Seoul: 5 Essentials

Seoul might seem like the sort of place where only a few days will be enough, but anyone who has visited South Korea’s largest city can tell you that even a week is hardly enough time! Any kind of traveller, from budget backpacker to those on a luxury escape, will find themselves with a variety of things to do in Seoul. Below we’ve put together five of our favourites that are real essentials.

 

1. THE WAR MEMORIAL OF KOREA

 

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The War Memorial of Korea was the largest of its kind in the world when it opened in 1994. Photo: Author

 

The War Memorial of Korea is Seoul’s number one rated attraction on TripAdvisor, and it’s easy to see why. A big part of understanding modern South Korea is recognising the war that led to its present borders, and this museum thoroughly explains the causes, battles, sacrifices and outcomes of the war that shaped the Korean peninsula and left it divided in two. War buffs will take pleasure in the weaponry and equipment on display, but even if military history isn’t your thing the story of the war itself is sure to make you experience Korea in a new light.

 

2. NORYANGJIN FISH MARKET

 

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Over 830 different kinds of fish and seafood are sold at Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Markets. Photo: Author

 

For foodies and travellers who like to try new things, Noryangjin Fish Market provides a closer look at one of Korea’s most famous exports: its unique food. The covered market is jam-packed with stalls selling all kinds of live seafood including giant crabs, fish, octopus, as well as some more unusual varieties. Once you’ve had your purchases wrapped up, take them to one of the restaurants next door and they will prepare everything for you. Visitors with a love of fish will find what’s on offer to be fresh and well-priced and those who are more adventurous will meet their match in some of the stranger meals being served, such as live octopus – a Korean delicacy!

 

3. NIGHTLIFE

 

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Seoul has a thriving, 24 hour nightlife scene. Photo: Flickr/Jordi Sanchez Teruel

 

If you meet any young foreigners staying long-term in Seoul – and chances are you’ll meet plenty – most have been swept up in the bright lights of Seoul and have ended up staying purely for the nightlife! Seoul is a city best experienced 24 hours a day, with major shops and most food outlets in the city staying open until the early hours of the morning. Even during the week it is not unusual to find the streets bustling at two or three AM, and nightclub lines stretching around the block! Possibly the city’s most famous nightlife district is Gangnam – made particularly famous by K-pop artist Psy’s worldwide hit ‘Gangnam Style’ – which is well-known for its high end nightclubs including ‘Octagon’ which has been consistently rated as the best nightclub in Asia and one of the top five in the world by both travel writers and club enthusiasts. Those on a budget may prefer to stick with other nightspots such as Itaewon, the so-called ‘foreigner’s’ district of Seoul which hosts dozens of nightclubs in all shapes, sizes and styles. Entry fees, dress codes and prices vary greatly by nightclub so it pays to do your research before you go out.

 

4. YEOUIDO HANGANG PARK

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Yeouido Hangang Park is transformed into an outdoor swimming pool in Summer and a sledding hill in Winter. Photo: Author

Yeouido Hangang Park takes its name from the Yeouido finance, politics and media district where the park is located, as well as from the famous Hangang River running alongside it. The wide open space of the park is quite a change from the bustling city and on a nice day the park will be full of people riding bikes, jogging or just enjoying their lunch break on the park’s lawns. The length of the park makes it a great way to see the picturesque Hangang River by foot. The blooming of the 1500-odd cherry blossom trees in the park during Spring make it a major tourist attraction and a perfect place to take photos.

 

5. SHOPPING IN DONGDAEMUN

 

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Dongdaemun and the neighbouring Myeong-Dong and Namdaemun districts account for Seoul’s three primary shopping areas. Photo: Author

 

We were warned to stay away from Seoul’s Namdaemun markets as they have become a ‘tourist trap’ so instead ventured to Myeong-dong shopping street, walking as far as City Hall and then visiting Dongdaemun for their wide variety of markets. When it comes to shopping in Seoul, most things can be bought at relatively low prices both inside higher-end department stores and off the streets. Beware of the overcharging of foreigners, as it is relatively common in smaller stores – many prices are flexible in these places or in the markets. For high-end fashion, larger department stores such as the Lotte Department Store chain offer a great deal of brands that foreigners will recognise, as well as Korean electronics brands such as Samsung and LG which are often sold cheaper than overseas. Bargains and knock-off clothing brands can be found plentifully along the riverside. All large stores can also convert major currencies and are often open until the early hours of the morning.

Seoul’s major attractions can be visited at any time of year, but the peak tourist season is late July/early August, so it is best to plan around this. Both Asiana Airlines and Korean Air offer direct flights from Sydney or Brisbane in Australia. For more information on sightseeing in Korea visit http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/index.kto

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