When I found out my husband had to attend a conference in Seoul, South Korea I was beyond excited! I spent hours planning things to do, places to visit and most importantly where to eat during our stay. The first few days were spent on my own since the hubby had to work. I decided to book a full day private freestyle tour with This is Korea and wander the city on my own the rest of the time.
There is nothing I love more than getting lost in a new city and exploring on my own without worrying about anything or anyone. Most people wouldn’t feel comfortable wandering alone in a foreign country where they don’t speak or read the language but I on the other hand think it’s exciting and adventurous, you can easily find your way around with a smart phone, a little sign language and a map.
Before heading out everyday I stopped by the concierge desk at the Conrad Seoul, where we stayed, and asked them to write the locations I planned on visiting in Korean so that I could show taxi drivers or passersby in case I got lost. Worked like a charm! I even had a nice man walk me to a place I couldn’t find.
Seoul is a huge city and is home to half of the country’s 50 million inhabitants. It is rich in culture, offers a mix of ancient traditions and modernism, street food isn’t lacking, shopping is great and you can find beautiful Buddhist temples throughout the city; Seoul is truly a city full of contrasts.
With so much to see and only four days to do it all, I decided to focus on the following attractions and activities.
#1 Book A Tour With This is Korea!
Touring a city with a local that knows their way around is always better than doing it alone especially when you aren’t visiting for very long. Matt, my private guide for the day, came to pick me up from the hotel and showed me around for the day. I found the company online and you can customize your itinerary however you please, they send you options and you can also provide your own input until the very end, it is completely flexible and you can make changes on a whim throughout the tour. I would recommend This is Korea to anyone visiting Seoul, I really enjoyed myself!
#2 Myeongdong Shopping Street
Known as Korea’s premier shopping destination and one of the busiest places in Seoul, Myeong-dong is where you can find fashion, skincare and much more! There are many large shopping malls, clothing and cosmetics shops, several street stalls where you can enjoy tasty snacks, two major department stores that house luxury brands and it is home to thousands of cosmetic shops and skin-care stores where you can find every Korean cosmetic brand out there!
#3 Korea House
The official government reception hall of Korea, where they offer traditional wedding services, folk theater facilities, gardens and receptions halls. I stumbled upon this by accident on my way to Namsangol Hanok Village and decided to explore the premises. I could see why people would book this as wedding venue, it is truly beautiful and offers a very traditional feel in the heart of the city.
#4 Namsangol Hanok Village
Closed Tuesdays which happened to be the day I decided to visit, a little poor planning on my part which meant I missed out on all the activities which include mini-jangseung (Korean totem pole), mini-sotdae (wooden birds atop a pole), Mokpyeon (wooden chip), straw-craft activity, neolttwigi (seesaw jumping), tuhonori (arrow throwing) and yutnori (traditional board game). The village has five restored traditional Korean houses, a performance arts stage and a beautiful traditional garden making it a great place to take a stroll. A traditional marriage ceremony takes place during the weekends which can be observed by all. But most importantly I missed out on the food stalls which were also closed which ruined my lunch plans!
#5 Dongdaemun Shopping Area
If you are looking for fabrics and wholesale clothing this is a must! Bring lots of cash because they do not accept plastic in some of the wholesale shops. Most of these shops deal directly with wholesalers therefore there are no changing rooms, ladies should wear a skirt and tank top, advice I wish I had gotten a little earlier. APM Place, world wholesale market, is a one stop shop for women’s fashion, 7 floors to be more precise, where you can find clothing, accessories, hand bags and much more. The selection is INCREDIBLE! Open Monday to Friday from 2PM - 5AM, closed Saturday and open Sunday 7PM - 5AM.
#6 Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung was built in 1395 and was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty until it was destroyed by fire during the Imjin War, it was then restored in the 19th century. In the early 20th century it was once again systematically destroyed by Imperial Japan and is being reconstructed to its original form. It is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon dynasty. It was home to the Kings of the Joseon dynasty as well as the government of Joseon. You can also visit the National Palace Museum and the National Folk Museum while on the premises.
#7 National Palace Museum Of Korea
This museum houses a collection of art objects from the palaces of Joseon. You can find about 900 relics and artifacts and learn all about the various Kings, their accomplishments and traditions from the Joseon Dynasty.
#8 Bukchon Hanok Village
Home to hundreds of traditional houses, called hanok, that date all the way back to the Joseon Dynasty, you can experience traditional Korean culture while strolling through the alleys of a 600-year-old urban setting. When you reach the top of the village you can enjoy the view of modern buildings in the background. You’ll find signs everywhere asking people to keep quiet out of respect to those who live in these homes. So shhh!
#9 Insa-Dong Street
Home to a variety of goods that are specific to Korea: hanbok (traditional clothing), hanji (traditional paper), traditional teas, pottery, and folk crafts. You can also find antique furniture and several art galleries showcasing local artists.
#10 Osulloc Tea House (Insa-Dong Street)
Don’t miss out on this tea house while on Insa-Dong street, you’ll find tea from Jeju in many forms; green tea milk spread, green tea chocolate bars, green tea beauty products and much more. I had the hot green tea latte and it was delicious!
#11 Gwangjang Traditional Food Market
It doesn’t get more traditional than this! Gwangjang, one of the oldest traditional markets in Seoul, is probably the best place to enjoy traditional Korean street food. I don’t recommend this for the faint of heart or anyone who is easily grossed out. Luckily, I had the pleasure of experiencing this with Matt, a local Korean and not Mr. Chieff, the complete opposite of a local Korean, with whom my experience would’ve probably been short-lived.
You will find many traditional Korean foods such as: tteokbokki (a sticky dense rice roll), bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), bibimbap, kimpbap, mayak gimbap (rice, pickled veggies packed in seaweed, rolled up and sliced), yukhoe (raw steak tartare), soondae (blood sausage made from pig’s intestines), fresh seafood and a variety of pickled items. This is also where you will find the famous raw Octopus, that’s where I drew the line, for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about go ahead and google this and leave a comment with your thoughts at the end of this post.
#12 Lunch At Bukchon Samgyetang (Ginseng Chicken Soup)
Matt recommended some traditional Korean ‘soup’ or porridge which of course did not sound very appetising since all I could think of at the mention of porridge was Goldilocks and the three bears, but since I’m willing to try anything, off we went! I would never have found this place on my own and I’m glad I didn’t say no! I ordered the Samgyetang (Ginseng Chicken Soup), more specifically; a small chicken stuffed with rice, ginseng, garlic, and jujube. Be ready to commit to eating a whole small chicken; I couldn’t finish it. Very yummy and I’m sure extremely healthy!
#13 N Seoul Tower
Located at the highest point where you can enjoy amazing views of the whole city either from the observation decks located on the 3rd floor observatory at 466m, the second floor at 460m, 1st floor at 450m, or from the base. If you’re feeling romantic you can enjoy the “Locks of Love” similar to the display on Pont de l’Archevêché in Paris , here thousands of love locks are scattered at the base of the tower. I opted to take lonely selfies along this colorful backdrop while Mr. Chieff was held up at his conference. I was a little disappointed that the windows on the observation deck were very dirty, after all this is the main attraction so you would think that keeping the windows clean would be the number one priority! It was still very impressive and worth a visit.
#14 I Seoul U
This giant sign is a very popular spot located walking distance from the Conrad Seoul hotel where we stayed and can be accessed via the Yeouinaru Station if you are taking the subway. This neighborhood is a business district and known by the locals as the Manhattan of Seoul. There were dozens of food trucks lined up while we were there and locals were setting up tents and picnic blankets to enjoy their food along the waterfront where they could watch the sunset while getting a bird’s eye view of Seoul.
#15 Take The Subway
For those who know me, this could come as a surprise as I never take public transportation at home, I’m not particularly fond of being in crowded, sometimes smelly enclosed spaces but feel like I owe it to the city I am visiting to at least give it a chance. Plus, I like the thrill of feeling like a local and observing people in their element on their way to work, school or wherever else their day takes them. Seoul, you get an A+ for your transit system, it’s clean, organised and you can get pretty much anywhere in a fraction of the time it would take by taxi, I did both and can confirm this. Traffic is bad in Seoul which is expected in a city with 25 million people.
#16 Facial At Conrad Spa Seoul
Korea is known for their beauty products and part of my deal with Mr. Chieff is that we must have some relaxation planned during our trips and that usually entails some time at the spa. So, while he enjoyed a massage I got oxygen pumped into my face, seriously. For those not familiar with Intraceuticals, it is a facial treatment which hydrates and brightens the skin by infusing 95% pure oxygen and a proprietary serum deep into the skin’s tissues, I opted for the Opulence Infusion facial which left my face feeling refreshed and glowing.
#17 Bo Reum Soei – One Star Michelin Korean BBQ
A visit to Seoul without experiencing a traditional Korean BBQ dinner is like going to Japan and not eating sushi. We tried two restaurants and both were amazing, Bo Reum Soei, a one star Michelin restaurant in the Gangnam District, yes, the same place that Gangnam Style originated and no, we did not run into Psy, is a must! This restaurant is unique because it offers Jeju black cattle and the prime meat is flown in directly from the family-operated farm. One think to keep in mind is that most restaurant websites are in Korean only and require you to make reservations through your hotel concierge. A little advanced planning is necessary especially if you want to reserve Michelin or World Top 50 restaurants.
#18 Stock Up On Korean Beauty Products
This is a no-brainer, I probably brought back about 25 lbs worth of products. Luckily, I packed relatively light and after spreading things out between three suitcases I managed not to exceed the luggage weight allowance. I refuse to believe that the only reason you can’t tell if an Asian woman is 30 or 50 is purely because they are blessed with great genes. And so, I stocked up on serums, creams and masks containing ingredients like caviar, coconut, bee venom, sprouts, horse fat and snail extract from brands like Primera, Skin Food, The Saem and other less known brands like Jeju Horse Oil cream. Check back in 10 years! ?
There were several things I didn’t get to see since our visit happened to be during the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, the former President of South Korea. I was advised to stay away from certain areas by the hotel concierge, Blue House being one of them. This is the executive office and official residence of the South Korean head of state so clearly not the best place to take a stroll at that point in time.
What’s on your list of things to do in South Korea? I would love to hear your thoughts on what inspires you most to visit or what you’ve done that I may have missed out on!
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