Korean City Guides: Seoul
Gyeonbok Palace tour, Changgyeong Palace, Seoul Tower, DMZ tour, Dongdaemon Market, Namdaemon tour, Lotteworld Theme Park, Yongsan Electronics Market, Korean War Museum, Gyeong-dong Oriental Medicine Market, COEX Shopping & Entertainments Mall tour, Han River boat cruise.
Sprawling Seoul is South Korea's undisputed cultural, economic and political center and its sheer size dwarfs any other city on the Korean peninsula.
The huge city is divided by the Han River running east-west, with the older areas located to the north in Jongno and newer developments to the south in Gangnam. Yeoui-do island - Seoul's answer to Manhattan - in the mighty Han River contains Yeouido Park, the National Assembly building, the Seoul Stock Exchange and some towering skyscrapers. Korea's national TV station the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has its HQ here and Cherry Blossom Park is a pleasant place to be when the trees blossom in April.
Gyeongbokgung palace is one of Seoul's most pleasant attractions
Changdeok Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site in Seoul
Most of Seoul's historical sites are in Jongno north of the Han River including the numerous royal palaces of the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910).
Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongkok Palace) is Seoul's main palace and dates from the 14th century. It has been severely damaged on two occasions by the invading Japanese first in 1592 and again in the Japanese colonial period from 1910-1945. The large grounds contain the Joseon Palace Museum and the Korean Folk Museum.
Changdeokgung (Changdeok Palace) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best preserved of Seoul's palaces. The Biwon (Secret Garden) at the back of the palace is a highlight. Access is by guided tour only with English tours at 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm. Closed Mondays.
Changgyeonggung (Changgyeonggung Palace) is the best and oldest of Seoul's palaces and was the summer residence of the monarchs of the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392). It is located close to Changdeokgung.
Jongmyo Shrine (Chongmyo Royal Shrine) is a UNESCO World Heritage site. An ancient Confucian shrine dedicated to the ancestors of the Choson dynasty (13921910), the shrine dates from the 16th century and contains ancestral royal tablets. Ritual ceremonies of dance, music and song still take place continuing the historic traditions of the shrine.
Namdaemun and Dongdaemun are the southern and eastern gates of the historic city of Seoul and both host lively cut-price markets, with Dongdaemun being the largest market in Korea.
Insadong is the place to go for antiques, art galleries and tea shops.
Itaewon is Seoul's most cosmopolitan district -- lots of western bars and excellent shopping.
National Museum of Korea opened in a brand new building in Yongsan Family Park in 2005. The museum contains over 150,000 exhibits with 11,000 on display at one time. It is the largest museum in Asia and the design is inspired by a traditional Korean fortress.
Seoul has some excellent parks to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Yongsan Family Park (see above), Mt. Namsan Park right in the center of the city, which contains a Botanical Garden and on the peak - the symbol of the city the 240m tall Seoul Tower. Olympic Park, the Han River Parks and Dosan Park are just a few of Seoul's many green spots.
Cheonggyecheon is Seoul's New Waterway - 8 km of pedestrianized river walkway in downtown Seoul, 21 bridges, old and new, running from City Hall to Dongdaemun Market. An ancient sewer once covered over with busy streets has been reopened in October 2005 to provide a relaxing stroll for present-day Seoulites. 5 minutes walk from Lotte Department Store at Euljiro 1 (il) ga Subway Station (Line 2).
Other areas of interest in Seoul are Lotte World, south of the river (Chamsil Subway Station), the world's largest indoor theme park which also includes the Lotte World Folk Museum, the Seodaemun Prison, (Dongnimmun Subway Station) now a museum to the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-45) and the COEX Mall in Gangnam (Samseong Subway Station) which includes the Kimchi Museum in its basement.
Seoul neon and the iconic 63 Building
Seoul is both a city of tradition and modernity
Incheon International Airport, west of the city, now handles most international flights into Seoul. A rail link is now open linking Seoul Station with Gimpo Airport and Incheon International Airport. Trains run from Seoul Station beginning at 6am and the fastest journey is 43 minutes non-stop. Express AREX trains run every 30 minutes. Normal trains, which operate every six minutes, take 53 minutes. Passengers can complete check in at Seoul Station.
Bus or taxi to central Seoul are the other now more expensive options. Allow about 1 hour+ to reach a downtown hotel by road.
Gimpo Airport is Seoul's old, downtown airport which now caters for domestic flights and charter flights to Tokyo. Access is by Subway Line 5. There are direct shuttle buses service between Incheon and Gimpo every 10 minutes (30 minute journey time.)
Sinchon - student street-life area, Itaewon - in close proximity to a US base; late-night western style bars and 'Hooker Hill', Dongdaemun - night market, Hongdae (Hongik University area) trendy music clubs and bars, Gangnam - new, upmarket scene with good restaurants in this business and hotel center south of the Han River.
Korea has some great street food sold from roadside stalls all over the country. It's safe to eat on the street and most Koreans pop out of their offices to snack on the goodies on offer throughout the day. Department stores' food halls, especially the giant Lotte Department Store in downtown Seoul, are other good places to sample a variety of Korean cuisine.
Seoul World Cup Stadium
Tel: (02) 3707 8282 more Seoul stadium info
To reach the huge, hi-tech 63,930 capacity Seoul stadium take Subway Line 6 to the World Cup Stadium station.