One of the largest and by night the most colorful cities in the world, Seoul is truly an eye-popping experience. Whether you’re here for a month or three years, never hesitate to seize any chance to take a look around. The following are 10 popular destinations.
- Gyeongbok Palace. Destroyed and reconstructed several times, Seoul’s grandest palace offers English tours (three times daily) for foreigners looking to learn about Korea’s history and architecture while admiring the stunning view. It’s closed on Tuesdays and not far from the Blue House (the President’s seat). You probably won’t have much trouble finding it, seeing as it’s at the north end of Sejongro, Seoul’s main thoroughfare.
- Bukchon Village. Nearby Gyeongbok and Changdeok Palaces sits this well-preserved village of traditional wooden homes (hanok) featuring small courtyards, beautiful outer walls, and tiled roofs. Take your time through the neighborhood and admire the art galleries.
- Eat. A lot. Anyone who’s ever had kalbi never forgets it. The same can be said of doenjang jjigae (stew with bean paste, vegetables and/or meat, and tofu) and bulgogi (literally “fire meat,” marinated barbecued beef, chicken, or pork). If you’re feeling brave, try the kimchi, although you may want a breath mint on hand. For a full-course lunch, try heading to Baedongbaji in Samcheong-dong.
- Shinsegae Department Store. A stroll through here is a cultural lesson in itself. A veritable labyrinth of shopping snares like fresh fish, beloved kimchi, and Ferragamo shoes will likely mesmerize you for (gulp) hours. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the sheer variety of goods offered and have a well-earned breath of fresh air on the rooftop. Find it between the Namdaemun market and the Myeongdong shopping district.
- War Memorial and Museum. Sadly the butt end of countless foreign invasions, prepare for a sobering morning by visiting the museum ($3 admission) and learn about its military and cultural history. Much of its current tensions with nearby neighbors (and those across the Pacific) make a lot of sense after some time spent here. Head for Samgakji Station via subway line 4, and try to visit the place early in the day to give yourself time to cheer up.
- Bugaksan. Seoul is nestled in the mountains, so you might as well climb one. On this one, you’ll find several trails to take you through reconstructed 15th century gates along fortress walls. About 40 years ago, North Korean commandos sent to assassinate the president climbed the very peak but were unsuccessful. The Seoul Fortress is newly re-opened for touring (although you’ll want to make your reservations at least a week in advance) since its closing over security concerns. Don’t forget to bring your passport on the trail.
- N’Seoul Tower. This 480m high beauty—complete with elevators and a chill lobby—replaced Mt. Namsan’s fortifications. The area underwent a makeover in 2005 and now looks totally modern. Take a seat in one of the many cafes and restaurants (try the revolving one) and admire the evening lights.
- Namdaemun market. The best place to get the best bargains in town is undoubtedly Namdaemun market. You’ll find everything from household appliances to food, jewelry to fabrics in a stretch of street-vendor stalls. Try some of the vendors’ food—mandu gook, a dumpling soup, is a widespread favorite. Get to the market via subway line 4 to Hoehyeon Station.
- Cheonggyecheon Stream. It may not be a babbling brook in the woods, but this manmade waterway is the place to bring your romantic partner, although half of Seoul will be doing the same. Whisper sweet nothings all the way to the stream, just off Sejongro.
- Itaewon. Even if you’re new to Korea, if you’re a foreigner you’ve likely heard of Itaewon’s bars, clubs, and shopping district near the U.S. Army base. In the basement of the Crown Hotel is one of Itaewon’s most beloved clubs, Club Volume, where you’ll hear some of the world’s most celebrated DJs. It’s not all late-night entertainment, though; have Sunday brunch at Le Saint Ex, a French wine bar and bistro.
Don’t forget that Seoul is also home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Changdeokgung, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine, and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. These are worth checking out, too.
Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and researcher for College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching African American college scholarships as well as college grants by degree level. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.