South Korea’s capital is renowned for its culture and its people’s devotion to traditions whose history is measured in thousands of years. At the same time, Seoul today is an advanced Asian metropolis, and the contrast of antiquity and modernity gives it its own unique, multifaceted look. Seoul’s numerous landmarks reflect this juxtaposition: industrial engineering structures neighbor centuries-old palaces and temples, atmospheric historic streets contrast with colossal multilevel road junctions. Choosing what to see in Seoul, it is difficult to stop at one thing, so the following guide will help you get acquainted with the most significant places of the city in advance.
The multifaceted Seoul is extremely rich in attractions, and choosing what to see in Seoul in 1 day will be quite a challenge for those wishing to comprehend this city in all its beauty and grandeur. However, there are a number of tips on where to start exploring the city in order to get into the spirit of the city from your first travels.
Perhaps the most beautiful of Seoul’s palaces is Gyeongbokgung Palace, erected in the late 14th century during the Joseon era. As a result of Japanese attacks, the palace was destroyed twice and rebuilt again, and today it continues to delight visitors with the originality of its architecture. The size of the palace is impressive - there are about three hundred buildings and about 6,000 rooms in all. Today it is a real open-air museum, where you can visit the picturesque throne room, a number of thematic museums and amazingly beautiful park with an artificial lake, the water surface of which is covered with lotus blossoms.
Official website: http://www.royalpalace.
The architectural ensemble of this palace is notable for the fact that its appearance has been preserved since its construction in the 15th century, despite the fact that it suffered more than any other during the Japanese wars. Of course, it has been restored many times, but thanks to the diligent work of Korean craftsmen, it has retained its authentic appearance. It was the residence of the last emperor of Korea until his death in the early 20th century. The palace spreads over 58 hectares of land at the foot of the mountain. There is a splendid garden with centuries-old trees and a beautiful pond with places for walking and resting in the center of the area.
Official website: http://www.cdg.go.kr/eng/
The next palace on the list of Seoul’s best sights is Changgyeonggung Palace, the city’s elderly collection of castle structures, which was built in the early 12th century. For centuries on end, it has been used as a place of recreation and entertainment for the royal family-the palace’s name, which means “unbridled revelry,” speaks for itself. The palace is surrounded by a picturesque park with gazebos and pagodas, where visitors can not only enjoy the magnificent scenery and palace architecture, but also witness one of the many festivals, carnivals or performances that regularly take place within the complex.
Official website: http://www.cdg.go.
More modest in size than its counterparts, Toksugun Palace is quite symbolic for the city’s residents, and it has something to do with the sad events of the 19th century. It was here that the emperor lived at the time when South Korea ceased to be an independent state and turned into an occupied territory. The monarch hid here from Japanese spies who murdered his wife. The palace walls house an active museum, the Royal Museum, which exhibits a collection of Joseon-era objects as well as works by contemporary Korean painters.
Official website: http://www.deoksugung.
The review continues with one of the most beautiful palaces not only in Seoul, but in all of South Korea - Gyeonghigung. The picturesque mountainous terrain on which it was built further underscores the beauty and splendor of the place. The complex was built in the 17th century as an additional residence in case of any unplanned events: the emperor could at any time access the palace grounds from the neighboring Toksugun Palace by a specially built bridge. The events of the Japanese War did not spare Gyeonghigung, and it was destroyed and rebuilt several times; only one-third of the original ensemble remains. On the grounds of the palace, one can stroll through the park or visit the Seoul Historical Museum.
Official website: http://www.cgcm.
Guides in Seoul are sure to introduce you to the city’s most important shopping street, Myeongdong. On a small area of 1 square kilometer stands the dynamic center of Seoul life. One can only wonder how on this small square could fit so many stores, shops, hotels in Seoul, cafes and rows of shops. This place is not tourist-oriented, and that is why you can discover the true Seoul, in the hustle and bustle of everyday life of its inhabitants. Strolling through Myeongdong’s stores and malls, you can find products aimed at absolutely different incomes. The same applies to eating places, where you can have a quick snack with inexpensive pancakes or a chic lunch at an expensive restaurant.
Another famous shopping place in Seoul is Gwangjang Market, which can be visited not only for shopping but also for interest. Its colorful stores and stalls, of which there are about 5,000, concentrate the largest amount of clothes and fabrics as well as souvenirs and vintage items in the city. Here you can buy traditional national clothes, lush wedding dresses, the most exquisite expensive fabrics and high quality linens. Another part of the market is reserved for food and cafes, where you can try a number of national dishes. Among the most popular local dishes are rice pancakes with beans, meat, or vegetables, Korean dumplings, rice cakes, and sweet liquor.
Official website: http://www.kwangjangmarket
It’s worth mentioning another place to go in Seoul as an extension of a shopping trip. In the heart of Seoul is the Insadong Shopping District, consisting of one large and several small secondary streets. It was once inhabited by the rich and wealthy, as it has been since the Joseon period. Later, as a result of Japanese colonization, the wealthy Korean nobles went bankrupt and shops started to appear in the streets selling valuable items from the ruined houses. Since then, the trade began to gain momentum, and today the streets of the neighborhood are home to a number of cafes, antique shops, and spontaneous markets selling unique handicrafts.
Official website: http://english.visitkorea
In the heart of the South Korean capital sits a traditional settlement whose buildings are so beautiful and authentic that the place looks more like an open-air museum than a village. Nevertheless, it is a real residential neighborhood, and in its cozy one-story houses to this day live people whose way of life is fundamentally different from the way of life of the inhabitant of the metropolis. It is especially unusual to see this spectacle against the backdrop of high-rise modern buildings of the city, staring into the sky. The fairy-tale atmosphere of the settlement disposes to wander the narrow streets of the village or stop in one of the local cafes with home cooking.
Official website: http://hanok.seoul.go
One of the items Seoul tour is worth devoting to Cheonggyecheon Park, which opened in the center of the city not long ago, in 2005. Its entire 8-kilometer territory stretches along the creek of the same name, the paths are paved with paving stones, and several unusual fountains decorate the way. For example, there is a 2-cascade fountain, a waterfall fountain, a rhythmic fountain and a fountain-tunnel. This oasis, located in the jungle of the metropolis, is especially beautiful at night when mesmerizing illumination is turned on throughout the creek. In addition to the fountains, there are 22 bridges of various designs across the creek, and there are several themed walls painted with numerous autographs.
Seoul’s famous Blue House is one of the city’s main symbols. It gets its name from the delightful, rich emerald-blue hue of its roof. Each piece of tile for this roof was cast to order, and the smooth curve of the roof as if to symbolize the beauty of the state and its harmony with nature. The palace is located on a large area of an old garden that was laid out during the Joseon dynasty. The lush greenery of trees alternates with the fragrance of countless flowers. Inside the residence are rooms such as the main office, guest house, spring pavilion, and autumn pavilion.
Official website: http://english.president
The country’s most important Zen Buddhist temple is located in Seoul and is called Chogesa. This important landmark in South Korea was established about a century ago at the initiative of the Choge order, which today already owns over 1,500 Korean temples. Chogeosa is a large ensemble of several buildings, the central one being Tuenjeon, impressive for its enormous size and decorative tanchon paintings. In addition, there are many other objects worth seeing on the grounds of the temple, such as two centuries-old trees, statues of Buddha in the hall of the Tuenjeon building, and a tiered pagoda of stone with holy relics.
Official website: http://www.jogyesa.kr
This ancient Buddhist abode sits on the side of Mount Sudo, just a few hundred meters from the bustling civilization of the metropolis. Within minutes of traveling a short distance from downtown Seoul, visitors are transported back several centuries or even into another dimension. Despite the close proximity of civilization, not a single sound disturbs the idyllic harmony of the place. The temple building itself is very old, dating back to the 8th century, and is a classic example of Korean architecture. Of course, not all of the temple’s structures have survived to this day, and many have been restored to look as close to the original as possible.
The shrine was founded in the 14th century, at the dawn of the Joseon Dynasty, and has long served as a royal shrine. For centuries there were traditional burial ceremonies for Korean emperors, remembrances for royal ancestors, and rituals of sacrifice to spirits. The rites to commemorate the deceased are still followed to this day, and the sanctuary still retains its historical and cultural significance to the nation.
Official website: http://english.cha.go
This is another important attraction to visit in Seoul among the city’s shrines. The cathedral was built in the 19th century in a concise neo-Gothic style, so the façade looks rather modest compared to the colorful walls of ancient sanctuaries. Christianity in Korea had long been persecuted, but by the 19th century the government had become more tolerant of the religion, which allowed one of Korea’s bishops to begin building a Catholic cathedral. The temple is very young, so it does not have a large collection of valuable artifacts, but the relics of Christian martyrs who were persecuted are buried within its walls.
Official website: http://www.mdsd.or.
This museum complex was erected as a tribute to the brave Korean soldiers who gave their lives in various wars over the years. The monument was opened in the 90s of the 20th century in the historic part of the city. On a vast area of 20,000 square meters there is an open-air museum, several thematic pavilions, as well as memorial walls on which are engraved the names of heroes who distinguished themselves in the war. Military equipment of different years is located in the open area. The exhibits of the thematic halls are divided into different eras and events from the history of South Korea.
Official website: https://www.warmemo
The National Museum in Seoul is a very ambitious project, ranked among the top 10 museums in the world. Its history began over a century ago when the Korean emperor decided to open a museum collection at Changgyeonggung Palace to his subjects, and later the collection was supplemented by the collection of the Japanese Museum. At the end of World War II, the country gained its independence and established its own national museum. The museum collection repeatedly moved until a spacious building was erected for it in Yongsan Park. The area of the museum is huge - about 137 thousand square meters, and the number of exhibits exceeds 200 thousand items.
Official website: http://www.museum
The recommendations of this article would be incomplete without mentioning another important attraction, the National Folk Museum. This place is indispensable for those who want to learn more about the life and traditions of the Korean people, visit the country’s centuries-old past, and see how certain customs began. The museum is located in one of the buildings of Gyeongbokgung Palace Complex and has a collection,
Gyeongbokgung Palace Complex. All of them are divided into three thematic halls: the first deals with the history of the nation and the development of its culture, the second describes the people’s way of life, and the third shows the centuries-old traditions of the people and the role of religion in them.
Official website: http://www.nfm.go.
This institution, also known as Art Hall, is a large-scale exhibition complex where various cultural events - vernissages, exhibitions, theatrical productions and more - are regularly held. All in all, on an area of about 15,000 square meters there are several halls with stages for artists’ performances, as well as halls with various cultural expositions, such as a modern art gallery, an archive of visual art, an audio and video archive, a documentary archive with various printed editions, a museum with a collection of handwritten hieroglyphics, as well as a multifunctional design center.
Official website: http://www.seoularts.
Next up on the list is a unique museum of illusions, unlike any other - no great works of art, but a place for real fun and entertainment. The exhibits of the museum seem to take the visitor into another world and another dimension, where the physical laws of everyday life do not apply. All the pictures of the exposition are made in 3D style with optical illusions, it makes the visitors feel like they are a part of each presented plot, where they can touch elements of the images and plunge into the painted world. The illusion effect itself is achieved in each of the paintings through the clever use of perspective.
Official website: http://trickeye.com
One of Korea’s most notable museums was created under the sponsorship of Korea’s largest electronics magnate, Samsung. Opened in 2004, the museum features an impressive collection of national cultural treasures. The museum complex includes three buildings with completely different architecture, each of which was designed by a different architect. It is worth noting that the exterior design of each building corresponds to the themes of the exposition presented inside it. For example, the gallery devoted to the history of the country and ancient artifacts is designed like a medieval fortress, while the gallery of contemporary art has a futuristic facade.
Official website: http://leeum.samsungfoundation
In fact, there are as many as 4 theater branches in Seoul, and several acting companies perform in each branch during the day. NANTA’s productions are unusual theatrical shows with musical accompaniment based on musical compositions, most often performed on kitchen objects. Right on the move, a group of talented actors improvise to the beat of the national music, all accompanied by various dexterous tricks, somewhat reminiscent of circus art. Numerous reviews say, that such shows are watched in the same breath, and humorous moments can be understood, even without knowledge of Korean language.
Official website: https://www.nanta.
It is already difficult to surprise the modern traveler with a beautiful fountain - so many beautiful water creations have been created in different cities around the world. But the Korean masterpiece “Rainbow Fountain”, perhaps, will not leave any visitor indifferent. Nowhere else in the world one can find such a beautiful and large-scale man-made spectacle using water jets. For 1.1 kilometers, hundreds of streams of water gush out of the nozzles on the Panpo Bridge, describe a huge arc and plunge into the Hangang River. In the evening, the bridge is transformed into a truly fabulous structure - all along its length turn on the lights, which colors the jets of the fountain in different colors of the rainbow.
This institution can rightfully be called an important landmark in Seoul, as Ihwa University is the largest women’s university in the world. The history of the university began in the late 19th century when an American missionary, Mary Scranton, began to teach medical subjects to Korean girls in her home. So 20-odd years later a women’s college was founded, 4 years later the first doctors of medicine were graduated, and from the 70s of last century the institution reached the world level. Today the university aspires to enter into the top of the most prestigious universities of the world, famous scientists, prize-winners of world names conduct lectures here.
Official website: http://www.ewha.ac.
The modern symbol of Seoul is its colossal, nearly 500-meter-high TV tower. At its very top is an observation deck, the best place in the city from which to admire the city’s spectacular panoramas. The tower is located on top of the 237-meter-high Namsan Mountain, giving the structure even greater height. Inside the tower, from the very first level there is a fascinating journey - there are many cafes and souvenir stores. There are 5 levels altogether, but it is definitely worth getting to the highest of them: here, at dizzying heights, there is a rotating panoramic platform with a restaurant.
Official site: http://www.nseoultower
Seoul’s memorable sites are quite numerous - they, like an inexhaustible spring, leave the best impressions of exploring the city, even if the journey is not the first or second time. And even if you have explored Seoul’s main attractions, there is still room for other equally interesting monuments of antiquity and modernity, and cultural and recreational activities. Continuing the top are other attractions in Seoul, photos with names and descriptions of which are given below.
The Seoul Exhibition Center, which opened in 2014, is a masterpiece of modern architecture in a futuristic style. The building with an interior area of more than 86,000 square meters resembles a huge spaceship with smooth graceful forms and a silver shade of the facade. Inside, the space of the center is divided into several above-ground and underground levels, and all the internal areas flowing smoothly into one another are painted in the same light gray-brown color scheme. Particularly noteworthy are such rooms as the Art Hall, designed for large exhibitions and fashion shows, the historical arena museum and the design laboratory with unique design pieces.
Official website: http://www.ddp.or.
The construction of the Olympic Park in Korea was timed to coincide with the Olympic Games held in Korea in the summer of 1988. Numerous objects of the games have survived to this day, becoming a valuable and memorable landmark. The vast area of the park has a host of cultural and recreational sites and other interesting places worth seeing. There are museums, memorials, gyms, and recreation centers. A visit to the Olympic Park itself is a whole sport and educational event: everyone can jog up and down the terrain, rent sports equipment or make an informative raid on the Park’s facilities.
Official website: http://www.olympicpark
One of the largest indoor amusement parks in the world is located in Seoul, right in the heart of the city. This is a huge entertainment area for children and adults with a year-round ice skating rink, museum, shopping mall, movie theater, lake, souvenir shops, and many other attractions in addition to the amusement complex. In addition to entertainment and walking, you can witness performances and regular festivals. All buildings and decor of the complex are made in the style of the Middle Ages, it creates an atmosphere of coziness and fairy tale. The complex even has its own hotel, which is located near the park.
Official site: http://www.lotteworld.com
On the basement of COEX Shopping and Entertainment Center is an interesting attraction - the largest oceanarium in Korea, occupying 1.3 thousand square meters. The shape of the huge aquarium resembles a tunnel, which passes literally over the heads of visitors, creating a perfect effect of presence. In addition to the giant main aquarium, the oceanarium has 90 other aquariums. The entire viewing area is divided into thematic sections such as Sea Dwellers, Sea Predators, Amazon Forests, etc. Therefore, in addition to the inhabitants of the water depths, birds and even polar bears can be found here.
Official website: http://www.coexaqua.com
In the northernmost part of Seoul is the Bukhangsan mountain range, the natural jewel of South Korea. The area has been a national park of the same name since 1983. Once a part of the Joseon Dynasty, the massif served as a city boundary and has now become incredibly popular among tourists and avid mountain climbers. Although the ridge is not very tall-about 850 meters above the sea-it offers an incredibly beautiful view of the city and its panoramas. The area within the reserve abounds with historical monuments and various artifacts, and there are 14 trails for hiking.
Official website: http://english.knps.or
When planning a trip to Seoul, it is worth carefully planning your future itinerary. After all, once you come to these lands, you can get lost in the variety of ancient and modern architecture, wonderful parks, monuments and entire historic districts. The city of contrasts, tradition and the latest technology, antiquity and modernity will be remembered by ancient temples and futuristic buildings, blooming sakura trees, countless attractions, walks in the most beautiful natural corners of the city, and souvenirs of Korean craftsmen will long remind you of the priceless moments of exploring Seoul.