Upon arrival in Seoul you will be met by your driver and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of your day is at leisure.
The capital of South Korea, Seoul is a sprawling metropolis that, like Tokyo, has enjoyed rapid post war expansion and is now one of the most densely populated places in the world. A 24-hour city of glittering skyscrapers, searing neon and K-pop culture; Seoul is also conversely an ancient city of tradition where Buddhist temples, Joseon dynasty palaces and wooden ‘hanok’ houses share the space.
Overnight in Seoul.
After breakfast, meet your guide and set off to tour some of Seoul’s highlights - visiting the classic and the contemporary. The quickest, most convenient way to travel around the city is by subway and, in true local style; this is predominantly how you will get around during the day.
Your first stop of the morning is Gyeongbokgung Palace – the largest of the five Grand Palaces and the main palace of the Joseon dynasty (the last monarchy in Korean history). Built in 1395, the palace has endured fire and years of abandonment, survived Japanese occupation and Korean War, yet it remains one of the most beautiful palaces in the country. Arrive in time for a behind-the-scenes glance at the royal guards in traditional costume rehearsing before the changing of the guards ceremony which takes place at the main gate at 10am.
Following the ceremony, venture inside the palace walls and explore the grand, opulent palace interiors. It’s an interesting insight into how life must have been for Korean royalty in their heyday.
In complete contrast, a ten minute walk will lead you to Bukchon Hanok Village: home to around 900 traditional wooden homes that date back to the Joseon dynasty. Traditionally built using natural materials (predominantly wood and clay), with distinctive curved roofs, many of these hanoks still provide housing for Seoulites; others have been converted into guesthouses, restaurants and tea houses. Stroll through the narrow streets and alleyways, stopping for lunch, where you will have the opportunity to try Bibimbap – a well-known South Korean one-pot wonder.
After lunch, visit Jongmyo Shrine, one of Seoul’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Jongmyo is the oldest and best preserved royal Confucian shrine, housing ‘spirit tablets’ (plaques inscribed with ancestral names) of the kings and queens of the Joseon dynasty. Confucian rituals and cultural performances continue to take place here.
Continue on to Gwangjang Market, which is one of the largest and oldest traditional markets in the country, dating back to the early 1900’s. Packed with stalls selling everything from vintage clothing to vegetables it’s arguably the best place in Seoul for Korean street food. The Bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes) are well worth sampling.
Final stop of the day is N Seoul tower – the highest point of Seoul - from where you can enjoy panoramic views over the city.
Return to your hotel around 5pm, and your evening is at leisure.
Overnight in Seoul.
After an early breakfast you will be met by your guide for a tour of Korea’s infamous DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). Created in 1953 to separate the North from the South, and home to the May 2018 landmark meeting of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in, this 260km strip of land is the most heavily militarised border in the world - lined by tank traps, barbed-wire fences, landmines and troops on both sides.
On arrival, having passed through two checkpoints, you will enter a briefing room for an introduction to the DMZ and its history. An official bus and guide will then transport you through this highly sensitive area. The tension is palpable. You will make a stop at the Bridge of Freedom, which South Koreans crossed when they returned to their home country from North Korea following the signing of the Armistice Agreement. And visit the Third Tunnel of Aggression – a tunnel under the DMZ that was built by the North apparently in preparation for an attack. It’s a fascinating, yet unsettling and slightly surreal morning!
Back at base, enjoy lunch in a local restaurant, before transferring back to your hotel in Seoul. The remainder of your afternoon is at leisure.
Overnight in Seoul.