Top 10 Places to Visit in and around Seoul
Seoul is a very large and interesting city, with lots of interesting things to see. It combines old-world Asian charm with modern sky-scrapers and city living in a charming and disarming sort of way. The people are friendly and incredibly helpful. You can't see in all in just one short vacation though, so here is a run down of the ten hottest sites to see in Seoul, South Korea.
#1: Namsan Tower
First stop on our tour of Seoul is Namsan tower, now officially known as N' Seoul Tower, although it is also commonly referred to as simply Seoul Tower. Once you get past the confusion of the name, the tower itself is really quite simple, providing a spectacular panoramic view of the surrounding city. There are two ways to make it to the tower from the city below. While the most common method is to take a cable car to the top, especially for tourists, it is also possible to make the short hike to the top, well lit even at night with well marked stairs. The tower provides stunning views of Seoul both during the day and at night, but really is the most interesting at night. Once you reach the top you are greeted not only by Seoul, but by light shows, shopping and a revolving restaurant. There is also a chain link fence where lover put a lock to symbolize the everlasting nature of their love before throwing away the key.
#2: Seodaemun Prison
Seodaemun Prison History Hall started out housing war criminals, or freedom fighters during the Japanese occupation of Korea at the beginning of the 20th century. It served this purpose through the end of WWII and at its peak consisted of 15 buildings able to house some 500 inmates. It has gone through many name changes since then, finally being designated Seodaemun Prison History Hall in 1992, as part of freedom park, where it now stands as a gruesome portrait of what humans are capable of doing to each other and a to the many people who died there. Not so different from visiting a European concentration camp circa the same era, the prison is open to the public for a nominal fee, and you can walk around by yourself, or take advantage of English language tours which are available on Thursdays.
Inwangsan, in English often called Inwang Mountain, is a beautiful temple walk in the heart of Seoul. Fortunately for many tourists, the hike is easy, and not too long, and the view of the city from the top of the hike is just spectacular. If you are pressed for time, the hike can be completed in an hour, but you'd be better served by two. Make sure that you bring your camera with you, you'll be glad that you did.
#4: Korean Folk Village
The Korean Folk Village in just south of Seoul Suwon is a sight worth seeing for anyone, Korean, tourist or other. It is made up of quite a large area filled with Korean traditional houses and costumes. The people there are very friendly, but be careful because they don't always speak so much English. It's important to plan to go earlier in the day, as there is enough to do to fill up most of your day, and the doors close at 6 pm. Be sure to take in the many shows that are put off during the day that show everything from traditional Korean dancing, to a Korean traditional wedding.
#5: The Secret Garden: Changdeokgung Palace
Seoul is home to five royal palaces from the different dynasties of Korean monarchy, and if you have to pick one, this would be it. The Palace itself is beautiful and the secret gardens are worth a visit all on their own. Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden can only be entered during a tour, however, so try to plan your trip for a Thursday when English language tours are available.
#6: National Museum of Korea
Located in Icheon, the National Museum of Korea is for the most part devoted to Korean history, and is quite interesting, especially if you're the type to be interested in history. The building is quite large, so you should plan which exhibits you'd like to see when you get there, or plan to spend the vast majority of your day there. From time to time the Museum hosts special exhibits which are often really worth seeing.
Shopping, shopping and more shopping basically sums up the modern day purpose of this previously historic part of Seoul. It's a good place to get touristy knick-knacks for your friends at home and try some traditional Korean street food, but its a little over priced, and you won't really see anything there, that you wouldn't see anywhere else. Its very crowded though, and everything is concentrated in one place. Definitely makes for an interesting afternoon, and the atmosphere is worth the trip, especially for those unfamiliar with life in Asia.
If you're in Seoul on a whirlwind tour, or if you plan to stay longer Itaewon is good place to have on your list of places to visit, as it is the most Western friendly place in Seoul, perhaps in all of Korea. This is the place where you want to come to recharge you batteries a little, have a break from Korean food, and see a little ethnic diversity, all while remaining distinctly in Asia. English is widely spoken here, and its THE place to get any American goods that you would hope to buy, as it is near the American military base.
#9: Namdaemun Market
Namdaemun is a traditional Korean market located near the center of Seoul, which is pretty much perpetually filled with the hustle and bustle of the big city. It is the number one place to go to get things for cheap, and to barter with the local merchants. There's lots of activity, yelling, food, clothes, traditional goods etc. You name it, and its probably in Namdaemun. Namdaemun market is so large that it is divided into specific areas for things you want. Its an excellent place to walk around and marvel at vendors hawking there wares, or if you want something specific, be sure to stop at the tourist information booth to get a map of the different areas, you'll be glad that you did.
#10: Han River
The Han River snakes through Seoul from one end to the other, and is a must see for any trip to Seoul. Incredibly verdant for a city river in the summer, its banks are crowded with parks, recreational areas, water sports and bike rentals. Be sure to take advantage of one of the fabulous cruises offered throughout the day for a unique view of the city, at a leisurely uncitylike pace. If you can schedule your trip for the early evening when the sun is setting, you'll be glad that you did.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and is of course a subjective look at one of the largest cities in the world. What ever your plans end up being, Seoul is a beautiful and facinating place to visit. Just try to see as much as you can, and enjoy yourself along the way, and you shouldn't be dissapointed!