Seoul searching in the World’s nightlife capital
Seoul, South Korea is such an energetic city. You can spend all day eating super flavorful food and shopping, and all night partying it up. With so many ways to enjoy your time, it was extremely difficult to condense it into one short list. Seoul is a distinct city with a futuristic metropolis contrasting with a traditional and oriental ambiance. Whether you enjoy awesome architecture, a starlit city or tons of palaces, temples, and shrines, Seoul has something for everyone. With some of the nicest people and unbelievably low crime rates, Korea is a very welcoming country for new travelers. It also has one of the simplest subway systems I’ve ever used so getting around is a breeze. Here’s my top ten favorite things to do while in Seoul.
10. Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok village is one of the most famous traditional villages preserved with its vintage style of Korean Housing. If you’re looking to take a relaxing stroll, check out Bukchon Hanok for one of the most peaceful places in Seoul. Actually still a residential area, its best to be respectful and quiet to maintain the peaceful atmosphere(the elderly folks on guard will strictly enforce the quiet rule, so don’t be too surprised). You can also visit a traditional tea house to try some Korean style tea and zen out.
Koreans are definitely known for their sense of style. And there are few better places for finding great value for high quality goods than in the Markets of Seoul. Head to Myeongdong for some high class name brand shopping and fantastic street food. Its actually an entire area of department stores lined with food stands with everything from fried seafood on a stick, Gimbap(similar to sushi), and drinks made out freshly squeezed pomegranates.
8. Trickeye and Ice Museum
For some awesome optical illusions and cool pictures check out the Trickeye Museum. It contains tons of murals you can be a part of plus an Augmented Reality App for your smart phone to really see the paintings come to life. While you’re there, buy a ticket for the Ice Museum which displays an entire room with furniture made of ice. Even a slide made out of ice! Pretty cool.
7. Starfield Coex Mall
Hopefully you’re not tired of shopping already, but here is another great destination to get your consumerism on. Its a huge mall with tons more unique quirks to offer. Besides an amazing and culturally diverse food court, there is the Starfield Library which is the most photogenic stack of books I’ve ever seen. There’s also an Aquarium inside and a statue of the giant Gangnam style Hands from the World famous KPop song, Gangnam Style by PSY. Oppa Gangnam Style!
Very few cities can party harder than Seoul. The nightlife culture is fascinating because even on most weeknights you may see Koreans drinking, hanging out with friends, and dancing into the early morning hours. One of the best areas for a night out is Hongdae. Since its right by a University, there’s always a lively crowd and tons of bars and nightclubs to choose from. Head out to Retro Game Bar for free video games while you drink or sign up for a Pub Crawl and make new friends.
Another great area for partying is Itaewon. It has mostly foreigners and expats so its an option if your feeling home sick. A general night out usually starts with a huge meal, Drinking, dancing, and then an awesome round of Noraebang(Korean Style Karaoke). Most nights I returned around 6am so get ready for a long one!
5. Changdeokgung Palace and the Secret Garden
Seoul has an enormous amount of history to behold. The second largest palace and secondary residence for the royal family, It was completely restored from its original construction. Tickets are only a couple thousand Won (a few dollars) but I HIGHLY recommend getting a Royal Palace Pass. A ticket with immense value, You can visit most of the large palaces for around 10,000 Won($10 USD). You can also go on a free guided English tour which is super informative. Find operating hours and more info here.
Also included in the Royal Pass is entrance to the Secret Garden, an illustrious and vibrant Eden with a relaxing vibe. This one requires a mandatory tour and has limited space of 100 guests so arrive early and reserve your spot. The Palace grounds are closed on Mondays so plan accordingly.
4. Korean Food
If you didn’t come to Seoul to party, then it must of been for Korea’s outstanding food reputation. As a foodie myself, every meal was an extraordinary experience of flavorful explosions. From their amazing Korean BBQ to the plethora of delicious street food, you will taste food that will never leave your memories. Every meal is served with a few side dishes, especially kimchi(fermented cabbage and vegetables with spices, much better than it sounds) which is served with almost every meal. Koreans really know how to work with spices, so make sure you don’t underestimate the spiciness or you will feel the burn.
I can make an entire separate list of all the amazing food so here’s just a few of my favorites: Korean BBQ, Bibimbap(steamed rice dish), Bulgogi(slices of grilled meat), panjeon(scallion pancake), gyeran-pangg(egg bread) and of course Chimaek, Korean fried chicken. All other fried chicken will pale in comparision to the seasoned, crispy greatness that is Chimaek. Embrace its chickeny-goodness.
3. Gyeongbokgung Palace
This is Seoul’s largest Palace and was the primary residence for the royal family during the previous Joseon Dynasty. Its surrounded by the huge Gwanghwamun Gate, which is also a pretty photogenic spot. Right in front are also the Palace guards which you can pose next to for a cool pic. Just don’t touch them and you should be fine. To witness the ceremonial changing of the guard, try to arrive at 11am or 1pm. The palace offers English tours 3 times a day at 11am, 1:30pm, and 3:30pm. The grounds are enormous, so being guided around and learning the history definitely helps.
An added bonus is right at the Northernmost exit, The Blue house. Consider it the Korean equivalent to the presidential White House. There are many Hanbok(traditional colorful Korean outfits) rental shops around the area. Majority of people touring the palace are dressed up. Its a lot of fun plus you will even get a discount to the entrance of some palaces! Gyeongbokgung Palace is closed on Tuesdays so schedule it accordingly.
2. N Seoul Tower
Located at the top of Namsan Mountain is N Seoul Tower, another eccentric sky scraper that offers an amazing view of Seoul. You can either take the hiking trail up to the tower or ride the Namsan Cable Car for 4500 Won( around $4 USD) each way. When you arrive at the top, You’ll notice the fences and stairways filled with countless “Love Locks”. This area is known as a super romantic place, where couples usually write heartfelt messages before sealing the lock to symbolize their lives being intertwined forever. Bring your own lock or buy one at the store(the definition of capitalizing on a trend), and have a romantic night with your date.
At the top of the observation deck, you can gaze at the beautiful Seoul skyline. Its equally endearing to admire the starlit city at night, where you can feel it coming to life. It closes around 10pm, so if you don’t want to wait on the ridiculous line for the cable car back down, think about taking a taxi or leaving earlier.
1. A Tour of The DMZ and JSA
I know it sounds crazy to enter one of the most dangerous borders in the World, but I will help clear up some misconceptions. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a 2 mile wide border which divides North and South Korea and symbolizes a neutral zone between the separated Countries. Before this trip, I assumed it was dangerous to go anywhere near it. Aside from the waiver that explains they are not responsible for any injury or death sustained, the dangers of the DMZ are dramatically exaggerated. Our tour guide was magnificent and ensured the safety of the group for the duration of the trip. Although there are very specific rules to follow such as, a strict clothing guideline, prohibited photography at some locations, provoking soldiers, and of course trying to cross the actual border to the Northern side(duh).
Even with armed US and South Korean armed soldiers everywhere, I never felt my safety was at risk. Most likely due to the thousands of other tourists also on similar excursions. I’ll do another post with a more in-depth look into the entire experience. The most important things to note are booking at least a week in advance, scheduling a half day to either the DMZ or JSA(Joint Security Area) or a full day to both(highly recommended), and bringing your passport on the day of the tour. Going to Panmunjom for the Joint Security Area(JSA) is as close as you can get to the border line since its the shared room between both side for negotiation. You can really feel the tension in the air. Just follow the rules and you should come back fine. It is an experience that won’t ever be forgotten.
Seoul is a magnificent city that completely surpassed my expectations. The food was excellent, The historical sites and landmarks are in abundance, Nightlife is a lot of fun and all the people are super friendly and helpful. Seoul is a mix between an energetic modern city and an ancient oriental vibe. I have no doubts you’ll have a great time whether its your first, or 10th time visiting. As always thanks for reading this extra long post, and keep leveling up!