After the Korean war, South Korea wasted no time in quickly rebuilding their country- with Seoul as the capital.
Now Seoul is a bustling urban city with modern skyscrapers, amazing transportation and a thriving nightlife. But besides the quick development of this city, Seoul still holds on to a lot of it’s traditional charm. Visit the following places in Seoul to see the best of both worlds.
1. Namsan Tower
Namsan Tour is one of the touristy things that you can do in Seoul. The tower isn’t actually that exciting. You buy a ticket- wait in line and then go up to a tower with a 360 view of the city. didn’t find the tower anything to write home about and my favourite part was actually walking around the tower while we were waiting for our turn to go up.
You can get some great views of the city just from being at the top of Namsan hill itself and it is decorated with colourful love locks- making for some fun photo ops. It is a very cute area that is worth visiting even if you don’t want to spend the money to go up the tower. As well, on the way back you can take a leisurely stroll down through Namsan Park.
At the bottom of Namsan Mountain is the Namsan Hanok Village. This is a traditional village where you can see how South Koreans used to live before all of their high-rise buildings.
I went during a traditional Korean holiday and so I got to witness all sorts of traditional Korean performances. It was so cool to see and I had never seen anything like that before in my life.
One neat thing that you can see here though is a traditional wedding ceremony- a real one! Many South Koreans choose to get married here and people tend to gather around to watch. Weddings are typically held in the summer and are most likely to occur between 12 or 1 p.m.
*Admission is free and they are closed on Tuesdays.
How to get Here:
Take the subway to Chungmuro Station and take Exit 3 or 4
2. Gyeongbokgung Palace
If you are sending a postcard home chances are that there will be a picture of this palace on it Gyeongbokgung is the most famous palace in Korea- and was originally built in 1395. Korean palaces are very unique in that they actually consist of many different buildings spread out across the palace grounds. The grounds for this palace are huge and absolutely beautiful.
Because the grounds are so spread out make sure to give yourself a couple of hours to explore. My favourite part was the beautiful pond covered in lily pads. There is also a museum here that you can check out if you want to learn more about the palaces history.
If you are going in the summer make sure to bring water with you (you can buy some outside the front entrance) because once inside the palace I wasn’t able to find any and Korean summer’s heat is intense.
3. Changgyeonggung Palace
If you want to visit another palace (or just one that isn’t as big as Gyeongbokgung) I would recommend this one. It is a smaller palace but still part of the 5 Grand Palaces. Even though it isn’t the largest palace, it is still spread out and offers a beautiful green space for you to take a stroll through.
This is probably the most famous area for shopping in Korea. It is where all the street vendors around Seoul buy their merchandise to sell- so you can buy the same items without the markup.
This area consists of several large buildings with boutiques for you to shop in. But the real place to head is the streets behind these buildings were the street vendors set up. The vendors start putting their goods out ar around 6p.m. What really makes this place unique though is that you can shop all night!
Yes- street vendors stay there until the sun comes up. So if you’re out on the town and rip your dress- you know where to go to find a quick replacement.
5. Myeongdong Shopping Street
This is one of my favourite places to hang out in Seoul- just make sure you are okay with crowds. The streets are busy with vendors selling clothes and trinkets but the best part is the street food. If you are down for trying new things Myeongdong is the perfect place to come to try a bit of everything. The food is cheap and delicious and since they don’t give you big portions you can taste test from multiple different vendors. My personal favourite is bungeoppang- the fished shaped bread filled with cream or red bean.
Myeongdong also has a lot of stores and boutiques-making it another good area in Seoul for shopping. Once you have shopped till you’ve dropped head over to the Hello Kitty Cafe for the cutest cup of java you will ever have.
6. Cheonggyecheon Stream
Most people think of visiting a river during the daytime- but not with this downtown river. Cheonggyecheon River is best seen at night with parts of the river displaying laser shows. You can either sit and enjoy the trickle of the stream or go for a stroll along the rivers walking path that is decorated with art. The recommended starting point for the walk is at Gwanghwamun station.
Take a step back in time and head to Insadong-well sort of. Insadong is the more traditional area of Seoul but with so many tourists crowded around it doesn’t always feel that way. However, it is still highly recommend coming there for there is lots to see. Insadong has a lot of traditional Korean restaurants to try- sorry, no McDonald’s here. This area is also where you will find the best souvenirs.
Make sure to check out Ssamziegil which is a small mall. It is really unique and super cute. On the top floor there is a little walkway with love notes (so Korean) and the Poop Cafe where you can get your coffee served to you in a toilet and your food looks like shit- literally.
8. Hongik University Area/Hongdae
If you are lookng for a fun and central place to stay in Seoul I recommend Hongdae. During the day this area is good for eating and visiting cool cafes- like puppy cafes. Another popular attraction in this area is the Trick Art Museum. Come night-time this area transforms into a party area. If you are young and want to have fun in South Korea then Hongdae is the place to be!
To start the night off people meet in Hongdae Children’s Park (don’t worry there are absolutely no children here at night) and drink while watching university students perform break-dancing and K-Pop routines. There are a lot of convenience stores nearby to refill your soju supply if it gets low.
After you are ready to bust a move, it won’t be hard to find a club. This place is swarming with clubs and bars. The clubs in this area are a young crowd and get pretty crazy.
Cocoon is a very popular bar in this area and a line to come with it. The line moves quickly but you definitely need to be ready for the craziness of Cocoon- I don’t think I had ever heard EDM music played so loud in my life. Another popular club is NB- it was actually the first club to ever open in this area. Since then this hip-hop club has opened an NB2.
9. Gangnam District
Go Gangnam style and hit up this posh end of town. Gangnam translates to “South of the River” and is known as the more modern and expensive area in Seoul. If you have always dreamed of living like Psy then it may be worth the splurge to spend a night out at one of the high-end nightclubs in this area.
10. Yeouido Park
For a hangover cure head to Yeouido Park for a relaxing day by the river. Here you can rent a bike (about $3 for an hour) and cruise along the river bank. Just up from the river is an official bike path that won’t have as great of a view but will have a lot less foot traffic.
You can ride your bike to the 63 Building to check it out. This building used to have an aquarium, IMAX theater and other fun things but they have recently been closed so now there isn’t that much happening in the building besides a buffet and the observation deck.
In case you still need more things to see (highly unlikely in Seoul) you can check out the Banpo Bridge. At night this bridge displays a t light and water show to the coordination of music. Apparently it’s the worlds largest bridge fountain. To be fair, I don’t know many places that have bridges that also act as fountains.
The following are the operating hours but they are subject to change with weather conditions and holidays:
April-June, September-October (Duration: 20 min)
Weekdays: 12:00, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00
Weekends: 12:00, 19:30, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00
July-August (Duration: 20 min)
Weekdays: 12:00, 19:30, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00
Weekends: 12:00, 19:30, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00, 21:30
How to Get Here: Take the subway to Dongjak Station and take Exit 1 or 2.