This spring I’ve travelled to South Korea for the first time. It was a really amazing experience, and I’m happy to share it with you! So far I’m planning to write four blogposts about South Korea: places to see, things to do and to try, five grand palaces and locations to visit on a short trip from Seoul! This first one is dedicated to historical places and most notable tourist attractions in the capital of South Korea. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the other three that are coming soon!
Grand Palaces of Seoul
There are five Grand Palaces in Seoul, all built during the rule of Joseon dynasty: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Gyeonghuigung Palace, and Jongmyo Shrine. Buying a combined pass to all of them sounds like a good idea and saves a fair amount of money and time.
But don’t worry if you don’t have time to explore them all! Main architectural features are very similar among them although every place is unique and has its own past.
As the palaces and temples are made of wood, it’s unsurprising that the buildings you’ll see are the modern versions of the original buildings. I would suggest you not to miss Changdeokgung Palace and Gyeongbokgung Palace – these are my favorites!
Tip: Admission to the palaces is free every last Wednesday of the month.
I look closer into all five palaces closer in my other post.
Historical fact: Joseon dynasty ruled Korea for over 5 centuries from 1392 till the Japanese control over Korea took place (1910-1945). In the last years of its rule – since in 1897 – the Great Korean Empire was proclaimed.
Bukchon Hanok village
Want to feel the atmosphere of old Korea and to see how it looked like during the rule of Joseon dynasty several centuries ago? A lot of traditional houses, rent of hanbok (traditional clothes), tea ceremony – you can find it all at the Bukchon Hanok village. It comes as no surprise that this area is heavily packed with tourists 🙂 The Korean houses designed like these are called hanok and were built in Korea since the 14th century. How pretty are these rock walls and curvy roofs, aren’t they?
Interesting: The richer families could afford to cover the roof with the tiles while the straw-covered roofs are typical to the poorer households.
Namsangol Folk Village
If you didn’t have enough of traditional Korean houses at Bukchon village and are craving for more, please come to Namsangol village. It’s located right at the foot of Namsan mountain (I’ll talk about it in my second post about Seoul!).
Apart from familiarizing yourself with the construction of different houses and daily life of a Korean family of the past you can try a number of activities yourself. What about trying on a traditional set of Korean cloths, playing games, practicing in archery or taking a photo with a falcon?
It’s pretty compact and less busy than Bukchon village so I’m sure you’ll enjoy a stroll around.
Interesting: For heating Koreans used the traditional underfloor heating system called ondole. The hot air and smoke coming from chimneys heated the walking/sleeping surfaces and helped to keep the indoor temperatures high.
Myeongdong, the heart of Seoul
Myeong-dong is a main Seoul destination for many tourists and it has a good reason behind it. With real vibes of Asian busy market street, street food smells, vertical neon lights, uncountable cafes and shops – all these features you’re looking for are concentrated at Myeong-dong. If you’re looking for the beautifying tools such as latest fashion collections of Korean skin care products, you’re in the right place as well (yes, I’ve ended up with a handbag filled with tissue masks – I’ve been a fan of Korean cosmetics for a long time!)
Tip: don’t miss local architectural marvels such as Gothic Myeongdong cathedral and the Bank of Korea!
If you tolerate buzzing tourist crowds well then you must go to Insadong district. It consists of one main street and numerous smaller streets, drives and courtyards branching from if. You can buy all sorts of Korean cliche souvenirs here: korean dolls, pretty mother-of-pearl lacquerware, hanbok (traditional cloths), metal chopsticks, ginseng of all kinds, keychains, pottery, pieces of art in local art galleries, street food made right in front of you. There are a lot of restaurant and cafes waiting to welcome you as well. One of the most controversial but still magnetic places is a poo cafe where everything is loo-styled. Would you like to give a poo on a stick, as the one from this kiosk, a try? 🙂
Tip: if you have a lot of free time, pop into the Alive museum where you can experience the eye-tricking illusions.
Another Seoul district not to miss is Itaewon. It’s famous for its vibes and a lot of restaurants of any sort of cuisines you may like.
Meanwhile, we opted for the LINE friends flagstore and cafe. I must confess that I wasn’t familiar with these characters before my trip to South Korea but they are irresistibly cute!
Another ecological nod is the Cheonggyecheon stream flowing into the Hangang river at the end. This is actually a natural stream that was located there for centuries but has been converted into the park area just recently. This narrow but lengthy (almost 11 km!) area around the natural spring is a bit lower than the street level around it and contrasts to the concrete jungles around. Cheonggyecheon stream turned out to be a nice place to rest and to walk along – and many historical and cultural notes on the walls kept us from getting bored!
Seoul Town Hall
Town hall is not usually a kind of building you’re recommended to pop in to but the Seoul Town Halls are definitely not ordinary Town Halls (on the right on the pic below)! Actually the former Town Hall is adjacent to the new one built recently. The old building was converted into the Seoul Metropolitan Library – and it looks like heaven!
Meanwhile the new one is a splendid eco-friendly modern building famous for its Green wall. The art installation created by Jeon Su-cheon called Meta Epic: SeaBeol as if it is made out of numerous balloons also resides here. The new glass building is quite impressive as well – grab your cup of coffee in a cafe over there. You can also have a look at historical exhibitions.
Blue house Cheon Wa Dae
Blue house is an official residence of the President of South Korea. Its name originates from the blue tiles ornamenting its roof. You can catch a glimpse of this modern architectural gem in a traditional style if you exit the territory of Gyeongbok Palace from the back. Tip: If you want to enter it, you should book you visit online in advance.
Interesting: did you know that Korean national flower is Hibiscus?
Other side of Seoul
Although you might associate Seoul with something exceptionally modern, it’s not all like this. There are patches of futuristic spaces with skyscrapers but the latest scientific technological advances contrast with other districts with small houses and rural streets that almost take us back in time.
It is fascinating how those well known Westernised modern areas of Seoul – products of the Korean Economic Miracle – goes along with the rest of the city. But this mix is exactly what makes this city special because it hints at Seoul’s history and on what South Korea became! So I would definitely recommend you to explore non-touristic Seoul as well.
Foggy, tidy, clean, futuristic and traditional, busy and calm… It’s all about Seoul!
I hope you enjoyed my today’s blog!