SEOUL: TOP 10 places to visit
Only a few centuries ago, Seoul remained the center of the “Hermit Kingdom” isolated and unknown from the rest of the world. The ancient capital was surrounded by a defensive wall protecting Seoul from outsiders. The only way to the city was through eight gates protected by Joseon dynasty guards.
But this was a few centuries ago. Since then, the city has spilled out far beyond and above its 12 miles wall and great city gates. Known as the miracle of the Han river, Seoul got stronger than ever after being devastated by the Korean War. The rapid reconstruction and economic growth lead Seoul to become one of the most powerful and influential cities in the world. Dynamic and energetic, Seoul is the driving force of South Korea. It is a city that harmonizes the past and the present to create a better future.
To make it ultra-simple, Seoul is crossed by Hanh river which divides the city in 2 halves: Gangbuk and Gangnam which literally means “north of the river” and “south of the river”. Gangbuk is the more historical half of Seoul and Gangnam is the more modernized one. You’ve probably already heard about Gangnam in the famous K-pop music video, where the artist PSY sarcastically describes this area being the symbol of materialism for many South Korean people.
Hongdae is one of the most popular places in Seoul. The origin of its popularity is Hongik University which is well knowns for its fine-arts program. In the early ’90s, when the rent was still very affordable, young graduate artists decide to set up their ateliers in the area. More and more artists joined them which made this place very popular among young people. Today, 30 years later, if you want to experience a vibrant Seoul life, Hongdae is the right place for you. Between street performers, shopping, karaoke, street food, games, and popular Korean theme cafés there are so many things to do.
If I must describe Myeong-dong in few words, I would say street food and shopping paradise. Myeong-dong is fully packed all day long with tourists from around the world. They come here for shopping and tasting the most incredible street food like the Grilled Cheese Lobster, Korean Stir-Fried Noodles or the Giant Mussels. In Myeong-dong you can find just about anything related to clothes and the latest fashion trends. Keep in mind that you are in one of the most expensive shopping districts in the world, so if you come here for shopping, be prepared to spend some money.
3. N Seoul Tower
Very close to Myeong-dong, you can find one of the tallest towers of Seoul, the N Seoul Tower. You can reach the bottom of the tower by Namsan Cable Car. It’s quick and easy. However, if you want to challenge yourself, you have the option of hiking up or down the hundreds of stairs that form the trail to reach the tower. Once upstairs, the breathtaking views of the city of Seoul will make you realize that it was totally worth it.
Itaewon is the international district of Seoul where you will probably see as many foreigners as Koreans. It is a paradise for people who like drinking, party and good food from around the world. There is a reason why Itaewon became so popular among foreigners. After WW2, Japanese people who occupied this district were forced out. US soldiers found the opportunity to set up their base nearby. They opened western restaurants and bars. With time more people immigrated to this district from other countries which made Itaewon the melting pot of South Korea.
If you are seeking a connection with the city’s past, you can travel few centuries back to discover the traditional places of Seoul. The most popular is Gyeongbokgung palace “the palace of shining happiness”. Completed in 1395, this palace was the main residence to the Joseon Dynasty rulers during the next 5 centuries. During this period Gyeongbokgung palace endured invasions, fires and wars which is one of the reasons why Joseon royal families decided to build secondary palaces that you can also visit in Seoul.
6. Bukchon Hanok village
Right next to Gyeongbokgung Palace, you will find a historical village built 6 centuries ago. Hanok is the traditional wooden style of houses in South Korea. The government replaced most of Hanok houses in Seoul with newer buildings, but this village stayed untouched thanks to the locals who protested the village renovations. Today, locals still live in Hanok village while their houses are one of the main tourist attractions.
A different way to experience traditional culture of South Korea is walking down the streets of Insa-dong. Once the home of artists who created paintings and woodworks for royal families, Insa-dong today is an artistic neighborhood where you can enjoy art galleries, traditional tea houses, cafes, restaurant and plenty of small shops selling arts and crafts.
8. Gwangjang market
Gwangjang market is probably the oldest and most popular traditional market in South Korea. Here, you will have an authentic Korean cultural experience testing some of the best Korean street food. Don’t get overwhelmed by this giant gastronomic beauty’s crazy atmosphere and it’s hordes of people eating in every direction, just sit down at the nearest stall and enjoy. You are in South Korea after all.
Easily recognizable while traveling in Seoul, Dongdaemun is seemingly transported from another galaxy. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is an ultramodern structure designed to host fashion, cultural, and design exhibitions. If Myeong-dong is the shopping paradise for people who love spending their money without counting, Dongdaemun is its affordable counterpart. You may be overwhelmed with the number of shopping centers in the area, but if you love shopping that shouldn’t be a problem for you.
10. Han River
Rich in history, Han river is an iconic symbol of the capital. It is also the perfect place to spend time with your friends. People go to Han river for many reasons like taking a walk, renting a bicycle, camping, or even flyboarding. But our favorite thing to do on Han river, it is getting some fried chicken delivered right to your picnic spot and enjoy it with your friends.
Bonus: Lotte World
As a bonus, if you come with your kids or want to become one for the day, there is an amusement park right in the city of Seoul named Lotte World. It has the largest indoor theme park in the world, so you and your kids can always enjoy your day inside even if you are unlucky with the weather.
Now you should have a better idea of the places you shouldn’t miss while travelling in Seoul. However, you should know that Seoul is a surprising city with a rich past and a bright future. This extraordinary place shouldn’t be limited to 10 famous places but should be explored far deeper. If you are not from South Korea, no matter which place you come from, Seoul will be one of the most exotic capital cities you’ve ever seen.
What is your favorite place in Seoul? Let us know in the comment section down below.