Seoul is a massive metropolis. Home to roughly 25% of South Korea’s 50 million inhabitants, the city sprawls along both sides of the Han River. From the historical sites in the north to the upscale Gangnam district south of the river, Seoul is a bustling modern city with fun things to discover around most corners.
From most international destinations, you’ll arrive to Seoul at Incheon airport, about an hour outside of the city on an island off the Yellow Sea coast of the country. Modern highways will take you to the city itself, tunnels cutting under the numerous mountains in the region, and a myriad of bridges over bays and rivers.
Within the city, the subway system will take you most places you need to go. It is extensive, efficient, and inexpensive. Stations also double as shelters, with subterranean sprawl open to crowds if needed. (Seoul sits less than 30 miles from the North Korean border, and while one doesn’t feel any tension walking around, there is always the threat of attack.)
Until 1988, Seoul – and South Korea in general – was considered very poor. Infrastructure was not in good shape, and the nation lagged behind its northern counterpart in most areas. Enter the Summer Olympics, and all that changed. Massive foreign investment poured into the country, and many people saw Korea as more than a war zone for the very first time. It was a celebration of Korean culture, and the potential of what South Korea could be. And could be changed rapidly to is.
Today, Seoul is one of the most technologically advanced cities on the planet. Wide boulevards lined with trees and flowers add beauty to the natural landscape. Skyscrapers of glass sit next to ancient palaces and temples.
So what does modern Seoul offer a tourist?
Let’s start with food. Korean food is gaining significant traction in the United States. Korean BBQ especially is something many people have tried. For those who want the real thing, Korean beef (as it’s known in Seoul) is something you should try. An incredible piece of meat cooked in front of you, served with kimchi, is something to be desired! It can be expensive in relation to other meals in Korea, but is worth trying.
Korean beef and green onion kimchi
Don’t miss out on bibimbap, a Korean rice dish served in a hot stone bowl, or the variety of delectable soups one can find all over the city.
This bibimbap ran less than $12
Fully satiated, Seoul offers some truly remarkable religious sites. Buddhism and Christianity are the dominant religions here, and both have some impressive buildings associated with them. The Myeongdong Cathedral is especially beautiful at night.
My trip happened to correspond with the festivities for the Buddha’s birthday. As a result, paper lanterns were all over the city, but nowhere more impressive than the Jogyesa Temple.
For those interested in outdoor activities, there are a number of mountains to climb in Seoul. Bukhansan National Park lies just north of the city, or one can stay closer and hike to the N Seoul Tower in Namsan Park. (There is also a cable car for those who don’t want to walk up the mountain.)
The N Seoul Tower
Finally, one can sign up for a day trip to the DMZ. But I’ll talk about that in a separate article.
Seoul is every bit as exciting of a city as Tokyo or Hong Kong, and offers some really incredible things for visitors to see, eat, and experience. And I didn’t even get to the K-Pop! Oh well. Next visit.