Gwanghwamun Square is both amazing and one of the most important things to see while in Seoul. You don’t have time to visit every major palace and museum in Seoul, but this palace both palaces and museums in one spot. The Square itself is fascinating; because this is such an important place politically and culturally, the streets are lined with different political protests. When I was there, you saw a long row of cages marked with signs protesting North Korea’s treatment of its citizens. It is quite literally a square, in the center is a long grassy strip with two large, very famous statues. Then at one end you will find Gyeongbokgung Palace. Tips 1. Plan Your Time Wisely
o Arrive about 8:30 a.m. You can explore the Square and take a couple of pictures there before heading up to the palace when it opens at 9:00 a.m. If you are there for the opening, you usually can watch the changing of the guards, involving the traditional ceremony and guards in traditional dress.
o You can’t see everything; if you try, you’ll never have time to do anything else. So, carefully choose which palace buildings you visit.
o Don’t bother with a guided tour! The signs are in English and there are maps in many languages (including English), which is all you really need. Just grab a map and brochure, and set off on your own.
o If you get hungry, pick up an ice cream or some other snack (including fruit) at their stands to tide you over (It’s pretty cheap, I promise). 2. The Blue House
At the back of the palace grounds, there will be a large gate (#28 on the map). Outside the gate lies the Korean Presidential Residence with a Blue Roof (Their version of the White House). Lot’s of people stop by to take pictures of it (and watch the guards). Extra Information • Price (One ticket covers entrance to all the palace buildings and museums, but keep the stub to show at the museum gates) Group (10+) = 2,400 Won
Adults (19+) = 3,000 Won
Children (7-18) = 1,500 W
Itaewon (ee+tA+won) is the next destination anyway, and Itaewon Street has dozens of wonderful tea shops and eating locations. Try grabbing some cold noodles and visit a tea store during your visit to this area. It will make a great traditional Korean lunch for adults, but there are also Western dishes for children. You will have the opportunity to pick between more expensive meals and cheaper shops. Or if you want to just browse the food stalls along the street, that’s great too! Tips.
• Save room for tea and a treat later. After lunch, you may want to try one of the many deserts sold in the area. The spun chocolate is particularly amazing! Extra Information Directions o Recommended:
Catch a taxi on the side of the street heading towards the Gyeongbokgung Palace when facing the Gwanghwamun Square. Tell them you want to go to Itaewon Street or if that doesn’t work hand them this: “(이태원 관광특구)” That is the name. Since Itaewon Street is a nearby designated tourism area, most taxi drivers in the area know what you are talking about. o Subway Station:
Itaewon Station (Subway Line 6)–I think there was only 1 exit (?)
Itaewon Street is a designated area in the city where all the artisans and vendors come out to sell their wares. There are actually more than 2,400 shops (most really tiny) on the 1.4 km (4/5 mile) stretch. Originally, this area was where the military families stayed, so it largely caters to foreigners. Some businesses are high-end art galleries, others sell hand-made carvings. This is where you are going to want to grab all those knickknacks souvenirs for your loved ones back home. The Itaewon area is actually much larger, but Itaewon Street itself isn’t too long. Cars cannot drive on the street; it is foot traffic alone. Taxi drivers will dump you out at one end, and you just walk and wander your way down to the other, grab a taxi and head to the next destination. Tips
• BARGAIN! Itaewon is bargaining central. Someday I’ll write about the tactics I learned while there (I was a total newbie), but the key is to stand firm. Examine the good and determine how much you think it’s worth. Try to undercut them, and they’ll refuse. Give in too soon, and you’ll pay through the nose. Just try to guess what you think it would be worth in the U.S. Odds are, it’ll be a similar price there. They mostly do it for the fun of the conversation and because some tourists aren’t willing to take the effort and lost a ton in the process. But they don’t enjoy that half as much as when they get a good argument out of it. You can almost always talk them down a couple thousand won, sometimes even more. Extra Information
• Note that it usually closes down on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays each month.
Korean BBQ- Because it is delicious and tradition! Korean BBQ is something people will travel the world around for. You just have to order the meat, and the rest comes with. You can order whatever meat you want, but it will automatically come with everything else including among other things: Kimchi, Lettuce, Garlic, Nuts, Seaweed Soup/Miso Soup, Seaweed, Rice, and different sauces. Tips o Head up to Chungmuro Station for Korean BBQ. There are several different restaurants in that area; it is very well known for its Korean BBQ. Plus, it’s a fun area to wander around if you have some extra time, and it’s not too far from your next stop. o When finding a BBQ, look for signs that picture mostly raw plates of meat. They are usually advertising the meat you will grill. Or look through restaurant windows for the silver monstrosities above the tables. They are long silver pipes that suck up the steam from the grills; unfortunately it gives the impression that you are looking at a Star Trek Cafeteria. You can see pictures online.
o Korean BBQs usually only serve Korean BBQ, so if it looks like a noodle place or a seafood place, it’s probably not BBQ. • Timing
o Be careful not to stay here past 7:45. It will take you that long to make it to the Ferry Stop, find the ticket booth, get your tickets, and get in line. Otherwise the cost will go up for a later trip.
o Plus, the Han river has a wonderful park where the ferry docks, which is amazing to just walk along. So even if you have extra time, you won’t be bored.
Extra Information • Directions Chungmuro Station, Exit 2 by Taxi or Subway.
This will let you off right at the same exit you’ll need to be at to catch the bus the next day for your tour of Namsan Tower, so it will help to know where that is already anyway.
If you take a Taxi, tell him Chungmuro Station (choong+moo+rO yOk). They’ll let you off at one of the exits; if it’s the wrong one, head into the subway and follow the sign
Last Stop: Hangang River Ferry
The view is utterly gorgeous, and the trip is a lot of fun. One of the bridges you go under has a huge rainbow fountain that goes off, which is stunning. Plus, it is restful and calming to relax from the rest of the day’s stress; I would have done it every night if I could. It is also one of the best ways to get pictures of the night skyline! Tips
• Attend the one at 8:40 p.m. You can go later if you want; however, the later tours may cost as much as $50, so bear that in mind. • Wear wet-worthy clothes or step inside when people start backing up. The ferry goes under the fountain bridge that rains water over everyone out in the open. You can step inside the glass shelter if you want; just watch out for when everyone heads backwards. We enjoyed the cooling water!
• NOTE: There won’t really be any taxis around when you get off the ferry, so you’ll probably have to take the subway to your next locale. Go back to the station and head for you hotel’s station or back toward a stop you recognize. There will definitely be taxis at Gangnam, Chungmuro, Insa-dong, etc. It’s safe, the taxis just stay around busier areas instead of this park. Extra Information • DIRECTIONS Taxi
DON”T try this without a copy of address in Korean characters! Drivers often won’t recognize the name when you say it without additional help. Just hand them a piece of paper with the address and do your best to say “YOH-ee-DOH” (Yeouido). They should figure it out, if they don’t say “yO-ee-na-rU yOk” (Yeouinaru Station). Subway: Yeouinaru Station (Subway Line 5), Exit 3 (dock is about 5 minutes from the station).
o Go straight down to the river; walk to your right along the sidewalk along the waterfront until you see the big TICKET sign lit up. There will be 2+ boats docked there usually; you want the one where the long line is (but the ticket booth is up on shore so get the tickets first.) If you are totally confused, snag someone
Most touristy places in the city aren’t going to open up this early, so this is a good time to wander around and grab some breakfast if you’re an early riser. We actually ate in the Myeongdong subway station at a Duncan Donuts. Myeongdong opens up pretty early because it caters to tourist shoppers. Traditionally considered a shopping central for all fashionistas, I honestly prefer other places for bargain shopping (note that this is where the upper crusts shop as well), but it's kind of a must do if you want to tell others you went to Seoul. Tips
• Note the closest subway station when you arrive and use that as your marker. If you can’t find it later, head down the first one you come too. You can always follow the English signs to get back to Myeongdong Station there, and some are actually connected by long hallways.
• Myeongdong has an entire underground shopping center as well in the subway station below. I found an awesome Music store there where I picked up my KPOP souvenirs. It will seem expensive, but those things just cost a fortune in Korea. I spent $50 on those two easy, and that was with a discount since they liked me.
• Don’t get too far off the main street. It’s hard to explain Myeongdong, but it was described to me as a Spider web. Indeed, it seems to have about a billion side streets running in any direction and it is easy to lose your subway landmark. • A very popular location is Lotte’s Myeongdong Plaza and the store next door. This is where Zara and other familiar brands are located.
• Don’t forget to check out the buildings that aren’t stores. There is an awesome old bank, beautiful cathedral, and cool architecture located there that makes for great pics. Directions: o Taxi: Hand them a paper with the address. It’s easier to grab the subway though. o Subway: Take Seoul Subway Line 4 to Myeongdong Station (Exit 5, 6, 7, 8)–my recommendation
Take Seoul Subway Line 2 to Euljiro Il-ga Station (Exit 5)
You can either go to Namsan Tower or 63 City for the best views of the city. While 63 City is amazing, it’s a little out of the way for a brief trip. Plus, Namsan Tower has a little extra to offer. Namsan Tower (aka N Seoul Tower) is located on Mt. Namsan and the walk up to the tower is awesome too.
• Namsan Plaza–Here you will find bakeries, music store, convenience stores, a souvenir shop, and ice cream stores. • Korean Restaurant (Hancook)
• The Observation Deck–Awesome views! This was perhaps my favorite place on the trip. I got gorgeous pictures of Seoul, and it’s interesting to see how large the city actually is. There is also a prime view of the Han River, an important landmark in Seoul.
• Teddy Bear Museum– Okay, I'll be the first to admit I thought this would be a museum of the history of teddy bears (I thought there must have been a factory nearby or something). Instead, it tells the history of Korea in teddy bear displays. They even move when bowing, playing polo, break dancing, etc.. If you have kids, it’s an awesome place for them to take a break and enjoy themselves. Frankly, my friend and I loved it even as college students. Definitely worth the time.
• “N Grill” –A revolving restaurant. I cannot attest to this as I am never going to be wealthy enough to match those prices, but it had REALLY great food. Not really the place for kids though I wouldn’t think. This is like a date place, a really expensive date place.
• Cable Car–This is really fun to do, and it will get you down to where the taxis are. I’ll tell you how to find it in the Directions section. Tips
• Walk up, Ride down. We took there. It’ll drop you off a short ways away from the tower. You’ll pass a university, and head up the mountain in the park. It’ll be one of the stops up the park where most people get off and will be kind of a ledge overlooking the city with other buses sometimes. Usually the driver will tell you when if you ask (don't take the wrong on
This place has fabulous shopping; I’d recommend you pick up your beauty products and maybe some hair bedazzles here. It has a wonderful bookstore if you want some books to pass the time back home. However, the aquarium is an absolute must. Coex Mall also has about any food you could possible desire: America (Pizza Hut & Cold Stone Creamery!), Japanese, Korean, etc. Tips
• Grab some ice cream while you’re here; it’ll help cool you off for the adventures ahead. • Cost: Mall Free; Aquarium cost below:
Adults: 19,500 KRW Teen: 16, 500 KRW Child: 14,000 KRW • Hours: o Store: 10:30 a.m.- 10:00 p.m. (varies by store)
o Aquarium: 10:00 a.m.- 8:00 p.m., 365 days a year (last entry is at 7:00 p.m.) Directions
• Give the address to a taxi (but take the orange or silver taxis, black ones are more expensive).
• Subway Line 2, Samseong Station, Exit 5 or 6–> Samseong has an exit that goes straight into Coex Mall, so look for the signs. The exit should be on your left when coming off the trains. See Seoul subway map here.
It’s the national museum, need I say more? The Museum has approximately 15,000 beautiful exhibits from around the world, but it is particularly awesome in the area of Asian history. It has of course all the really important Korean artifacts, including Celadon, Calligraphy, Paintings, and several private collections. But it also has stuff from India, Japan, China, Indonesia, and beyond. There is an entire room of stunning and impressive Buddha statues. There are also several halls of paintings, statues, artifact, and cultural resources. This is definitely a must see (particularly for someone like me who would spend most of their travel time studying history)! Tips
• Lockers–If you’ve done any shopping earlier or want to leave your bags somewhere,the museum has rows of lockers available for 100 Won (10 cents). • Skip the guided tour–There are tours available for English, Japanese, and Chinese speakers, but you can figure it all out yourself, and the timing is hard to maneuver.
• Try out the tea garden!–There is a lovely little tea garden on one of the upper floors that makes for a great afternoon respite!
• Watch your time– We skipped the first couple rooms in the Korean history section. It’s all that early man stuff that is the same in all museums–arrows, rock weapons, etc. The cooler stuff is a little down when Korean culure really developed
• Save time for the world history section!–This area has a great deal to offer and shouldn’t be overlooked!
Extra Information • Pricing–FREE! • Directions
o Taxi: Give the taxi driver the address.
o Subway: Seoul Subway Line 4 & Jungang Line. Arrive at Ichon Station and take Exit 2. This will connect directly to the museum entrance. • Operating Hours (they close the ticket booth 1 hour before closing)
o Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday: 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
o Wednesday & Saturday: 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
o Sunday, Holidays: 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
The best shopping ever!! Okay, so this isn’t really where you’ll find purses (as I discovered the hard way–head for Itaewon), but it is the place to get clothes. And jewelry. And great snacks. And shoes, yes most definitely shoes. Okay, so if you are a clothes shopper, here is the place to go. You’re going to have your nice stores on one hand (more like Myeongdong) and then you’ll have the bargain stores. The bargain stores are the absolute best. They are filled with stall after stall of dresses, scarves, jeans, t-shirts, sweaters, coats, jewelry, hats, headbands, etc. This is technically one of the largest Korean shopping ares. It has 26 shopping malls, 30,000+ specialty stores, and boasts more than 50,000 manufacturers. This means that in the 10 blocks that make up Dongdaemun, you can find just about anything you want. You will even find silk fabrics, office supplies, toys, books stores, food, etc. So you will definitely want to save some money for your visit to this area!!
Popular stores include: Doosan Tower/Doota, Migliore, APM
• You can tell whether or not it’s a bargain store by looking at the product arrangement and the number of clothes. It looks like a flea market threw up clothing in the cheap stores, the others are more nicely laid out. Tips Bargain!!
o I cannot emphasize this enough. Just like Itaewon, this is a bargaining locale. The really nice places no, but any of the mass/wholesale stores are really bargaining locations. If they don’t have prices on the clothes, you’re meant to bargain.
o Once again, try to get them to make the first move. When they state a price, you just state what you think it’s really worth. Don’t try to cheat them, but don’t go above what you think is reasonable. If it looks like a $10 shirt and they are asking $60, don’t budge. You may pay $12, but that’s a far cry from $60. My friend and I were looking at a cute overshirt that I would expect to pay maybe $12-$15 max in the US for. The Saleswoman
So amidst the 48 hours of stepping around every must-see place at Seoul, we rested for the night at Dragon Hill Spa. And we had the luxury of charcoal sauna and oakwood fragrances encircling a very comfortable bed.. all wrapped in a package of just $12 a night!! It was so close and accessible to all the sparkling spots within the city yet enclosed relaxation within its walls, exclusive from the hustle bustle of the city. And to top it all, we had the most amazing experience of the "jjimjilbang"- the unique Korean sauna and the exciting Korean sauna etiquetes!