South Korea - Getting to know Seoul
Seoul offers an exciting introduction to South Korea and will be the first taste of the country for many tourists (as most international flights land here). Situated in the north west, a short distance from the border with North Korea, it’s an intoxicating mix of bustling streets, high rises, non-stop consumption, bright lights, festivals and performances. Phew! Yet the capital is also welcoming, safe and - at times - even serene. It offers a treasure trove of historic sights and palaces, contemplative galleries and a delightful National Park within easy reach.
Seoul has a much longer history than most visitors expect. It first rose to prominence over two thousand years ago but it really came into its own during the fourteenth century at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty rule. The Joseon kingdom established imposing gates and five royal palaces that can still be visited today.
Despite the modern urban sprawl, many of the city’s sites of interest can be found in a relatively small area around Gyeongbokgung, making sightseeing much less strenuous than you may imagine. Here you can visit sumptuous palaces, explore the warren of tiny streets lined by tiled houses and traditional tearooms and sample Korea’s aromatic cuisine.
What to do in Seoul
- Visit the five beautiful royal palaces, including the stunning Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung, that nestle like jewels in the centre of the city. Dating back to Seoul’s time as the capital of the Joseon dynasty they offer an insight into Korea’s history.
- Explore the traditional wooden hanok buildings that characterise Bukchon Hanok Village before you lose yourself in the lattice of streets packed with art galleries, quirky shops, tearooms and restaurants that is Insadong.
- Even if you hate to shop, the atmosphere in Seoul’s massive markets is worth experiencing. The fusion of modern and historical at the colossal markets of Dongdaemun and Namdaemun make for a fascinating visit. Foodies should head for Gwangjang for some of the best street eats in South Korea.
- See the city from a different perspective by taking in the sunset from the top of Namsan, the mini-mountain that lies at the heart of Seoul. Watch as the city transforms from shades of grey to glorious neon.
West Sea islands
To really escape the crowds, visit the splendid scenery and ancient tombs of the West Sea islands which are just off the coast of Seoul. Here traditional houses and a laid-back lifestyle centred on fishing can be found.
Seoul is one of the most densely populated places on the planet, with more than 20 million people living in a metropolitan area the size of Luxembourg.
Getting off the trail in Seoul
- Few major cities can offer you the pleasures of a National Park on their doorstep. Bukhansan National Park is undeniably beautiful with granite crags and pine forests to discover, so it’s no surprise that it is one of the region’s most visited national parks.
- Make the easy day trip to Suwon, in the province of Gyeonggi that encircles the capital, and is home to the impressive UNESCO-listed Joseon fortress of Suwon.
- Take to the streets to appreciate Seoul’s official and unofficial urban art scene. The city’s dynamic street art scene can be appreciated gazing at giant sculptures, such as the kinetic Hammering Man opposite the Seoul Museum of History, or strolling past the walls enlivened by creative graffiti in areas like the backstreets surrounding Hongik University.
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