In May 2016, it was finally time for me to visit Seoul, the capital of South Korea. From Tokyo where I used to live at that time, I flew to Seoul with Eastar Jet, a Korean low-cost airline. Especially due to its geographical proximity, there are many low-cost airlines operating between South Korea and Japan, if you are ever thinking about taking this route. In addition, the national airlines Korean Air as well as ANA and Japan Airlines are also connecting both destinations which can be of interest to those of you who are collecting miles. Similarly to Tokyo, there are two airports in Seoul: the larger Seoul-Incheon Airport and Seoul-Gimpo.
Having about 10 million inhabitants, Seoul due to its atmosphere actually felt much smaller than for example Tokyo which might sound strange for a city with such a high amount of people. However, this is probably because of the mountains surrounding the whole city of Seoul through which you can always guess where the city stops while Tokyo never seems to stop at any point or direction. This makes Seoul also a very walkable city where is no need to use public transportation every time you want to change place which would mostly be the case in Tokyo. However, regarding the latter, I have also noticed that the underground in Seoul is less crowded than the ones in the Japanese capital wherefore it is always a good alternative to get from A to B. Furthermore, the mountains and hills surrounding Seoul always offer you the opportunity to escape the city life and to get some fresh air in the neighbouring national parks.
Talking about sightseeing in Seoul, I was mainly interested to visit the main popular sights of the city. Even though Seoul is a very modern city, it also has a great variety of historical attractions. First of all, there are five palaces in Seoul whose names are still very difficult to write or even to pronounce: Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Deoksugung, Changgyeonggung, and Gyeonghuigung. Originally, there was also a sixth palace which is no longer existing nowadays.
Personally, I was able to visit Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, and Changgyeonggung. All three palaces which are located in different parts of the city were very impressive and worth seeing. The area around Gyeongbokgung is massive wherefore you could spend hours there. In addition to the beautiful buildings, I was particularly impressed by the garden which is unique in its aesthetics. I was also fascinated by the many little details and high versatility of the various buildings. Walking around the whole area allows you to identify new facets and details at all building during your whole stay. Furthermore, the surrounding mountains with the typical East Asian coniferous forests make the whole place very picturesque. I recommend you to watch the Royal Guard Changing Ceremony in front of the main entrance. The whole ceremony is not only colourful and impressive but also supported by an English audio description which makes you understand the whole process. The entrance fee to the palace is only 3.000 Won (approx. 2,30 € in summer 2016) while visitors under 25 or over 64 can enter for free.
A little different in terms of architecture, Deoksugung Palace is also interesting to see. A special feature here is that both Asian and Western architecture can be found on the site which is due to the history of the palace. Surrounded by modern skyscrapers, this place allows you to see and admire both tradition and modernity of the city of Seoul. The entrance fee for Deoksugung is 1.000 Won (approx. 0,80 € in summer 2016).
At Changgyeonggung you will find a huge park and garden area. This palace, located in the north of the city, might remind you of Gyeongbokgung, although the area is slightly smaller. However, the hill in the area provides the opportunity to enjoy a scenic view from a slightly higher level and to enjoy the various buildings from different perspectives. The pond in the northern part of the terrain with its colourful vegetation, depending on the season, makes it easy for you to forget that you are actually in the middle of a mega city. The palace of Changgyeonggung is accessible for an entrance fee of 1.000 Won.
Moreover, I highly recommend you a visit of Jongmyo shrine, a very impressive complex of buildings of Confucian history. Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this place was primarily used as the final resting place for deceased members of the Joseon Dynasty who were buried there. The history of this tradition is displayed in an exhibition there with exhibits reminiscent of the ceremonies. Particularly I was impressed by the actual size of the shrine which is overwhelming.
As a diversion to the historical and cultural sights presented so far, another point of interest in Seoul is Namsan Park with N Seoul Tower on its peak. Situated on a hill, Namsan Park is beautiful and offers you the great opportunity to have a little hike within the city. Visiting N Seoul Tower is not necessary for having a great view of Seoul but can be done for 10.000 Won (approx. 8 €).
Completely no entrance free is necessary for the next attraction: Cheonggyecheon Stream. This is a very interesting project of urban architecture and urban planning. In former times, a river was flowing through Seoul which was overbuild with a concrete road wherefore the river was virtually non-existent. However, the city at some point recognized the importance of green retreats in the city so that the road was removed and the level of the river was lowered down by a few meters. In remembrance of the former river, a new artificial river was created which, in combination with new planted trees, architecturally appealing bridges and walking paths next to the river created a totally new green retreat in the middle of Seoul. The whole project even had some direct impact on the local flora and fauna so that various species found a new habitat there. The stream with a length of several kilometres is perfect for having a walk or to relax next to the river in the middle of the city. Luckily, there was a lantern show next to the stream during my stay as you can see on the pictures. A great project which definitely increased life quality in Seoul.
As a very last place of interest, I want to recommend you to visit lovely Bukchon Hanok Village! This place is a historical village in the middle of Seoul which provides travellers the opportunity to get an impression of historical South Korea. The historical, authentic and beautiful architecture of the buildings is complemented by craft shops and many small, hip cafés.
Finally, I hope that you could gain a good first impression of the city of Seoul with my descriptions and photos! Overall, Seoul surprised me in a very positive way. The city offers beautiful, historical sights, an interesting variety of different architectural styles, and many trendy neighbourhood such as Itaewon, Hongdae or Seongsu-dong as also the Telegraph and Lonely Planet recently reported. Furthermore, South Koreans are surprisingly open, often starting a chat with you on the streets while asking about your intention and motivation of visiting South Korea or to simply apply English language.
Do you have any questions or suggestions? Did you like this article? Leave a comment or drop me an e-mail via firstname.lastname@example.org! Stay tuned for my next blog post which will deal with my visit to the border between South and North Korea!