Visiting Seoul - What to See and Do
(Seoul Incheon International Airport ICN, Republic Of Korea)
South Korea's national capital is a sprawling metropolis with more than 10.5 million people living within its city limits, and just as many more living within Seoul's surrounding suburbs. Despite the city's tremendous size and close proximity to the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea
, the city remains one of the cheapest and safest in all of Asia
The tourism industry of Seoul
may still be a work in progress, but the city has been a national capital since the 14th century and its history dates back centuries further. The easiest place to start an excursion around South Korea's capital city is the Han River, which divides this gigantic metropolis in half. None of the city's numerous skyscrapers are as large or as well known as the 63 Building, which contains a Sea World aquarium attraction and IMAX theatre, in addition to boasting stunning skyline views.
Several far older Seoul landmarks still stand amongst the city's many high rises. The Changdeokgung Palace is over 600 years old, while the Gyeongbokgung Palace's beauty has managed to survive two major fires. The Namdaemun Gate still stands in its original 1398 location despite damage from a 2008 fire, and the gate's namesake market is another Seoul must-see.
Ten things you must do in Seoul
- Follow the footsteps of over six centuries' worth of visitors through the Namdaemun Gate, one of the city's oldest and most treasured landmarks. Although this iconic entrance to Seoul was heavily destroyed by a 2008 arson attack, the attraction has since been restored to its original splendour.
- Browse the wares at the Namdaemun Market, situated next to its namesake gate in the heart of Seoul. Many of the stalls at South Korea's biggest traditional street market sell children's clothing and accessories, but there is also a large selection of cheap digital cameras. Evening is the best time to grab a bite to eat at any of the market's many food stalls.
- Stare at the city's endless stream of skyscrapers from the 60th floor observation deck of 63 Building, the tallest high-rise of them all. Alternatively, pay a visit to the even taller 240-metre / 787-foot N Seoul Tower (an observation and communications tower), found at the top of Mount Namsan.
- Bring the whole family to the Children's Grand Park, where visitors of all ages can watch elephants kick a football, see seals and chimps in a zoo, tour the park's fascinating folk museum, or simply stroll along the boardwalk of protected wetlands area. This giant amusement park also contains a botanic garden where guests can relax among bonsai trees and cacti specimens.
- Admire the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the grandest of Seoul's several palaces. The Japanese burnt this beautiful structure to the ground twice over the centuries, but it is now just as splendid as it was during its years as Seoul's main seat of power. The Joseon Palace and Korean Folk museums are housed here.
- Stroll across the oldest of Seoul's stone bridges to the painstakingly restored Changdeokgung Palace, a 600-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site containing no fewer than 28 pavilions and 13 buildings within its sprawling park grounds. This was the home of Korea's final emperor, Sunjong, prior to his 1926 passing.
- Climb Mount Inwang's 335-metre / 1,099-foot summit, which contains Seoul's legendary Guksadang shrine, Inwang Temple and the city's imposing fortress. Visitors can relax amongst the unusual Zen rock formations or at any of the relaxing creeks surrounding this sacred place.
- Learn everything there is to know about South Korea's staple food at the Kimchi Museum, which exhibits all different kinds of kimchi (pickled vegetables), as well as all the ingredients and food utensils required to make this signature Korean dish.
- Appreciate the unusual combination of Western and Eastern influences used during the mid-1400s construction of the Deoksugung Palace, which King Seojo converted into his personal royal residence. The palace's tea pavilion and surrounding gardens are especially lovely attractions here.
- Showing that the Koreans are serious about preserving what nature remains in their big urban cities is the acclaimed Cheonggyecheon reclaimed stream. Once paved over by a road, this lovely little stream was uncovered and restored, becoming one of the city's prized attractions. Ideal for a stroll, its paved path is situated pleasantly lower than the surrounding city streets. Make a point to visit this impressive example of urban renewal.