With each time I visit the thriving capital of South Korea, I uncover more of its stylish culture and vibrant atmosphere bursting from each district. There are copious amounts of things to do and places to see as one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world, and you simply can’t fit everything in with one visit to Seoul. That said there are things you won’t want to miss out on while passing through, and to get a good taste of exactly what is to offer from this eclectic and electric city, here are a few things to have on your list.
Seoul is only 45 minutes away from the historic and intriguing 38th parallel. You can take a tour from the city and hear all about the Korean history between both sides on your journey to the border. Seeing the peace bell, walking down into one of the tunnels discovered, and looking beyond the border into North Korea are just some of the activities included in the various tours, and keeps you busy for at least half a day depending on what you sign up for.
It’s a fascinating tour not like any other and whether you are interested in history or not, if you are so close to the border as to be in Seoul, it would be a pity to miss it. I felt it was relevant to learn about and witness the divide and its implications myself, and it definitely didn’t disappoint! It’s number one on my list of things to do in Seoul! (And its surrounding areas ) This is the tour I took and Sunny (our tour guide) was a fantastic guide and a delight to spend the day with! http://www.dmztours.com/
I’d advise trying to get to the top of this magnificent 263meter tower overlooking the entire city at dusk, watching the sun melt over the city lights will leave you speechless. Take note – between queues and climbs you will need at least an hour to make it to the top. That being said it’s a beautiful site whatever time of day you go, with approximately 8.4 million visitors making the trip each year. You can take a cable car if you are not up for the climb, as it is over a kilometre of steps! However you get there once you reach the top, grab a beer or a well deserved ice cream and take in the breathtaking view.
Take to the markets – Myeong Dong
After conquering the climb of Seoul Tower, the hunger pains will be kicking in at that stage and Myeong Dong market is a perfect cultural hub to fill your belly and empty your pockets. Located just bottom of the hill, walk straight into the shopping district and all is waiting for you there.
What makes this market different from the rest is its variety. It has stalls selling socks and scarves, while its department stores stand tall selling designer luxury items – in case you damaged your jimmy Choo shoes climbing the mountain previously. With fast food, street food, and family restaurants; Western, Japanese or Korean food to choose from, this is just one of the magnificent markets of Seoul that keeps you active and entertained.
I’d advise either stopping off here before or after your journey up to the Tower, depending on the time of day and your motor skills after the climb!
This vibrant youthful district is in the heart of the city, and with plenty to see and do you could easily spend the afternoon here. With a university located in the district, it has a distinct energy created and encouraged by the students and young people drawn here. Have a wander through the market running through the middle of Hongdae, and stop and watch one of the many street performers on your way.
Pop into the Trick Eye Museum, or one of the galleries for an exhibition. You can grab a traditional Korean meal in any of the restaurants stacked next to each other at every turn. There are some lovely quaint bars where you can people watch while sipping some wine or guzzling down a cold beer. The edgy wall murals add to the creative style of the district. At night turn to the underground clubs, for a trendy hipster taste of Seoul’s nightlife. This vibrant spot makes for a great visit day or night, and I always love coming here for a fun cultural taste of Seoul.
Insa-Dong, much like Hongdae, has market stalls settled on the streets as you wander the area. The distinction is the more sophisticated style it represents. As a youthful presence is evident in Hongdae, Insa-Dong draws just about everyone in. You will find a variety of merchandise that can’t be found anywhere else. It was a place of painters in the past during the Joseon Dynasty which is why it oozes with creativity still today. You may find hand crafted furniture, pottery, traditional clothing and paper all sold on the street that stretches over 700 meters.
These priceless products can be dated back to the Three Kingdom Period, (57 B.C.) There are artists and musicians working their magic, and energetic entertaining locals selling delicacies. With roughly 40% of Korean crafts exchanged here, it is a true depiction of Korean culture. One that shows some significant qualities of Seoul and its people. Recommended on every “To do” list in Seoul advertisements, I can understand and applaud why.
Gangnam is a prosperous, sophisticated district at the other side of the river, Gangnam meaning south of the river, and yes it is the area of which Korean Kpop singer Psy sang about, introducing the world to crazy horse riding dance moves with his viral video being the first to reach over 1 billion views! So before any horse moves or viral videos, Gangnam was known for its style and fashion. It’s an area of classy clubs and expensive real estate. Get some upmarket shopping under your belt before you go for drinks in a chic affluent area of Gangnam like Cheongdam, Sinsa or Nonhyeon. These areas hold high end, upscale clubs if you fancy a unique dance scene with stylish people for the night.
Walk along the Cheonggyecheon River
This one is for those looking to have a stroll somewhere pretty, a simple place without queuing or paying. Just take in the beauty of this 10k long river that splits the city in two, and go in the evening so that you can see it in all its glory.
With $900 million invested into the public project, it’s a beautiful walk along the river with lights glistening over it, and the whispers of the river consuming your attention rather than the hustle and bustle of the city around you. Come here as you round up your trip, or after a busy day of exploring. Just take it all in and congratulate yourself for getting to such an amazing place, in such an amazing city!
With each trip to Seoul you will fall in love with the citys style, sites and scenes even more. These are a great introduction to your Seoulful exploration, but its an infinite one at that. Enjoy it.