Day 1: Myeongdong and HongdaeWhat we like most about Seoul is that each neighbourhood has its own unique, fascinating style that can't be found in any of the other neighbourhoods. The only thing all the neighbourhoods have in common are the beauty product shops. They are as common as convenience stores - there's one at every corner.Seoul is very cold in winter, but this trip wasn't as cold as we expected. Most days, the temperature was between zero and 5°C, and we only had a couple of days that were between - 10°C and zero.
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Don’t tell people you visit Korea w/o visiting its palaces. There are admission fees but you can just walk in without paying because there’s simply too much people for the ushers to manage. Just stick behind a tour group and listen to the guide to know more about the palace.
N Seoul Tower
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
Today was supposed to be our shopping day so we were walking around Myeongdong area. Just a tip, if you plan to go to Myeongdong to shop, do not plan to go anywhere else after that. This is mainly because, you will find yourself shopping non stop and before you know it, you will be carrying multiple paper bags. Perhaps we came an expensive country, we found the things in Myeongdong cheap and we could not resist buying a of things such as face masks, bags, clothes, accessories etc. Its like a disneyland for shopaholics.
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
Namdaemun is the south gate of Seoul. It is also called Sungyemun gate. It is located at Exit A of Namdaemun market. Took us quite some time to navigate and ask around before managing to find our way out of the humongous market and reach Namdaemun! It’s a piece of history buried in the city and modern landscape. A constant reminder to Korean and tourists alike that Korea has a lot of history and been through a lot over the years to be at where it is now.
This place was huge! I was just glad that I was in my sports shoes! From afar, it does look like a chinese temple. The signs on the boards are written in chinese characters because hangul actually derived from chinese characters. We wanted to explore the whole palace but it was really too big! I wonder if any of the King’s subjects got lost in the palace. Apparently, this palace has lasted hundreds of years and was once destroyed. To preserve the history and tradition, it was rebuild and now its a tourist attraction. We were scheduled to tour the ‘Secret Garden’ at 2 pm. This garden was sacred and only the king and selected people were allowed to enter it. Even visitors are not allowed to randomly walk around in the Secret Garden by themselves. We were informed that the Secret Garden tour would take up about 1.5 hours and 3 km walk! Since we were already there, I thought we might as well go all the way. I so loved the calmness of the Secret Garden. It was as if the Secret Garden was created to allow the king to rest and enjoy some private time.
We were going to take it easy today. Took some time to sleep in. For some reason, I was not able to sleep that well in Jeju even though I was exhausted from all the walking. Lunch at Itaewon, because I miss chicken. If you are looking for halal food, you can find a lot of halal restaurants in Itaewon. Its also where the mosque is. We were the first customers in the restaurant, and it was such a long wait for our food. The owner was nice enough to give us fruit cocktail while waiting for our main food.
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
Cheongyecheon is significantly prettier in the spring/summer than the winter, but the area is still lovely to walk through. Seoul is known for its unique and sculptured architecture, and this area is a great place to check out some of the more awesome buildings. It has the Cheongyecheon Stream that you can follows stairs to walk alongside, as well as several cute coffee shops and the Korean Tourism Center. It also houses the Culture Street, a cute little street filled with traditional restaurants.
Gangnam is more of a walk around and window shop kind of place. Made famous by the song "Gangnam Style", this district is the home of the rich and famous and the companies they own. Many international companies have their offices here, and many of the famous like to walk around. Kind of Seoul's version of Hollywood. If you have time, head up to Apgu-jeong (a neighboring district where the other rich half like to shop). Gangnam is famous for its shopping, food, and fun places to wander. You can also find COEX nearby with its aquarium, food, theatre, and shopping!
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
Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market
They have a large variety of live seafood! Ranging from stingrays to octopus and other crustaceans. You name it they have it! The fish market is similar to that of Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, other than it being slightly smellier and lacking in the hygiene area as compared to that of Japan. You can purchase the seafood on the spot and bring it up to any restaurants at level 2, where you can have it cooked or not cooked in any ways you desire!
Sungnyemun Gate (Namdaemun Gate)
Any reference to Seoul would remain incomplete without the mention of its diversified cultural heritage and treasures. As you'd probably know, most original Korean artifacts were either destroyed or burned by the Japanese and the Chinese. Few that are left survive to tell the tale of Korea's long-lost and stark history. Sungnyemun or "the Gate of Exalted Ceremonies," which was built by the King Taejo during the Chosun dynasty, stood tall as the front gate of the capital. The locals still refer to it as the symbol of Seoul. Imagine how distressing it must've been for them to see the gate burn in front of their eyes.
National Museum of Korea
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.
Today we decided to follow Rachael’s schedule of walking around Bukchon area. This Bukchon area is situated in the middle of Seoul but the interior designs of the entire area (including houses and shops) have been preserved the traditional way. After a late breakfast we started our walk from Angguk (where we were staying). The Bukchon Culture Centre was actually quite small and we missed it the first time we passed by it. The traditional korean designs were beautiful. I actually really loved that they used wood, I think it made it look really vintage yet classy. We managed to enter some of the shops, but sometimes we can’t really tell whether they are houses or shops. The weather was really hot and the road was steep too. Yet, we continued walking. Actually there are guest houses such as this one, in Bukchon, which are available for booking. It would be really interesting to experience staying in one, except, the prices are quite steep compared to the regular guest houses that we stay in. As we continued walking, we arrived at this massive concrete building. Its actually a high school! Apparently, a lot of tourists do come into the high school for photo taking because its situated in the middle of Bukchon too. We decided to drop by a museum in the area. It was a museum of traditional and vintage furnitures.
Once we were done with dinner, we made our way to Banpo Bridge. Banpodaegyo (Bridge) is a two-tiered bridge over the Hangang (River) that features the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain. We were rushing because we were hoping to catch the 9.20 pm show. The place was crowded with people and I could see why. It was cooling at night and the music and the beautiful view of the fountain made it a popular place to hang out. If you are in Seoul, you must check this place out!
We were hungry so we went over to Itaewon area to have lunch. I need chicken. We stopped by Pasha because the bestie was craving for meat and I really miss chicken. If you are in Seoul and looking for halal restaurants, you find the most number of halal restaurants here at Itaewon. There are a huge number halal restaurants here, serving food different types of food from various countries. Therefore, whenever we are in Seoul and craving to eat chicken or any halal meat, we will stop by Itaewon.
Thanks Nature Cafe
So I read about this sheep cafe in Hongdae. The bestie did not want to go originally because she thinks it will be smelly. Haha…but she finally gave in and we were on the way there! I think she already know by now that I have a special relationship with animals. This cafe was huge and it was a sheep-themed. We actually walked passed it, its on the left so you have to pay attention when you walk.
Take Jongno street for instance. Better known as the “Bell Street,” Jongno is famous for Bosingak, which is a marquee with a large bell. It is said the bell signals different times of a day and controls the four main gates to the city, and is usually rung thirty-three times at midnight on the New Year's Eve. When former Korean president Kim Dae-jung took office in 1998, the bell was rung in the midst of an intense economic crisis that had hit the country. Every Korean worth his salt knows that Kim opened a new chapter of economic transparency and played an even greater role of steering the country on the world map by hosting international events such as the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The melancholic yet inspiring sound of the bell has definitely struck a chord with millions of locals and expats living in or across Seoul.
Bukhansan National Park
Hiking has always been in the blood of Koreans and is done every season. Nothing beats being on top of the mountain watching the sun sets. Very beautiful historic temples and fortress along the trail. Be careful as rocks can be slippery in winter. I personally hike Bukhansan in winter and I feel that as long as you are careful enough, everything will be fine even without hiking equipments. There are several trails catered to different level of fitness so don’t worry. (Gupabal Station, exit 1, take bus 704 and get down at Bukhansan Fortress)
This place is a genius for all foodie! YOU CAN FIND ALL SORT OF FOOD THERE. Shopping at Lotte Mart(The one at Seoul Station)- The biggest department store in Seoul/grab all your ramen, kimchi, peppero, banana milk/cute korean wok(the one you see in drama) back home. Remember to bring your own shopping bag because they don’t offer plastic bag.
aka N-Seoul Tower- Seoul’s Eiffel tower, can see the whole Seoul from the observatory/Admission fee of 10,000KRW up to the observatory/Favourite place for Korean couples to ‘lock’ up their love/Bring your own lock or unwanted handphone cover there to save money cos one lock can cost up to 15000krw (need to take a bus from Heoyeon Station, cost around 850KRW)
Jump performance in Korea is a martial arts play, thats really amazing with comedic elements (like extremely funny), and they have performed on international stages too. Ok, so listen (or read). There's a seoul tourist center (KTO) that has "Rush tickets" for most performances in Seoul. Rush tickets as explained by the KTO website: "KTO Rush Ticket Feature: Rush Ticket offers last minute discounts of up to 70% on performance tickets. The tickets can be purchased only on the day of the show. The tickets are available at KTO’s Tourist Information Center (TIC), where visitors can also get tourism-related information. Payment Method: On-site payment" http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/performance.kto?cmd=intro&md=enu&lang_code=ENG The thing about these tickets is that you have to buy only on the day of the performance. But I can tell you it's TOTALLY worth it. Ok for the Jump performance tickets the prices range is VIP seat: 60,000 won R-seat 50,000 won S-seat 40,000 won The day of the performance I went down to the KTO to get two tickets, expecting say a 20-30% discount. I actually checked the seating for that day the previous night and there were no tickets selling, so I told my friend that I was going to KTO that morning to check if there were rush tickets, and if there wasn't it doesn't matter we can go explore elsewhere. But but but, the best thing is at KTO the lady was so sweet and she said that there are Rush tickets for the R and VIP category at 50% off so that would be R (25,000 won) and VIP (30,000 won). So she asked me which did I want, I was thinking 5000 won difference was actually not that much, but went with the R-category tickets anyways (5000 won can get me two good bowls of ramen). So essentially, the KTO will book the rush tickets for you by phone and give you a piece of paper with reservation ticket category, number of tickets and amount to be paid. You take this piece of paper to the ticketing counter at the performance and pay the discounted amount. We were pleasantly surprised when our seat was in the third row and right in the center! The VIP tickets probably around the 1st and 2nd rows. But we thought it was the extremely worth it to make the trip down to KTO in the morning, at 25,000 won - third row & center (I guess we were lucky also) , it really doesn't get better. The performance was also amazing AND amazingly funny. They speak in english and korean, but throughout the show there wasn't much dialogue, mostly just amazing stunts with great comedic timing! It is interactive too, they get one or two people from the seats to go on stage to go the stunts with them, and you get a souvenir for doing that. Despite the show premiering in 2003, the theater was totally filled with kids and adults. After the show ends, there is a meet and greet with the actors and actresses, you can get autographs from them or take photo with them, pretty great experience. If you miss this you'll regret. Oh and you can get there by MRT (metro) and walk about 5-10minutes to get to the theater.
You come out of the subway at Hyehwa Station, and you are close to two universities. This means that there are tons of cute little coffee shops, clothing and accessory stores, etc. You hike up the streets a little way until you come to the entrance. Look to your right and see a darling little coffee "Cafe Travel" with a simply gorgeous view of the city inside. One of my favorite spots in the world. This park has several sculptures worth checking out, and the hike up to Seoul City Wall is lovely. Plus the view from the top is amazing!
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 (?)
In search of the old city, I headed to Gwanhun dong. This street, lined with shops selling craft goods, appears to be for the visitors, who diligently stock up on dainty tea spots. The buildings are not old unless you count mid 20th century as old, but they are on a more human scale here, a pleasant break from the skyscrapers. I bought some incredibly expensive green tea from a specialist shop (I didn’t realize quite how expensive until, back in London, I found that the cylinder I had bought contained a tiny sachet of leaves). I bought some calligraphy brushes made of goat hair from an old man in a gloomy corner shop. He made me an offer of a Yakult bacteria drink. I’d heard that Sough Koreans are obsessed with well being, so perhaps I looked like my immune system needed a boost.
A few blocks away, and far more institutional, is the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art. This trio of buildings, designed by Rem Koolhaas, Jean Nouvel and Mario Botta, is another dose of European architecture imported for local edification. When I visited, there was a retrospective of the Korean artist Do Ho Suh. His delicate designs made of diaphanous nylon recreate places he has diaphanous nylon recreate place he has lived in New York or Seoul, keeping them alive as physical memories. For some reason, I was forbidden from taking a notebook into the show. ‘No paper,’ said the attendant. Next to her was a placard announcing that you could download the exhibition guide to your phone by scanning the QR code. Another click down the timeline.
Hongdae shopping street
Hongdae is THE place to be, I tell you. It's hip, happening, and so full of youthful energy. At midnight the streets were still filled with people like it was 7pm, and lots of buskers were around, hoping to get noticed maybe. We ate at the BEST KIMCHI JIGAE place ever. Boiling hot, spicy, full-of-flavour kimchi jigae + soju and makgolli (rice liquor) = my kind of Happy Meal, no need for the toy. My Korean friend brought us here and my husband and I both agree it was the best meal ever on our entire trip. The restaurant is called Nang-Poong(낭풍) and is near to Hapjeong train station, exit 3. Pictures and what the restaurant looks like here (Korean only). There's also a well known weekend market near Hongik University, but it isn't open in December so we didn't get to check that out.Many people like to compare Korea and Japan, but I think you can't. They are so different and have their own characteristics that makes them such wonderful places to explore. Korea felt a bit more like Taiwan, if one must make a comparison. Something about the style of the night markets and shopping streets made me feel that way.In Myeongdong, we'd like to recommend this yummy porridge restaurant. We found it hard to find breakfast before 10am in Seoul, but this place was open early. It's called MiGaBon (味加本). Warm and tasty porridge..yum! Directions to the restaurant and more about it here, including food pics.Some tips:1. Getting a SIM card the moment you land in Korea is hard, as the SIM card will only arrive a few days after you apply for it. You can apply for a SIM card before you arrive or just rent a WiFi egg device at the airport. We bought pre-paid data cards from our home county.2. I'm not sure if it was just our phones, but Google Maps worked TERRIBLY in Korea. We could not get proper directions. It could track our location pretty ok, and 98% of the time it showed the location of an address we typed in accurately. But when we just wanted walking directions from the train station to a particular location 500m away, Google Maps directed us to take a bus and go one biiiiiig round.3. It's good to keep addresses and names of important places you want to get to in Korean so that you can ask for directions. Especially useful if you're taking a taxi.4. We don't speak or read Korean, but we didn't have major difficulties getting around. The important signs in the subway and on the streets are in English, and quite a lot of restaurants have picture menus or pictures in the shop you can point to. If all else fails, you can point at a dish someone else is eating. Hahaha :) but knowing simple words is nice. One useful word I learned from my Korean friend is how to say "excuse me" when you're trying to pass through and someone's blocking your way: shil-yae-ha-mi-da. Super useful on the trains when it's crowded.