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Seoul - The City You Want to Visit Seoul - The City You Want to Visit Seoul - The City You Want to Visit Seoul - The City You Want to Visit
Introduction


Seoul is a fascinating city having transformed itself from the Hermit Kingdom of the 17th century to a major player in the international scene of today. The Korean ambition to come to terms with a turbulent past is most apparent in Seoul. Having endured centuries of war, Seoul has been battered and rebuilt, lending to the modern cityscape of today. Dominated by skyscrapers and multi-lane highways, it still manages to maintain a hidden history of ancient temples, palaces, pagodas and peaceful gardens.

Home to 10 million people, Seoul remains a fairly safe and friendly city with a low crime rate, although pick-pockets are not unheard of. Its people are hard working who also also enjoy socialising and are generally kind to foreign visitors. The city is quite clean with barely a sign of trash or graffiti. The absence of beggars indicates Seoul’s level of prosperity and orderly conduct. Pedestrians adhere to a strict regulation of crossing streets, waiting until the walking green man lights up before setting foot onto the roadway. Those who choose to go against this custom are met with utterly shocked expressions on the other side of the street. Though quite organized, it’s not uncommon to share the sidewalk with a politely meandering moped or motorcycle.

Seoul Seoul Seoul

Seoul was named Hanyang, meaning “capital” over 600 years ago. It lies in the northwest corner of South Korea and occupies an area of 605 square kilometres. The North Korean border is about 40 kilometres from the city centre. The Hangan or Han River winds through the city and is a celebrated natural landmark and popular activity zone. Four majestic mountains surround the city, offering skiing in the winter, magnificent fall foliage, miles of hiking trails and breathtaking views year-round.

Seoul has many different districts for different tastes. The central area known as Gangnam or Downtown Kangna is the heart of the city where modern high-rises tower above ancient palaces. You can visit many attractions that are close to each other in downtown Seoul. For example, in the city centre is the stunning Gyeongbukgung Palace and National Folk Museum. City Hall is in front of a traffic circle that frequently puts up displays for different events. Downtown Gangnam is also host to the majority of the city’s accommodation and shopping. The World Trade Center and the massive COEX Mall are located here as well as one of Korea’s largest book stores, Kyobo Books which stocks a generous selection of English and other foreign language books. Excellent public transportation, including buses, subways, and taxis, make it convenient to connect with other areas of Seoul.

cityscape han river palace gyeongbokgung national war museum yeouido park

Itaewon is the international section of Seoul, where many expatriates, tourists and locals go to meet each other. Although famous as a foreigner hang-out, more Koreans have started coming here since the 1997 lifting of restrictions prohibiting businesses from operating past midnight. As many of the business owners can speak a little bit of English, many travellers and expatriates head here for a touch of home. Most Western fast food restaurants have an outlet here as well as other tasty Western and Korean eateries.

Itaewon has a vibrant night life and is designated as a special tourist zone. There are tourist services, clinics and about 2,000 different shops to choose from. The area is well-known for its Western style pubs and nightclubs, juice bars (where men buy waitresses over-priced drinks), and the infamous "Hooker Hill." Here you can find many of the infamous kettle-houses serving their concoctions of soju (strong distilled grain alcohol) and fruit juice. This area gets packed with partiers on summer weekends. Most places stay open until dawn.
Aside from being a party place, Itaewon is also home to the National War Museum. Its impressive granite facade and surrounding park with vintage airplanes and tanks catch the eyes of people passing by. The museum’s six rooms display an almost 5,000-year history of foreign invasions.

The Namdaemun area is one of Seoul's busy marketplaces and is just a few minutes walk from the notorious South Gate, which dates back to the 17th century Joseon Dynasty. This enormous open-air market setting is host to millions of items from A-Z. Namdaemun is also home to the National Theatre where you can find free outdoor entertainment such as traditional dancing and drumming. Dongdaemun is another bustling market area where just about anything can be found. Prices here are considerably lower than typically found in other shopping districts. Several mall facilities are located here and stores are open well into the late hours of the night.

Seoul-Night View Seoul-Night View Seoul-Night View

Jamsil is an area geared toward a younger audience. Attractions such as an enormous ice rink called Lotte World, movie theatres, sport centre and other venues offer hours of fun and entertainment. The Jamsil Sport Complex was host to the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

The financial district is in Yeouido. This area is equivalent to New York’s Wall Street where you can find all the banks as well as Seoul’s tallest building, the KLI 63 building which is Korean Life Insurance. The Yeouido Park, on the shore of the Han River is a wonderful place to visit. Here you can take a cruise, lie in the sun, or play various sports. The biggest challenge about Seoul is trying to navigate your way through the system of addresses. Building numbers are random and there are virtually no street signs, especially not in English. Even the locals seem puzzled by the system. The best bet is to rely on the excellent public transportation. Many hotels offer shuttle service to the different areas of the city.

Seoul’s climate grants the variety of four distinct seasons, with spring and autumn being the most pleasant time of year. Average temperatures then range from 12°C-20°C (55°F-70°F) with few days of rain. Autumn (October-November) brings sunshine, blue skies and spectacular fall foliage. Spring (April to May) can be beautiful too, but it’s also the most popular time with many tourists and you'll have trouble getting mid to top-end accommodation. The summertime (June-September) brings hot weather, heavy monsoons and high prices. Temperatures range from 16°C-35°C (62°F-95°F) with the likelihood of typhoons. Winter (December-March) is cold but dry and a good time to visit if you like skiing, snow-draped temples, very few tourists and freezing weather. The city’s temperatures can drop as low as -6°C (20°F), occasionally warming up to a cool 10°C (53°F) with January bringing the most snow.

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Weather

spring summer
autumn winter

Seoul’s climate grants the variety of four distinct seasons, with spring and autumn being the most pleasant time of year. Average temperatures then range from 12°C-20°C (55°F-70°F) with few days of rain. Autumn (October-November) brings sunshine, blue skies and spectacular fall foliage.

Spring (April to May) can be beautiful too, but it’s also the most popular time with many tourists and you'll have trouble getting mid to top-end accommodation. The summertime from June through September brings hot weather, heavy monsoons and high prices. Temperatures range from 16°C-35°C (62°F-95°F) with the likelihood of typhoons.

Winter is cold but dry and a good time to visit if you like skiing, snow-draped temples, very few tourists and below freezing weather. The city’s temperatures can drop as low as -6°C (20°F), occasionally warming up to a cool 10°C (53°F) with January bringing the most snow.

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Seoul Sightseeing

Changdeok Palace and Biwon Garden || Changgyeong Palace || Deoksu Palace || Gyeongbok Palace
Hangang Park || Jongmyo Shrine and Gardens || Korean Folk Village || National Theater || National War Museum
Olympic Park || Songnisan National Park || Soraksan National Park || Unhyeon Palace || Yeoido Park

Seoul Tower
63 CITY Changdeokgung Place

The most enchanting aspect of Seoul is the meeting of millenniums - high-rise buildings towering above ancient temples, oases of serene gardens surrounded by shimmering skyscrapers, and palatial palaces hosting traditional ceremonies as they did centuries ago.

Changdeok Palace and Biwon Garden

The construction of Changdeok Palace was started in 1405 by King T'aejong, and it was completed in 1412. In 1463, King Sejo expanded the palace and created Biwon (secret) Garden. Through the centuries of invasions, many of the buildings have burned and been rebuilt several times. Thirteen of Korea's kings lived here for a total of over 270 years. The palace grounds cover over 110 acres. Thirteen of the original buildings remain, with an additional 28 in Biwon Garden. Biwon is typical of palace backyards where kings and other members of the royal family would go to relax and entertain. In 1997, it was registered as a World Heritage.

To visit Changdeok Palace and Biwon Garden, you must be on a tour. Signs explaining each area are in Korean, English, and Japanese, so you do not necessarily need to take one in your native language. However, the tour guides often give information not contained in the sign boards, so you may miss out on some details. The tour covers about 2.5 km of walking and takes 80 minutes.

Changgyeong Palace

Changgyeong was originally built in 1104 as a summer palace for the kings of the Koryo Dynasty. When the capital was moved to Seoul in 1392, the reigning King lived here during the construction of the new Gyeongbok palace. Most of the buildings were burned in 1592, although most have been rebuilt at least once since then.

Deoksugung Gyeongbokgung
Changgyeonggung Jongmyo Shrine
Hangang Park Cheongwadae

Deoksu Palace

Located in downtown Seoul across the street from City Hall, Deoksu Palace vividly contrasts modern Seoul with traditional Korea. Built during the mid-fifteenth century, it is the smallest of Seoul's palaces. The palace contains many scenic areas and is a favorite among wedding photographers who can overrun the area on weekdays. Many local business men and women use the picnic area during lunch as a short escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown life.

This palace includes some of the best examples of royal architecture of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and has been designated as Historic Site by the central government for preservation and protection. Sokchon-jeon Hall now houses the Royal Museum. The Changing of the Royal Guard is a colourful daily ritual. The unit watching the outer walls of the Royal Palaces arrives at the scene to relieve the unit watching the Palatial Gates, the ceremony starts. A combination of verbal orders, flags, and musical instruments is used. This ceremony is divided into three distinct parts, each of which is singled by corresponding drumbeats.

Gyeongbok Palace

Built at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty this palace remained the main seat of power for Korea kings throughout much of the time to the present. Gyeongbok means Shining Happiness. The main gate, Kwanghwa-mun separates Gyeongbok Palace from one of the busiest areas of Seoul. Gyeongbok Palace was built as the primary palace of the Joseon Kingdom by its founder, King Taejo in 1395, the fourth year of his reign. It was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592 and left in ruins for over 250 years. Starting in 1865, it was rebuilt to its original grandeur.

The grounds encompass 419,100 square meters of halls, pavilions, offices, storerooms, gates and bridges. To the far north on the palace grounds sits Hyangwon-jeong, a beautiful hexagonal pavilion surrounded by a lotus pond. This is one of the most painted and photographed places in Korea. The Yolsang Chinwon Spring was here when the palace was built in 1395. Its water is so pure and cold that it is good for drinking. The National Folk Museum sits in the northern section of the palace. The museum has several exhibition halls which periodically change their exhibits, showing a wide selection of Korean culture and history.

Hangang Park

Hangang Park located along the banks of the Han River is another wonderful place to relax, explore and view Seoul-dwellers enjoying themselves. The park boasts over 30 kilometres of smooth pathways, winding through beautiful gardens and sport grounds. Much of the city’s outdoor activities take place here as it becomes packed on weekends and holidays with joggers, cyclists, skaters, kite-flyers, and picnics.

Jongmyo Shrine and Gardens

Jongmyo Shrine was built at the same time as Gyeongbok Palace to hold the ancenstral tablets for the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Since then, all but two of the kings and their queens are enshrined here. According to Confucian tradition, the royal family would perform elaborate rituals here five times each year to pay respect to their royal ancestors. The tradition still holds today, although the Jongmyo Daeje (Royal Shrine Ritual) is only performed once each year in May. Dozens of descendents of the royal family gather in Joseon period court. The rituals are accompanied by traditional court music played by the Royal Court Orchestra.

Korean Folk Village

At the Folk Village, traditional dress, buildings, and folk traditions are recreated, making it a pleasant daytrip a short 30 minute drive from Seoul. It’s a compact little village, in which the regional diversities in art, architecture, handicrafts and lifestyle of the Koreans are portrayed. In addition, there are performances of dances, music, tightrope walking, and enactments of weddings and funerals. All in all, the Korean Folk Village is a good place to visit if you’re interested in Korean culture, but don’t have the time or energy to go explore the entire country.

National Theater

The National Theatre complex houses a main stage, two smaller stages, and a free outdoor performing area. During performances, a playroom for young children is available. Patrons can enjoy viewing displays associated with traditional performances, as well as sample traditional foods at the theatre's 'JeeHwa-ja' restaurant. As well as being Korea's top playhouse, the National Theatre hosts the National Ballet, National Opera, and the National Choir.

National War Museum

National War Museum is situated across the street from Korea's Department of Defense, and next to the U.S. Army's Yongsan Garrison - a fitting place for Korea's War Museum. Its impressive granite facade and surrounding park with vintage airplanes and tanks catch the eyes of people passing by along the main road. The museum’s six display rooms show an almost 5,000-year history of foreign invasions. The park surrounding the museum is filled with aircraft, tanks, and other fighting machines from the Korean War to the present. One of the most impressive fixtures is the vintage B-52. Just inside the entrance sit an M-47 "Patton" tank from the U.S. Army and a K-1 "88" tank from the Korean Army, silently guarding the museum. One of the most moving scenes is the statue of two brothers (one from the North, one from the South) meeting on the battlefield, a poignant reminder of the more than 10 million Korean families still separated by the Korean War.

Souvenir Center

Olympic Park

Covering over 1.5 million square meters and the ancient site of the Mongchon Toseong Fortress (with its moat dating back to the early Baekche Kingdom 57 B.C. - 668 A.D.), Olympic Park preserves the spirit of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The stadiums, arranged in a fan-shaped pattern around the park, were the main stages for the sports events. With extensive grassy fields, sculpture gardens, walking paths, and rest areas, the park is open all day as a multi-purpose area for leisure, sports, and cultural activities. Many people use the Olympic swimming pool, tennis courts, and three gymnasiums for many different types of sporting events and activities. In addition, classes in swimming, aerobics, physical fitness, table tennis, and others are offered on a regular basis. Every morning, hundreds of people come to the park for exercise and fitness. During Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the summer months, enjoy cycle racing at the velodrome track. In addition to sporting events, many of the stadiums are also used for concerts and other events that draw large crowds. Also within the park grounds is the Seoul Olympic Museum with commemorative monuments dedicated to preserving the inspiration of the Seoul Olympics. Over 200 sculptures made by 155 world-renowned artists are scattered around the park.

Songnisan National Park

Songnisan National Park is another picturesque area and is known for its lovely mountains - great for trekking. It’s also known for the Popchusa temple, an ancient Buddhist shrine that was originally built sometime in the sixth century. The Japanese, who ruled the country for a long time, burnt down the structure in 1592. Locals restored it in 1624. The temple has a five-storey high pagoda, and a huge bronze Buddha (all of 33m high), the largest in the Orient. Worth a visit, especially if you’re keen on walking, mountains, Buddhism, or history.

Soraksan National Park

Soraksan National Park is probably one of the most scenic places in the entire country- and perhaps the Korean peninsula even. It lies on the east coast, and is an area of mountains, thick forests, rivers, and spectacular waterfalls. The mountains of the park are great for trekking and skiing during the winters, while the beaches nearby offer lots of scope for swimmers in the summer.

Unhyeon Palace

Unhyeon Palace was the private house of Heungseon Taewon-kun, the father of King Kojong (the 26th monarch of the Joseon Kingdom). Born here, Kojong also lived here until the age of 12. Just before the wedding of King Kojong, the palace was known as the "Palace of the Queen" as it was used for the wedding preparations. The queen lived here during the time of preparation and was instructed in her future duties as the Queen. Nowadays, the palace is used as an exhibition area for traditional art performances, modern dances, and creative dances. One of the main attractions of the palace is its re-enactment of the Royal Marriage of King Kojong and Queen Myongsong twice each year.

Yeoido Park

Yeoido Park in the financial district is a centre for all kinds of activities such as sport, picnicking and relaxing among the trees and traditional gardens. The park is famous for cherry-blossom viewing parties in mid April. At that time, all roads are crowded with couples, friends, and families.

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Top Things to Do


Get physical at Hangang Park
on the Han river. With its 30 kilometers of paved pathways, you can enjoy walking, jogging, skating or cycling through parks and along the banks of the river. Or relax in the grass and watch the locals flying kites and picnicking with their families. Beautiful and active Yeoido Park rents bicycles and skates and offers its array of ponds, traditional gardens and a cultural plaza which hosts events and concerts for visitors.

Explore scenic Soraksan National Park
. Bring your camera and wear your walking shoes to best enjoy this area of mountains, thick forests, rivers, and spectacular waterfalls. The mountains of the park are great for trekking and skiing during the winters, while the beaches nearby offer lots of scope for swimmers in the summer.

Get cultural at the Korean Folk Village
where traditional dress, villages, and customs are recreated. In addition, there are performances of dances, music, tightrope walking, and enactments of weddings and funerals.

Check out the free performances
at the National Theater in Normimadang. Colorful shows such as traditional dancing, drumming and theater are performed on the outdoor stage.

Observe the ancient ceremony
of The Changing of the Royal Guard at Deoksu Palace. The unit watching the outer walls of the Royal Palaces arrives at the scene to relieve the unit watching the Palatial Gates in a tradition of verbal orders, flags, and musical instruments. Deoksu Palace grounds also offer a tranquil escape from the city, yet can get crowded on the weekends.

Visit magnificent Gyeongbok Palace
with its 419,100 square meters of halls, pavilions, offices, storerooms, gates and bridges. Situated in the northern corner is a beautiful hexagonal pavilion surrounded by a lotus pond - one of the most painted and photographed places in Korea. The Korean Folk Museum is also housed within the palace grounds.

Amuse yourself at the gigantic Lotte World complex. An enormous amusement park and shopping complex, Lotte World houses an indoor ice skating rink, swimming pool, bowling alley, golf range, tennis courts, water park, museum, hotel, art gallery, and restaurants, among many other entertaining venues. Dine with the birds on the 23rd floor of Jongo Tower in Jongmyo Park. This restaurant and café offers stupendous views of the city and surrounding mountains.

Check out the 'Other Side'! Panmunjeom is where the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separates North Korea from South Korea and can be visited on a full-day organized sightseeing tour from Seoul. Go on a tour that lets you walk into the Third Tunnel of Aggression (it was dug by North Korea to infiltrate the South) and offers the opportunity to stand on the Freedom Pavilion (where you can see North Korean soldiers looking at you through binoculars) and allows you to enter the room where the two sides still hold negotiations. 55km north of Seoul.

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Seoul Transport


Domestic

Getting around within the city can be done by subway, bus, taxi, train, car, bike or foot. The Seoul subway system is convenient, cheap and comprehensible (all the signs are in Korean and English). Their eight lines cover downtown and the suburbs, attending all of Seoul's main attractions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jeongdong Theatre, and the National Folk Museum. All stations are serviced every two minutes during rush hours and every five minutes otherwise. English marked signs make the subway tourist friendly.

Taxis are easy to flag in the city and passengers can choose between inexpensive or pricey. Regular taxis are white or silver and charge less than the deluxe taxis, however almost none of the drivers speak English; having a written destination is recommended. The deluxe taxis are twice as expensive but worth the cost since most of the drivers speak English and are trained to cater to tourists. And as an added bonus mobile car phones are available.

The express bus terminal, located along the Hangang River, handles most of Seoul's bus traffic via four lines which run throughout the city. The regular buses are inexpensive (USD.40), but involve more stops and longer destination times. The express buses (USD1) provide faster service, air conditioning, and a better chance of nabbing a seat. Village buses (USD.30) only service short distances, usually between subway stations.

Trains are clean, safe, punctual and inexpensive, and just about every station has signage in Korean and English. Compartments are non-smoking, but smoking is allowed in the area between compartments. The Seongbuk Station offers the Gyeongchunseon line, popular with tourists for its scenic one-day excursions along the Hangang River. The Seoul Station is the city's main train stop and features the Gyeongbu line which fans out all over the country before terminating in Busan.

You can experience another time by travelling in an old-fashioned train. Passengers can hear the chug-chug and whistle of a steam locomotive as they clickety-clack along the tracks, even though the train is actually powered by a diesel engine. It is an exciting expedition for the children. The train departs from Seoul Station in the morning on all Sundays and holidays, and arrives at Uijeongbu about an hour and a half later. It leaves Uijeongbu in the evening, arriving back at Seoul Station. Between train trips, passengers can visit attractions such as a mountain fortress or a recreation area.

Driving in Seoul can be difficult and not recommended. It's expensive and traffic jams are a common problem. Congestion is constant and parking is limited to private garages, many of which charge as much as USD6 an hour. If that doesn't put you off, make sure you take an International Driving Permit. Avis and Hertz car rental companies can be found at the airports.

Cycling in Seoul is a bit of an extreme sport, but it can be a pleasant way of exploring the parks, mountains, and Han River banks. Cycling within the city streets is quite dangerous. Many of Seoul’s gardens, palaces and museums can sometimes be connected within walking distance of each other, making up an enjoyable day’s exercise. Just be sure to heed the custom of crossing the streets – wait until the walking green man lights up before setting foot onto the roadway. Otherwise you’ll be met with stunned expressions on the other side of the street, whether the traffic is clear or not.

International

Seoul offers two airports. The international airport of Incheon is 60km (37mi) from the capital. To transfer into the city, passengers have the choice of taxi or bus. Taxis are easy to locate outside the airport terminals. A regular taxi averages USD23-USD38. Jumbo taxis hold up to nine people and include mobile phone use; expect to pay USD44-USD60. In addition to the regular fare, passengers must also pay the express tolls into Seoul.

There are two bus options into Seoul. The regular bus is economical, yet sparse with amenities. Seats are not guaranteed and luggage storage is limited. A limousine bus assures each rider of a seat and includes air conditioning. Rides into Seoul generally take between 50-60 minutes.

Gimpo Airport in Seoul now operates domestic services only. There are three bus options and all exit every 20 minutes. Regular buses are inexpensive but offer no guaranteed seating. Despite the name, express buses are no faster, but do assure seating. KAL limousine buses are pricey but include air conditioning and use of mobile phones and fax machines.

Taxis can be found outside the terminals. A regular taxi averages USD13, while a deluxe cab charges around USD20. An underground passageway connects all three terminals with the airport's subway station. Line number 5 leads directly into downtown and takes about 15 minutes.

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Location

 

Seoul Subway

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