Seoul, South Korea

The vast and widespread city of Seoul is the capital of South Korea, and the country's largest city with a population of over 12 million people, also making it one of the largest cities in the world.  Located on the Han River, Seoul is a modern, contemporary and technologically advanced City, but also remembers and embraces its heritage and history, with many historical buildings, palaces and gardens in amongst 21st century skyscrapers.  

 

The main International airport is Seoul Incheon, on the amazing man-made Incheon Island. This state-of-the-art airport offers many facilities for both arriving and departing passengers, including shopping, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. Transport from the airport to the city is extensive, frequent and reasonably priced and takes just over 1 hour transfer time from the terminal to Seoul city centre.  Limousine buses, taxis and KTX train services are all available.  

 

Administratively, Seoul is divided into 25 districts, each with an area and population comparable to a small city. The districts are then further subdivided into 522 sub-districts or 'gu'. However, it may be easier to divide the city into the following areas:

  • Jongno - The Joseon-era historical core of the city, containing most palaces and government offices, lies on the north side of the Han-Gang(River). Here you can also find Insa-dong which is a popular street area to find souvenirs and within walking distance to many of Seoul's historic cultural landmarks.
  • Gangnam - The area south of the river that is more 'uptown' and more modern. This is perhaps Seoul's most popular area for tourists and is also where the largest hotels are.
  • Yeoui-do - An island in the Han River in Yeongdeungpo-gu, a business district with skyscrapers, the National Assembly and the Seoul Stock Exchange.
  • Hongdae and Sinchon - Located west of Seoul Station in the district of Seodaemun and Mapo, Hongdae and Sinchon are two of the areas most frequented by hip college students and foreigners. Features hundreds of restaurants, bars, and night clubs. West of Mapo-gu you can find the Seoul World Cup Stadium.
  • Dongdaemun - Once home to Korea's first modern sports stadium, Dongdaemun is now a fashion shopper's paradise. With literally hundreds of vendors across dozens of shops, you can find just about anything on sale here.
  • Hyehwa - colloquially known as Daehangno, this is Seoul's performing arts center, with dozens of small theaters with live dramatic and comedic performances lining every street. On Friday nights in summer, as the heat of the day fades away, this district is filled with nightlife and street sellers well into the night.
  • Yongsan - Yongsan is home to the US Army Military Base as well as one of the largest electronics markets in the world. This is also where you'll find Itaewon, perhaps the most culturally diverse area on the entire peninsula and home to dozens of restaurants featuring cuisine from the world over, numerous shops selling everything from custom-tailored suits to antiques, and several Western pubs and bars.
  • Songpa is where you'll find Lotte World, Seoul's most popular theme park, Olympic Park, and Seoul (Jamsil) Sports Complex. Songpa is one of the richest districts in seoul.
  • Jung is to the south of City Hall but still north of the Han River, and is where you'll find the 262-m peak of Namsan, and the National Theater

Transport around the city is difficult by car and not recommended.  An international driving license is required, roads are very busy at times, parking is almost impossible to find and most road signs are only in Korean. 

 

Public transport is the best way around the city, and the location of a large US Army Military base at Yongsan has helped initiate some English labeling and translation.  Bus, train and subway routes are extensive and they are frequent, reliable and relatively safe.  Station names, ticket counters and transfer signs are usually clearly marked in English as well as Korean, and  trains have announcements in English and Korean. At some of the bigger stations, there are even dedicated ticket counters for tourists, with English-speaking staff.  Taxis are plentiful, safe and relatively inexpensive and there are taxi stands in most city areas, or you can hail on the street when their red light on the roof is lit.  Deluxe taxis are black with a yellow sign and are slightly more expensive than regular taxis.  There is even a special international taxi service, with drivers that speak English, but you have to pre-book them in advance, which can be done on the website.

 

Seoul is famous for great shopping, and you could spend days in 21st century shopping malls, or wandering back streets full of small local vendors.  There are a number of well known shopping centres, mostly located in downtown Seoul and can be easliy reached by taxi or subway.  

 

Insadong is full of antique shops & galleries located close to the heart of the city and palaces. Besides the art shops and galleries, you can find Korean traditional clothes, ceramics, handicrafts and souvenir Shops. Local artists sell their hand-made crafts and accessories and many tasty restaurants and traditional tea houses line the back streets.  When it comes to buying clothes in Korea, the wholesale clothing markets concentrated in Dongdaemun are becoming Korea's leading shopping centers. A full range of fashion items at inexpensive prices are found here. Major shopping malls are Doosan Tower, Migliore, Freya Town, which are open until late at night.   Sinchon Street and neighbouring Ewha University areas are famous for their shopping streets filled the latest fashions, and many clothes, accessory and shoe shops, restaurants and night clubs are located here.  The streets of Apkujeong are filled with stores featuring the latest trends from the latest high-end fashion to trendy home decorating, and is known as "the place to be" for young Koreans. Itaewon is Seoul's most cosmopolitan area with its shops, restaurants, bars, etc. Most signboards are written in English, and often you can find English speaking people on the street. The Itaewon's international atmosphere has been influenced by the US Army Military Base that neighbors Itaewon. 

 

Nightlife is everywhere in Seoul!  Most shopping areas stay open late into the night, with shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs.  The Han River offers night cruises in the lights of the city and the inner child in you can play all day and night at Lotte World Theme Park. 

 

Restaurants are plentiful in Seoul, and there are many Korean dishes that are delicious to western palates.  The mainstays of Korean cuisine include rice, noodles, fresh vegetables, seafood and meat.  Soups, stews and barbecue-style meat are popular and a few favourites that would be worth trying are bibimpap; a 1-dish meal with rice, topped with vegetable, fried or raw egg (egg cooks from the heat of the other ingredients as you stir it) and meat, bulgogi; marinated thin strips of prime beef that is cooked right at your table, kimbap; a rice and seaweed roll, with egg omelette, vegetables, cooked fish or meat, similar to california sushi rolls, but just like a sandwich to Koreans, kalbi; barbecued marinated pork or beef ribs, mandu; steamed dumplings stuffed with beef, pork, chicken fish and vegetables and, for the adventurous, kimchi; spicy marinated cabbage similar to sauerkraut - usually quite hot and probably an acquired taste!  Some dishes are usually made using a spicy red pepper paste, such as bibimpap, but you can ask for this to brought separately - in Korean you would say "Ko-chu-jang ttaro ju-seyo",  a good one to remember if you don't like food too hot and spicy!

 

Usually, service in South Korea is attentive and respectful, and tipping is neither expected nor required, but it is gratefully accepted and appreciated for very good service. 

 

Outside the city of Seoul, there are many other sights and tourist attractions that are well worth visiting, if you have the time.  Gyeongju, on the south east coast, has several UNESCO World Heritage Sights and often called "a Museum without Walls" of Korea, Andong in the east, is a very traditional region, with many agricultural markets and the Hahoe Folk Village, a center of history and Confucianism, and just off the southern coast, the subtropical volcanic island of Jeju (also spelled "Cheju") is famous as a romantic place with beautiful sunrises over the mountains, amazing scenery and popular with Koreans for weddings.  There are even ski resorts in the mountains surrounding Seoul, and winter can bring some deep powder to their slopes. 

   

Korean language is nothing like a European language, and is written with square-based characters, rather than standard Euorpean letters that we are used to.  You will find some signs in English, especially for tourist attractions, transport and some restaurants and shopping areas.  Even if you are only going to be in Seoul for 2 or 3 days, it would definitely beneficial to learn some basic Korean phrases phonetically.  There are a number of websites where you can find basic words and useful phrases or a Korean phrase book would be even better. 

 

South Korea is 9 hours ahead of GMT and has 4 distinct seasons similar to the UK, getting quite cold and frosty in the winter, and very hot and humid in the summer, with a mild monsoon season in July and early August.  The best times to travel is during the spring and autumn seasons, as the temperatures are warm and mild, though spring, late March to early June, can have considerable rainfall at times. 

     

Seoul is a diverse and bustling city and would be ideal for either a short stopover or a longer stay, to experience a different culture and a flavour of the East.  However, if you feel you would like to visit but would maybe, like a friend to show you around, the Korea Tourism Organization has a network of over 600 Goodwill Guides, volunteers that speak some English, and will take you around the city for free!  There is no charge for their services, but you would have to pay for any entrance tickets, travel expenses or food for your guide during your tour.   You can apply online on the Korea Tourism Organization website

 

 


Transpacific's recommended hotel selection
Seoul Plaza Hotel

Seoul Plaza Hotel

A large hotel right in the city centre and near to transport links to many tourist sights, this recently refurbished hotel is in an ideal location.

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Best Western Incheon Airport

Best Western Incheon Airport

The Best Western Premier Incheon is an ideal base for 1 or 2 nights and 5 minutes from Seoul Incheon Airport.

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