We haven’t yet had a chance to visit Korea, so we’re thrilled to bring you a guest post by Laura Bronner of External Expat.
Today Laura dishes on the 10 best things to do in Seoul.
Visit Gyeongbok Palace
Gyeongbokgung or “the palace greatly blessed by heaven” was originally built way back in 1395 as the main palace for the King’s of the Joseon Dynasty. If you want a real look into Korea’s history, Gyeongbok Palace is the perfect place to start. There are guided tours in Korean, Japanese, Chinese and English at different intervals throughout the day where you can learn about not only the King’s that called this place home, but about a lot of Korea’s history during this time period.
Take a walk through the Bukchon Hanok Village
Sandwiched between Gyeongbok and Changdeok Palaces sits this little piece of Korean history. Hanoks are old Korean style homes with a courtyard in the middle and several rooms surrounding it. Think wooden lattice and sliding paper doors. It’s a picturesque place amid an otherwise concrete city. Most of the buildings function as shops or guesthouses now, so you can actually get a glimpse of the way people used to live (and many still do).
Break a sweat climbing Bukaksan Fortress Wall
Just north of the Blue House (the home of the president) sits Bukak Mountain and Seoul’s fortress wall. When it was built back in the 14th century it connected the four major peaks adound the city: Bukaksan, Inwangsan, Naksan and Namsan. The peak at Bukaksan shows the wall fully restored and perhaps one of the best views back over the city (although in many places you can’t take photographs). It only reopened to the public again in 2006 after being closed for almost 40 years. Bring your passport and your walking shoes.
Take a tour of the Jongmyo Shrine
Korean people once believed that the place of burial was where a person’s body remained after death, but their spirit made it’s way to it’s shrine. Jongmyo Shrine is home to the spirit of every King of the Joseon Dynasty period. Entrance is available only through guided tours (except on Saturdays), leaving the park completely quiet for each tour. It’s still a very spiritual place and wandering the stone paths, walking where the kings walked to honor their ancestors, is an incredibly powerful way to experience some of Korea’s history. Come during the first weekend in May or November and you might get the chance to see one of the ceremonies honoring the kings.
Shop ’til you drop in Insadon
This neighborhood in central Seoul is the best place to pick up souvenirs to take home to your family and friends (or for yourself). Sift through the cheap shops and make your way to the real artisans carving masks in their workshops and painting scenes from a Korea that once was. It’s a strange mix of old and new – coffee shops and heckling shopkeepers stand alongside tiny artist workshops where you can walk in and watch the masters at work in utter silence.
Stroll along Cheonggyecheon Stream
Take a walk down any of the steps that line this 5.8km (3.6m) stream and you’ll suddenly find yourself in an oasis; a secret little hideaway from an otherwise chaotic city. This whole stream used to be covered by highways and urban sprawl. In 2005, the city turned it back into it’s former glory. Cool yourself off by dipping your toes in during the summer or bundle up and check out the lantern festival held here every autumn.
Cycle along the Han River at Yeouido Park
One of the best ways to see the Han River is by bike. Pick up a rental for less than $3 an hour from Yeouido Park or Yeouinaru and head in either direction. You can cross to the other side and visit countless parks that line the shore. If you’re feeling brave (and confident in your relationship) you can hire a tandem.
Do anything in Hongdae
Whether you go there for the shopping, the food or the nightlife, you should go to Hongdae. The area surrounding Hongik University is teaming with young people. Food vendors line the streets wafting the scent of spicy chicken skewers and tteokbokki. Shops explode merchandise onto the streets selling the latest trends or the weirdest socks. There are international restaurant, themed cafes and pubs serving up some of the best craft beer in the city. It’s also one of the city’s best spots for a good night out.
Take in the view at Namsan Tower
The highest viewing point in the center of Seoul is Namsan or North Seoul Tower. Take the cable car or opt to get some exercise and hike up the steps to the base. You’ll feel the burn, but then you don’t have to feel so quilty about splurging on ice cream at the top. If you get there on a weekend you’re very likely to stumble upon a cultural show which includes traditional dancing and martial arts. With a loved one? Grab a love locket (or bring your own) and snap it onto the surrounding fence if you can manage to find the space. Then head up to see yourself surrounded by mountains on all sides.
See a Baseball Game
America’s favorite past time is done even better in Korea. Boasting three home teams, Seoul offers you the best chance to watch a game. Bring in your own chicken and beer or buy it once you get inside and grab a seat near the cheerleaders. Each player has his own songs and chants that every fan diligently recites as they come up to bat. If you don’t know them, have no fear, there’s always a man with a whistle and white gloves showing you how it’s done.
About the Author
Laura Bronner is an American girl addicted to life abroad. After graduating from college she set off on what was meant to be a year of travel. That was four years ago. Since then she has lived in New Zealand, Australia and now calls South Korea home. You can follow catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook or on her blog at External Expat.
We've been traveling around the world since 2003, first as a couple and now as a family of four. We love sharing our adventures and the lessons we've picked up on the road. Contact us or check our About page for more info.