With just a few days left in Korea, I realized I haven’t posted much about my adventures in Seoul. It’s a massive city that blends modern technology and rich history, tradition and culture while offering SO much to see, do, eat and explore. Although I technically live in the Seoul metropolitan area, it takes me about 1.5-2 hours to reach central Seoul by metro (yes, it’s THAT big). However, it’s worth the long metro trip and, since moving here, I’ve been to Seoul quite a few times.
Here’s some of the highlights of my adventures in Seoul over the past 6 months.
Seoul City Wall
Seoul City Wall is easily my favorite thing about Seoul! Snaking 18.6 kilometers through neighborhoods and over hills, the wall was originally built over 600 years ago to defend the city from invasion. Today, it is still mostly intact and footpaths have been built along many sections to allow foreigners and locals alike to enjoy the architecture, history and beautiful views of Seoul and the surrounding mountains along the way. I posted about Hiking Seoul City Wall back in October with some of my friends from work.
Itaewon is probably one of the most well-known neighborhoods in Seoul, famous for its vibrant mix of diverse cultures. It’s the go-to place if you’re looking for some international cuisine – from Mexican, to Indian, to British pub food – but is also known for it’s nightlife with a wide selection of bars and clubs. My boyfriend and I went to Itaewon back in November to celebrate my birthday with Mexican food and drinks at a nice rooftop bar! While it’s a fun atmosphere at night, Itaewon is also a great place to explore by day. The narrow, hilly alleys are perfect for exploring and there’s a beautiful park with excellent views of Seoul and Namsan Tower.
Gyeongbokgung Palace is the most famous palace in Seoul and is the one place you absolutely must visit if you find yourself in Korea. Built in 1395, the Palace is rich in history. Gyeongbokgund used to be the center of the Joseon Dynasty but was almost entirely destroyed during the Japanese invasion. Today, the few remaining buildings have been restored and the Palace has become one of the most iconic sights in Seoul. The Palace is HUGE and you can easily spend an entire day exploring the beautiful grounds, taking a free tour, stopping by the National Palace Museum of Korea or watching a reenactment of the traditional Royal Guard-Changing ceremony.
Changdeokgung Palace is located just east of Gyeongbokgung Palace and was the main royal residence of many kings during the Joseon Dynasty. With many well-preserved buildings and beautiful grounds, the Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of history. The highlight of Changdeokgung, however, is the Huwon Secret Garden. In order to access the Garden, you have to buy a separate ticket and join a tour group, which I found a bit annoying. I would have preferred to explore the Garden on my own, but it was beautiful and definitely worth the 1.5 hour long tour!
Restored in 2005, Cheonggyecheon Stream runs almost 11 kilometers through the heart of Seoul. It’s the perfect place to take a relaxing stroll through the city, passing by waterfalls, flowers and fish ponds along the way. Although it’s man made and surrounded by high rise buildings and busy streets, I found it surprisingly peaceful and very easy to access from many of Seoul’s main sights. Although it’s beautiful by day, the Cheonggyecheon Stream also lights up at night and is particularly impressive during the Lantern Festival, which is held in November.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Located between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village is a historic neighborhood that features restored, traditional Korean houses, known as hanok. The village has become popular among tourists who can learn about traditional Korean architecture and culture while visiting the restored hanoks that have been turned into restaurants, shops and museums. Located in a hilly neighborhood of Seoul, Bukchon Hanok Village is the perfect place to take a stroll through the narrow streets and enjoy views of the city.
Myeong-dong is another well-known neighborhood in Seoul famous for its bright neon lights and shopping streets. You can find many international name brands here, such as H&M, Zara and Louis Vuitton, for example, as well as many Korean shops and department stores. There are also many international and local restaurants lining the car-free shopping streets as well as ample street food options!
Namdaemun is the largest traditional market in Seoul and let me tell you, it is HUGE! The market is located right in the heart of the city, near Seoul Station and City Hall, and it’s always busy with shoppers. You can find almost anything you need at Namdaemun, from clothes, to kitchenware, to stationary, to electronics. You can also find many traditional Korean items, such as hanbok, the traditional Korean dress, as well as classic Korean street food. The market is open almost all day, including overnight, officially from 11 pm to 5 pm the next day.
Bukhansan National Park
For me, Bukhansan National Park is one of the highlights of Seoul! Part of the park lies within city limits so it’s super easy to access by bus or metro. However, despite being in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world, Bukhansan feels like a green oasis and is a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of Seoul. Hiking is crazy popular in Korea (people take it VERY seriously), so there are endless hiking trails to choose from in the park as well as many beautiful temples to explore. Back in October, I wrote about my hike to the top of Baegundeae Peak, the most famous peak in Seoul.
Ihwa Mural Village
Ihwa Village used to be a slum, but in 2006 the government carried out a revitalization project, bringing in artists to create beautiful murals. However, the revitalization efforts worked a little too well. The murals brought in so many tourists that it disrupted the lives of those who call Ihwa home and some locals even painted over the murals to try to stop the tourists from coming. Today, there are still many beautiful murals on display and, although tourists are welcome, there are some unwritten rules to follow, such as keeping noise to a minimum to respect those who live there. It’s a beautiful neighborhood to wander around to enjoy not only incredible murals, but also stunning views of the city.
Seoul is pretty well-known for its wide variety of themed cafes ranging from a Hello Kitty cafe, to a dog café, to a poop café. Yes, a poop themed café. When my boyfriend and I were in Seoul, we decided to check out one of the more unique themed cafes, the Meerkat Café. Like the name suggests, there were a bunch of meerkats running around, as well as a few kangaroos, two wolfs and some cats (I think they were cats?). It was a little too zoo-ish for my liking, and quite expensive, but it was fun getting to play with the cute meerkats!
Seoul Plaza, located in front of Seoul City Hall, is a large, grassy area right in the middle of the city. There’s always events and festivals being held at the Plaza, such as the Seoul Kimchi Festival and the annual Seoul Plaza Ice Skating Rink. There’s also a nice Seoul sign to take photos of and, if you’re a foreign, six foot tall, handsome British guy (like my boyfriend is), then you will probably be asked to pose for many, many awkward photos in front of that sign.