An empire built over just a few generations and known for its prolific growth of transforming from one of the poorest nations to one of the strongest economies in the world today, South Korea is an incredible nation packed with a lot to offer. From its scenic beaches to its sky-high towers, flourishing technology, rich heritage and its heartwarming people, South Korea is a one of a kind destination that manages to etch a special spot in the hearts of all its visitors.
Located in Eastern Asia with an estimated population of 51 million people, South Korea’s leading technology, hospitality and pop culture attracts over 10 million foreign tourists every year, making it the tenth most visited country in the world. Visiting the country’s capital, Seoul would set you off on an unmatched cultural and historical rollercoaster letting you dive into the jaw-dropping history of The Korean War that occurred in 1950, the rule of Japan over Korea and the glorious past of how the kingdom sprouted and grew from nothing.
Stepping into a foreign country is extremely exciting and can often be a bit daunting. There is a whole world out there waiting to be explored by you, however, the thought of planning in advance and mapping everything out can make us all a bit cranky. As distressing as planning and packing may be, one has an upper hand when familiar with local laws, language basics and knowing what to expect.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered, here is your guide to exploring a true paradise for tourists, a land full of celebrations, an architectural marvel, a country ahead of time yet deep-rooted to its rich history: South Korea.
Seoul, the capital of South Korea is a thriving city where illuminated palaces, colourful street markets and Buddhist temples mingle amongst skyscrapers reaching for the clouds, cutting-edge technology, and high-tech subways. Seoul, pronounced “soul” does true justice to its name as it would leave you wanting to be ” seoulmates” with the city, get it? There is something for everyone!
As your plane touches ground in South Korea, it’s time to get your cameras out before you know it! Incheon Airport, rated as the best airport in the world, opens its doors to a constant flow of thousands of travellers each day. As you find your way out, take photos of the high glass ceilings and maybe even indulge in some duty-free shopping if you have some free time.
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Attractions in Seoul:
Gyeongbokgung Palace, also known as Gyeongbok Palace, was built in 1395 to serve as the main royal palace for the kings of The Joseon Dynasty. Today, being one of the five palaces in Seoul, Gyeongbokbang remains the largest and most frequently visited. One can spend a day strolling around and admiring the intricate design of the paintings, fabric work, and fine craftsmanship that make the palace a pure visual treat. Wander through the passages that connect the rooms that vary distinctively from one another to get a glimpse of the lifestyle of the royals and Korean culture.
The Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, the most beautiful part of the palace will leave you speechless. Staring into the reflection of the pond and listening to the birds’ chirp will let you escape the hustle bustle of the city of Seoul for just a few moments. The Pavilion served as a place of leisure and rest for the king himself! How cool is it being able to walk the same steps the royals once did!
National Folk Museum
The National Folk Museum, located on the same grounds as Gyeongbokgung Palace in the most northern part of the city is the most enriching way to learn about Korean culture. The museum established in 1945 exhibits over 98,000 artefacts in its three main exhibit halls: History of Korean People, Korean Way of Life, Life Cycle of the Koreans. Make sure to check out the open-air exhibits that showcase how kimchi and rice were cooked in pots in the earlier times.
The Cheonggyecheon Stream, highly popular amongst locals is a $900 million project opened in 2005 as a modern recreation space in downtown Seoul. The stream itself is 10.84 km connecting and Jung-gu, the stream is a big part of the 600-year-old history of Seoul as it was used to prevent the flooding of houses and clean the area through waterways. Koreans love celebrating and the stream, without exception always hosts small events that attract many foreign tourists. A great time to visit the Cheonggyecheon Stream is when the Lantern Festival takes place in November, every year.
Insadong Cultural Street
A must-visit in Seoul, Insadong is known for its busy streets crowded with an array of shops and eateries. Make it a point to try the ‘Kings Dessert’ wherein you can choose between a flavouring of peanut, chocolate or almond that is wrapped in 15,000 strings of honey! This dessert is heaven for your sweet tooth. Along the street, you can also find various places to buy souvenirs, take photos in traditional Hanbok or sip on a cup of warm tea in one of the tea houses.
Other places to check out: Changdeokgung, War Memorial of Korea, Bukchon Hanok Village, N Seoul Tower, Seoul Grand Park, Olympic Park.
Activities in Seoul:
Hiking in the city of Seoul is every local’s favourite way of escaping the noise of the city. Here are some of the best hike spots in Seoul that are surprisingly very easy to get to from the city centre:
Located in the north of the city centre, Bukhansan attracts a staggering 5 million hikers every year. You can start a 3.4-kilometre trail from Bukhansanseong Fortress Course and make your way 840 metres above sea level, to Baegundae to get a picturesque birds-eye view of Seoul.
This one’s for all the cherry blossom lovers! A relatively easy hike up Namsan offers beautiful flora and fauna alongside stunning views of the city. If you hike in the evening, you can also indulge for dinner at one of the restaurants at the Seoul Tower.
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Other famous places to Hike: Achasan, Bugaksan, and Dobongsan.
Bungee Jumping at Gapyeong Top Land
For as low as $50, one can bungee jump at Gapyeong Top Land that overlooks the stunning Buchanan River. A price this low makes it one of the cheapest bungee jumping spots in the world and worth a visit for all the adrenaline junkies.
Zipline to Nami Island
Visit Nami Island in style. Ride on a zip line from Gapyeong Top Land to Nami Island instead of taking the classic ferry boat, because, why not? Who wants to miss a 940m swoop with a spectacular view while skipping the ferry line!
Shopping in Seoul
No trip is complete without some shopping and Seoul might just be the new hot spot for all shopaholics.
Did you know that Korean skin care products are considered to be some of the best in the world. Head to Myeongdong for the best skincare and cosmetic products. This market used to be famous amongst locals but has now become increasingly popular amongst the tourists.
From nuts and bolts, mountain climbing gear to very stylish clothing, you can find anything and everything at Namdaemun Market. Spend an evening getting lost in the endless streets that are lined with thousands of stalls. Affordable prices and great quality make this market a great place to take back gifts and souvenirs for all your loved ones. Don’t forget to bargain though.
Make your way to this humongous shopping plaza made up of 30,000 shops. Best part is that the mall is open till 5 AM every morning. A perfect excuse to shop all night long.
When in Seoul, one must make most of every meal. Korean food is diverse and serves a broad variety of flavours and dishes appealing to all taste palettes. Except for Kimchi, a signature Korean dish, there is little to no knowledge of Korean food in other parts of the world. Here are some local dishes to look out for in Seoul:
Banchan: little side dishes served at the start of a Korean meal. Think of it as Korean tapas
Bossam: pork belly boiled in a broth full of spices with a side of vegetables, often served with beer or soju
Chimaek: Korean fried chicken
Ddeokbokki: Korean spicy rice cakes
Gogigui: Korean BBQ
Bibimbap: Korean Mixed Rice
Sannakji: live Octopus, if you really want to step out of your comfort zone
The best times to visit Seoul are from March to May and September to November. These months offer mild and pleasant climate ideal to enjoy the city at leisure and embark on outdoor activities. September-November also witnesses spectacular events such as Seoul International Fireworks Festival, the Hanseong Baekje Cultural Festival, Seoul Fashion Week and Halloween celebrations.