Seoul. There is a reason this city is called special. From its advanced technology to its growing K-pop culture and fashion industry, this city makes a statement as the destination favorite of tourists with every monumental stride it takes. It actually baffles me that I didn’t go to Seoul sooner; nevertheless, the important things is, I’ve finally seen this city (in December 2018) for myself and well, I love it! For 12 days and 11 nights, I explored the city documenting my experience at various tourist sites. And now, as I recall the vast array of activities and sights that I’ve done and seen, I’ve now decided to whip up this travelogue to share to you the beauty of Seoul.
Gangnam district in Seoul was made famous in that K-pop song heard around the world – Oppa Gangnam Style! and well known as a rather affluent district with high-end shopping. To me, Gangnam feels like a ‘high life’ haha, with high fashion, good food, and fancy restaurants and cafes.
An imposing reminder of the Joseon Dynasty, this site welcomes tourists to the South Korean Royalties of the 14th century. Simply, you are not visiting Seoul if you do not visit Gyeongbukgung Palace together with Gwanghwamun Gate. This palace carries so much history that it is a must for all visitors to visit. The Palace can be easily explored in a few hours. The buildings are relatively new, much was destroyed in the many wars of Korea, but have been rebuilt in style. It is very nice and well-maintained which says a lot about the history of Koreans. There is also a changing guard ceremony which should not be missed. I have also heard that if you wear a hanbok, entrance is free! There were costumes of the royal guards for you to wear for free too! Good for “instagramable” photos.
Buckchon Hanok Village
This historic village stands as a memorial to the traditions and rich history of South Korea. It dates back 600 years ago and is one of the only places in Korea where the old ways are still preserved. Good location for many tourists to change to Korean costume and take pictures in this village. To be honest, nothing really big deal to me once you have visited China. It was just a stretch of old houses which resembled the ancient time. Time spent there was around 15-30mins? Moving on …
Jongmyo Royal Shrine
The fact that this site is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a very strong reason to visit. It is one of the oldest shrines in Korea. Kings worshipped here since the 14th century. The spirit tablets of the kings and queens are kept here and ritual ceremonies with music and dance still take place. It is a good example of a Confucian royal ancestral shrine. There are guided tours in Korean, Japanese, English, and Chinese at specific times. The various buildings are interesting but some were closed during Sunday and could be viewed from the outside. I wish there was more to see. The guide did a good job explaining the history though. I loved walking the grounds. The place is calming and very peaceful.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
You wouldn’t want to miss the LED rose installations that brighten up the DDP with their enigmatic beauty. The display of lights that lit up as soon as the sunset held me spellbound. The architecture was fascinating enough to capture even a layman’s eyes like mine. At ever angle near the building, it was stunning to see it especially close to sunset. I spent some time taking photos of the building. Even more fascinating was how the building was not so obtrusive that it was rude to the environment. It remained modestly unobtrusive, retaining the harmony and yet feature its avant-garde intent.
This site once served as the home to the second and final emperor of Korea- Sunjong after serving royal families for 270. Another UNESCO Heritage Site, Seoul doesn’t cease to amaze me in its ability to preserve its history. This is one of “similar” places in Seoul. There are five or six places where the previous emperors have lived. Not a big difference, but the colors are a little bit different and the locations are different. There is a certain charm to the place and gives you an insight on how the kings and the princesses lived their lives centuries ago. Again, there are Korean costume rentals available where you can wear a costume which will seal your visit. I did not do the secret gardens, I will keep that for next time.
This is Korea’s version of Disney. Plenty of rides, activities, shows, and fireworks to keep the family busy. I was there in the winter, it was too cold! My fingers and toes were practically frozen, but the lines were not too long. The parade in the evening is spectacular and you must stay for the fireworks at 9.30pm. I did not get to see the fireworks cause I had to catch the last bus ride back to Seoul. The wooden roller coaster is the highlight for thrill seekers (T-Express) – It’s like a roller coaster but on the wooden rails which they claim to be the safest in the world. Overall, the place is huge and I think you will definitely take at least one day to finish.
This region bursts open with its arts, indie music culture and clubs. With so much flare and life, I believe it is safe to say that Hongdae has embraced the Western culture. I find it hard to explain what exactly this place is about. It has good shopping street, loads of small eateries to sink your teeth into, and not to mention the variety of street performances by what seems to be young budding K-pop singers, dancers etc. especially at night, buskers, generally young adults, come out and set up areas where they sing, play music and dance. The dancers, though, are amazing. The atmosphere is spectacular and there are so many people crowded around these performers and you can just stand there all night, absorbed in the enthusiasm and passion. Quite a bit to see here. Probably spent a half day here and enjoyed the stroll and people watching.
It’s a long day, you have seen much of the beauty of Seoul and you are looking for a place to eat, shop and relax. Myeong-Dong should be your starting point.
If you would like to pick up a different type of cosmetic products, this is one stop for all. Do note that the pushcart on the streets is retailing more expensive than the underground stalls. My advice is you must know what you want to get from here and stay focus on your objective! A lot of small lanes have similar shops. There is so much to see, well-known (and not so well-known) shops to browse, and a plethora of restaurants, and street food vendors! Oh yes, expensive street vendors nonetheless. They sell grilled lobsters on the street for goodness sake.
Apparently it is the biggest container “mall”. It is somewhat interesting but the things are quite expensive. I went there as I need to find somewhere warm to hide from the cold. Nothing much to do here. There are shopping and food, however, it is just a very small area. Most people just head there for photo taking purpose.
This place is packed with 30 different restaurants, each with their special menus of delicious meals made out of octopus. There can’t be a better place to have a taste of octopus in South Korea.
Seoullo 7017 Sky Garden
This place gives you a good look and feel of the city, while still being perfectly safe. It’s a disused road that’s turned into an urban walkway. Nice nature and peaceful to sit. Extends from myeongdong to Seoul station. On a nice night, the walk from one end to the other is fabulous. It was worth the cold. It was beautifully lit and I very much enjoyed the views of the city.
Ihwa Mural Village (or at least it once was)
Well, the murals may not be as many as it used to be but it was still good to take that stroll up the slope towards Naksan Park. Nice cafe and little eateries as you go mural hunting. Before I visited this place I looked for past review, I thought there will be more mural paintings to see. But they are all either already faded away or badly painted over. Read on blogs that some murals were removed by the residents there as they could not take it anymore and witnessed some being covered by paint.
Now, this is a place I would actually seek out because I love panoramic views but it was an unexpected find as I discovered it on my hiked uphill along the Ihwa Mural Village. The park is situated high on a ridge overlooking several Seoul neighborhoods, so it was a great place for views. This is part of the old city wall in Seoul. The walk up to the wall at the top of the hill is very steep but worth the effort.
I would like to end this travelogue by saying that the soul of Seoul is enigmatic, to say the least. With its fullness of life, drive for culture and vision into the future, Seoul indeed should be in your bucket list. Cheers!