance than the Changdeok-gung and was the last palace of the Joseon Dynasty. While there, it may be interesting to see the change of guards ceremony in the front of the gates. Most of them do not shy away from being photographed. Make sure not to touch them, and do give them the respect a palace guard deserves. To visit this palace, head to the Gyeongbok-gung subway station.
Filled with high rise office buildings, people wearing suits and talking business on their high end cellphones. Gangnam, is the business and financial district of Seoul. There is also a nice variety of restaurants and shop, a bit on the expensive side though. A word of caution: you might sprain your neck looking at the sky touching glass buildings. Gangnum has its own subway station.
5. Lotte World
A couple of subway stations away (in Samseong) is Lotte World, which is the world’s biggest indoor amusement part. When I read about it on the internet, I had a feeling that I might hate it. I do not enjoy rides, shows and games, but I ended up loving Lotte World and the adjacent Magic Island. Clearly they were doing something right because not only were children of all ages running around will huge smiles on their faces, but their parents were having a good time as well hanging around in the restaurants or brushing up their ice skating skills. Overall, an enjoyable place with something in it for everyone.
6. The Namdaemun Market
This is the biggest market in Korea and you can find almost anything that you can think of here. There is a wide variety of traditional Korean food available in this market and this is a great place to introduce yourself to Korean cuisine. Even if you do not intend to buy anything or taste anything, a stroll down this market will definitely give you an insight into the lives of the locals here (what they like to eat, wear etc.).
7. The Namsan Tower
Located on a hill, a fun way of visiting the Namsan Tower, the highest point in Seoul, is by cable car. The tower has an observatory and a revolving restaurant just like its counterpart in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. You can also find a lot of shopping options there, as well as a Teddy Bear museum for those of us who just cannot get enough of them. A word of caution though: the Namsan Tower, being a popular tourist destination with foreigners and locals alike, can get extremely crowded in the evenings, especially during the weekend. Standing for hours first at the Cable Car station and then, when you get up the hill, for the tickets to the tower can push the limits of your patience.
Most of the top bars, restaurants and clubs are at Itaewon. It gets super busy at night when locals, expats and tourists of all shapes, sizes and colours landing up here. The popularity of the place also stems from the fact that it is very conveniently located. In case you are not the drinking and partying kind, there is a nice Korean sauna (jimijillbang) located near the Hamilton Shopping Center. This is very popular with the US Army Personnel as well.
9. The Seoul Flea Market
About a 10 minute walk from Sindang Subway or if you are into buses, you can trying taking the 421 bus from Itaewon. The Flea Market starts from the sidewalks, extends into the road and then culminates into a big shipping mall. You can find almost anything you could possibly want or imagine, out here. From weird antics to golf clubs, from household goods to military clothes, from used clothes to rare music records, you can get it all. In case you are looking for the best bargains, remember that the stalls out on the road offer the cheapest prices, probably because they save on the building rent unlike their counterparts inside the shopping mall. There are a few places to eat inside the shopping mall and these are very non-touristy with almost all of the menu cards and signboards in Korean. Do not let that stop you from having an authentic Korean meal because the shopkeepers are really friendly and go out of their way to make sure you feel comfortable and have a good meal.
10. The Insadong Market
A pretty nice for buying souvenirs for your friends and family back home, Insadong Market is also rich in culture with many shops exhibiting and selling paintings and vintage items. The real fun begins when someone picks up a guitar or a mike and just starts humming. Before you know it, the humming turns into an all out song. Then people gather around, clapping and singing along to Korean folk songs and ballads, and suddenly the whole complexion of the market changes. There is also a small enclosure in the market where you can get all sorts of Korean dishes and drinks. This is where I had my first bottle of soju, and I thought it tasted a bit like vodka at first but after a couple of shots, I realised it is not at all like vodka. It is better. The market is located close to Anguk station.
11. The De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) and the Joint Security Area (JSA)
Probably the biggest tourist attraction in Korea and understandably so. There are quite a few tour operators offering tours of these areas, even though the DMZ tour is easy to book, the JSA one requires you to book at least three days in advance. During these tours, you can see the North Korea from a distance and visit the place where talks between the military Generals of both sides are held. You can also visit one of the four tunnels that the South Koreans claim to have been dug by their Northern neighbours as an infiltration attempt. Make sure you bring your passport during this trip because it might be checked by the army. Please note that you cannot visit the DMZ and JSA on your own. You have to book this tour through a tour agent.
About the Author
Arpan Mandal is a full time banker and a part time backpacker. He loves travelling as well as reading and writing about travelling. Follow him on his adventures on goodoldboots.com