Seoul is an exciting, vibrant, and fun city to be in, which can also make it a bit tricky to figure out what the best things to do and see first are. Using a Metro pass, we traveled around the city easily (though the language barrier was an issue at times) and were able to head to various districts throughout. Each neighborhood in Seoul offers visitors something different; from street food to art and cafes to shopping, this list of the top 5 neighborhoods you must visit in Seoul will help you map out your time in this great city!
When you hear someone talking about cafe and coffee culture (in other words, a group of people with a mild obsession with drinking coffee and going to inevitably overpriced cafes), what comes to mind? Probably somewhere in Europe sipping an espresso on the patio of a quaint cafe overlooking a busy side street. I bet you probably wouldn’t have thought that there is a massive cafe and coffee culture in South Korea! In Seoul and other cities alike, you will find cafes of all sorts: small to big, chain to independent, unique to mainstream.
The Korean Demilitarized Zone (otherwise known as the DMZ) marks the division between North and South Korea; a 250 km long and 4 km wide buffer zone. This zone was created as part of the Korean Armistice Agreement between North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, and the United Nations Command forces in 1953 (thanks, Wikipedia). Though this area claims to be a Demilitarized Zone, it is ironically one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world. You wouldn’t want to pass up the opportunity to go on a DMZ Tour, as this will probably be the closest you’ll ever get to North Korea.
If you’ve ever traveled anywhere in Asia, you know the snack culture here is huge (how are they not all obese? Actually though..). You’ll find the delicious, bizarre, and down-right gross on popular streets of any given Asian city. South Korea is no exception to the influx of snacking options every which way you turn. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) for me, the street-side snacks and other restaurant delicacies available in Seoul and Busan were cheap and oh-so good. This only meant one thing – I ate my way through this trip and in doing so, put on 10 lbs in only 10 days thanks to the food in South Korea.
Observation towers are a pretty big tourist attraction in any large city around the world, so you might as well get with it (in case you haven’t already) and check out the Seoul Tower perched up on Namsan Mountain, the highest point in Seoul, for some 360° views of the city. Though Seoul doesn’t have as large and recognizable of a cityscape as some other cities (think London, Hong Kong, Toronto..), it is still neat to see the city from 236m up!
After taking a tour around the beautiful Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul, be sure to head to the back to see the Huwon, or “Rear Garden”. Today, it’s widely known as the Secret Garden and secret it is! You can only enter the Secret Garden on a guided tour, so be sure to time your visit wisely. During the Joseon Dynasty, this garden was built for the sole use of the royal family and the women of the palace. The Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace is an extremely green, peaceful, and charming place to explore for a few hours.
After you’ve finished walking around Bukchon Hanok Village, you can take a short walk over to one of the “Five Grand Palaces” – Changdeokgung Palace. This Palace was built during the Joseon Dynasty and is rumored to have been the favourite amongst many Joseon Princes. Unfortunately, like the other Palaces, Changdeokgung Palace suffered heavy damage during Japan’s occupation in the early-to-mid 1900s. As a result, only about 50% of the structures you will see at the Palace are from before the occupation.
Wanting to see another side of Seoul? Bukchon Hanok Village is a traditional Korean village in the Gye-Dong neighbourhood. This 600-year old village from the Joseon Dynasty has been preserved and though it is now a destination for tourists, many locals still live in the historic houses along the various narrow alleyways. This was one of my favourite sights in Seoul – the village has history, cute houses, intriguing alleyways, and is just all-around really interesting.