“Everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
were little boats that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me”
I’m thinking of Pablo Neruda’s words and my torrid love affair with Seoul as we leave the city. I don’t fall in love often but boy when I do!
It’s been a long time since I found a city I enjoyed so much on our travels the past few years. I loved everything about Seoul – the vibe of the city, its people (they’re the best!), the food, and Korean pop culture. Vid had a hard time convincing me to board that flight out of South Korea.
I agreed – but not before we promised ourselves we’d come back for a few months later this year.
Amazing food, fast public internet, friendly locals, lots of historical sites, and a great vibe – Seoul has it ALL. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Seoul soon, then consult our guide below for making the best of your time in the city:
Getting to Seoul
Cathay Pacific offers great connections and convenient flights from all around the world via Hong Kong, which is a great place to spend a few (ahem, gluttonous) days in ;-). We had a very comfortable flight from Hong Kong to Seoul and enjoyed Cathay’s in-flight entertainment and service.
Once you get to the airport, you could take a cab to get to downtown Seoul but taking a train from the airport is affordable and extremely convenient. It is both cheaper and faster than a cab.
A quick tip – the regular train that goes into downtown Seoul costs half as much as the express train and only takes 10 minutes longer. If you have 10-15 minutes to spare, just opt for the regular train.
Accommodation in Seoul
We spent all our time in one hotel in Seoul. However in retrospect we feel it is best to split your time between the two sides of the river if you are in Seoul for over 4 days. Spend half your time in Gangnam or a surrounding area and the other half across the river. This way you can explore all of Seoul’s palaces, marketplaces, and dining options with ease.
If you’re looking for affordable accommodation in Seoul, you can look up and book some great apartments on AirBnB here. This is also a great option if you’re travelling with kids or your family and need access to a kitchen.
If you enjoy luxury hotels, there is nothing better than Four Seasons, Seoul. We chose the standard room at the hotel. However if you’re on your honeymoon or celebrating a special occasion, then we would recommend trying to book one of their highly-coveted suites overlooking the Palace. They get sold out months in advance, so book early!
The hotel is decadent but we wouldn’t expect anything else from Four Seasons. However this property stands out because it is built on a historical street that is over 600 years old. No wonder then, the hotel pays homage to traditional Korean architecture and history in many ways – Korea’s royal colours (blue, purple, and green) are used all over and the ruins of an old house that were found at the site are actually displayed in the breakfast area. As for the breakfast itself – the spread is expansive, high quality, and scrumptious – unsurprisingly it receives rave reviews from everyone! Expect Asian delicacies, continental platters, fresh fruits, and cheeses by the dozen.
The best part? Four seasons Seoul has an unparalleled location – the hotel is located in the historical Cheonggye Plaza. It is less than 5 minutes away from Gyeongbokgung Palace and 10 minutes away from the shopping districts of Myeongdong and Jonggak.
Places to see in Seoul
- The first stop for every visitor are the five grand palaces in Seoul – of course you don’t have to see all five palaces but we would highly recommend checking out Gyeongbokgung Palace as it is the most majestic of them all. Unfortunately it is also one of the most crowded. If you would like to escape the hordes, then check out Deoksugung Palace, Unhyeongung Palace, or Changgyeonggung Palace. They are considerably less crowded and the architecture is just as beautiful.
- Jogyesa Temple is one of my favourite places in Seoul. Its distinctive ceiling and walls, fashioned entirely out of paper lanterns, makes it special. The temple compound is mesmerising but the temple itself is no less. It houses a huge Buddha where you will spot dozens of locals praying.
- Bukchon Hanok Village is a traditional Korean village close to Gyeongbokgung palace. Time stands still here because it is preserved to reflect Seoul’s urban landscape 600 years ago. Unsurprisingly, the village is lined with historical houses that boast of traditional Korean architecture. Try visiting in the evening – the village is magical at sunset. If you enjoy Bukchon Hanok Village, then you should also check out Namsangol Hanok Village.
- Ihwa Mural village is the perfect spot if you enjoy urban photography. This hipster village is full of colourful murals and Instagram-worthy restaurants and cafés. It’s ideal for a morning gander and some photographs. In fact Ihwa Mural Village is popular amongst Korean bloggers and you’ll spot a fair few of them clicking photographs as you walk through the village. If you enjoy Ihwa Mural Village, then you could also check out Gaemi Mural Village too.
- Another hipster area in Seoul is Haneido – it attracts a lot of youngsters and has some amazing bars, cafés, and restaurants. Make sure you spare an evening to explore it.
- Noryangjin Fish Market is for photographers and gourmands. If you don’t mind the smell of fish, then make sure you visit this bustling market that boasts of over 700 vendors. This is a wholesale market that is open 24X7 but try going early in the morning. There are a lot of interesting auctions that take place at the crack of dawn at Noryangjin Fish Market – try catching those before you pick some fresh fish for your breakfast.
Shopping in Seoul
- Myeong-dong is a labyrinth of shops, restaurants, and street food vendors. Sample some street food and enjoy the madness. This is the perfect place to pick up Korean skincare (with lot free samples) or drop by high-street giants such as H&M or Forever 21. Expect crowds.
- Jongkak has dozens of shops and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to drop by for a meal followed by a bit of shopping for Korean skincare. Jongkak also boasts of a huge Daiso – think of it as an American dollar store, only cuter. Daiso is the perfect place to pick up cute stationery, adorable souvenirs and affordable gifts.
- GoTo Mall is the craziest and coolest Korean shopping experience. Hundreds of shops selling everything from socks and dresses to iPhone cases and bags line this expansive shopping mall. Drop by for a spot of cheap shopping and bargain your hearts out.
- Korea’s underground subway stations offer shopping therapy for bargain hunters. You will find plenty of shops at most stations but one of the most popular ones is the Gangnam underground station.
- Gangnam is also popular for its labyrinthine high-street – you will find every clothing store under the sun and skincare boutiques, restaurants, and pharmacies by the dozen here. Wrap up your shopping with a delicious meal and chilled beer at one of the local restaurants! – that’s what we did 🙂
Places to spot Cherry Blossom in Seoul
While Japan is amazing for viewing cherry blossom, there is no dearth of places that boast of gorgeous cherry blossom trees in Seoul during spring time. If you want to spot the blossoms the best to visit is the month of April. However do check annual forecasts before booking your tickets. Here are some of our favourite places to spot sakura in Seoul
- All five grand palaces are great spots to see Cherry Blossom in Seoul, Korea. We specially love Gyeongbokgung and Changgyeonggung palaces for spotting cherry blossoms. You’ll see lots of trees in the compounds of the palaces.
- Seoul Forest is a great place for a picnic all year round but it is especially stunning during spring. Keep walking deeper into the park till you reach an entire alley lined with cherry blossom trees on either side for a kilometre or so. It’s a vision you won’t ever forget!
- The tiny island of Yeouido is the perfect place to see cherry blossoms in Seoul. The island also hosts an annual spring festival where it’s possible to witness 1886 cherry blossom trees along with a variety of other flowers in full bloom – this one shouldn’t be missed!
- Seoul’s National Assembly Building is an ideal place to see cherry blossoms in full bloom. You don’t have to look too hard to find the trees – if you have a map, just head to Yeouiseo-ro Street in the immediate vicinity to experience the sakura bloom for yourself.
Why not combine a city break in Seoul with a trip to Japan?
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