The biggest as well as the capital city of the Republic of Korea (South Korea,) Seoul is an intriguing destination, situated in the mid western region of the Korean Peninsula, on the Han River, near the North Korean border, otherwise known as the de-militarised zone (DMZ), which in turn is a buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea. Spread over an area of 605 sq km, Seoul has been designated with the status of a Special City, and is directly under the administration of the national government.
Seoul’s history dates back to as early as 18 BC when Paekche Kingdom made Wiryeseong, which is today’s southeastern Seoul, as its capital. Later, Seoul became the capital of the Goryeo era during the 11th century. Seoul was then known as Southern Capital, which was later renamed Hanyang in 1394 when the Joseon dynasty made Seoul its capital.
In 1948, Seoul became the capital city of South Korea. Additionally, Seoul witnessed several wars and destruction during various phases of its history. But, Seoul has been now transformed into an international destination, with a sound commerce and sports scene. Despite its modern soaring buildings and sophisticated expressways, Seoul still retains its old world charm.
For those who want to enjoy the traditional culture of Korea, a visit to Seoul’s Insa-dong would be a great experience. Situated in the middle of the city, Insa-dong is an exciting as well as colorful place with alleys on either site.
All of the alleys seen here are packed with traditional restaurants and teahouses, cafes, and shops, where both traditional and precious items are put for sale. It is also home to a number of interesting art galleries such as Gana Art Gallery, Gana Art Center, and Hakgojae Gallery, which is the center of folk art. One of the best ways to tour these galleries is via the Art Center Bus, which takes you to more than 10 much famed art galleries in the region.
Of the marvelous attractions in Seoul that deserve a special mention is the Gyeongbok Palace, also known as Northern Palace. Built in 1395 by Taejo Seonggye Lee of the Joseon Dynasty, Gyeongbok is perhaps the most beautiful of all palaces in the area.
Sprawling over an area of 495,000 the palace’s highlights cover Geunjeongjeon – the main hall, Gyeonghoeru – the banquet pavilion, and Hyangwonjeong, which is island developed within a pond. Also, within the palace is the National Folk Museum, with some rare artifacts.
Another fabulous palace in Seoul is Deoksugung, which has to its credit an amazing mix of temples and gardens. Also, a great palace in the area is Changdeokgung Palace, which still serves as the residence of Royals. However, a guided tour is the required to take a visit to Changdeokgung Palace, the oldest palace in the city. Seoul’s incredible attractions also include a variety of ancient shrines and pagodas, such as Chongmyo Shrine and Chogyesa Temple. A specialty is that many of the shrines in Seoul are graced with beautiful Buddhist art.
Your visit to Seoul would not be complete without taking a tour to Dongdaemun Market, which is dubbed as the ‘Mecca of Fashion.’ With a large collection of shopping malls, Dongdaemun Market is a place to shop a full range of clothing items and that too at cheap prices. Both retail and wholesale shops can be seen here, and few among them are Freya Town, Doosan Tower, Migliore, Designer’s Club, Nuzzon, Migliore Valley, and Gwanghee Fashion Mall. Also, found in the vicinity is Dongdaemun Stadium, which is a great place to shop sporting materials.
Another popular market place in the area is Namdaemun Market, where everything from men and women’s apparels, children’s wear, and shoes to kitchenware, indigenous items, and imported goods can be shopped. Since this market area has such a great number of shopping malls, it is recommended to plan in advance prior to shopping.
A must-see attraction in Seoul is Mt. Namsan, a 252 m mountain located in the heart of the city. Mt Namsan and its surrounding areas have been maintained as a public park. Among the highlights of this symbolic mountain are the Palgakjeong Pavilion, Seoul Tower, Namsan Library, and a marine aquarium, and a botanical garden. You can reach the summit either via the hiking trail or through a cable car ride. Namsangol Traditional Korean Village is close to the mountain.
Other not to miss attraction in the area are War Memorial, National Theater, Korea House, Myong-dong Catholic Cathedral, Sejong Cultural Center, and Sejong Cultural Center.