Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is one of my favourite cities in the entire world because it is the perfect mix of ancient and modern, bustling and tranquil, city-scape and nature. It is immaculately clean, and more liveable (IMHO) then nearby Tokyo. It has a style all its own and is a fun place to visit.
The area of Seoul, strategically located on the Han river, has been an organised city since 18 BCE. Back then, it was called Wireyesosong and was the capital of the Kingdom of Baekje.
Seoul isn’t heavy at night, it’s quite light!
You will probably fly into Incheon International Airport, which is one of the nicest and most convenient airports in the world. Rated one of the cleanest airports in the world, it is also easy to navigate, is well sign-posted in English and has connections to all over the world. It is located just 48 km (30 miles) west of Seoul and will require a 60-minute ride by taxi or rideshare. A great transport option is the Airport Railroad Express (AREX). This Express Train, runs from Incheon International Airport directly to Seoul Station in the centre but also connects to each line of the Metro. Once in the city centre the Metro is a convenient way to travel. The Metro is convenient and inexpensive with a minimum fare of just ₩1,350 (£0.93).
Seoul offers both ancient and modern sites with convenient transportation links. Here are my favourite sites:
- Gyeongbokgung Palace – this is the largest of five grand palaces in Seoul and was built in 1495. It underwent an extensive 40-year refurbishment that returned it to its beautiful splendour.
- Bukchon Hanok Village – this traditional neighbourhood is located close to the Palace. It is perfect for strolling and lingering for an afternoon. The traditional houses in the village are called “hanok” and house restaurants, art boutiques, guesthouses and homes.
Seoul is full of vibrant colours
- Ihwa Mural Village – this is one of the most photographed neighbourhoods in Seoul. Located on the hillside of Mt. Naksan, Koreans would call it adaldongnae. This translates to “moon village” because it offers beautiful views of the moon over the city. This revitalized neighbourhood is covered in beautiful art murals.
- N Seoul Tower – this technical marvel was built in 1969 to celebrate the emerging success of Seoul. The tower stands 237.6 meters at the summit of the 243-metre Namsan Mountain giving it a commanding view over the entire region at almost 500 meters above sea level. The view is spectacular during the day but even more exciting at night.
The N Seoul Towers above the city!
- Lotte World – this exciting theme park is where the young at heart go to play in Seoul. It is the biggest indoor amusement park in the world and is linked by monorail to an outdoor amusement park on a nearby island. Considered as Korea’s answer to Disney World, there are spaces themed on different areas of the world. The park contains the Folklore Museum, a shopping mall, an ice-skating rink and many restaurants.
- Namsan Park – this beautiful park is a haven for nature right in the city. My favourite time to visit is during Autumn to witness the vibrant fall colours.
- Bukhansan National Park – this verdant park is just 25 minutes by subway from Seoul Station. The park is the perfect day-trip for enjoying nature. Bukhansan National Park contains striking granite peaks, a 300-year-old Bukhansanseong Fortress, more than 100 temples, waterfalls, deep gorges, and wooded forests. It is an exciting place to visit!
- Myeong-dong – is a great place for shopping. Under the bright neon signs and through the alleys and winding streets, you will find everything from international high street stores to luxury upmarket international brands.
- Starfield Coex Mall – is located in the ubiquitous Gangham neighbourhood and is the largest underground shopping centre in the world. Why not shop Gangham-style?!
When you’ve had your fill of seeing the many sites of Seoul, it’s time to fill-up on delicious Korean food. Korean barbecue is famous worldwide. It differs from normal barbecue with its table-centred cooking style. Here are my favourite spots to eat in Seoul:
- You should try some juicy bulgogi (marinated beef barbecue), bathed in soy sauce. It’s cooked with garlic and sliced onions and then wrapped in lettuce. Bulgogi is delicious and a staple dish for many Koreans. Try this unique dish at the no frills restaurant, Old School Bulgogi or try the maple-aged bulgogi at the upscale Maple Tree House Itaewon.
- Kimchi is one of the oldest dishes in South Korea. It is a spicy hot and sour salad mostly made from cabbage and is a personal favourite of mine. It has big cultural significance and accompanies most meals within Korean households. Try this piquant staple at Museum Kimchikan which also holds kimchi tasting sessions and cooking classes.
You’ll love Korean food and that’s no bulgogi!
- Some of Seoul’s finest cuisine can be found in Gwangjang Market. You’ll find all sorts of delicacies such as bindaeduk (mung bean pancakes), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), soondae (blood sausage stuffed with noodles) and Pajeon (Korean Pancake). This market highlights the very best in the unique flavours of Korea.
Here’s a Pro-tip: Visit a themed café, not so much for the food but for the fun! South Koreans love their themed restaurants which include the Hello Kitty Café, a restaurant themed on Sherlock Holmes called 221 B, and even a Sheep petting park at the Thanks Nature Café!
Seoul is alive during the day but it becomes vibrantly sparkling at night! Here are my favourite spots for nightlife in the capital:
- Playground Rooftop Café & Bar – this two-storey party complex is in the budget neighbourhood of Hongdae. The neighbourhood is popular with younger crowds and university students and has a great range of restaurants and bars.
- Charles H – this is a cool venue behind an unmarked basement door at the Four Seasons Hote This speak-easy themed bar is dripping with glamour.
- Club Octagon – this is where you can party Gangnam-style! This underground club is located at the New Hilltop Hotel and is the best place to dance to Korean DJs jamming to electronic and house music.
Seoul’s nature is always on full display!
Like Singapore, Seoul has extraordinary hotels that provide world-class service. Here are my top picks for resting in the metropolis:
- Signiel Seoul – this is a cosy hotel located between floors 76 and 101 of the Lotte World Tower. Each room boasts a panoramic view of the city. This five-star venue includes a champagne bar, a Michelin-starred restaurant and an indoor swimming pool.
- The Shilla Seoul – this convenient hotel is located in the central business district. The hotel has a relaxing full-service spa and six excellent dining options where you can enjoy Korean or international menus.
- If you’re looking to deepen your cultural experience then you should stay at Ihwa Hanok, a traditional 6-bedroom villa with a fully fitted kitchen. A stay here is a cultural experience as well as being comfortable.
Seoul is one of the most exciting cities in Asia and one of my favourites in the world. Discover the heart of Seoul!