The Palace District
I have to admit that we only went to the palace district because my parents were visiting, after we’d been here for close to a year. But, it turned out to be well worth the wait- not only amazing buildings but pretty scenery too, which I didn’t expect in the middle of Seoul.If you’re going to the Palace District, it’s definitely worth it to get the combination ticket, which allows you entrance into all of the palaces and is valid for one month.And my favourite palace? Definitely Changdeokgung- make sure you visit the Secret Garden which is absolutely beautiful. You will feel a million miles from the city!
The Cheonggyecheon stream is definitely worth a visit, and luckily you can join in at numerous places in the city (if you want to go from the start, go to Cheonggye Plaza where the stream begins).
Sure, you can still hear noises from the city, but it does feel more serene down by the stream than up in the busy streets. It’s a nice area to stop and have lunch, or take a romantic stroll in the evening when it’s all lit up.
Definitely worth going to see if you’re in the area, if only to see some greenery in the middle of a concrete jungle.
Aquarium, 63 Building
Ok so honestly, we were disappointed by the 63 building, as our students had built it up to be the ‘best place to go in Korea’. So we had pretty high expectations. That’s not to say it was awful, just not anywhere near as good as expected.
We went to the Aquarium which was very small, and so packed with people you could barely move. It didn’t really seem worth the 19,000 won as we were finished in well under an hour. I can’t comment on the rest of the attractions, as it was so busy we decided to give it a miss, rather than queuing for ages for a ticket.
Verdict? Fine for a quick visit, but don’t expect anything amazing. Oh, and don’t go on a public holiday or weekend if you can avoid it, unless you enjoy long queues and over-excited children.
Seoul Grand Park
You could easily spend a whole day here; there is an absolutely huge zoo which takes hours to walk around, botanical gardens, a rose garden, a sky lift, and tons of scenery to look at. Plus, the entrance fee to the zoo is only 3000 won- pretty amazing.
If you want to go somewhere where you don’t feel like you’re in the middle of the city, this would be the place to go.
Snow Spoon Cafe
It wasn’t going to be long before I spoke about food, and this cafe is definitely worth a mention. For any frozen yoghurt lovers like me, you have to go here.
Snow Spoon is located in Hongdae and is a self-serve fro-yo cafe. There are tons of different flavours (plain, chocolate, green tea, strawberry) and toppings (everything from fruit to chocolate to cookies).
The only bad thing about Snow Spoon? The temptation to get over excited when making your fro-yo, resulting in spending too much money and eating way too much. Oh well, it’s definitely worth it!
Myeongdong is definitely good for any expats wanting to find shops from home; H & M, Forever 21, Body Shop, Gap, the list goes on. Plus, there are tons of cool bars and restaurants to choose from.
Definitely the best place to go for a shopping spree, just beware of the crowds- if you’re in a rush it probably isn’t the place to go!
Just down the road from Myeongdong, this is the more traditional shopping area. A huge market selling everything from clothes to jewellery to kitchen equipment to food. This is the place to come for a few bargains and unusual finds.
Again, it’s always crowded so get ready to fight your way through.
High Street Market
The majority of the shop-food is imported, things like oatmeal, granola, condiments, fresh cheese and meats. And the deli serves just delicious sandwiches filled with salmon, beef, pulled pork and humus (obviously not all together). They also have a good selection of cakes and sweet treats in their bakery.
We went to Itaewon just to go to High Street Market, and we weren’t disappointed. If you’re ever craving a good sandwich, this is the place to go!
Namsan Seoul Tower
This is worth a trip at night when the tower is all lit-up and the shining lights of Seoul make for a good view. To make it that little bit more fun, it’s good to take the cable car to and from the tower (and it’s also much easier than taking a bus to the top).
One thing about the tower: don’t be fooled by the pictures on the Namsan Tower website, which make the ‘N Terrace’ look like an elegant, romantic bar, because it really isn’t. Sure, it has some ‘couple sofas’ overlooking the city, but you are served your drink in a plastic beer cup and it’s usually too crowded to even get a seat. Nice, but not what the picture promises.
This museum is well worth a visit if you’re in the Hongdae area, and a good opportunity to take souvenir photos too. It’s good fun going around, although you have to get used to posing while having a queue of people watching you.
The highlight for me? The ice sculpture area. Although, seriously, it was absolutely freezing, especially as we were dressed in summer clothes at the time…
European Christmas Market
Ok, this was the biggest disappointment of anything in Seoul. When I hear the words ‘Christmas Market’ I think festive, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas music, you get the idea. Needless to say I was super excited to get into the Christmas spirit by going to this market. Unfortunately, it ended up being a small square of white tents, blaring loud (non-Christmas) music and so many people you could barely move.
Honestly, if it wasn’t for a couple of the stalls selling Christmas cards and advent calendars, I wouldn’t have known it was a Christmas market. It does have foods from other European countries, sure, but Christmas market? I wouldn’t call it that.
Seoul National Museum
If you want to feel cultured and learn more about Korea, this would be a good place to go.
It’s a beautiful building with nice surroundings. If you’re interested in history and culture, you could definitely spend half a day here. There are endless relics, paintings and statues to look at and get a good feel for the history of Korea.
My only negative? It feels in some ways more of a gallery than a museum; the majority of the museum is ‘don’t touch’ displays, without anything interactive to allow you to feel more involved.
Cat/ Dog Cafes
Cat and Dog cafes are pretty much my favourite thing in Korea, and there are so many in Seoul, you don’t know where to start! You can spend hours easily amused playing with the animals, and it’s just the best thing ever!
For any animal lover these cafes are perfect. The best ones we have found are, ‘Cat’s Attic’ ‘Tom’s Cat Cafe’, and ‘Bau House Dog Cafe’. As I’ve said before, don’t wear your best clothes when you go to a dog one- I learnt this lesson the hard way after being dribbled on by an old bulldog for an hour. Nice…
Winter Ice Skating
The one highlight of freezing winter months? The opening of ice rinks in Seoul. We went to Seoul Square for ice skating, for the incredibly cheap price of 1000 won per hour, and it wasn’t even overly crowded, despite being a Saturday.
If you prefer a more sophisticated skate, there are places such as Grand Hyatt Ice Rink, where there are less children and it’s beautifully lit-up at night time. Of course the price is much more as you have to pay up to 40,000 won.
Whether you prefer cheap and cheerful or elegant and expensive, there will be somewhere to suit you. Endless hours of skating fun (and some bumps along the way).
Coreanos Mexican Restaurant
The food here is simply incredible. The best Mexican food I’ve ever had, without doubt. Tacos, Burritos, Nachos, Fries, Tostadas, all of it is just so good. The only danger you have (which we experienced) is ordering way too much, not being able to resist finishing the huge amount of food, and eating until you literally can’t move (and I mean literally- we had to sit in a subway station until we recovered).
There are two in Seoul- one in Apgujeong and the other in Itaewon. You just have to go and try it. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
We took a class with the Food and Culture Academy in Seoul, and it was so enjoyable. You can select what dishes you want to cook in advance (we chose Bulgogi and, of course my favourite, Bibimbap) and there is a huge variety of meals to choose from. Then you are taught to cook them with a chef, and at the end you can eat your food and are presented with a certificate.
It’s an experience which I’d highly recommend, especially for all you foodies out there. Don’t be put off if you’re not a whizz in the kitchen- I actually sliced my finger open within the first five minutes and had to be given a first aid kit, so don’t worry, you couldn’t embarrass yourself more than I did!
The buildings are almost European-looking, old fashioned and rustic. The streets are full of amazing bars, brunch places, cute little cafes and so many delicious-looking restaurants. We were so sad to only be staying one night.
All in all, it’s clear to see I’m a fan of Seoul and everything it has to offer. There is always something to visit, a new cafe or restaurant to try, a new area to explore. But what I’ve learnt about Seoul? That the best things aren’t necessarily those on the front page of a tourist website; yes, the 63 Building and Namsan Tower are nice to see, but they aren’t the best things to do in Seoul.
I’d advise just going to different areas and wandering around the streets- by doing this, we’ve discovered some amazing and unique places. My favourite two areas in Seoul? Hongdae- cat cafes galore, an H & M, endless restaurants and of course, the best frozen yoghurt place in Seoul. And Hyehwa-dong- a place found totally by accident, but which is beautiful at night and different to the rest of the city.
For now I’ll look forward to my next visit, dreaming about Coreanos and wishing there was one where I lived…
© KATHRYN GODFREY