It was April 2018 and having signed off at Pyeongtaek, South Korea after another hectic 4 month tenure, it was time to finally experience Seoul. Although I have been in and out of Seoul, Gimpo, Inchon and Pyeongtaek often in the past, however due to lack of time could not gather much insight of this place.
Fortunately this time I had about a day and a half at my disposal, and the mission was to put it to good use.
Since I was to fly home the next day in the morning, I had put up at the Grand Hyatt, Inchon, which is a pleasant 5 minute walk to the Inchon International Airport. After a lavish dinner, good nights’ rest and amazing breakfast, it was time to burn some calories. Little did I know that by the evening I would have walked a staggering 22.86 kms (as analysed by Dr. Google). Although, I still had energy to do more, there wasn’t much time. Well, that sounds like a ‘Sofit’ ad. Although I am no John Abraham (who am I kidding), still I hope they at least consider me for some brand integration. 🙂
Disclaimer: I do not drink Sofit, since my body is allergic to healthy stuff. No kidding!
Anyway, the first thing at hand was to reach Downtown Seoul. Hangang river divides Seoul districts in two parts that is north and south side of the river. I chose to visit Downtown Seoul which is north of the river. Perhaps next time, I would have time to visit the south side of the river, especially the Gangnam area which is the more trendy and high-class part of Seoul having various attractions such as designer shops and outdoor cafes. Many would recollect that K-pop Korean musician Psy made Gangnam famous world-wide through his unique style.
Table of Contents
- 1 Seoul Weather
- 2 Transportation to Seoul
- 3 Guanghwamun Square
- 4 Guanghwamun Gate
- 5 Gyeongbokgung Palace
- 6 National Folk Museum of Korea
- 7 Bukchon Hanok Village
- 8 Dongdaemun
- 9 Cheonggyecheon Stream
- 10 Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
- 11 Myeong-dong & Namdaemun Market
Seoul has a humid continental climate with Summers from June to September being generally hot and humid. August is the warmest month. In contrast, Winters are usually cold to freezing, January being the coldest, temperatures tend to go negative sometimes dramatically to below −10.0 °C, and on some occasions as low as −15.0 °C.
Best Times to Visit Seoul
Months from March to May and from September to November are the best times to visit Seoul, when the weather is moderate and travel expenses low. However, if you enjoy being is snow and freezing climates, you’ll want to visit between December and February. It’s definitely best to avoid the summer months during which Seoul is uncomfortably humid and full of tourists. Even the hotel room costs are at a premium during that time.
Transportation to Seoul
It is actually quite easy to get to Seoul from Inchon International Airport by A’REX or ‘airport railroad’. It connects the airport to the Seoul Station. From there, various interconnections to the metropolitan subway lines are available.
T-Money is a prepaid card which can be used for airport limousines, buses, subways and taxis in the Seoul metropolitan area ans also at major convenience stores, lockers and payphone booths. It can be bought at subway stations at Seoul, convenience stores with T-Money signs.
Fare ₩2500 to buy the T-Money card, charge the card with amounts of ₩1,000 and up.
However, I took the MPASS which is a transit card exclusively for international visitors. It can be used up to 20 times a day throughout the Seoul Metropolitan area, including the subway and intercity buses. It can also be charged up with cash for payment to taxis that accept the T-Money card, as well as for purchases at convenience stores and other T-Money affiliated stores.
MPASS can be bought at Inchon Int’l Airport Arrival Halls, in front of Exits 5, 10; Inchon Int’l Airport Tourist Information center; Myeong-dong Tourist Information center.
Fare: 1 Day Pass: ₩10,000, 2-Day Pass: ₩18,000, 3-Day Pass: ₩25,500, 5-Day Pass: ₩42,500, 7-Day Pass: ₩59,500. Not including the ₩5,000 rental fee (Upon returning the card, you get a refund of ₩4,500).
Pro tip 1: If you are planning more than eight rides in a day, go for MPASS since you start to save after that.
So then, after a 43 minute ride on the A’REX along the scenic Hangang river, reached the Seoul station from where took the Subway line no. 1 and got down at Jonggak subway station.
After just a couple of minutes walk from the Jonggak subway station, it felt like I landed right in the middle of 18th century.
Gwanghwamun Square – Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin
This is the Seoul’s most renowned cultural square. It houses the statues of two most respectable historical figures in Korea, namely Admiral Yi Sun-Sin and King Sejong.
Another couple of minutes walk leads to Guanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Royal guard changing ceremony at Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace
A few moments back before taking this picture, the royal guards were standing so still while visitors were clicking pictures with them, that most of the visitors incl. me really felt that they were mannequins, that is until they started the royal guard changing ceremony. The stunned look on one visitor’s face who was getting her picture clicked beside one ‘mannequin’ royal guard at that moment was just priceless.
Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first royal palace built-in the Joseon Dynasty and is where the Joseon Dynasty’s 500-year history began. The largest of the five grand palaces remaining in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace provides a glimpse into Joseon’s royal culture, palace life, and architecture through the Geunjeongjeon, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, and other structures.
Entry for foreigners:
Ages 19-64 ₩3,000, ages 7-18 ₩1,500.
Pro Tip 2: Advanced reservation is necessary for the moonlight tour of the palace which is beautifully lit in the evenings. A must visit for spending an unforgettable evening.
Royal architecture of Gyeonghoeru Pavilion
Glimpse into Joseon’s royal culture
National Folk Museum of Korea
National Folk Museum of Korea
Towards the North east part of the palace complex, is the National Folk Museum of Korea. I spent some time there to learn more about the historical living conditions of the Koreans.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Immediate east to the Gyeongbokgung Palace complex lies the Bukchon Hanok village. This district between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palace has over 900 hanoks, traditional Korean houses. Members of royal family and aristocrats lived here during the Joseon period. It retains the city’s old appearance; so, it has become popular filming location for movies and TV dramas.
I was given a route map to follow by the tourist information center staff who were guiding the visitors through the village. As it is still a residential area, the staff asked the visitors to respect the residents and all were courteous to not to deviate from the walking trail.
Bukchon Hanok Village
After completing the route, walked down to Anguk station and using subway interconnections, reached Dongdaemun.
Just outside the Dongdaemun subway station is the Heunginjimun Gate. This gate is one of the eight gates that stood along the Seoul City Wall and is also called Dongdaemun Gate. The fortress walls around the gate were destroyed long ago, but the gate remains the same as it was in the Joseon period.
Next to it is the Cheonggyecheon stream. This is a 10.84 km-long stream flowing from Gwanghwamun to Dongdaemun. In 2005, a three-year restoration project was undertaken which transformed it into an ecological park.
Had there been enough time, I would have loved to take a stroll down the walking path along the Cheonggyecheon stream to enjoy the night view of the area and the 22 bridges that is said to shine under fantastic lighting.
Pro Tip 3: If visiting in the month of November, do visit this area as the Seoul Lantern festival aka “hallyu festival” is held here for two weeks in November every year featuring thousands of lanterns along the stream. It highlights the cultural heritage of Korea, including its folk culture, kimjang (making kimchi), and royal culture, through lanterns made of beautifully colored hanji, traditional korean paper.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
In 2014, a new landmark was opened in Dongdaemun designed by the world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid. Dongdaemun design plaza (DDP) features an glistering exterior decorated with 45,133 aluminium panels, none of which are the same shape. It has various exhibition spaces, a design museum, sky lounge and some shops & eateries.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Myeong-dong & Namdaemun Market
Using subway reached Myeong-dong, Korea’s largest & best-known shopping district is the most tourist-friendly fashion area. However, I could recognize only a few brands such as Zara, Forever 21 since most of the other brands although trendy and fashionable, were local Korean ones. Since god has wholeheartedly gifted me with Zero fashion sense, I didn’t have much choice but to move forward.
Just next to it is the Namdaemun market which the best & largest traditional street market in Seoul. It is famous with the tourists and I could see why. The streets are lined up with department stores, clothing, accessories and an unending line of street food. However, I must admit that being an Indian, was not very fond of Korean street food.
Sungnyemun (South gate), at the exit of Namdaemun market
Having spent a day in downtown Seoul, it was now time to head back to Seoul station to catch the A’REX back to Inchon Int’l airport, where first I refunded my MPASS rental fee deposit before heading back to the hotel for another course of freshly prepared made to order pizzas just to recover those lost calories. 🙂
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Hope you find this blog post of use to you. Do let us know about your experience at Seoul, South Korea or if I am missing something, please contact us or comment below and I will update this blog post soon. Your comments and/or feedback are most welcome.