A TL:DR for first timer’s travelling to Seoul covering the best sights, food-filled streets and a stylish place to stay in the capital of South Korea.
Short* travel guide to Seoul
*Coz 500 words is short for me!
What to see in Seoul
There are a couple of cool palaces in Seoul but the largest (and most impressive in my eyes) is Gyeongbokgung, the Palace of Shining Happiness, which was built in 1395. There’s an hourly changing of the guard ceremony and lots of visitors donning traditional Hanbok clothing (because you get in free if you dress up, and it makes a great photo, obvs).
Wander the narrow streets and admire the traditional wooden Hanok houses at Bukchon Hanok Village. As the village is situated on an incline you get a wonderful view of the old ornate rooftops backed by the iconic N Seoul Tower. Many of the Hanok are residential dwellings but a couple have been turned into shops and teahouses that are worth visiting.
By far my favourite neighbourhood was hipster Hongdae, an area surrounding Hongik University filled with coffee shops, cake cafes, craft beer halls and trendy Korean BBQ joints.
Another street you must eat (a streat??) is Gangnam’s Eating Street. Situated parallel to the laser-lined main strip, Welcome or Eating Street is filled with cheap fried chicken and beer shops.
Situated atop a mountain in the centre of Seoul, N Seoul Tower is a great place to get sense of the scale of this ma-housive city. Depending on visibility I’d suggest you might want to skip scaling the tower and just take the cable car to its base instead. The whole area is filled with love locks (the shops sell them up there) to an extent like I’ve never seen before.
One of the most popular tours in Seoul is to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) between North & South Korea. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting – I thought it might be all stern and serious but the soldiers made a lot of gags about missiles and defecting and it felt like we were visiting a military amusement park at times. Definitely a different day out though.
What to eat in Seoul
All the Korean BBQ in Hongdae followed by lots of cake. Head to Namdaemun Market to try street food style Bulgogi and eat as much Chimaek (fried chicken and beer) as you can on Gangnam’s Eating Street. Look out for signs in Gangnam for Self Serve Beer – these are literally bars where you help yourself to beer from the fridge and pay according to your number of empties at the end of your visit. Justin and I were also delighted by the concept of steak and beer to go (see pic below).
Where to shop in Seoul
Dongdaemun is Seoul’s major shopping district with local markets and glossy malls to keep you busy for days. For something a little more unique head to the Design Market at the Zaha Hadid designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). For all sorts of Korean souvenirs, street food and tea houses head to Insadong.
Where to stay in Seoul
We loved our stay at the Boutique Hotel Loft near Dangsan Station. I wouldn’t bother paying for breakfast but the bathtubs in these loft-style rooms are working checking in for alone.
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Our trip to Seoul was self-funded. We flew to Seoul from Sydney via Singapore.
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