With the Hallyu global takeover, there is also a major surge of tourism in Korea. Many people who got sucked into the korean wave of kdrama/kpop world, now wants a taste and feel of the country where it originated.
This is not to say that Korea is a destination exclusive for kdrama/kpop fans. This country has something for everyone whether its soaking in its century old history, seeking spirituality in its temples, appreciating its ubiquitous skyscrapers, bingeing in food markets or just chilling in parks or cafes... believe me Seoul has plenty to offer, and this blog post covers only a miniscule of that.
Seoul is the vibrant capital of South Korea and a good base for first time visitors. This blog will focus on Seoul and my favorite things to do in Seoul.
1. Thread through a Traditional Hanok Village
Hanoks are traditional style Korean houses that has existed since the 14th century during the Joseon Dynasty. The traditional architectural style of hanok is already picturesque in itself, but it becomes even more spectacular when it's juxtaposed to Seoul's skyscaper skyline. It's a veritable setting where past and present collide, modern and tradition mix.
Below are two Hanok Villages that we managed to visit during our stay.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Jongno-gu, 계동길 37
37.5815° N 126.9850°E
Hours: 10:00 am - 5:00 pm (closed for tourists on Sundays)
Want a peek of what's life like in Seoul about 600 years ago?! Then head on to this "northern village" that's nestled between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces. Bukchon Village is comprised of approximately 860 hanoks.
This village is widely photographed and a major tourist hotspot. One has to remember that most of these hanoks remains as private residences as such tourist have to adhere to certain rules when visiting.
(Refer to photos below for the said rules).
Trivia: This is a filming site for several k-dramas but most notable is the series "Personal Taste". For Lee Min Ho and Son Ye-jin fans, this is enough reason to sprint to Bukchon.
Avail of the hanok stay to have the freedom to explore the area outside of the visiting hours allotted for tourists, thus avoiding the crowd.
Take the perfect picture by wearing a hanbok.
Ikseon-dong Hanok Village
24 Hours, Free Admission
(Shops have their individual hours and corresponding fee for purchases)
Truth be told, Ikseon-dong Hanok Village was not in our itinerary. We stumbled upon it on one of our aimless wandering around the Insadong area.
Ikseon-dong is a 1000 year old village. Typical of a hanok village, Ikseon-dong has a long history which is fun way to enjoy Seoul's heritage. The majority of the hanoks here has been converted into tea shops, cafes, quaint shops and cutesy arsty souvenir stores. It's trendy & hip yet cozy & traditional.. and oh so pretty that you can't help but snap a pic every few steps.
The little narrow alleys here is an easy, delightful place to stroll and explore. You can easily combine shopping, eating, sight-seeing and taking that perfect social media post.
TIP: Take your experience a notch higher by having tea in one of the tea houses. One cafe that your bound to fall in love with would be Cheongsudang. It's certainly one of the most popular cafes to capture a perfect moment in a traditional setting in Seoul.
2. Roam around the Royal Palaces
Centuries old palaces is a top tourist attraction in Korea. In fact, there are five royal palaces in Seoul, namely Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace and Gyeonghuigung Palace.
Iniatially, we wanted to visit all but realized it's a bit too ambitious on a relatively short visit since our goal to make it as diverse trip as we possibly could. It was on a Monday that we decided to visit a palace, so as fate would have it Gyeongbokgung was the only palace open that day.
161 Sajik Ro, Jongno-Gu
37.5796° N 126.9770° E
Hours 9:00 - 5:00 / 6:00 pm (closing hours varies seasonally)
(Closed on Tuesdays)
Entrance Fee: 3000 won, 1500 - 7 to 18 yrs
Free Admission for children (6 yrs and below), seniors (65 yrs and older) and those wearing a hanbok.
Constructed in 1395, this is one of the most prominent remnant from the Joseon Dynasty. The palace maintains its immaculate condition and in all respect truly quite impressive. Of the five palaces, this draw the most number of tourists, possibly because it is said to be the first, largest and has earned the reputation of being the most beautiful. As this is the only one I visited, I have no reference or point of comparison so I cannot refute that statement. However, I can't say I'm disappointed either.
The breadth and expanse of this palace is unimaginably enormous. As such, it has a smorgasbord of photo spots that our camera battery literally gave up on us (and my feet almost followed suit)
There is no need to waste your time and compete with others for a chance to take a photo in a congested spot. If there's a crowd or swarm of selfie takers, leave and move on... there is another spot waiting for you where you can take all the photos you desire without anybody constantly photobombing you.
If you been wishing to channel that inner thespian and live as a kdrama protagonist for a day then rent a hanbok for that total K drama star moment. (I know you want to, YOU know YOU WANT TO). That will also allow you free entry in the palaces.
If you don't mind the crowd, schedule your visit during the Royale Palace changing of the guards at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm except on Tuesdays. This 20 minutes spectacle will give you a glimpse of the glorious Joseon dynasty.
Again for Lee Min Ho's fan, check out the statue of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sunshin just across the Palace. You might not meet Lee Min Ho in this trip but at least you get to see
The following palaces and shrines are Closed On:
Monday: Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Gyeonghuiging Palace, Unhyeongung Palace
Tuesday: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Jongmyo Shrine
3. Chill in a Cafe
Though I'm a "go & explore" type of traveller who rarely lounge around during trips, I knew that I need to visit at least one of Seoul's themed cafe.Korea have a huge cafe culture from simple coffee shops to theme cafes, the options are plentiful.
Mapo-gu, Seongmisan-ro, 161-10
Hours: 12:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Wednesday - Sunday
My optical illusion loving self opted to visit this famous 2D cafe. Greem in fact is the Korean word for "drawings". So as the name suggests, dining here feels like being in a cartoon setting. It is pretty interesting, certainly picture worthy and definitely instagrammable. K-drama fans flock here to relive moments from the drama W. With the unprecedented success of 2D cafes similar (or same) concept has found itself in other parts of the world
Other cafes worth checking out in Seoul:
If you are an animal lover then be sure to check out Thanks Nature Cafe that has 2 resident sheep.
If your in for aesthetics, a crowd favorite is the Style Nanda Pink Pool Cafe , Flower Yard Cafe, Seoulism.
4. Behold the Beauty of Buddhist Temples
With a total of 20000 Buddhist Temples of which 900 are traditional, one can concur that Korea have a tight affinity to its Buddhist Past. Lucky for us who prioritizes visiting Buddhist temples during our travels we get enjoy these religious sites to the fullest.
55 Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-Gu
37.5744° N 126.9826° E
Hours: Daily: 3:00 am - 11:00 pm
Built in 1935 Jogyesa has a tumultuous history of destruction and reconstruction. It is currently the main temple of the the Jogye Order, which is the largest denomination of Korean Buddhist.
Jogyesa is a colorful temple befitting its equally colorful history. Lanterns and intricate decors adorn not just the temple but the entire site. This is hands down the most popular Buddhist Temple in Seoul in part due to the its central location, in the heart of touristy Insadong. Its popularity increased even more when influencer @taramilktea posted a photo from here in IG. On the downside and possibly because of the influx of tourists, it seems to be more restricted than other Buddhist temples we've visited as we find lot of areas are cordoned off.
Check out the first Post Office of Korea, Ujeongchongguk, which is located a few steps away from Jogyesa.
Address: 59 Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu.
539 Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu
37.51524°N 127.05708° E
Hours: Daily: 5:00 am - 11:55 pm
Built in 794, this is one of the most ancient temple in Korea. If you wish to momentarily escape the hustle and bustle of the city, then head on to this oasis for some peace and serenity. Locals and devotees sporadically perform religious rituals but tourists are welcomed with open arms.
This site is a perfect blend of spirituality, divinity and visual delights. If you are looking for photo spots that everyone is in awe of this temple has tons.
It is located just across the Coex Mall so include this in your itinerary when visiting the Starfield Library.
Gather wisdom from the monks and partake in their daily lives by availing of the temple stay.
On Buddha's birthday which falls on the eighth day of the fourth month (May) of the lunar calendar, Buddhist temples in Korea just becomes extra special with even grander decor . To commemorate this event, a Lotus Lantern Festival is also held.
5. Peruse pages of books inside the libraries (or just hang-out)
Seoul have some of the most aesthetically pleasing libraries. If you are a book lover, then this will surely tickle your fancy. Not into books!? Still quite alright , spectacular libraries has become a playground for instagrammers and even just regular tourists.
COEX Mall (Main Atrium)
37.5102° N 127.0586° E
Of all the stunning libraries in Seoul, we ended up visiting Starfield Library inside the COEX Mall. This library is particularly special for K-drama fanatics, because this is one of the shooting location of "Record of Youth". For shopaholics and mall rats, its location is very convenient as you can easily pair your visit with shopping. COEX have over 260 stores and said to be the Asia's largest underground shopping mall.
Though the mall opens at 10:30 am, you can actually visit the library earlier if you want to avoid the crowd.
Another library on my radar which you might want to check out as well it the Seoul Book Repository. It's a filming location of Hotel Del Luna.
Just outside the mall, is the "gangnam style" statue, from Psy's famous song in the same title.
6. Explore the Parks
High rise buildings dot the streets of Seoul, but there is no lacking of urban green space. In Seoul you will find a balance between concrete jungle and urban nature.
Olpark (Olympic Park)
424 Olympic Ro, Songpa-Gu
37.5207° N 127.1227° E
Hours: Daily: 24 hours (some areas have specific hours)
Built for the Seoul Olympics in 1988, it currently remains as an outdoor leisure park. It's a massive public park featuring an eco park, leisure sports park, cultural art park, and History Experience park.
This park offers a plethora of of activities. For flower obsessed like me, nothing brings more joy than frolicking my way to the fields of wild flowers. Below are the seasonal blooms in the Wild flower garden .
May - June: Red Poppies
Sept - October: Yellow Cosmos, Kochia Scoparia
Sept - November: Cosmos Sensation, Pink Muhly, Autumn Ginko Trees
May -July: Multi colored Roses
Other points of interest in the parks is the One Tree Hill, which is a designated photo spot. There is also the cultural art park houses over 200 sculptures
Oh, what k-drama fan doesn't know about the Han River?! A picnic by the Han River, is in the bucket list of every kdrama fan. Apart from that, there are just too many activities to enumerate from here. There is after all 12 parks along Han River.
7. Feast in food markets
Literally, there is no better way to get a taste of a place than its food market. After all, a city's authenticity shines through the most in its food. Seoul's food market is a hotspot for foodies, the curious and the lifestyle/street photographers.
Gwang Jang Market
37.5700° N 126.9996° E
Hours: 9:00 am - 11:00 pm
Gwang Jang market is the first and oldest covered market in Seoul. It sells everything and anything from clothes , trinkets, grocery items but tourists comes mainly for food.
Food Markets are a major point of attraction in South Korea. It prides itself as having one of the cleanest street food in the world. Don't leave the country without going to at least one food market. Here, you can gorge on unbeatable arrays of street foods at its cheapest price. Truly one of the best things you can do in Seoul.
A lot of these food stall have been featured in a local TV show. The photos below is from a stall that was featured in Netflix series " Street Food Asia"
Visit hungry, but I'm sure you will leave belly happy!
If you are photo enthusiast who leans more into satisfying your passion, than your belly cravings, then do bring your camera. The vendors are used to being filmed that no one complains about their photos being taken. Some would even volunteer if they think it will promote their stall.
8. Marvel the sight at Nansam Tower
N Seoul Tower
37.5512° N 126.9882° E
Sunday - Friday: 10:00 am - 11:00 pm
Saturday : 10:00 am - 12:00 am
One of the most iconic thing to do in Seoul is to check out its modern architectural landmark, the Namsam Tower
Standing 236 meter, it is the highest free standing infrascture in Seoul. Namsam tower is visible from most points of Seoul. Thus, a trip to Seoul is incomplete without sighting the iconic N Tower.
There's a plethora of activities inside or in the vicinity of Namsam Tower. Whether you chose to enjoy the facilities and activities inside the tower or explore the surrounding attractions at the foot of the tower, its bound to be fun and enjoyable.
9. Go on a day trip
Seoul have an impressive and efficient public transportation system, that going on day trips to neighboring towns is relatively easy. So if you've roamed the center of Seoul to your hearts content and ready to venture out, then head out to neighbouring cities or towns.
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