Seoul City Guide
Seoul is the capital and the largest city of South Korea. The city is located on both sides of the Han River in the center of the Korean peninsula and is the political, economic and cultural epicenter of South Korea. Seoul is estimated to be home to more than 12 million people and is a bustling, perennially busy city whose skyline is peppered with gleaming, towering skyscrapers, ancient palaces, pagodas and gardens.
It is believed that the history of Seoul dates back to the 18th Century BC when it was declared the capital of the Baekje Kingdom. The city subsequently went onto become the capital of Korea during the Joseon Dynasty that ruled the Korean Peninsula from the 14th century until the early 20th century.
Seoul is home to some of the largest and most well known Korean companies. It is often regarded as a prominent business travel destination. However nowadays this city hosts many world renowned attractions like the UNESCO world heritage sites of Jongmyo Shrine, Changdeokgung, Hwaseong Fortress, and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, which is a well established and fashionable vacation destination attracting tourists of all ages.
Where to stay in Seoul
Seoul’s offers accommodation options on both sides of the Han River. Most visitors to Seoul tend to choose a hotel according to their purpose for visiting city, for Seoul is made up of various districts and neighborhoods that are not very clearly defined and whose boundaries tend to overlap.
Jongno is the oldest part of downtown Seoul and home to landmarks like Gwangwhamun( the large gate) and Namsan( South Mountain). This old world area offers many traditional Korean hotels and inns that are popular with both domestic and international tourists as they are often equipped with unique features like heated floors and beds that are laid out on the floor and comprise of heavy blankets.
This artsy area of the city is located within the Jongno-gu district and used to be once inhabited by the Korean royalty and aristocrats. Today, Insadong is a popular shopping haunt in Seoul that offers art galleries, handicraft stores and many traditional restaurants and tea shops. If you want to soak in some local culture during your trip to Seoul, then perhaps the many reasonably priced hotels located in Insadong would meet your accommodation needs during Seoul vacation.
Myeongdong is Seoul’s most prominent shopping district and hosts a wide array of stores and boutiques as well as two of the most popular open air markets of Seoul, Namdaemun and Dongdaemun. This area also hosts a wide range of hotels that belong to well known global chains as a result of which it is hugely popular with both business and leisure travelers.
Itaewon is the traditional expat district of Seoul, which developed around the American military base in Seoul. This area was once associated with nefarious activities and has now been cleaned up and considered to be a prime shopping district in Seoul.
Places to see in Seoul
The Gyeongbokgung palace is the most spectacular of Seoul’s five historic palaces. Gyeongbokgung was constructed in 1395 by Lee Seong-Gye who founded the Joseon Dynasty that is largely credited with urban planning of Seoul. This impressive palaces hosts the National Folk Museum of Korea along with opulent Royal apartments and staterooms and verdant gardens and lotus pools.
Changdeokgung is yet another of the five grand palaces, which were constructed by the monarchs of the Joseon Dynasty. Changdeokgung is situated within a lush park that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. As Changdeokgung is located east of Gyeongbok, it is also referred to as ‘the East Palace’.
Located within walking distance of Changdeokgung is Seoul’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage Site that should be considered a must-visit on any trip to Seoul. This shrine was built in 1394 and is the oldest royal Confucian shrine in the world that hosts numerous ceremonies, rituals and traditional dance shows. This shrine was the official shrine of the Joseon Dynasty consists of several halls and a cloister along with 40 commemorative tables of past kings and queens of Korea. The ceilings and roofs of the shrine are elaborately adorned with exquisite artworks.
Bongeunsa is a famed Buddhist temple of Seoul, located in the Gangnam-gu district of Seoul. This temple was founded by Yeon-hoe, a high ranking monk in 797 AD. The temple was renovated and reconstructed in 1498 and it soon became the main temple of the Korean Seon Sect of Buddhism. The Bongeunsa today is a thriving temple complex, which offers a ‘Temple Stay’ programs for visitors who want to experience the life of a monk for a few hours.
Namsan Park is located at the summit of Mount Namsan, located in the heart of Seoul. To get to the top of Mount Namsan, you have to use the Namsan Park cable car. This mountain top park offers various attractions like the Seoul Tower, which rises to 480m (1,575ft) and hosts a revolving restaurant. The revolving restaurant is an incredibly popular dining locale in Seoul that offers gorgeous vistas of the city and its environs. Also located at the summit of Namsan Mountain are other attractions like the maritime Aquarium, a botanic garden and the Namsan Library.
Jogyesa is the main temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. This temple was established in 1395 in Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu in central Seoul. The temple is renowned for its main attraction, the Natural Monument 9, which is an ancient pine tree located within its grounds.
If you are on a vacation to Seoul with your children, then Lotte World should definitely be included in your sight-seeing itinerary. This theme park, which is divided into outdoor and indoor sections, offers numerous attractions like exciting high altitude rides, laser shows, walking trails, an indoor ice rink, a folk museum, parades, restaurants, stores and various other entertaining and recreational activities.
Best time to visit Seoul
Seoul experiences a temperate climate that features four distinct seasons. Winters in Seoul are usually damp and cold and January is generally the coldest month in the city during which temperatures register average highs of 21 to 34°F (-5.9 to 1.5 °C).
Summers in Seoul are typically humid and warm and are characterized by temperatures that register an average of 95F (35C). The city also experiences a monsoon season that lasts from June to September. Visitors who vacation in Seoul often aver that the best season to visit Seoul are spring and autumn when daytime temperature highs are a pleasant 57F(14C), which are ideal for sightseeing.
Getting around in Seoul
Visitors access the South Korean capital city via its ultra modern, top notch Incheon international airport, located 32 miles (50km) west of Seoul on Yeongjong Island, a part of Incheon city. This international gateway to Seoul constantly features in the lists of the best airports in the world for it is equipped with world class facilities like a casino, a golf course, a spa, lush indoor gardens and water bodies and even a museum, the Museum of Korean Culture. Incheon airport is well served by regular and express trains, buses and taxis. Buses and taxis usually ply on the Airport Expressway to transport visitors to and from the airport.
Flying into Incheon airport is certainly an experience and if you are currently toying with idea of a Seoul vacation, you may want to check the attractive flight deals for Seoul that we at Fare Buzz have on offer. Even if you require last minute flights, we can be of help for our portfolio of cheap air tickets periodically includes last minute cheap air flights for Seoul.
Seoul’s has a well developed and extensive public transport system that is made up of subways, buses and taxis. Seoul’s buses and subways are quite easy to navigate as station signs and announcements both feature the English language along with Korean.
If you plan to use taxis to get around during your stay in Seoul, you may want to ask your hotel concierge to write the address of your destination in Korean on a slip of paper each time you venture out, so that you can show it to your taxi driver before you set off. Most taxi drivers in Seoul don’t speak or understand English.
Where to shop in Seoul
The Korean capital, Seoul is a renowned shopping destination. Korean fashions, cosmetics and accessories inspire a cult-like following around the world and if you wish to indulge in some retail therapy on your Seoul sojourn, you are bound to be spoiled for choice, for the city offers an abundance of shopping locales that offer a treasure trove of delights.
The city-center district of Seoul, Myeongdong is one which visitors usually gravitate towards, for located here many brand name stores along with several large shopping malls like Avatar and Migliore and department stores like the Lotte department store. The side-alleys of Myeongdong further host numerous trendy stores and boutiques, which are also worth perusing, though the district also hosts a vast underground shopping district that offers a plethora of inexpensive ‘finds’.
Yet another well-known shopping district in Seoul is Dongdaemun, which hosts more than twenty large malls like Designer's Club, Migliore Valley, Nuzzon, Gwanghee Fashion Mall, Jeil Pyeonghwa, and Heungin Stardom. These malls house countless stores that showcase the wares of fashion-forward local Korean designers. Not too far from Dongdaemun, is the city’s biggest traditional market called Namdaemun Market which offers a wide range of products like children's apparel, apparel for men and women, food stuffs, kitchenware and local and imported products. Prices at this market are very competitive and thus the market is a big draw for both locals and visitors alike.
However, if you want to shop for souvenirs on your visit to Seoul, then the area of Insadong, Seoul’s traditional area for tea–houses and art-galleries, cannot be missed. This charming area hosts scores of galleries like the Insa Art Center and the Gyeonngin Art Gallery amongst others. Also located here are many stores that specialize in antiques and various other curiosities, like old documents, paintings, ceramics, metal ware, woodcrafts, calligraphy and old furniture all of which make for great souvenirs.
Where to eat in Seoul
Seoul is known for its delightful street food fare which can be safely sampled by visitors too. Popular street-foods offered by vendors in tourist-heavy areas like Insdong and Myeongdong, include Tteokbokki, a cylindrical rice cake stuffed with fish, chili pepper paste and vegetables, Kkochi eomuk, a skewered fish cake, various Twigim, a collective name for batter-fried fritters that feature fillings like shrimp, squid, sweet potatoes and various other vegetables and Dak kkochi, a dish which features chicken grilled on a skewer which is then drenched with chili pepper glaze or soy sauce dressing. These diverse but delicious Seoul street-foods change with the seasons and during the winter months, the city’s street food fare tends to include offerings like baked sweet potatoes, roasted chestnuts, hoppang (steamed buns) and bungeo-ppang (fish-shaped bread filled with red bean paste).
However, Seoul has much more to offer than just street-food fare and the city also features a wide variety of restaurants that offer both Korean and western eats. Popular and well-regarded restaurants in Seoul currently include eateries, like Song Jook Heon, Yong Su San, Eul Ji Myun Ok, To Sok Chon and Goraebul (all Korean restaurants) along with spots that serve various global eats like Battered Sole, Porchetta, Smokey Saloon, Thai Garden and Tomatillo.
Nightlife in Seoul
The Seoul district, Gangnam-Gu, which was immortalized forever in the worldwide, viral, smash-hit song ‘Gangnam-style’, is the epicenter of city’s nightlife scene. Located here are many western-style bars along with some of Seoul’s hottest clubs like Club Heaven, Club Eden, Hackers, Club Answer and Ellui.