Seoul is a place where tradition and modernity meet and it has something for everyone to enjoy. In this blog post, we recommend 6 must-see attractions if you want to experience everything the city has to offer.
Gwangjang Market, one of the oldest and largest traditional markets in Seoul, has a long and vibrant history full of ups and downs and has throughout time been a kind of symbol of resistance for the Korean people. During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), the Gwangjang Market was created in 1905 as a response to the Japanese taking over the main market of the time Namdaemun Market. Korean merchants gathered to create a market that was run by locals and was not under control by the Japanese. It was originally named Dongdaemun Market but was renamed Gwangjang Market in 1960.
These days the market is famous for its vibrant atmosphere and a great selection of street food. The market is full of small stalls that serve freshly made Korean dishes such as Kalguksu, Mandu, Naengmyeon and other delicious treats. The market also sells fresh produce, kitchenware, snacks, and souvenirs. Furthermore, there is a large second hand and vintage clothing market located on the 1st floor of the Gwangjang where you can find some amazing unique treasures. If you want to learn more about the Gwangjang market before you visit, then check out the ‘Seoul, South Korea’ episode of the Netflix series ‘Street Food’ where the market is depicted. The market is really worth a visit if you want to experience what an authentic Korean market has to offer.
Location: Between the Jongno 5-ga or Euljiro 4-ga metro stations.
Namsan Tower, one of the most known symbols of Seoul, was originally created at a TV and radio transmission tower for some of the major broadcasting networks in Korea. Currently, it is the second-highest point in Seoul, so naturally, it is a perfect place to see the beautiful shimmering city lights at night. You don’t have to go all the way up the tower to see the amazing scenery, even by the foot of the tower there is a great view and plenty of cafés and restaurants where you can take it all in while having a little bite. If you visit the tower as a couple, you can also leave a padlock attached to the fences surrounding Namsan tower. This symbolizes everlasting love and many couples around the world have participated in this romantic activity. It is free to visit Namsan Tower grounds but costs 11000 won (adults) or 9000 won (children/elderly) to go all the way up to the top of the tower.
How to reach the tower:
There are various ways to reach the Namsan tower. If you want to get some exercise it is possible to hike up to Namsan tower, either from the Myeongdong or Itaewon side. We recommend starting the hike right before the sun is setting. This way, you can enjoy the beautiful sunset on your way up and when you reach Namsan tower you can see the beautiful night view. If this doesn’t sound appealing to you it is also possible to take a cable car up to the mountain. The cable car is located on the Myeongdong side and costs 7000 won for an adult one-way ticket and 9500 won for a round-trip ticket. Taking the cable car is also an experience in itself as you can enjoy the scenery during the ride. Since the area is restricted from general traffic it is only possible to take shuttle buses to the tower. Check here to get more information about the shuttle buses.
Bukchon Hanok Village
The Bukchon Hanok Village is a truly unique attraction that has been largely untouched by the modern renovations that characterize the rest of Seoul. Bukchon means north village and it is located north of the Cheonggyecheon stream, in between the Gyeongbukgung and Changdeokgung palaces. The village’s history goes back more than 600 years to the Joseon Dynasty and was home to wealthy citizens, aristocrats, and government officials. Bukchon was also planned to be renovated with the rest of the city but citizens of the area resisted this and now it is one of the areas in Korea that has the most Korean traditional houses called Hanok in one area. 900 hanoks have been preserved to this day so when walking through the many small alleyways of the area you will feel like you have been taken back in time. The area not only offers a beautiful traditional atmosphere but also has several museums and cultural centers, as well as cute cafés, tea houses, and stores.
Yeouido Hangang Park
If you want to relax and unwind in the busy city then Yeouido Hangang Park is a perfect place to visit. The park is located on Yeouido island in the middle of Seoul, the area is known as being one of the main finance and broadcasting districts in Seoul full of skyscrapers. The park is located at the edge of the Han River and it stretches far down the river in both directions. One very unique thing about Seoul is that it has utilized the areas by the Han River as a place where citizens can enjoy leisure activities and sports. At almost any point on the river, there will be a park or some sort of open area where you can relax and lots of people take advantage of this to escape the city and relax. Hangang Park is one of the most popular parks along the river and when the weather is nice many Koreans visit to eat fried chicken with beer and you can see small tents in all directions.
There are biking lanes located on the river’s edge and it is easy and cheap to rent bikes in the park. Riding on a tandem bike is a popular couples activity in this area. We highly recommend renting some bikes and taking a trip down the riverside on a clear day. It is a great way to enjoy the city while getting a little bit of exercise.
How to get there:
The easiest way to get to the park is by taking line 5 and getting off at the Yeouinaru Station then go out of exit 2 and you will be right at the park entrance.
Gyeongbokgung was the main royal palace for large parts of the Joseon era and was thus located in the middle of the city and in front of mount Bugak. It was a central part of the government and the surrounding areas held high importance such as the Street of Six Ministries. Therefore, it was also a big target for foreign invasions and in 1592 Gyeongbokgung was burnt to the ground during the Japanese Invasion. After this, the grounds lay dormant for almost 300 years until the Regent Heungseon Daewongun called for it to be rebuilt in 1867. Then again during the Japanese Occupation of Korea (1910-1945), the palace was severely damaged and the Japanese took ownership of the land. Most of the buildings were torn down during this period to make way for the headquarters for the colonial power. In 1996, the headquarters were removed and restorations efforts have been going ever since. These days, the palace is almost back to its former glory and when you visit the palace it feels like being taken back to the Joseon Dynasty. The grounds consist of many houses and quarters that were designated for different parts of the court. At the heart of the palace, the personal royal quarters are located with separate buildings for the King and Queen and their servants. The Gyeonghoeru house is definitely worth a visit too. The open house is located in the middle of a lake and was used for important state banquets.
Entrance to the grounds costs is 3000 won for adults and 1500 for children. Opening hours change depending on the season but it is usually between 9 am and 6 pm. Every hour between 10 am - 3 pm, there is a royal changing of the guards ceremony in front of the main gate. Also, on selected dates in the months from April to October, there is a special nighttime viewing of the palace grounds. There is a limited number of tickets for each viewing so either book online in time or visit the palace before 7 pm as there is a certain number of tickets allocated to foreigners.
Find more practical information here.
Myeongdong, one of the main shopping areas in Seoul dates back to the Joseon dynasty where it went under the name Myeongryebang. In 1946 it was officially renamed as Myeongdong. For a long time, Myeongdong was a residential area but under the Japanese Occupation (1910-1945) the area began to develop into the commercial shopping district that we know today. Myeongdong also experienced further modernization and expansion after the Korean War when the Korean economy began to flourish.
These days, Myeongdong is full of department stores, retail chains and a large number of k-beauty brands, all located within a close distance of each other. This is one of the reasons why it is a popular place for tourists and locals to go shopping. Another unique part of Myeongdong is the street food carts that fill up the street during the day. You can try any unique foods and traditional Korean street foods while you shop.