Seoul, as it says, is the soul of South Korea and the nucleus of K-pop. It is one of the world’s largest cities and the sprawling metropolitan area is home to 25.6 million people which is half of the total population in the country.
Seoul was the first city that I visited abroad in 2016 during the month of June which was hardcore summertime in South Korea. I highly recommend anyone to visit this K-pop wonderland during the spring or autumn time when you can actually evident beautiful cherry blossoms during spring and autumn foliage during the autumn season. The other two seasons are not very friendly when it comes to explore and discover amazing places in the city. Summers are too hot and humid and winters are too much cold.
I did not visit Seoul as a tourist but as an intern student for 3 months so I had very limited time over a day to explore the city off my student hours in which I had to work in a research lab. Nevertheless, I managed to explore enough over the weekend and luckily, some public holidays. The following are the places and things I highly recommend visitors to check out during their travel to Seoul.
Table of Contents
- 0.1 Gyeongbokgung Palace
- 0.2 Namsan Seoul Tower
- 0.3 Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
- 0.4 The War Memorial of Korea
- 0.5 Samsung Town
- 0.6 Itaewon
- 0.7 Download ‘Meetup’
- 0.8 Myeong-dong
- 0.9 Korean Foods and Drinks
- 0.10 Gapyeong Water Sports and Sensational ATV Ride
- 0.11 Eurwangni Beach
- 1 Travel tips for Seoul
- 2 Note
Gyeongbokgung Palace is the most important touristic site in Seoul and is considered as the prime historical monument of South Korea. If you step back into history, you would know that it was constructed to represent the supremacy of the Joseon Dynasty. It was first burned down by the Japanese, but it was rebuilt and opened its doors to the visitors. The palace shares the area with the National Folk Museum of Korea, the National Palace Museum of Korea, the pavilions, shrines living quarters and many more where you can spend pleasant hours even for the entire day. The entrance fee is really affordable. Many people rent ‘Hanbok’ which is a traditional Korean attire that not only gives amazing photos with the palace but also grants you free entry into the palace. There are many Hanbok rental shops in that area and price start from 10,000 KRW/2 hours. Not all rental shops give free hairdo service, you might have to pay an extra 5,000 KRW.
Namsan Seoul Tower
The Namsan Seoul Tower is the symbol of Seoul and you always see it when you search Seoul on google (well now it shows Lotte World Tower which is newly built and is the 5th largest building in the world). The N Seoul Tower is located 480 meters above the sea level in Namsan Park, visiting the observation deck gives you the panoramic view of the entire city. It is even prettier during the night time when the whole tower light with the LED lights and it allows you to see the Seoul city skyscrapers and street lights from the observation deck. This place is perfect to take a break from the city’s hustle and bustle and enjoy nature. There are many good shops up there to do the shopping and buy souvenirs.
One amazing thing to do up there is love lock like a Parisian style. So, if you are going with someone you love, this place is even more appealing to you as you can lock your love there to eternity by putting a lock with your names on it, how romantic! The most efficient way to reach the Namsan Seoul tower is with Namsan cable car which is the most efficient way to reach N Seoul Tower. Do visit here!
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
DDP is the most iconic landmark of the Korean design industry. The shape itself is very eye-catching. During the night time, it is even more enchanting to see the beautiful LED flowers that light up. This plaza is located in the Dongdaemun neighborhood which itself is very famous for its traditional markets and shopping centers. There are art galleries inside and this place is the prime center for any design-related shows, exhibitions, conferences, and other events or gatherings. This is open 24 hours a day and there is no entrance fee if you just visit DDP, only a fee for a special exhibition. Take a stroll definitely to this advanced infrastructure masterpiece.
The War Memorial of Korea
The War Memorial in Seoul exhibits and preserves materials related to the Korean War. It was actually established to commemorate the sacrifice of patriotic martyrs who were killed in the Korean War. The memorial also tells how different countries aided South Korea during the war. The admission fee is free unless you are going to any special exhibition. It is always great to learn about the history of the country that you are visiting. For that purpose, you must definitely visit here.
Well, you can skip this if engineering does not fascinate you. I belong to the engineering background and there is no chance I can skip this electronics wonderland while visiting South Korea. Samsung is a Korean company and there is no doubt that solely Samsung contributes a large fraction to Korea’s economy. Samsung Electronics building is based in Seocho-dong in Seoul with the name, Samsung D’light. There is a huge exhibition space where the latest product of the company is on display. There is no admission fee but you surely need to pay for parking which is 2,000 KRW for starting 30 minutes and an extra 1,000 KRW for every additional 10 minutes. Don’t miss visiting the amazing Samsung town if you are an engineer or in general interested in electronics.
Itaewon is a culturally very diverse neighborhood in Seoul. For a moment, it might surprise you by just looking at the street. This place is full of international crowd, delicious international foods, and of course, Itaewon first comes to mind when it is about nightlife in Seoul. If you are planning to stay in this area, then I highly recommend the Hamilton Hotel, which is located in a very ideal location with nice proximity to clubs, restaurants, and bars in this area. I personally never checked into this hotel but heard really good about it from friends who stayed there for a short duration.
Also, I suggest you try the meetup application and download it on your Android/iOS. On this app, you can find groups of people who make different kinds of groups for numerous activities like language learning group, hiking group, some party group, etc. You don’t have to pay anything to attend unless it is mentioned in the group’s description. I myself attended a Badminton meetup group and used to attend it twice a week. It was a very good experience. I met really amazing people from different countries and different backgrounds.
Also, most of the time, after the play we used to dine together and exchange culture, language, etc, Not only I had regular fitness every week and improvisation of my badminton skills but I also experienced a true student exchange life. In a similar way, you can join some party group also on meetup especially if you are arriving for a day or so and interesting in joining some international group for the nightlife. Sometimes you get a discount also in pubs or clubs if you would say that you are with the meetup group. You can use the meetup app for other purposes also like joining an excursion with some locals or other travelers or learning any language or yoga etc.
Seoul is full of shopping districts but Myeong-dong is on a completely different level. It is very crowded always, first of all. I did not shop much from Myeong-dong as my scholarship was limited and I spent too much on something that I explained in my next point. Remember one thing though, many stores here offer tax-free claims for shopping over 30,000 KRW. You will get a receipt for your every buy plus an additional slip for a tax refund after you show them your passport or flight details. You can claim your tax-refund at Incheon International Airport on your departure. There is a specified section for a tax refund. Basically, your refundable tax is VAT which is 10%. Also, please note if you shopped like crazy because you work in Apple or Facebook probably and your amount exceeded 1,000,000 KRW then you have to show them to customs and they will deal with your tax refund.
Korean Foods and Drinks
Now comes the best part in which 80% of my scholarship was UTILIZED and it’s not definitely attending some k-pop concert or buying expensive Korean cosmetics (well possible if I would be a girl) but for me personally the best part of my whole stay was Korean food (OMG I am sobbing right now as there are no good Korean restaurants around).
First must-try Korean street food would definitely be, Tteokbooki, which is a spicy rice cake, be careful if you are not spicy friendly because this might make you serious cry but surely give it a try even if you cry a little, what is wrong in that! The second would be Soondae which is called blood sausage in Korean cuisine, made by steaming cow or pig’s intestine.
KIMCHI! KIMCHI! You will hear, see, smell, and served Kimchi every day in Korea. Kimchi is a famous traditional side dish made from salted and fermented vegetables mainly cabbage and Korean radishes.
Now, the main course dishes, my favorite firstly, Dakgalbi, a Korean spicy chicken stir fry. I can literally eat it my whole life long (with some Indian masalas, of course, my metabolism works that way, can’t help it). This is again a little spicy dish but must try authentic Dakgalbi if you are visiting Seoul. Another very famous and common Korean dish is Bulgogi, Korean BBQ beef. All dishes in Korea that include Beef will always be on the expensive side because of overly strict policies towards safe U.S. beef. One amazing food store is a must check out if you are visiting Seoul is Paris Baguette, which is a chain of bakery originated in Korea, not France, hmm interesting, no? just like Bombay Gin is not from Bombay and French Fries are not French. Note that Koreans love to eat fried chicken with beers and this combination they call Chimaek. Chimaek is love!
Another very famous drink in Korea is Makgeolli, a Korean rice wine. Do try it! Last and the soul drink of Korea, SOJU! If you come to Korea and don’t drink Soju, you never came to Korea (of course, non-alcoholic people are exempted from such law). I drank it the very first day, the very first hour I visited Seoul just to remain on the safe side you know.
Gapyeong Water Sports and Sensational ATV Ride
If you are visiting Seoul in summers and you got one more day to spend after you have explored top sites in the city, you wouldn’t find a better or more productive way than adding an adventurous one day trip to Gapyeong. Located at the border of Gyeonggi-do and Gangwon-do province, Gapyeong is located at the center of the Korean Peninsula. This place is famous for its artificial lake, Cheongpyeong lake which is formed due to the construction of the Cheongpyeong Dam.
You can enjoy many water sports activities here such as water skiing, banana ride, jet skiing, etc, that make this place a very popular one-day picnic spot mainly during summers.
If you are visiting here, then don’t miss the thrilling ATV ride alongside the astonishing outdoor pathway into nature. The instructor who you will be following will teach you the basics and train you controlling your ATV before you start this 1-hour memorable ride on the off-road tracks, rivers, narrow mountain pathways, steep slopes, etc, am I scaring you? You can think of paying around 150,000 KRW for water sports plus an ATV ride. I did not pay anything as I made it with my research group and all expenses were incurred by my supervisor, yea hate me!
If you are arriving early or departing late from Seoul, in that case, you should definitely consider visiting Eurwangni Beach. This beach is located in Incheon with very good proximity of 15 mins to Incheon Airport by Bus. Enjoy delicious seafood afterward.
Travel tips for Seoul
Though bow is the traditional Korean greeting, nowadays shaking hands like the western culture is also very common if you are meeting someone for the first time. To show respect, Koreans support their right forearms with their left hand while shaking hands and say ‘Annyeonghaseyo’ which means ‘Hello’ and if the other person is of the same age or younger, you can say simple ‘Annyeong’.
It is always advisable to learn some basic phrases of the language when you visit any new country where English is not the first language. Similarly, in Korea, some basic Korean phrases will be very helpful for your fruitful stay in Korea. Young people are proficient in English most of the time especially in Seoul, which is a student-friendly city but it could be trickier with elder people or market vendors or taxi drivers who sometimes know less or none about English so that time your Korean basic phrases learning might save some time for you. In my case, I learned many basic Korean phrases before visiting Seoul for my internship and it helped me a lot.
Etiquettes in the Restaurant
When you enter any restaurant, the staff will welcome you by saying ‘Annyeonghaseyo’ which means ‘welcome’ here with slightly nodding their head and you are expected to respond in the same way. This will repeat again when you will be leaving the restaurant and this time you have to initiate saying ‘Annyeonghaseyo’ which means ‘Good Bye’ or ‘Thank You’ here and don’t forget to slightly nod your head. By the end of my trip, I really mastered it with the accent and now I show it off to every Korean restaurant I visit worldwide and surprise the staff and sometimes get some complimentary dish as an invitation, no no no it is not my strategy to get free food.
T-money card is a pre-paid transportation card that works at all public transportation including taxi. You can get this at any subway station’s vending machine. Subway is the most convenient way to traverse in Seoul keeping its traffic issue in mind like any other big metropolitan city. Taxi is also convenient transportation if you can manage to communicate with the driver. Regular Taxi (orange) has base fare 3,000 KRW for 2 Km and 100 KRW extra for an additional 142 m.
I highly suggest anyone not to take China Southern Airlines. I had a very bad experience with them which absolutely shattered me and almost my dream of traveling abroad for the first time. My first booked flight with China Southern got delayed by more than 40 hours and canceled eventually suddenly without any prior indication. That made my Korean visa invalid as I had only 2 days left to enter in the country as per visa policies. Initially, China Southern took the accountability that such a case would never happen and later after 40 hours, they just said sorry because they had no flight arranged that can reach Seoul before my visa expiry time. I was alerting them regularly but they kept saying “Don’t worry sir, you will reach Seoul on time”. Such inconvenience is intolerable to anyone in which they lie, manipulate and mislead their passengers.
I had to apply again for the Korean visa and took another direct flight Delhi-Seoul with Asiana Airlines. I again highly suggest anyone not to take China Southern Airlines if you don’t want such an unprofessional service and such inconvenience in your journey.