Korea, the unknown land between the crazy Japan and intrusive China. Or at least, that is what we felt before visiting. We actually never really considered going there, but when we made Korean friends we simply had to visit!
Big surprise: we totally fell in love with Korea, and especially Seoul. We spend two whole weeks in the capital and we feel we could stay there so much longer. Through couchsurfing we stay with locals in four different parts of the city.
They show us the best places in their neighbourhoods. They also take us to the best restaurants and we discover Korean cuisine. Korean food is not only Korean BBQ and kimchi; it is much more. And the best thing: side dishes are free!
We have to acknowledge it is probably tough to be a vegetarian or vegan in Korea. Everything has meat, lots of meat. And if you like coffee: Seoul is a coffee shop paradise! We challenge you not to fall in love with the city (+ food) after these highlights of Seoul:
#1 Hongdae area
Our favorite area of the city! Always busy with many youngsters, street performances, which results in a great vibe. Located right in the middle of the area, is the Gyeongui Line Forest Park.
This park was created when the Gyeongui railway went (partially) underground. It’s a unique place where you can enjoy urban culture and greenery at the same time. It’s also a great place to have a beer at night with friends and mix with the locals.
#2 Bukchon Hanok village
Bukchon is a traditional Korean neighbourhood. It is a great place to walk around for a couple hours. If you are interested, you can participate in many traditional Korean crafts – for example learn how to play a traditional Korean instrument. It is also a great place for taking pretty pictures.
Make sure to go to Samcheong-dong Culture street; every Saturday there is a market and throughout the weekend there are many street performers.
#3 Gyeongbokgung palace
This highlight already starts with the Gwanghwamun Square in front of it, with statues of the two most respected historical figures n Korea, Admiral Yi Sunshin and King Sejong. The palace is the largest of all palaces in Seoul, you can’t miss out on it when you visit the city.
If you wear traditional Korean clothes – you can rent them at lots of places – the entrance is free! In addition, your pictures will be extra pretty! Twice a day there is a changing of the guard ceremony, which is pretty fun to see. Make sure to check the ceremony times before you visit!
#4 Namdaemun and Gwangjang market
Namdaemun market is the largest market in Korea. The market is famous for the countless low priced shops selling clothes, household times and food. We had some traditional Korean dishes like Hotteok – a very delicious cinnamon sweet pancake.
Maybe a better market for food is the Gwanjang market, where we had Pajeon – delicious savoury pancakes. This market is a bit more expensive, but has tons of places to eat!
#5 Cheonggyecheon stream
A 10 km-long stream flows from Gwanghwamun to Dongdaemun. It’s great to stroll along the stream and cool off under the occasional bridges. And especially during the night the bridges are lit with fantastic lighting and we even saw a fountain lights show!
Since we were in Seoul during rainy reason, we also saw the stream with heavy flood: it changed the peaceful summer stream into a dangerous-looking river!
#6 Insa-dong street
A street that represent the traditional Korean culture with antique art, bookstores, traditional teahouses and craft shops. We had some really nice crêpes on the street (is it obvious we love food?)!
Itaewon feels like a different world in the city. This is the foreigner’s neighbourhood of Seoul, where you can find the multicultural part of Korea. If you’re in the mood to eat something other than Korean, this is the place to be. It’s also the place to be for a great party! Two Korean friends took us to the club The Fountain and we had the best time!
#8 Banpodaegyo bridge
The world’s longest bridge fountain! If you are lucky you can see the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain light show. We were only not so lucky. We went there twice, but didn’t see a lightshow.
Due to weather conditions the show may be cancelled. So when we went to the Banpo Hangang Park to see the show, the water was either too high or too dirty. We did enjoy two beautiful sunsets and delivery Chimaek (chicken + beer). That is another great thing of Korea: you can have your food delivered anywhere!
Seoul’s new sky garden! You can go there to cool-off your feet in a purple pool, to see all the plants or just to see an awesome view! The Korean name Seoullo, translates to ‘towards Seoul’ and ‘Seoul Street’. It’s located in the heart of Seoul, on a former city highway, and has 24.000 different Korean plant species including trees and flowers.
#10 Bukhansan National Park
This national park is close to Seoul and definitely worth a visit if you love a hike. Bukhansan means “big mountain in the North”, and it’s definitely a big mountain. Reaching the top of the Baegundae peak was incredible, but took us three hours when taking the long road. With breaks. Lots of breaks.
If you have time left after these highlights and want to see more, we also recommend to go to: Namsangol Hanok village, the Seoul city wall, Myeong-dong street, the Seoul museum of Art (fun fact: during Summer the entrance is free so people can cool-off in the air-cooled museum), the National museum of Korea, Gangnam – Seorae French village, the Bongeunsa temple, Ansan mountain, and the Dongjin Market.
If you did all of that: congratulations, you’re a local!
Are you convinced to go to Seoul yet? Or have you been there and we missed something? Let us know!
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