|Yeuido Park at dusk, Seoul 2012 (photo taken with Instagram)|
Since 2006, I've been a believer in Seoul as one of the greatest cities of the world. Busy, beautiful, complex, and inspiring, the possibilities for places to visit and things to do are nearly endless. Upon first arrival though, taking a glance at the subway map and the massive crowds on the streets can be quite intimidating.
Where should you go? What should you do?
Here I offer you my top 10 favourite spots in the coolest city in South Korea! I give descriptions of neighbourhoods I like, as well as the activities you can do in those areas. I hope this helps you make the most of your time in Seoul, however long or short your trip.
10 - Visit Myeongdong - "If the shopoholic came to Seoul, she would spend her days in MyeongDong"
Centrally located just a few stops north of Seoul Station, Myeongdong is the most famous area for clothes shopping in all of Seoul. If the crowds don't impress you, the clothes will. This is a really good place to shop for Korean-style clothes, as many of the shops have beautiful window displays which showcase how the pieces are meant to be worn. Korean fashion involves a lot of baggy pieces, layers, and feature pieces, and it can sometimes be hard to see how a certain item might be incorporated into an outfit. I find showing curiosity in feature pieces draws over the employees who will really help to put an outfit together for you. You will feel fantastic in new colours and patterns which you can wear for the rest of your time in Seoul. Though it's not the cheapest shopping area, you should definitely come to Myeongdong if you are at all interested in shopping for clothes while in Seoul.
How to get there: Myeongdong subway station. Line 4, exit 5.
9 - Visit Gyeongbuk Palace - "If the Prime Minister came to Seoul, they would take him to see GyeongBuk Palace"
GyeongBuk Palace, or Gyeongbuk Gung, (gung means palace in Korean) is the biggest, most famous, and best palace in Seoul. It's touristy, but with good reason. Before you enter, take photos of the bearded guards in colourful uniforms, and wait around until they do the changing of the guards. Once you're inside, it's less than 3,000 won to enter the palace, and you'll easily spend hours walking through the grounds. There is a picturesque lake and temple, as well as a museum and a cafe. And, if you like, you can even pay to dress up like Korean royalty and have your photo taken to preserve your memories at the palace.
How to get there: Gyeongbukgung subway station. Line 3, exit 3.
8 - Visit Carosu Gil, Apgujeong - "If Rhianna came to Seoul, she would party in Apgujeong"
Apgujeong is a famously rich district in Seoul, and on Carosu Gil (gil means street in Korean) you'll find the rich and famous out shopping and dining. Most of the stores in this area are extremely expensive designer clothing shops where the employees follow you around like hawks, but it can be really cool to see the beautiful and creative designs. You'll also find cafes with gorgeous and unique interior designs, offering everything from blueberry lattes to wine spritzers. Come here if you want to see the high life of wealthy Seoulites.
How to get there: Apgujeong subway station. Line 3, exit 4. Come out the exit and walk straight for 500m until you reach a sign which reads Carosu Gil on your left. Or just ask someone for Carosu Gil.
7 - Visit Yeuido - "If Lance Armstrong visited Seoul with his kids, they would cycle around Yeuido"
Along the shore of the Han River, families, couples and friends gather in the grass for picnics watching the rollerbladers whiz by. Many people bring tents to this park as there can be a lack of shade in some parts. If you're up for it, there's a waterpark in the park as well with a wave pool. There are also lots of food stands and people handing out flyers for fast food chains which deliver right to the park. You can rent a bike for 3,000 won per hour, or 5,000 for 2 hours, and then you can join the many bike riders along the paths. (Just leave an ID card while you bike to ensure your return). The rental bikes are in top shape, and you can even rent a bicycle for two. How romantic.
How to get there: Yeuido Station. Line 5, exit 3, walk straight for 5 minutes to the open arena with bikers and rollerbladers towards the national assembly building.
6 - Visit Yongsan - "If Ironman came to Seoul, he'd recharge himself in Yongsan"
If you want that overwhelming "I'minAsia!" feeling, Yongsan is the place. This electronic market is packed full of everything anyone could ever need in the form of electronic items: computers, netbooks, cameras, earphones, voice recorders, video equipment, and an endless supply of goodies to go along with these items. After a few hours walking around the electronic market, go down the stairs to Dragon Spa for the ultimate post-neon-shopping relaxation. Dragon Spa is one of the top Jimjilbangs in all of Korea (in my opinion) - and you can trust me, I've been to plenty.
How to get there: Yongsan Station. Line 1, main entrance to electronics market.
5 - Visit Namdaemun Market - "If Batman came to Seoul, he'd have a chase scene through Namdaemun market"
From cameras to Christmas trees, Namdaemun market has a little bit of everything to make any day of shopping worthwhile. If you aren't looking for anything specific, you'll still find yourself leaving the market area with a few treasures. You'll also see a wall of camera stores where you can buy extra batteries and other camera accessories. You can enjoy the beautiful gate by which the area is named after (though it has been under construction since an arson attack in 2008). The market is within walking distance of Seoul station, and there are many restaurants in the area as well as lots of street food.
How to get there: Hoehyeon Station. Line 4, exit 5.
4 - Visit Cheonggyecheon - "If the Bachelor came to Seoul, he would take his final choice on a date to Cheonggyecheon"
The perfect end to any day in Seoul is closer than you think. Cheonggyecheon (cheon means stream in Korean) is amazingly quiet and peaceful, almost to the point that you forget where you are. With beautifully lit bridges and waterfalls at night, it's a lovely spot to take photos, and just to sit and listen to the water. You'll never be alone though, as many people seek to find a few serene moments below the city roads. If you're into the vibe, buy some drinks at the Family Mart, find a cozy spot, and people-watch the night away.
How to get there: City Hall Station. Line 1, exit 4. Walk straight 5 minutes until you reach the entrance of the stream.
3 - Visit Samcheong-dong - "If Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez hung out in Seoul, they'd eat waffles in Samcheong-dong"
Take a break from the skyscrapers and noisy chain coffeeshops in favour of small windy streets and independent restaurants. Samcheong-dong is a wonderful way to enjoy Seoul on a smaller scale, literally: tiny roads, 8-seater restaurants, and boutique clothes shops line the streets just north of touristy Insadong. It's easy to fall in love with Seoul when you walk here, as you see art galleries next to adorable coffee shops with cozy creative atmospheres. The area also boasts an owl museum and the entrance to Bugaksan where you can see a great view of the city and the remaining ancient city walls.
How to get there: Anguk subway station: Line 3, exit 1. Cross the street and walk the opposite way from Insadong road.
2 - Visit Dongdaemun - "If Stella McCartney came to Seoul, hanging out in Dongdaemun would inspire her new clothing line"
The madness of this complex of 8 storey open malls is enough to make anyone a fashionista. After wandering the endless stalls of colourful belts and wild patterned skirts, you'll find yourself attracted to items you never considered before. Dongdaemun offers everything and anything that a human being can wear, all in one place. It can be exhausting if you spend more than a few hours inside, but I suggest taking the escalator up to a floor you like, and exploring that entire floor, then taking a coffee break on the top floor. That way you can maximize your shopping time and manage your energy levels. Also, if you're lucky, you'll be able to find the warehouse where you find rows of buttons and jewels to be strung into necklaces and wall hangings.
How to get there: Dongdaemun History and Culture Park subway station. Line 4 & Line 2 intersection, Exit 14.
1 - Visit Hongdae - "If the early days of the Beatles were happening now in Korea, they would perform in Hongdae."
Finally, my personal favourite neighbourhood: Hongdae. Hongdae is the name for the nightbourhood surrounding Hongik university, an art university which attracts creative talent from across the peninsula. Taking a walk around this area you'll see a lot of wild hair colours and styles, a lot of tattoos, a lot of musicians, and a lot of foreigners. This area is becoming very popular among the expat community as a place to party on the weekends. There are a lot of clubs and bars around this area which make it a great place to go out any night of the week. I recommend first visiting on a weekday afternoon for fewer crowds and great people watching. It will also help you get your bearings if you plan on coming back at night. At night, enjoy live music performances, dance-offs, flash mobs, art shows, all over a bottle of rice wine.
How to get there: Hongik University subway station. Line 2, exit 9.
Now you know where to go and what to do to make the most of your time in Seoul.
Enjoy the winding streets, enjoy getting lost and found, enjoy the cleanest and fastest subway rides, and definitely enjoy the street food!