Seoul’s Top 5 Experiences
To coincide with the release of the updated Seoul travel guide, the experts at Lonely Planet have provided us with Seoul’s Top 5 experiences!
1. Bukchon Hanok Village
In a city at the cutting edge of 21st century technology, where apartment living is the norm, this neighbourhood stands as a testament to an age of craftsmanship when Seoulites lived in one storey wooden hanok, with graceful tiled roofs and internal courtyard gardens. Get lost wandering the labyrinthine streets, squished between two major palaces and rising up the foothills of Bukaksan. Take in the views and pause to pop into a cafe, art gallery, craft shop or small private museum along the way.
The ‘Palace of Illustrious Virtue’ was built in the early 15th century as a secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung. These days this Unesco World Heritage–listed property exceeds it in beauty and grace – partly because so many of its buildings were actually lived in by royal-family members well into the 20th century. The most charming section is the Huwon (pictured), a ‘secret garden’ that is a royal horticultural idyll. Book well ahead to snag tickets to view this special palace on the evening Moonlight Tours in the warm months.
3. Gwangjang Market
This is one of Seoul’s best markets. Gwangjang Market trades in secondhand clothes, fabrics and kimchi by day, but alleys of vendors selling street eats stay active into the night. Stewed pig trotters and snouts, gimbap (rice, veggies and ham wrapped in rice and rolled in sheets of seaweed) and bindaetteok (plate-sized crispy pancakes of crushed mung beans and veggies fried on a skillet) are all washed down with copious amounts of makgeolli and soju (local liquors).
4. Seoul Tower & Namsan
Protected within a 109-hectare park and crowned by N Seoul Tower, one of Seoul’s most distinctive architectural features, Namsan is the most central of the city’s four guardian mountains. Locals actively patronise the park, keeping fit in the cooler, sweeter air near hiking paths to the summit, including one that follows the line of the old Seoul City Wall. The summit itself is highly commercial but still worth visiting to marvel at the view, and see the multitude of inscribed padlocks adorning its railings, signifying lovers’ devotion.
5. Lotus Lantern Festival
One of Seoul’s most spectacular events, which is well worth building your travel plans around, is the Lotus Lantern Festival, which happens in May in celebration of the Buddha’s birthday. For weeks around this time, temples are strung with hundreds of rainbow-hued paper lanterns, a sight in itself. The highlight is a dazzling night-time parade that snakes its way through the city from Dongguk University to Jogye-sa, involving thousands of participants and every shape, size and colour of lantern.