Even though South Korea’s capital city is enormous and widespread, it is worth taking a closer look at the stunning cultural monuments among the skyscrapers and the megastores, says Jeevan Blesson.
Seoul is one of Asia’s most popular destinations. Every year, the city features on many top lists of the best places in the world to visit. Seoul has a beautiful setting; with huge buildings, narrow passages and major stores that stay open for 24 hours. There is no unifying look to the downtown streets; with tiny restaurants, bars and boutiques topped with colourful banners flapping in the wind.
The capital city is cut in two by the Han River, which runs from the east to the west. Seoul’s historical buildings can be found on the northern side of the river. On the south side of the river is where the city’s financial centre and many other commercial buildings can be found.
Seoul is home to four Unesco World Heritage Sites: Changdeokgung Palace, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. Since the end of the Korean War, South Korea has evolved into a global economic force and a major player in the worlds of technology and culture.
My favourite place- Changdeokgung Palace is one of the most beautiful palaces in Seoul and is filled with tourists — foreign and Korean. One of its attractions is the secret garden, known as Huwon, which is tucked behind the palace. A giant lotus pond is there in the middle of the garden along with two other pavilions. With the huge influence it had in developing the architecture, landscape planning and garden planning of South Korea, the Changdeokgung Palace earned its position on Unesco’s World Heritage Site list in 1997. Unesco describes the palace as “an outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design; exceptional for the way in which the buildings are integrated into and harmonised, with the natural setting adapting to the topography and retaining indigenous tree cover”.
Highlights- Seoul can be a daunting place to visit. There is much to see and do; the historical palaces, a variety of Buddhist temples, museums, traditional markets, the bustling modern centre of Myeongdong, and the buzzing nightlife of Itaewon and Hongdae. For those seeking peace and quiet, Citizen’s Park is a perfect spot for picnics, trying out new watersports, and the national pastime of kite flying. On arrival, make sure you get a T-MoneyCard, it will save you money and it can be used as a transportation card as well. It can be used on subway trains, buses and taxis, as well as at convenience stores and Family Mart, while it will also get you discounts in other stores. The
T-Money Card is available at any subway station or even at the airport. You will find English speakers in every corner of the city.
Lowlights- Seoul has lots of options available for visitors but restaurants and hotels are expensive so you should plan your trip and book your hotel before you travel. Cheap dormitories and rooms to share are available in Seoul but are not plentiful.
Souvenirs- Seoul has many shopping areas and markets throughout the city, such as centres like Myeongdong, Cheongdamdong, Namdaemun, Itaewon and Insadong.
Where to stay- Hongdae, Gangnam, Gwanghwamun, Myeongdong are the best areas to stay in Seoul. But book your accommodation before you arrive.
1. Catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace
2. Put a gatekeeper costume on at Gyeongbokgung Palace
3. Indulge in delicious street food
4. Drink traditional tea at a teahouse
5. Shop at a traditional market