Capital of South Korea and one of Asia’s hidden gems, Seoul is a fascinating mix of ancient tradition and sparkling modernity. From visiting Confucian shrines to admiring the views from inside the city’s soaring skyscrapers and sampling authentic Korean cuisine, there are so many things to do in Seoul that you won’t know where to start. Check out what the experts at Flight Centre recommend.
What to see
Perhaps the most famous of Seoul’s five Joseon Dynasty-era palaces is Gyeongbokgung. First built in 1395, the vast complex has been destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout its storied history. Gyeongbokgung is located north of the Han River in the Gangbuk part of the city, which is also where you’ll find traditional hanok houses lining the streets of Bukchon. South of the river is the modern Gangnam region of Seoul, where most of the city’s tallest skyscrapers are located. Though Gangnam is renowned for its modernity, it’s also where you’ll find Bongeun Temple – the most visited temple in Seoul.
What to eat and drink
Seoul restaurants may not be the easiest to understand for those who don’t speak the language, but persevere and you’ll be rewarded with some of Asia’s tastiest food. For the budget conscious, Sadongmyenok in Insadong serves up manduguk, a delicious soup full of dumplings packed with meat and vegetables. Bibimbap restaurants are numerous and Jeonju Jungang Hoegwan specialises in a particular version of the famous mixed rice dish. Seoul boasts plenty of places to drink, including the many student bars around Hongdae and Sinchon. Upmarket Apgujeong is the place to splash out on expensive cocktails, while raucous Itaewon rocks regularly to the sounds of Seoul’s large foreign community.
Where to stay
The range of accommodation in Seoul is seemingly endless. If you’re on a budget, both Jongno in the northeast of the city and Hongdae in the west offer a wide range of options, including the ever-popular Dustin Guesthouse near Hongik University. If you’re determined to splurge, Seoul hotels oblige with some of the best high-end accommodation in the region. Try the Plaza Hotel near Seoul’s City Hall for a relaxing stay in the heart of the action, or the Grand Hyatt Seoul to indulge in the opulent surroundings. The Sheraton Grande Walkerhill is a favourite with high rollers for its upscale casino. Where to shop Shopping in Seoul is a stimulus for the senses, with the city boasting a multitude of outlets. There are permanent markets at Namdaemun and Dongdaemun, while traditional Insadong is the place to find the city’s best antique and stationery stores. Fashion models pound the footpaths of Myeongdong to model the latest trends in store and it’s here where you’ll find Seoul’s best clothes shopping. Seoul’s most affluent residents do their shopping in Apgujeong at the luxury brand-name stores lining its crowded streets. Itaewon caters to the city’s foreign community but it’s also a great place to pick up some traditional Korean souvenirs, including hanbok – a type of traditional Korean clothing.
How to see Seoul like a local
Seoul weather is at its most pleasant in spring and a popular pastime for locals and tourists alike is to pay a visit to Namsan Park. The leafy city park contains the 262-metre Mount Namsan, which is topped by familiar local landmark N Seoul Tower. Many visitors take the Namsan Cable Car to the top of the mountain before enjoying lunch or dinner in the tower’s rotating restaurant. The views are particularly spectacular at night, when the Seoul city skyline is showered with light from the thousands of skyscrapers and offices clustered around the fringes of the park.
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This article first appeared in the Jun/Jul edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.
Want more? Check out 12 free (or very cheap) things to do in Hong Kong!