Called the “miracle on the Han River,” Seoul has emerged like a phoenix from the destruction of the Korean War. The 600-year-old capital has reshaped itself into a 21st-century urban ideal filled with culture, innovative design and parks. Ongoing restorations are reconnecting the city with its past, its present is one of abundant shopping, eating, drinking and general merriment, and its future is bright.
You can easily explore the history, food and culture of Seoul on foot. Strolling through the bustling metropolis, you will journey to a bygone era by visiting historic landmarks, Buddhist temples, traditional tea shops and thriving art markets. Seoul is a city where rapid modernization and ancient traditions coexist side by side, and you will experience it all while ambling down the crowded streets.
Start your exploration at the Cheonggyecheon Plaza. The five-mile-long public space exudes beauty and is nearly almost filled to the brim with locals relaxing in the sun. Modern high rises provide an interesting backdrop for the historic stone bridges, picturesque stream and intricately decorated walls in the popular gathering place.
Nearby is Jongno, one of central Seoul’s oldest areas. The important cultural and financial center runs into Jogyesa, the capital’s largest Buddhist shrine. Built in 1938, the incredibly beautiful temple features carved floral latticework, three giant Buddha statues and murals of scenes from his life. Watching the believers bow to the Buddha and light candles and incense sticks is a moving experience, and when the drums sound from the belfries, you may feel your own spirit stirred as you stand among the lanterns and prayer beads.
The city’s traditional center of Korean art, cuisine and culture is just a few blocks away. In Insa-dong, authentic tea shops invite visitors to sample the soothing and aromatic concoctions, the markets are nearly overflowing with calligraphy, folk crafts, paintings and pottery, and street vendors sell tasty treats like bibimbap, a mixture of fried egg, seasoned vegetables, chili pepper paste and white rice.
Continue on to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Changdeokgung Palace. Known for its traditional Korean architecture, the early 15th-century royal palace sits in harmony with the mountains and small streams that surround it. Stone animals guard the main gate, giving way to a paved courtyard perfectly designed to reflect a stately elegance. The blue-tiled government office buildings sit next to the royal family’s private living quarters. Peering inside the rooms, you get a sense of what life must have been like for the kings that once called them home.
Venture outside to walk through the dense woodland until you reach a serene glade surrounded by ancient trees. This is the Hidden Garden, the highlight of the palace. A square lily pond is hugged by pavilions, and it is easy to see why the Joseon kinds often wrote poetry in the tranquil setting.
The Kwang Jang Market is as busy as the royal palace is peaceful. Immerse yourself in the local culture by browsing the hundreds of stalls offering high-quality silks, linens and satin, then treat yourself to more local treats from one of the 200 food stalls.
These are just some of the many highlights of Seoul. Other must-see sights include the Seodaemun Prison, the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the incredibly moving War Memorial and Museum, the Seolleung Park Royal Tombs, the traditional Namsangol Hanok Village, the Seoul Grand Park Zoo, the large National Museum of Contemporary Art and Lotte World, a sprawling complex that includes an ice-skating rink, amusement park, restaurants, shopping mall, folk museum and cinema multiplex all in one.
Seoul Geographical Location
Korean is the official language of South Korea but English is widely taught in schools.
Seoul Predominant Religion
- 49.5% None
- 26.5% Christian
- 23% Buddhist
- 1% Other
South Korean Christians have expressed some hostility towards Buddhism in recent years.
The South Korean Won is the official currency of South Korea.
Seoul experiences mild winters and hot summers. It is humid throughout the year and precipitation is consistent.
Seoul Main Attractions
- Gyeongbok Palace
- Bukchon Village
Other Attraction in Seoul
- Namdaemun Market
- Cheonggyecheon Stream
- War Memorial of Korea