Seoul is vibrant city with plenty to offer both for its unique traditions and its fast paced westernised culture. As long as you have unlimited internet access, it is very easy to navigate around the city and travel with public transports even if you do not speak the language. So, the first thing to do as soon as you get off the plane is to rent a portable personal wifi hotspot or buy an internet sim card from the airport. The personal wifi hotspot accommodates up to 5 devices in one go, so it is a good choice if you are travel in a small group, as it works out cheaper than buying a sim card each. Then you should also buy a top-up travelcard which works on all modes of public transports in Seoul, very much like Oyster cards in London. Once you are equipped with these 2 travel essentials, you are all set to explore the city without any difficulties.
There are loads of things to do and see, but if you do not have much time, here are my top 10 recommendations:
1. Eat Street Food
Korean Street Food is a must try while you are in Seoul. They are delicious and full of endless varieties from spicy fried chicken wings, to pancakes to dumplings to steamed buns to name a few. These street food stall can be found both day and night all over Seoul. The tastiest ones are in Insadong area, but there are also plenty of these in Bukchon Hanok Village and areas around Hongik Univeristy.
2. Visit Geongbakgung Palace & Bukchon Hanok Village
Seoul’s premier palace has risen several times from the ashes of destruction. The grounds is extensive and one can easily spend half a day here exploring the compound and walking around Bukchon Hanok Village which is only 15 minutes’ walk from the palace grounds. The compound also includes a couple of museums, ornamental Korean garden, and some of Seoul’s best preserved architectural sights.
Geongbakgung was originally built by King Taejo, the founder of Joseon dynasty. It served as the principal imperial palace until it was burnt down during Japanese invasions in 1592. The palace was rebuilt again in 1865, but was destroyed again during Japanese colonial rule.
3. Spend an afternoon in Insadong
Insadong is a must-go destination for all Seoul’s first-timer. One of the main attractions here is the street stalls selling the ‘King’s Dessert’ or ‘Dragon Beard Candy’, a 16,000 strings of honey with fillings such as almongs, peanuts or chocolate inside. There are also a famous Tea Museum and several traditional Tea Rooms here such as Shin Old Tea House and Beautiful Tea Museum, as well as Ssamzie-gil Market – an outdoor bazaar containing over 70 shops ranging from one of a kind clothings, ceramics, furnitures and other traditional Korean items.
4. Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park
To experience the contemporary Korean culture, head to Dongdaemun Design Plaza with its architecture designed by Zaha Hadid, the internationally renown architect. More on this in my next blog post.
5. Lotte World
A huge entertainment complex that includes amusement park, indoor ice-skating rink, cinemas, shopping malls, a Folk Museum, and plenty of restaurants. There is something for everyone in the family.
6. Korean Barbeque & Royal Korean Cuisine
Korean Barbeque is a popular option for eating out in Korea. While I was there, I went to Donko Bossam which was near Hongik University area. It was a modest family run restaurant that felt more like eating in someone’s home rather than going to a restaurant. Although there was no effort in decorating the interiors, the food was amazing and this was the best Korean barbeque place I had while I was in Seoul.
For traditional Korean Cuisine, it is worth trying a Royal meal which contains over twenty different course of traditional Korean delicacies. Jin Jin Bara is one of the few places that offers royal dining experience and is highly recommended.
7. Ice cream at Bistopping in Gangnam
Ice-cream cones at Bistopping are so pretty to look at that you just do not really want to eat them, but they actually taste even better than they look! Milk ice-cream here is highly recommended. There is also frozen yoghurts for a healthier option.
8. Sulwhasoo Flagship Store in Sinsa-dong
Another contemporary architectural gem is Sulwhasoo flagship store in Sinsa-dong, designed by Neri & Hu Architects. This is also the place to try out one of the best Korean skincare products available today. More on this in my next blog post.
9. Wear a Hanbok
As mentioned in my previous post, Seoul Story 01: Hanbok & Hangwa, traditional Korean dresses called Hanbok are available for hire at a small fee. The best way to experience traditional Korean culture is definitely wearing its traditional clothes while walking around their old town.
10. Try Korean Skincare
Korean face masks and skincare are one of the best in the world, but they are not widely available in Europe, so there is no better time to try out their sheet masks or any other skincare regime than while you are in Seoul. Stock up on everything!! Hahah!
PHOTOGRAPHER: May Naruemannalinee
PHOTO EDITOR: Julia Jevzikova