Modern life mingles with ancient tradition in Seoul, the large and lively capital of South Korea. Seoul is buzzing with futuristic plazas, towering skyscrapers, pop culture, and historical landmarks. Ancient Buddhist temples and palaces mix with neon lights and modern architecture. Visiting certain parts of Seoul can feel like traveling to the future while walking through others is like stepping back in time.
Meander through the lively streets and picturesque parks, taste the local cuisine and enjoy the best shopping in East Asia. No matter how you choose to spend your time, you’re guaranteed to have a memorable experience.
Built during the Joseon Dynasty, The Gyeongbokgung Palace is a remarkably beautiful building and one of the finest examples of traditional South Korean architecture. The palace was once home to thousands of scholars, officials, and soldiers. Today, they've been replaced by thousands of tourists who visit to explore the grounds, museums, and gardens. Be sure to catch the royal guard changing service, which happens Wednesday through Monday every hour from 10 am until 4 pm.
The N Seoul Tower on top of Namsan Mountain offers a wonderful view of Seoul and the surrounding area. Climb Namsan Mountain or take a relaxing ride to the top in the cable car. Once you reach the peak, you can enjoy the view or climb even higher to the N Seoul Tower Observatory. The view of the city and countryside makes for a great family day trip or a perfect romantic evening out.
With over 10,000 stalls selling everything from textiles and cosmetics to produce and prepared food, Namdaemun is the largest market in Korea. Buy some cheap Korean snacks to munch on while you peruse store after store selling traditional medicinal ingredients, everyday essentials, and locally made goods. Namdaemun is set where the southern gate to ancient Seoul was located, and it dates back to 1414, making it the oldest market in Korea.
For travelers interested in learning more about Seoul’s history, the Bukchon Hanok Village is a cultural experience that’s worth your time. The village is essentially a preserved ancient settlement from over 600 years ago. Take in the Korean architecture while learning about the rich customs and traditions of the Joseon Dynasty in the village’s cultural center. Bukchon Hanok Village is also set just north of the Cheonggye Stream, so you can stop for a picnic or lounge by the water after your visit.
From bars and barbecue joints to cheap snacks and street food, you can’t go wrong with the delectable fare on offer in Seoul. Check out the popular barbecue restaurant chain Maple Tree to sample some staple dishes, including beef short ribs, spicy pork and chicken bulgogi. If you don’t want to go to a sit-down restaurant, the street food in Seoul is also exceptional. Be sure to try the spicy rice cakes, seaweed rice rolls, and chicken skewers. For dessert, try a few hotteok, sweet filled pancakes made fresh to order. Finally, head to your nearest Lotte Mart to stock up on cheap Korean snacks for when you’re on the road.
The ancient Bongeunsa Temple was established in 704 by the Buddhist monk Yeon-hoe. Buddhism was violently suppressed in South Korea during the Joseon Dynasty, but the temple gained new support from Queen Jeonghyeon in 1498. Besides taking in the temple’s beauty and learning about the historical importance of the large complex, visitors can also take part in the world famous Temple Stay Program. During this program, visitors are invited to live life like a Buddhist monk for part of the day. It’s great to learn more about the customs and beliefs of Buddhism. Visitors also attend a traditional tea ceremony and are invited to sit and discuss philosophy with the monks.
No trip to South Korea is complete without visiting a traditional tea house. Head to Insadong, a Seoul neighborhood, and try the Jujube tea at the well-known Chatjip Tea House. The Suyeon Mountain Tea Room is another charming traditional spot worth visiting. Choose a place you like or go tea house hopping and try all the delicious teas and traditional treats.
The Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market is not only Seoul’s oldest seafood market; it’s also its biggest. With more than 700 stalls selling a huge variety of seafood, the market is worth looking around even if you’re not planning on buying any fish. If you come hungry, you can purchase some cooked seafood or select a fresh fish and have it grilled right in front of you. Early risers can also catch the exciting seafood auction that takes place every market day at sunrise.
When you need a break from the city, the Bukhansan National Park is the perfect place to spend the day. Take in the area’s lush flora and fauna while hiking through some breathtakingly beautiful countryside. The park is home to over 1,300 species of plants and wildlife, so take a camera and keep your eyes open while you walk. Visitors hiking through the park will enjoy scenic views of Seoul and the nearby Triangle Mountain. Leave yourself plenty of time to explore the park’s forests, granite peaks, and traditional temples.
Get some much needed retail therapy in the city with some of the best shopping in East Asia. Head to the neighborhood of Myeongdon to splash out on new cosmetics. The area is full of cosmetic shops handing out samples and selling international and Korean brands of cosmetics. For trendy shops and hip boutiques, Common Ground has you covered. Common Ground is essentially a container park in Seoul that’s full of trend-setting shops. Other shopping destinations include the popular underground shopping centers. Although there are many to choose from, Gangnam Underground Shopping Center and Yeongdeungpo Underground Mall are two of the best. For more traditional goods or to snag some souvenirs before your flight home, head to Insadong.