After the eight hour flight to Seoul, which included reading two travel guides and creating a mini must-do list… I finally got a sense of what Korea had to offer and what I should be doing. As per usual, I completed 50% of the list whilst the other 50% got reprioritised with ‘getting-lost’ (the good way) and local recommendations taking precedence. So what were my favourite (most memorable) places and things to do ?
1. Gwanghwamun Plaza which includes;
i. A statue of King Sejong is at its center (creator of Korea’s Alphabet) ii. ‘Waterway of History’ on either side of the square iii. A statue of Admiral Yi Sunshin standing tall iv. 12:23 fountain which represents the 23 battles and 12 warships Admiral Yi Sunshin led to Korea’s victory against the Japanese during the Imjin war. What makes this square even more spectacular is the beautiful backdrop of the Gyeongbokgung palace and stunning mountains.
2. Gyeongbokgung grounds – “The palace of shining happiness” . As mentioned in my Seoulful Seoul Post this place is amazing. Enter from the southern gate (near Gwanghwamun Square) where you can catch the changing of the guards ceremony (3 times per day, 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m). Must visits on the inside include: Gyeonghoero – the floating pavilion and the Parujeong – a stunning Octagon Building.
3. Insadong district – The culture hub of Seoul, Insadong is made up of winding alleys and streets filled with charming restaurants, galleries, antiques, tearooms and souvenirs (think tea pots, pottery, art, handmade paper etc). Make sure you try some of the street food and finish up in Tapgol Park which is home to a 15th century stone pagoda from a Buddhist temple once located in this very park.
4. Samcheongdong & Bukchon District (Bukchon Hanok Village) – Is hugely popular with the hip and happening locals for its shopping, funky cafes and brunch spots. A little like nearby Insadong, this area also offers tearooms, gallieres, museums and souvenirs, however Bukchon is like taking a step back in time as it is also home to the historic Hanok Villages (Traditional wooden houses – many still lived in).
5. Dongdaemun – Which translates to Great East Gate (built in 1398) still stands. This area is also famous for its huge market areas. My favourite was the local Kwang Jang Market, which offers fresh food, fabric, house hold supplies and local eatery stalls (don’t be afraid to try the jeon here [mung-bean pancakes] they’re seriously yummy). Dongdaemun market is a huge clothing and accessories market (mostly copies) also in this area.
6. Cheonggyecheon Stream – An 8km stream below street level, was actually a pleasant surprise for me. I entered just outside the exit of the Kwangjang Market and walked down stream to the Great East Gate and Dongdaemum market (Approx 2km). Be sure to do what the locals do and stop and dip your feet in – It was exactly what I needed after walking for more than 20km in 34 degree heat that day.
7. The DMZ (The Demilitarised Zone) – dividing North and South Korea. If you’re keen on visiting the Joint Security Area (where you will be standing face to face with North Korean Soldiers) book a tour in advance – we did. I won’t lie, it was a little scary particularly after all the stories you hear in the introduction power point…. Oh! and the disclaimer they make you sign saying we are not responsible if you die.
Other Places worth visiting:
8. Namsan Park – A stunning park in the city centre and home to Seoul Tower. Take the Cale Car up and watch the sun set over Seoul.
9. Changgyeong Palace – If you have time this place is amazing! Be sure to visit the Secret garden – unfortunately you can only do this as part of a tour.
10. Itaewon District – for the night life! District 10 was my favourite spot. I will warn, the locals sure know how to drink!
Note: Korea is awesome for shopping, so I’ll put together another post on shopping (it deserves a post on its own).