Visiting Seoul - What to See and Do
(Seoul Gimpo International Airport GMP, Republic Of Korea)
The capital of South Korea is without a doubt the heart and soul of this homogenous nation. It is a bustling congested metropolis that nearly every Korean youngster aspires to move to. If there is anything hip or exciting happening in Korea, it is happening in Seoul
There are several magical ancient fortresses scattered around the capital dating back centuries, and an impressive repository of antiquities in the Seoul Museum of Art. The modern face of this country pounds the pavements of Insadong, the shopping hub of the city, while Dongdaemun serves as a vortex of nightlife that carries on as late as it likes.
There is a thriving expat scene in Seoul as well, clustered mainly in the eclectic Itaewon district. The city's subway system makes it easy to move between its many districts, each with its own character and attractions. If you can handle the crowds, there is no end to the things a person can see and do in Korea's dynamic capital.
Ten things you must do in Seoul
- There are several royal palaces still standing right in Seoul, and Changdeokgung is arguably the most impressive. Built in 1405, this UNESCO World Heritage Site clearly expresses the power of the Joseon dynasty and the beauty of its architectural style. Visitors to this popular attraction can explore the entire grounds, including the Secret Garden at the back.
- The Seoul Museum of Art is the country's finest repository of the artistic talents of the Korean people. Its collection spans the ages, from ancient dynastic eras right through to today's hottest contemporary artists. The museum also features rotating exhibits from other notable Asian artists, photographers and calligraphers.
- When the city decided to remove a major downtown street and restore the ancient stream that flowed beneath the pavement, the whole country cheered. Cheonggyecheon is now a wonderfully clean and green stream again, with a 11-km / 7-mile walking path along its banks. It is easily the nicest place to stroll in the capital, with some 22 bridges providing access across the subterranean stream bed.
- Koreans love to shop, and when they are in the capital they typically head to Insadong. This trendy district of Seoul has a long pedestrian street lined with some of the capital's most appealing boutiques and retail names. It is a refreshing vehicle-free neighbourhood with plenty of entertainment, dining and shops.
- Another Joseon dynasty palace well worth visiting is Gyeongbokgung. It is the largest and most important of the five palaces built during that dynasty, housing the kings for over two centuries. On either side of the palace is the National Palace Museum and the National Folk Museum, two excellent cultural venues worth visiting in their own right.
- Namsan Park is one of the best spots in the capital to get a breath of fresh air and some elevated views over the city. The park is spread across a low hill, offering plenty of room to walk or just sit and relax. Be sure to go to the top of the N Seoul Tower (CJ Tower) to get the best views of Seoul possible. It is particularly pretty at night and the rotating restaurant N'Grill on the top floor is ideal for having dinner and soaking in the views.
- The Jongmyo Royal Shrine is the most important religious attraction in Seoul, if not all of South Korea. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was constructed in 1394 and has been in use ever since. The resting places of 19 Joseon kings and 30 Joseon queens are inside the three grandiose halls.
- One of Asia's finest museums is the National Museum of Korea. Inside this vast institution are around 11,000 relics on display (out of the museum's total of 150,000 pieces), many of them priceless treasures. You can easily spend a whole day exploring the timeline of Korean civilisation laid out in excellent detail on three floors. There is also a children's wing with special exhibits aimed at engaging the young ones.
- One of the most accessible and interesting neighbourhoods in Seoul is Itaewon. This is the centre of the capital's expat community and the best place to find shops, restaurants and bars that have an international flair. Much of the capital is purely Korean, in language and content. However, in Itaewon, English comes with almost everything and the entire district seems more comfortable with foreigners in general.
- There is no shortage of places to have a drink or three in Seoul. This city likes to party, and it likes to see and be seen. The high-rollers tend to gravitate to the upmarket clubs and bars of Apgujeong and Sinsadong. There are more casual and boisterous scenes in Myeongdong and Dongdaemun, where plenty of great eateries help balance out the shots of 'soju'. In these neighbourhoods, the party carries on well into the early hours.