I just got home last night, BUT a long plane ride meant plenty of time to write up a blog, and I couldn’t wait to share about my trip to Seoul, South Korea.
About 2 months ago it was arranged for Zack to go on the world press tour for Terminator, and once his schedule was finalized earlier this month, we realized he had a long weekend in Seoul with a decent amount of downtime, so we figured “What the heck – I’m coming to visit!” So I booked a last minute ticket and met him in South Korea.
Now, I will travel just about anywhere, but I can tell you I never really thought about visiting South Korea – so I find it a little funny that this ended up being the country we visited on our first trip to Asia.
I have to say – Seoul absolutely swept me off my feet within hours. It’s one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to, the people were all so incredibly kind, the food was spectacular, and there’s just SO much to do and see. Obviously with such a quick trip, we knew we couldn’t see it all. I made a list of my top priorities, but I also wanted to just go with the flow a little and see where things would take me.
If you find yourself planning a visit to Seoul, South Korea, here are my recommendations:
THE 5 GRAND PALACES
We ended up visiting 2 of them (Gyeonbokgung and Changdeokgung). We didn’t have time for all 5 and after a little research, these 2 seemed like the best.
Hours: 9am – 6:30pm (closing hours vary)
Admission: 3,000 KRW (less than $3)
This is the main and largest royal palace. It was less than 5 minutes from our hotel, so we had to visit. The grounds were massive, and the architecture was remarkable.
Hours: 9am – 6pm (closing hours vary)
Admission: 8,000 KRW for palace and secret garden (about $7)
Don’t Miss: The Secret Garden
Get there by 9:00AM to buy your ticket to the Secret Garden. They have limited daily admission and it sells out. If you don’t get tickets for the Secret Garden you can still buy a ticket for the grounds.
For the Secret Garden tour – give yourself about 15 minutes to walk from the entrance to the garden. Once your inside you can opt out of the tour and just explore on your own, which we decided was better for us. It was so beautiful and peaceful – a great way to start the morning. We spent about an hour or so wandering the grounds.
If you only visit one palace, make it Changdeokgung.
The other palaces are Changgyeonggung, Gyeonghuigung, and Deoksugung
BUKCHON HANOK VILLAGE
Things to Note: This is a residential area, so be quiet and respectful.
This small village within Seoul has hundreds of traditional Korean houses (“Hanok”). It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city that sits on a hill between Gyeonbokgung and Changdeokgung. There are 8 recommended “view points,” but to be honest, we just enjoyed our stroll through the village.
This small, colorful Buddhist Temple is definitely worth a visit. It’s nestled in the middle of the city, surrounded by modern skyscrapers. We were lucky enough to be there during the Autumn Chrysanthemum Festival – there were flowers EVERYWHERE which made it feel that much more magical.
NAMSAN SEOUL TOWER
Observatory Hours: 10am – 11pm
Admission: 10,000 KRW (less than $10)
Don’t Miss: The Sky Bathroom
For a great view of Seoul, visit the Namsan Tower Observatory. You can take a cable car to the top of the hill (about $8 for round trip but I would definitely recommended!), then purchase your observatory ticket and get a great 360 view of Seoul. While you’re up there, be sure to visit the sky bathroom. Sounds silly, but it really is a unique experience.
Lotte World Tower is another option for a birds eye view of Seoul. For us, this was too far away for us to visit during our quick trip, BUT you can see it form the Namsan Tower.
While this area does feel a little more touristy, its still a must visit. It’s the famous shopping district known especially for beauty stores. K-beauty is HUGE – and you’ll definitely want to stock up.
If you’re a foodie, you’ve got to check out at least one night market – and there are several. We went to Gwangjang Market, which is the oldest in the city, and ate so much – dumplings, crispy crabs eaten whole, potato pancakes (gamjajeon), and lots of rice wine.
A few things that I didn’t have time to squeeze in but seemed fun:
• Dongdaemun Design Plaza “DDP” // Urban landmark with futuristic design.
• Lotte World Tower // The tallest building in South Korea and 6th tallest in the world.
• Ihwa Mural Village // Picturesque neighborhood famous for murals, cafes, and shops.
• COEX Mall // Largest underground mall in Asia with the famous Starfield Library.
FOOD + RESTAURANT GUIDE
Korean food is so good, and the best way I can describe it is very interactive which made every meal fun . . . and also a learning experience. We definitely had no idea what we were doing most of the time, but it was fun, and we figured it out with a little help.
FOODS TO TRY:
There’s SO much to try but here’s a list of my favorites (in no particular order):
• Bibimbap (mixed rice bowl)
• Bulgogi Beef
• Gogigui (Korean BBQ)
• Korean Fried Chicken
• Odeng (fish cake)
• Rice Wine
• Soju (similar to vodka but made with fermented rice)
• Sulbing / Bingsu (shaved ice made with condensed milk)
RESTAURANTS + CAFES
GyoDae for incredible Korean BBQ
Address: 95 Sambong-ro, Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Gohyang Kalguksu Stall at Gwangjang Market
Address: 88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Inside Gwangjang Market
–– Of course, you should visit several food stalls at the market, but Yoonsun Cho, who runs this stall, makes incredible dumplings and her knife cut noodles are famous. She is even featured on Netflix’s Street Food episode 6.
Gogung for Bulgogi Beef and Bibimbap
Address: 27 Myeongdong 8ga-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
Mugyodong Bugeogukjip for a traditional Korean breakfast
Address: 30 Eulji-ro 1-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
Pink Pool Cafe at the Pink Hotel
Address: 37-8 Myeongdong 8-gil, Jung-su, Seoul
–– Not a real hotel, but a shop and cafe combined. Seoul has TONS of quirky cafes. I stopped by this one while I was shopping in Myeongdong.
• Currency = Won
• There is an express train from Incheon Airport that costs less than $10 and takes about 1 hour to reach Seoul Station. From there you can take the metro or walk to your accommodation.
• Google Maps won’t work! Download the Kakao or Naver App.
• No tipping necessary.
• Refill each other’s glasses, never your own!
Just typing up this blog makes me wish I was still there . . . and has gotten me even more excited for our trip to Japan next month! Anyway, those are my recommendations for Seoul, and I hope this has inspired you to visit some places that may not have been at the top of your bucket list.