Dive into this dynamic mash-up of night markets and K-Pop, temples and majestic palaces, skyscrapers and pulsing neon.
Seoul is evolving from a hardened concrete-and-steel economic powerhouse into a softer-edged 21st-century urban ideal of parks, culture and design. Following on from the disinterring and landscaping of the central Cheong-gye stream and upgrading of the Han River parks comes the sprucing up of hiking trails on Namsan, a mountain escape in the city’s midst. The Unesco City of Design also offers several contemporary architectural marvels, including the Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park and the giant glass wave of the new City Hall.
Gaze down on this sprawling metropolis of 10.5 million people from atop any of Seoul’s four guardian mountains and you’ll sense the powerful pungsu-jiri (feng shui) that has long nurtured and protected the city. Having endured the catastrophe of the Korean War barely 60 years ago, the ‘Miracle on the Han’ has its eye clearly on the future, while history clings tenaciously to many of its corners. You’ll encounter fascinating fragments of the past in World Heritage–listed sites such as Jongmyo shrine, as well as in the alleys winding between the graceful hanok (traditional wooden homes) that cluster in Bukchon.
Whatever you want, at any time of day or night, Seoul can provide. An early morning temple visit can lead to a palace tour followed by teahouse sipping in Bukchon and gallery hopping in Insa-dong. Soju (a vodka-like drink) and snacks in a street tent bar will fuel you for shopping at the buzzing Dongdaemun or Namdaemun night markets, partying in Hongdae or Itaewon, or playing online games at a PC bang or watching the latest Korean blockbuster at a DVD bang. Follow this with steaming, soaking and snoozing in a jjimjil-bang (sauna and spa). By the time you look at your watch, it will be dawn again.
Beyond the Walls
Public transport is brilliant, so there’s no excuse for not stretching your travel horizons beyond the Fortress Walls. Most visitors are inexorably drawn to the fearsome modern-day barrier: the Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ, splitting South from North Korea. Day trips here are a must, and nearby is the charming arts and culture village of Heyri. To the west, Incheon is a fascinating port where the modern world came flooding into Korea at the end of the 19th century, while south is Suwon, home also to impressive World Heritage–listed fortifications.
Why I Love Seoul
By Simon Richmond, Author
Seoul is heaven for passionate foodies. Whether tucking into the snacks of commoners or the cuisine of kings, you just can’t lose. A hanjeongsik (multicourse banquet) is a feast as much for the eyes as the tummy, as are the creations of chefs crafting neo-Korean dishes. Equally satisfying is scoffing down piping-hot, crispy hotteok (pancakes with sweet or savoury fillings) on a street corner, or delicious, fresh and fiery crab soup in Noryangjin Fish Market. And don’t get me started on the wonderful universe of teas served in charming teahouses: this is where the soul of Seoul lies.
Shopping in Seoul
3-Night Seoul Sightseeing and Shopping Tour
Experience modern-day Seoul on a 3-night tour of the South Korean capital! Your fun-filled itinerary includes trips to primary shopping districts, such as Myeong-dong and Paju Premium Outlets. You’ll see fascinating cultural exhibits at the Teddy Bear Museum, Samsung d’light and the K-star Gallery at Korean Wave (Hallyu) Hall.
Seoul city guide
This dynamic mash-up of night markets and K-Pop, tranquil teahouses and temples, majestic palaces and mountains, glittering skyscrapers and pulsing neon, is a 21st-century urban marvel.
Best places to stay in Seoul
Gangnam Style - discover Seoul's hippest neighbourhood
What do Britney Spears, West Point cadets and Filipino prisoners have in common? They are all gaga for Gangnam Style, the contagious pop song by South Korean rapper Psy...
Seoul’s top cultural sights
DMZ Past and Present: Korean Demilitarized Zone Tour from Seoul
On this tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone from Seoul, feel the reality of Korea’s turbulent history as you explore the line that divides North Korea and South Korea.
Museums and galleries in Seoul
To understand what makes Koreans tick, you should know something about harmony and hierarchy, highly valued principles that draw on Confucian ideals.
Best places to eat in Seoul
Experience Seoul: Korean Beginner or Intermediate Cooking Class
During this small-group cooking class in Seoul, gain a unique insight into Korean food culture by learning the secrets to creating the country’s most popular dishes. Whether you consider yourself a novice or an expert in the kitchen, you’ll love this cooking course that is tailored specifically to your skill level.
Best affordable places to stay in Seoul
A perfect day in Seoul
South Korea’s capital city is transformed every decade by its citizens’ energy and love of the new. Forever morphing into the future, the gung-ho vitality and bulldozer chutzpah may push you off the pavement occasionally, but the energy of 10 million Seoulites is infectious and amazing...
Gangnam District Tour in Seoul Including COEX Aquarium and Han River Cruise
This cultural tour lets you experience the highlights of Seoul’s popular Gangnam District. Gangnam – you may have heard the song – is known for its upper-class neighborhoods and is often referred to as the Beverly Hills of South Korea.
Seoul's top historic sites
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Seoul's 24-hour luxury spas
Don’t leave Seoul without enjoying a sweat and a soak in one of the many spas, saunas or jjimjilbang (luxury spas). Most spas are open 24 hours and offer body scrubs, manicures, pedicures and facials. Watch out though, the massages and body scrubs are usually more on the rigorous than relaxing side...