The technology-forward city of Seoul is also the place to indulge in delectable street food, shopping and culture. Not only is it hi-tech, but this dynamic city is a fashionistas delight — there are more malls than you can imagine and streets filled with endless markets, cosmetic stores and stylish boutiques, all buzzing with a mix of locals and tourists.
The mash up of technology and shopping is also mixed with a rich history and culture, with the city houses five palaces and numerous temples and shrines.
We spent four days visiting a couple of the palaces, taking in the views from Namsan Mountain, visiting a number of the neighbourhoods, shopping, eating and spa-ing.
Seoul is home to five palaces from the Joseon Dynasty, with Gyongbokgung being the largest. We chose to visit this palace, which also served as the main administrative palace of the dynasty.
We also visited Changdeokgung Palace, which was built by the Joeson emperors in the 15th century. Changdeokgung’s secret garden surrounds the palace, and the grounds were created with a focus on building around the natural landscape. It provides a good understanding to the feng shui design elements factored into the buildings and gardens throughout the city.
The National Museum of Korea
Located in Yongsan Family Park, this museum houses more than 220,000 pieces of art and relics. It’s a great place to browse artifacts to the earliest days of Korean civilization and better understand the history of the country. It contains a nice mix of archeological and historical galleries, paintings and Buddhist sculptures and art.
Namsan Mountain & Cable Car
N Seoul Tower is one of Seoul’s most iconic buildings, perched atop Namsan, a large hill in the center of Seoul. To get to the top of the hill, you need to take a cable car, local bus or hike, and at the top, there is a nice view and a number of small restaurants and shops. Once inside the tower, you’ll find a viewdeck along with a few restaurants, coffee shops and museums.
There are so many options for neighbourhoods to base yourself in Seoul that we struggled to choose one initially. We ended up in Myeongdong, and were very happy with our choice. While the locals will tell you it is overpriced and filled with tourists, it offers an endless area of shopping, providing a good mix of Korean and North American brands as well as a plethora of skin care and beauty focused shops. It’s also a great place to fill up on Korean street food or cool off in a cafe.
Of course, we made visits to a number of other neighborhoods – we spent time in Gangnam, Insadong, Yongsan, and Itaewon.
Insadong is an older neighbourhood popular for souvenirs and antique shops, galleries and tea shops. You’ll find a plethora of traditional Korean goods like hanbok, tea cups and crafts. There’s also a wide variety of Korean restaurants so it’s a good stop for bibimbap and barbecue.
Itaewon is an electic neighbourhood filled with with foreigners and expats giving it an international vibe. It’s winding streets are home to bars, cafes and restaurants with any cuisine you may have been craving for. We visited a couple times for Ko-mex and Thai food.
Gangnam, which means “south of the river” is the district just South of the Han River. It’s a busy area with high end shops, malls, restaurants, cafes, and of course, a tribute to “Gangnam Style”.
We visited Samsung d’light, which is an exhibition center that showcases Samsung’s latest technology and allows you to interact with it.
We then braved COEX mall, Asia’s largest underground mall, located in the basement of the World Trade Center.
The DMZ and JSA Tour
The DMZ, or demilitarized zone, splits South and North Korea. We decided to take a tour of the area and also visit the Joint Security Area, the closest point a tourist can get to North Korea, and in fact, stand in North Korea.
The 3rd Tunnel
Around the time that North and South Korea were having peace talks, North Korea started digging underground tunnels to the South. There were discovered in 1984 and never completed, but the longest tunnel is 1,082 meters. We visited the 3rd tunnel, just 44 kilometers outside of Seoul, and has the ability to move 30,000 troops and artillery each hour.
This observatory is named after the Dorasan mountain that it sits on, and provides a good view of North Korea.
The nearest train station has a fully completed linethat runs to Pyongyang, but has never been used. Today, there is a tourist train from Seoul, but it does not go to North Korea. There is a map in the train station where you can see the Eurasian rail network after the Korean reunification in Dorasan Station.
The Joint Security Area houses the UN Command neutral zones. Inside the buildings are the border of North and South Korea and where the meetings between the two countries are held.