Seoul: South Korea’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
The fact that the South Korean peninsula makes a great destination isn’t a secret anymore – the capital, Seoul, is the tenth most visited city in the world! The southern part of the country is garnering more and more attention thanks to high-quality technology, tasty food, inventive cosmetics, and formative music. Even westerners are becoming increasingly interested in Asia’s small jewel. This isn’t surprising, because Seoul is like a mixed bag – tradition and modernity merge to create a fascinating hybrid culture unlike anything you’ve ever seen!
Seoul in a Nutshell
Seoul, located in the northwest of the country, is the capital of the southern part of the Korean peninsula. It’s home to approximately 10 million people, making it a highly populated region in relation to the city’s size. Thus, Seoul isn’t only the capital of South Korea, but also the country’s financial, cultural, and educational hub. Twenty-five districts and neighborhoods make up this city, one example being the popular Gangnam district, popularized by the song Gangnam Style! But Seoul also has a historic meaning for the country.
The city was considered Korea’s capital as early as 18 BC, when it was still part of the kingdom of Baekje. It was also the capital during the influential period of the Joseon Dynasty, as well as during the time of the Korean Empire. It wasn’t until 1945 that the city became the capital of the Republic of Korea.
Imposing buildings surrounded by spectacular nature make up Seoul’s landscape. The almost 500 km long Han River, the second-longest river in South Korea, runs through the city. You can also see numerous mountains from the city center. The most famous mountain is the 265-meter-high Namsan.
The climate is generally moderate. However, summer and winter form a stark contrast here. So don’t forget to pack a warm jacket if you’re planning a winter vacation! Check out our climate guide for the best time to fly to Seoul. One thing you need to be aware of is yellow dust, a dangerous air pollution product that is especially prevalent in spring. The website of the municipal government displays the current values on a daily basis, so you can check if you need to wear a mask when going out.
South Korea also boasts good food! You’ll find kimchi in almost every dish – either as an ingredient or a side dish – but it’s hard to imagine Korean cuisine without this delicious pickled, spicy cabbage. It’s quite popular when paired with Korean barbecue. The barbecue is an experience in and of itself because it’s usually prepared at your table, not by others, but by yourself! For this, you’ll have to visit one of the specially designed restaurants. Don’t worry, there are plenty of restaurants of this kind, distinguishing between bulgogi (beef), samgyeopsal (pork) and galbi (ribs).
These are served to your table raw, along with a variety of side dishes, such as kimchi. A special grill is built into the table in front of you, where you can then sear your meat to your liking. After frying, the strips of meat are cut into smaller pieces with scissors and dipped in sauce. They are then wrapped in a lettuce leaf with a side dish combination of your choice. This acts as a sort of mini wrap because you can pop the whole thing into your mouth – our mouths are watering just thinking about it!
There are plenty of vegetarian alternatives as well, especially in Seoul. For example, you can try bibimbap with a delicious tofu or glass noodle topping. The dish consists of a rice base with lots of different vegetables, all mixed with a slightly spicy paste and some sesame seeds – it’s hearty, healthy, and incredibly delicious!
Now that we’ve made your mouth water, let’s talk about how you’re going to get around. The major cities in South Korea are well-connected in terms of public transportation, especially in Seoul. There are two major airports where you’ll land – Incheon International Airport and Gimpo Airport. From there, you can easily take the subway to the city center or to the more remote neighborhoods, as Seoul’s subway network is one of the largest in the world. From 6:00 a.m. until 2:00 a.m. the next day, you can get anywhere without any problem. You can also take the bus, long-distance buses or trains to reach destinations further away.
Depending on the time of year, you may have the opportunity to attend one of the many fascinating festivals. For example, the Yeouido Spring Flower Festival takes place every year in the spring, in mid-April to be more precise. There you’ll literally see the city blossom! The iconic cherry blossom trees and other spring flowers all around you will leave you feeling like you’re in a pink dream. Street performers and food stalls use this spectacular backdrop to create a unique experience.
The annual Dream Concert is held a little later than the Cherry Blossom Festival, towards the end of spring and beginning of summer. K-pop, or Korean pop music, is undoubtedly one of South Korea’s export successes. To experience it in its homeland is something truly special. The artists deliver an incredible show with perfectly synchronized choreography and catchy songs. You don’t need to understand Korean to have fun here!
In autumn, the city practically glows! The Seoul Lantern Festival is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It takes place every year along the Cheonggyecheon River from the first Friday to the third Sunday in November. People light lanterns in many shapes and sizes, with some of them reflecting Korean culture. Walk along the stream in the evening with a warm drink in your hand and enjoy the view.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Seoul, or South Korea in general, has the fastest internet in the world? With their 5G technology, they are way ahead of the rest of the world!
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Seoul
Let’s move on to our top 10 sights in Seoul. The industrial, educational, and commercial city is now one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world. However, it’s equally characterized by traditional monuments and landmarks. For this reason, we want to offer you a perfect blend of modern and traditional Seoul in this list of sights to see.
On Namsan Mountain, there is the Seoul Tower – also called Seoul N Tower or Namsan Tower. You can go up the mountain and ascend the 236.7 m high tower. Along the way, there are a few places to rest and get refreshments. Once you’re at the top, you’ll have an incredible view of the city. Couples have also made it a tradition to place a lock with their names on it here. Countless locks grace the tree-like structures and railings, creating colorful decorations.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village is a historic village in Seoul where the buildings are still in the traditional “hanok” style. It’s fascinating to step out of the city’s lively modernism and into the ancient atmosphere of this 600-year-old village.
Myeongdong and Itaewon
Myeongdong and Itaewon are two different parts of Seoul, but they have one thing in common – everyday life in Korea. This is where all the action takes place! In Myeongdong’s shopping streets, you’ll find everything your heart desires. From unusual care products and fancy fashion to tasty food and hip cafés, there’s a wide range of products here. Itaewon, on the other hand, is known for its vibrant nightlife. The saying “The City That Never Sleeps” doesn’t only apply to New York, but to Seoul as well! There is always something going on here – even some supermarkets are open 24 hours a day.
Lotte World Tower
The 555-meter-high tower is one of the largest buildings in the world and boasts the highest-capacity elevators in the world. LED screens in the elevator car show the history of Korea to the many visitors of the tower.
Lotte World is the largest indoor amusement park in the world, so even if it is raining cats and dogs, nothing will prevent you from having fun here.
The palace is one of the four Joseon Dynasty palaces, and it’s the first and largest of the five. Visiting it is a must, as the architecture of the traditional palaces is incomparable. To have an even more authentic experience, why not rent a hanbok (traditional Korean robes) from the surrounding stores? In fact, visitors wearing a hanbok can often get into the palace for free.
Cheonggyecheon in the Middle of Seoul
We mentioned the Cheonggyecheon Stream once before in connection with the Lantern Festival, but even without the festival, the stream in the middle of Seoul’s modern buildings is a real eye-catcher. This little corner of nature in the fast-paced city provides a nice and relaxing contrast.
The Gwangjang Market is one of South Korea’s largest and oldest traditional markets. Here you can find delicacies of Korean cuisine, such as fresh fish or local vegetables, but also handmade goods and textiles. You simply have to try the mug bean pancakes and classic kimbap.
Korean National Museum
In this museum, you can learn everything about Korea’s history. Admission is free, and it gives you the opportunity to learn more about the country.
Banpo Hangang Park
The Banpo Bridge is famous for its Moonlight Rainbow Fountain. It even holds the title of the longest bridge fountain in the world! Locals like to sit in the hillside park and enjoy the view of the colorfully lit bridge.
Seoul is an incredibly diverse city, with an impressive combination of rapidly evolving modernity and timeless tradition. As a result, you can marvel at world record-breaking buildings like the Lotte Tower while also immersing yourself in Korean history at Gyeongbokgung Palace or Bukchon Hanok Village. No matter where you look, Seoul seems to ooze life from every cell – it’s definitely worth a visit! Don’t wait too long to start planning your trip to the beautiful South Korean capital.