Seoul has pretty much hands down launched itself into one of my top cities. There’s something about it that’s very magnetic, whether that’s the style, the old mixed with the new, or the sheer vastness and diversity of the many districts. If I were to say that the place is huge, it would be a somewhat ridiculous understatement, so consider combining all synonyms you can think of for ‘really big’. It can take hours to get across the city, and there’s no getting anywhere particularly quickly because of its vastness. That being said, Seoul’s districts are all pretty different and each one of them is worth some of your time.
Seoul has two airports that you can fly into – Incheon and Gimpo – both of which are well connected to the train system so you’ll have no trouble getting into the city.
Seoul’s metro system is absolutely huge and well connected, although don’t suppose that you’ll be getting anywhere at great speed and it definitely takes some time to get accustomed to. That being said, it’s the best way to tackle the city.
Top tip: You can grab yourself a T-money card and load it up to travel around although these aren’t refundable – just easier and cheaper to use overall.
There are also buses and the usual taxis – again, don’t underestimate the size of this place. It’s going to take a while so factor this into your activities.
Insadong is an area in central Seoul. It’s home to galleries and tea houses galore, as well as lots of traditional Korean goods. The Main Street is closed off on Saturday afternoons and for the majority of Sunday to cars so that stalls can be set up. Don’t miss out on a tea house here, where you can try a variety or tea and local cakes to accompany them. They’re often hidden but a little bit of searching will go a long way to find a good one.
Seoul is not short on palaces, which is actually very pleasant to find amongst the otherwise metropolitan state of the city. Near Insadong are Changdeok palace and Gyeongbokgung, the latter of which you should choose to visit if you’re prioritising, but there’s no harm in doing both. Gyeongbokgung is absolutely huge and has some gorgeous gardens to walk through also. Deoksugung is another palace in a different area, but is the only one to be lit up at night and everyone likes pretty lights.
Bukchon hanok village
If you want a glimpse of a more traditional Korean village then head to this part of the city. There are numerous streets for you to meander through although be aware that the area is still residential so keep your voice down. Around this area you can also rent traditional Korean clothing and participate in many crafts classes.
Go out out, a lot.
One of my favourite things about Seoul was without a doubt its nightlife. We were out every night and it just didn’t get boring. There are loads of places to go out but the two main areas we stuck to were Itaewon and Hongdae, both of which are exceptionally fun. You can find both expat central bars and clubs if you want to meet some other travellers, but to be honest the Koreans definitely know how to go out so head to somewhere super local for an exceptionally amazing time.
Seoul tower, Nam Shan park and Myeongdong
From the tower and the park it’s easy to see just how far in every direction this city spreads. I’ll take the opportunity to repeat that it’s really quite large. I wouldn’t say that the tower is super necessary as you can see a lot just from the park so there’s no need to spend the money on it if it doesn’t suit your fancy. You can either walk up or grab the cable car up to the park and then down again. From here you can drop down into Myeondong, a district most commonly known for its shopping. But amongst the hustle, bustle and exceptionally bright lights, you’ll also find some excellent street food.
War memorial and museum
For whatever reasons, the Korean War isn’t ever mentioned in school when growing up, despite it being incredibly recent and concerning a huge number of countries in the United Nations. The memorial and museum showcases the troubled relationship with its northern neighbour. Considering that North Korea is still a huge threat to South Korea, and in fact to the rest of the world, visiting the memorial is still very relevant.
Building on the war talk, you should take the opportunity to head out to the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea. There are numerous tunnels and stations for tourists to visit and it’ll give you a real understanding of the threat of North Korea – if you haven’t already figured that out.
Cheong Gye Cheon
This is essentially a little stream going through the city. It’s a very cool place to walk in an evening, with lots of cool street art and light installations. You won’t see a shortage of couples sitting on the banks and it’s a great place to grab a beer and chill with your travel buddies.
Noryangjin Fish market
It’s a bit of a pain to get to and unless you’re willing to put live octopus in your mouth, I wouldn’t say it was anything special in terms of a fish market. But if you do want to wander down aisles of people trying to sell you live fish to eat and you do like the idea of a live squid sucking on the inside of your throat, then head straight here.
One of the best things about Korea is the incredible amount of street food and indoor food markets there are. Korean food is especially delicious and it’s great to sit in with the locals amongst the hustle and bustle of an indoor food market. The best market in Seoul in my humble opinion is Gwangjan. Here you can find an abundance of traditional food served in a grimey atmosphere aka perfect. It is particularly famous for its pancakes but everything is darn good and it’s hard not to be tempted to stop, sit and try something from every stall.
Get stylish in Gangnam
Whether you’re up for a shop or want to sit looking cool in trendy coffee shops this is the place to be doing it. The district got a song for a reason and there’s really no denying that Gangnam style is a thing. I’ve never felt so concerned with how I look so much as I did here, but I mean that in a good way because this is place is home to the coolest looking people I’ve probably ever seen. Who wouldn’t want to try at least fit in a bit. There is no shortage of restaurants, bars and coffee shops to try out. If you’re looking for some good pastries, then the famous San Francisco cafe Mr Holmes’ Bakehouse also has a branch in this district. Don’t be shy of trying it – it’s honestly true that cruffins can change your life, check out dimsumdiet for a bit more of an insight.
Make sure you munch on…
I’ve probably mentioned a few times already that Korean food is delicious so most of the things you try here are going to be quite yummy. Seoul is reputedly a foodie’s heaven and there’s a very good reason for that. These are a couple of things you shouldn’t leave without trying.
Kimchi – the new trend on the health market is kimchi. Essentially, it’s spicy fermented cabbage and should be an accompaniment to every meal in my opinion. Points for this one because it’s incredibly healthy.
Do a Korean BBQ – Korean BBQ is hands down one of the best things about Korean cuisine. Grab some buddies and a table, sit and cook your own meat and veggies and ask a nice looking Korean boy to show you exactly how you’re supposed to eat it. (Put your meat in the lettuce leaves alongside everything else and put it in your mouth using fingers, not chopsticks – but still ask a nice Korean boy anyway)
Cheese ribs – yes, mounds of melted cheese on ribs. I’m aware this is the equivalent of a heart attack but I’d go so far as to say it is worth it. Forget the a moment on the lips and a lifetime on the hips mantra, this is something you want to have in your body. You can most commonly find this dish in Hongdae but it’ll take some searching for.
Korean shaved ice – simply exactly what it sounds like, with fruit syrups on top. Big thumbs up.
Milk soda – amongst many of the incredible snacks and beverages that come out of South Korea, this, namely Milkis, is my favourite drink.
Bibimbap – stone bowl full of rice that just keeps on cooking. Pretty damn delicious.
Tteoboki – this is probably my favourite street food in Korea. It’s basically a rice cake that looks like a piece of polystyrene/ a watsit and it’s most commonly covered in this slightly sweet red sauce. It’s quite nice, and also an excellent food if you’ve been drinking and need some food at 6am to soak it all up. You won’t have trouble finding this from most street vendors all over the city.