As Seoul is the capital and cultural hub of South Korea, it is brimming with creativity and inspiration in every district. You won’t be stuck for sites to soak up, with such a significant history still strongly evident in its streets, it’s a place for history buffs and artists alike to come and appreciate it for all its worth.
From the streets of noblemen and aristocrats to the slums of Seoul; the palaces that held rulers from different dynasties throughout Korean history, and the reminisce of the War between the North and South – it truly is a fascinating city, and one you should invest some time into exploring. It has developed and transformed dramatically over the last 50 years. It’s far from its poor past and looks like the beginning of a very prosperous future.
So with that said, if you fancy a day out discovering some of the culture Seoul has to offer, here are a few artsy activities that will keep you busy for the day and give you a good glimpse of what this inventive city has to offer. These three districts stood out to me for their individuality and diverse visitors. Each of them with their own back rounds, all of them with their intriguing qualities.
Naksan Mural Village.
Naksan Mountain was one of four that protected the King and his Palace grounds as he ruled the Joseon Dynasty. Therefore it held considerable value and was an area of wealth through the years. However after the Japanese invasion (1910-1935) this camel shaped mountain (naksan meaning camel) was mostly demolished, losing its importance and stature, and was taken up by the city’s poor citizens as well as industrial plants.
In an effort to restore the value of the natural granite bedrock and its surrounding areas, it was made into a beautiful park overlooking the entire city of Seoul. The Ministry of Culture started the Art Project 2006, which encouraged artists and locals alike to give the village a cultural makeover. This artistic transformation, consisting of murals and art installations, has attracted people from all over to witness the “Mural Village” for themselves; thus pumping energy and life back in to the district.
Between the magnificent murals in the eccentric little village and the amazing view of the entire city as you walk through the park, Naksan district as a whole makes for a good start to your cultural day out.
Hongdae reminds me of Camden Street in London, a very creative, youthful lively place full of people taking it all in. There are street performers every couple of yards from each other, such as magicians, street dancers, and live bands attracting big groups of passer byer’s.
The streets are filled with markets and stalls, selling all the latest trends at a cheap price. It’s a great place to practice your haggling! With endless options for food, it’s the perfect opportunity to experiment with different Korean dishes, without breaking the bank.
With its edgy, imaginative style it’s not a surprise that there are constantly art shows and galleries on show. Some with shops that have amazing hand crafted gifts and unusual ornaments. I spent a good hour just wandering through one and felt well cultured for just being there!
Art is evident in every area of this district, from the galleries to the street walls. There are a lot of interesting murals and designs to keep your focus as you take to the streets. In the centre of the district there is the Trick Eye museum the Love museum (don’t worry, not like the ones in Amsterdam), and the Ice museum all under the same roof.
You cannot go to this district without seeing any of these museums (although I recommend the Trick Eye), especially on your creative day out! Hongdae district itself is well worth a visit and makes for stop number two in your day.
Final stop on your cultural taste of Seoul, is Insa-Dong. I saved this until last as it is much better to visit at night. This place is very expressive, through its merchandise and its atmospheric streets. During the Joseon Dynsasty it was dominated by painters and artists and the Insa-Dong you see today is heavily influenced by its cultural past.
In fact it’s the focal point of the area, and you may even find products that date back to the Three Kingdom Period. (57 B.C. to 668 A.D.) Its markets include traditional furniture, antiques, earthenware, calligraphy and delicious delicacies to keep you going while you shop!
You can buy something for just about anyone here, from your conservative grandfather to your eccentric friend; with prices ranging from a couple of dollars to thousands. It’s a fun, energetic area that had me pacing for hours, just taking it all in.
There is a cultural corner as they put it, with paintings on the walls as you enter the building of shops selling international and local items alike. There are tables of people designing and making jewellery, and one of the best piano players I have ever seen live, dancing with the keys all night.
Whether it is to shop for Hanji, traditional Korean paper, feed your sweet tooth with delicious treats or just to soak up the ambience, Insa-Dong is a great end to what is a full day of cultural, creative site seeing and exploring. You will sleep well after this, and dream colourful dreams!