Seul Guia de Viagem
- Worldly mega-city with something for everyone
- Adventurous street-food culture plus bustling street life
- Mecca for shoppers — there are markets or malls on seemingly every corner
- Home to three UNESCO World Heritage sites and stunning modern architecture
- Efficient and squeaky clean public transportation
- Ubiquitous spas make it easy to de-stress
- Hotel offerings range from luxurious to traditional or quirky
- Vibrant nightlife works well for the sleep averse
- Convenience is king — from phone charging to late night snacks, service is available 24/7
- One of the most wired cities in all of Asia
- Affordable airfare hub for travel within Korea and across Asia
- Most workers in tourist-friendly districts will speak some English
- Unless you know Korean, cultural immersion can be difficult
- Rush hour is a challenge (think: 10 million people and lots of motorbikes)
- Fresh fruit and vegetables are rare and outrageously expensive
- Summer dust from the Gobi desert can potentially cause respiratory problems
- Animal welfare and rights are still a cause for concern
What It's Like:
Seoul is a city that screams and whispers at the same time. With soaring skyscrapers, blinding neon billboards, and maze-like markets and megamalls, Seoul is an urbanite’s dream. It’s easy to fall in love with the city’s quirky inventiveness — it’s home to the kimchi refrigerator, after all — and equally easy to feel bewildered by its madness. But underneath all of the flashiness is a culture that values privacy as much as its public image. Quiet streams and rivers, tranquil temples, stress-easing spas, and private bangs (rooms) for everything from karaoke to board games all provide a welcome escape from the chaos. Keep in mind that tech rules in Seoul, but tradition is equally revered. Sit at the feet of a giant golden Buddha, genuflect at a royal tomb, or stroll through an ancient palace — all of which are within minutes of each other on an immaculate and efficient subway system.
Seoul officially became Korea’s capital in 1394, at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty. At that time, it was surrounded by a stone wall to protect its citizens from tigers and thieves. While the wall no longer exists, eight gates still stand today including Namdaemun Gate (officially known as Sungnyemun), whose wooden pagoda is an architectural gem. Nearby is Namdaemun Market, the oldest and largest market in the country, featuring hundreds of stalls where you can snack on fried silkworm pupae or sift through “Made in Korea” clothing. If calmness is the goal, a stroll along Cheonggyecheon Stream in downtown Seoul — or a stop at Gyeongbok Palace, the former royal seat of power — will do the trick. For an even quieter taste of traditional Korean culture, the wooden homes of Bukchon Hanok Village and the folksy art of Insadong are a great way to be transported to another time.
Trendy Hapjeongdong and Hongdae have no shortage of artisanal culinary delights, hip-hop blaring from clubs, and students throwing back soju at any of the numerous bars. In the Gangnam district, high fashion, billboards touting surgical beauty procedures, and K-Pop studios abound. Here, shop luxuriously and explore a vibrant arts scene — Nature Poem, a mini-mall of 18 galleries, is a great place to start. However, while English-language signage increases throughout the city every year, these are often confusing and can make it difficult to navigate and orient yourself. Thankfully, locals are always eager to help and will happily point in the right direction (so long as their level of English proficiency allows them to do so).
Koreans pride themselves on their work-hard, play-hard culture and that spirit shows itself at every turn. Discovering your inner child is one of the great joys of traveling in Seoul. Sing at one of Seoul’s many karaoke norebangs — HiStory near Konkuk University has free ice cream and animal costumes on hand — or ride a giant swing at Lotte World amusement park in Songpagu. For a more chilled-out time, soak nude with friends at any of Seoul’s bathhouses, or take in the choreographed water show at the Banpo Rainbow Fountain Bridge. Hungry? Aside from the must-experience Korean barbecue at every turn, Seoul is also big on cafe culture. Themed cafes exist for everything from comics to cats and — yes — even poop.
They say Paris is for lovers, but the same can be said about Seoul. That’s not to say solo travelers won’t feel welcomed, but the city has made sure romance can thrive in a way that few other metropolises can match. Couples' couches at movie theaters, multi-bangs stocked with popcorn and entertainment systems, and love hotels for quickies are a common sight. Don’t be surprised to see couples walking hand-in-hand wearing matching shirts. It's all part of Seoul's endless charms, ones that aren't too hard to find in this eternally bustling city.
Where to Stay:
A sprawling metropolis with an extremely well-connected subway system, Seoul's choices of where to rest at night depend on the local vibe that you're seeking. Pedestrian-friendly Myeongdong is a central district for easy access to palaces, traditional markets, renowned restaurants, and endless shopping. Options range from luxurious Westin Chosun Seoul to the mid-range Metro Hotel. Alternatively, the lively Itaewon area — with a slew of hotels to stumble home to after a late night of bar hopping — is a 20-minute train ride away.
If walking around old streets and relaxing at teahouses is your ideal, then Insadong —in northern Seoul — is the area to be. The Fraser Suites Insadong is a fine option in the area. Seoul loves its themes, and it should be no surprise that its hotels follow suit. Sleep in a giant soju bottle or Korean won at the Cozy Theme Pension or curl up in a Starbucks coffee cup at nearby UNIQUE Pension. Travelers wanting to be closer to the city's youthful pulse might opt for a hotel in Hongdae, which has quirky K-Pop themed options alongside artsy boutiques, budget-friendly eateries, and lots of college students.