Seoul, situated at the Han River, with a history of 2000 years old when it was founded in 18 BC by Baekje, one of the three kingdoms of Korea. Now, is the capital and the largest metropolis of South Korea.
Korean culture is a fascinating blend of old traditions being merged with western ideals. Where most of the people are attracted to the Korean Pop culture aka Kpop, the Korean music, whether it’s traditional throat singing or the current in-trend K-Pop, is another of those blends of old and new. First, I need to disclaim I visit South Korea not because I’m a Kpop fan, but because is part of the world with a unique culture! 🙂 Even I don’t call myself a Kpop fan, but I do listen to some of the Kpop songs, just not good with celebrity names and understanding it. 🙂
Nevertheless, Seoul is an amazing city! Unlike Japan, which my opinion is totally different from the rest of Asian cities. Seoul still kinda resembles it’s neighbour China. Probably due to a pool of Chinese migrants in Seoul, but that fill the city with unique charisma!
So now, my recommendations for you if you happen to be in Seoul:
1) Gyeongbokgung Palace
First up, some background for Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace. This is a royal palace located in northern part of Seoul. It was first constructed in 1395, but was later burned and abandoned for almost 3 centuries, and later was reconstructed in 1867, it was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The palace has a nice name to it. The palace means “Greatly Blessed by Heaven”.
I am not trying to compare and we shouldn’t compare. In reality, compared to the palaces in Beijing, China, Gyeongbokgung Palace is not as grand as whole. However, there are some interesting parts in the palace that are awe-inspiring. Its big moat in the middle of the palace & the changing of the guards are some awe-inspiring things to view.
There are also 12 zodiac animals statues at Gyeongbokgung, you should find your own animal sign and take a good picture with your animal buddy! Pray for a good smooth and successful year! 🙂
If you have the time, you can catch the colourful changing of the guards on time at around 10 am. For those of you who has traveled to Europe before and watch live changing guards, i guarantee this is nothing similar to the European civilizations! I personally have seen the live changing guards in Sweden, Greece , Scotland, Italy and etc… This is totally different and you will be surprise how ancient Asian civilization do their stuff. 🙂
Admission Fee to the palace : Adults 3000 won (Note: closed on Tuesday)
Getting there is easy by metro station:
1. Use exit #5 of Gyeongbokgung Station (Subway Line #3),
2. From Exit #2 of Ganghwamun Station (Subway Line #5), walk 400 meters
2) Changdeokgung Palace
Changdeokgung is an exceptional example of official and residential buildings that were integrated into and harmonized with their natural environment. The palace was originally built as a secondary palace to the main palace of Gyeongbokgung. Situated at the foot of a mountain range, it was designed to embrace the topography in accordance with pungsu principles, by placing the palace structures to the south and incorporating an extensive rear garden to the north called “the Secret Garden”.
It is definitely a must-see when you are in Seoul. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and it provides you with a good Impression of the Korean history and heritage.
Make sure you also get to the see the secret garden, you need an extra ticket for it and tickets are limited per day as you need to be part of an official tour. I did it with no regrets! The guide was good and informative!
Almost at the end of the tour, we reached a 750 years old Chinese Juniper tree, one of the oldest trees in Korea. The guide challenged us to spot shapes of four animals created by the branches of the tree. Can you find those shapes by looking at the picture?
If you guess these 4 animals you are on the right track:
The guide was pleasant and knowledgeable. You need to purchase a separate ticket to visit the Secret Garden. You should also go on a tour to gain a better understanding of how the garden was used. You should wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water and perhaps a hat during a summer visit. I went there in August. It was really HOT! haha
3) Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village is a Korean traditional village with a long history located between the 2 palaces “Gyeongbok Palace and Changdeok Palace”. The traditional village is composed of lots of alleys and is preserved to show a 600 years old urban clustered environment. Now it is used as a traditional culture center and hanok restaurant, allowing visitors to experience the atmosphere of the ancient Joseon Dynasty.
This is the old part of Seoul with the ancient hanok houses that was used to run through the city. It is a steep walk up to the top however it is beautiful when you look over Seoul from the top. Great picture opportunities also from here.
You can get a map from the tourist information centre. The customer service guide was very helpful and pointed out the best places to go and have a look. Loads of little shops and places to eat round the area also. This is really near Gyonbokgong palace, so you could do both on the same day.
4) N Seoul Tower
I visited the N Seoul Tower in Seoul, and I’m really glad that I made the hike. While there are multiple ways to visit the tower, I opted to walk all the way up to the base of the tower, which was quite a challenge and great workout I should say! haha If you’re not feeling up to the physical challenge, you can always take the cable car up, which I think would be a pretty cool experience. Once at the base of the tower, you can purchase tickets to visit the viewing deck, high above the city. Perhaps, I have visited Eiffel tower in Paris, CN Tower in Toronto, Empire State Building in New York, Burj Khalifa in UAE and Tokyo Tower well in Tokyo, I think N Seoul Tower’s view is not comparable to the rest. But in my opinion, it is still worth an experience to see Seoul from high up though! 🙂
Alive Museum: 10:00-22:00 (Last entry: 21:00)
Restaurants (n.GRILL/Hancook): 11:00-23:00
The place dining: 11:00-24:00 (Last seating: 23:00)
Alive Museum: 10:00-22:00
5) Love Padlocks @ N Seoul Tower
If you are at N Seoul Tower, DO NOT miss the Love Padlocks at Roof Terrace, an expansive outdoor observatory on the annex building of N Seoul Tower that offers visitors impressive views of Seoul. It is also known largely for its “love locks.” Few years ago, a TV program’s main celebrities visited the terrace and attaching 2 padlocks to the fence as a symbol of their undying love. Today, tens over thousands of love locks can be found hanging around the terrace with new locks appearing each day as testaments to couples’ unfailing love.
If you are traveling with you spouse, do lock up your love at this interesting sight in South Korea! Due to K Drama, Seoul is now also well-known as a Romantic City!
Just something interesting, I find most of the Korean boys have a similar look! Nothing offensive but is cute and interesting! 🙂
6) Myeongdong Shopping
Myeongdong is located at the heart of Seoul and considered as one of the best shopping paradise in this city of shopaholics and sea of clothes, fashion and famous designs. Myeongdong is great because here every brand, whether is big or small, gathers in a relatively small district area, enough to satisfies different kinds of customers’ needs.
While strolling this busiest area of the city, you may try out some nice sweet little snacks, ice cream or beverages i.e. bubbletea at the street stall.
Price: Between $1 – $2 each, cheap aye? LOL 🙂
If you are lost, it’s alright! Cos there are helpful tourist guide always ready to assist you to get out of the little maze of Myeongdong! 🙂
7) Dongdaemun & Namdaemun Market + Cheonggyecheon Stream
Myeongdong is too small for ya? Head off to Dongdaemun and Namdaemun for some market madness! 🙂
Between them, the colossal markets of Dongdaemun and Namdaemun both are deservedly high on most visitors’ list to tick off in Seoul. Namdaemun literally means “South Gate”, and Dongdaemun “East Gate”, referring to the Great Gates that once marked the city perimeter, just like the palace of Gyeongbokgung and Jongmyo shrine. These were built in the 1390 under the rule of King Taejo as a means of glorifying during the Joseon dynasty.
Namdaemun is mostly an open air space, known for crafts and cheap souvenirs. They also have fashion, clothes and shoes etc…
Dongdaemun is more youthful. There are shopping malls around the area and also cheap stuff selling clothes, shoes, bags, categorized by the different levels.
Of course, such precious opportunity for me to get some new pair of shoes, jeans, tee shirts and accessories for new year and Xmas… why not? LOL
Cheonggyecheon Stream existed only as a neglected watercourse hidden by an overpass, until it was restored in 2005. Today, South Korean has transformed the stream into a haven of natural beauty amidst the bustle of city life.
Cheonggyecheon Stream passes close to Deoksugung Palace, Seoul Plaza, the Sejong Center, Insa-dong Street, Changdeokgung Palace, and Changgyeonggung Palace, allowing visitors to easily visit major tourist sites after a leisurely stroll along the stream.
8) Insadong & Vegetarian Restaurant
Insadong is the perfect place for souvenir shopping. You can also find restaurant, cafe, arts, crafts and food stalls there.
Everything you need! Shopping on many levels, from cheap tourist trinkets to very expensive glass and all in between. Insadong is also close to the 2 palaces and other great attractions.
Insadong is another great place for you to taste many variants of Korean vegetarian foods while you are hunting for Korean branded stuff or unique Korean souvenirs. I seriously have to recommend this particular Korean vegetarian restaurant that I found randomly at Insadong! The Osegyehyang Restaurant!
Osegyehyang Restaurant is nestled in a hidden corner traditional Insadong neighborhood, boasting an entirely vegan menu. This restaurant has a distinctly traditional vibe with its floor seating, low Korean tables, and beautiful wooden ceiling reminiscent of traditional Korean houses. Which gives you an amazing feel to Korean food culture! 🙂
The menu has a range of noodles (spicy and non spicy) and rice dishes, and numerous entrees. Some of the popular dishes are Vegetarian Korean BBQ and Rice, a variation on Korea’s dish with soy protein cutlet, a variation on Japanese pork cutlet, and various Korean or Kimchi stews… hmm Yummy!!!
After a meat-free meal, visitors can step outside and follow up meal with a rich cup of traditional Korean tea or shop for traditional Korean wares in Insadong.
Prices generally range from 7,000 won for stews to 15,000 won for some entrees.
DO NOT forget to get some authentic Korean Spicy Instant Noodles (without onion and garlic) Hurray!!! haha I bought 4 cartons back to Singapore! haha
9) Thien Dang Loving Huts @ Namseong Station
If you are a vegetarian you know what Loving Hut is! They basically around the world! Loving Huts Singapore, New York, Seoul etc… The loving huts near Namseong Station is amazing! The place was really cozy and cute. The lady boss/chef was a GREAT cook! She and her son were very friendly and helpful to me! I’m grateful to meet them and absolutely worth to travel from Myeongdong (where I stay) to Namseong for 2 nights just to have my dinner there! 🙂
Menu offers dishes from all-over: donkasu, burgers, curry & rice, ramen, and even spaghetti + many many more.
Do check out AhYoung’s facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/lovinghutthiendang
Directions to Thien Dang Loving Hut: Namseong Station, Line 7. Exit 3. Walk straight about 300m. It will be on your right, next to ‘Eliot Cafe.’
Open: daily, 11am-10pm
Tel: 070 8982-8501
Tip: You can buy my favourite instant noodles from AhYoung! hahaha
10) Witness a Nonthreatening Protest in Seoul
Okay, I guess many should know the sad history of Korea (the war between the North and South). There are many families separated from their love ones and is one of the tragic in the history of human mankind! Of course, coming from a country with no (or low) protest going on (i’m really grateful). Such experience was interesting for me. Come to think of it, I witness 4 different protests:
- Hong Kong
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Athens, Greece
- Seoul, South Korea
So, is something to see if you happen to be there… 🙂
I hope you enjoyed and loved the 10 things to do in South Korea. South Korea is a very unique East Asian countries with great K-culture attracting people all over the world. Be caution not to be too obsessed with the Kpop culture! haha 🙂
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson