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Welcome to Seoul


Encircled by mountains, containing a population of 10-million, and with more than a million registered motor vehicles inching through its congested streets, one would imagine the metropolis of Seoul, capital of South Korea, to be a polluted nightmare. The city fathers, however, have made a concerted effort in recent years to clean and green this thriving, prosperous city, also ensuring that the mushrooming of gleaming skyscrapers has not meant the neglect or destruction of centuries-old palaces and shrines. The result is a bustling, but organised, city filled with fascination, where old and new co-exist happily.

A great deal of the credit for the well-ordered urban planning of Seoul can be given to the ancient Joseon Dynasty, which used great foresight when crafting the city into a capital way back in the 14th century.

The old Joseon Dynasty city with its central main palace is now the traditional downtown heart of Seoul where many of the most popular sights, hotels and markets are to be found. One of the most popular areas for visitors to explore is Insa-dong, filled with antique shops, art galleries, traditional teahouses, restaurants and bookshops.

Across the Han River the modern city is dominated by Korea's World Trade Centre, and the Coex Mall, a shopper's delight. Even the island, Yeouido, in the middle of the Han River is densely packed with high-rise buildings; this is also the base for the Korean National Assembly, and the world's biggest Presbyterian church.

Interspersed through the urban landscape are several lush, green parks, the most central being Namsan Park, encompassing the mountain of the same name just to the south of downtown Seoul. Namsan Park is also home to the iconic Seoul Tower, which offers spectacular 360 degree views of the city and surrounding countryside.

Nightlife in Seoul is lively and legendary with something to suit all tastes, from a 'booze-cruise' through the raunchy red light district of Itaewon, or a sedate sit-down at a traditional teahouse. Eating out, too, is a feast for the senses in Seoul, with an enormous international variety to choose from, whether it is succulent steak, perfect pizza, multi-course gourmet, tasty tandoori or even perhaps classic Korean.

Information & Facts


Seoul is classed as having a temperate climate with four distinct seasons, but temperature differences between the hottest part of summer and the depths of winter are extreme. In summer the influence of the North Pacific high-pressure system brings hot, humid weather with temperatures soaring as high as 95°F (35°C) on occasion. In winter the city is topographically influenced by expanding Siberian high-pressure zones and prevailing west winds, temperatures dropping as low as 7°F (-13.7°C). The bitterly cold days tend to come in three-day cycles regulated by rising and falling pressure systems, however, bringing some relief. The most pleasant seasons in the city are spring and autumn, when azure blue skies and comfortable temperatures are a sure bet. The city experiences heavy rainfall, but most of it falls in the summer monsoon period between June and September.

Eating Out

The selection of Seoul restaurants is vast and varied with everything from local specialities, such as Saeng Galbi, to huge American cheeseburgers and exotic Moroccan kebabs on offer. Options for eating out in Seoul range from cheap noodle stalls to fine-dining establishments. The Itaewon entertainment strip has the best collection of Seoul restaurants, serving both local and international cuisine. Otherwise, good areas for traditional Korean food are Gangdong-gu and Yeongdeungpo-gu, while restaurants with international menus can be found in Gangnam-gu, Seodaemun-gu and Namdaemun. Tipping is not customary in Korea but some Seoul restaurants may add a service charge of 10%. Restaurant hours vary throughout the city and reservations are recommended.

Getting Around

The easiest and quickest way to traverse the crowded city is on the subway, which has eight lines and serves all the main areas of interest. Station signs are written in English as well as Korean, and most lines have English announcements too. Subways are extremely crowded during the morning and evening rush hours, but are generally safe, though plagued with hawkers and beggars. Tickets are bought from vending machines or at ticket windows. Debit tickets for a certain amount can be purchased which have the amount of each fare deducted when swiped at turnstiles. Buses are frequent and cover the whole city, but tend to be very crowded. Tickets can be bought on boarding, or debit tickets can be purchased. Taxis are readily available. Regular taxis (white or silver) charge 1,600 won as an initial fee and have a complex system of metering thereafter. Black luxury taxis, called Mobeom taxis, are superior both in condition and service, fares being charged as 4,000 won at commencement.

Kids Attractions

Many people may not think there is much to do in Seoul for children on holiday, but look a little closer and you'll discover that there is actually a surprising amount of fun activities and attractions for kids to enjoy.

Head to the Samsung Children's Museum which will educate and captivate young minds, or the IMAX Cinema or the Aquarium which are both located close to the Grand Hilton Hotel. Lotte World Adventure Amusement Park will keep the kids entertained indoors and out, making it an ideal attraction during the summer and winter months. Renowned as the world's largest indoor theme park, kids will love the carnival shows, rides, roller coasters, folk museum and ice rink.

Head to Seonyudo Islet, an island park on the Han River for a day of fresh air, picnics and playing games in the sun, and it even features a small playground for kids to enjoy. SeoulGrand Children'sPark in Neung-dong is worth a visit for families with children as it features a multitude of attractions including a zoo, an aviary, a circus, elephant rides, a giant greenhouse and even a small amusement park with rides which will delight younger children, but older kids will find these a bit tame.

The official language is Korean.

South Korea's monetary unit is the won (KRW). Currency can be exchanged at most banks and at casinos, and travellers cheques cashed at authorised banks and hotels. Most merchants in the cities accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards, but Koreans traditionally prefer cash. ATMs at banks are usually accessible only during banking hours, and instructions on the machines are generally only in Korean. Public ATMs at convenience stores and subway stations are generally available 24 hours. US Dollars are an accepted form of foreign currency and can be used as US Dollars in the areas around the American Military bases in South Korea.


The cosmopolitan city of Seoul is known as having quite a good nightlife packed with just about every activity, all kinds of entertainment and plenty of karaoke in between. Popular places to enjoy a night out are the Old Tea Shop - Tea house, Time Out, Murphy's Bar and Salon de Flora.

The nightmarkets in Dongdaemun see plenty of action, while Myeongdong is a great spot for anything and many people start off their evenings here with a dinner or a few beers at one of the many cafés and bars. Theplace to be seen is at any one of the exclusive wine bars, clubs and expensive bars in Apgujeong-dong or Sinsadong, which attracts a trendy crowd.

The more relaxed, younger crowd tends to hang out in Gangnam where plenty of Western-style clubs and bars can be found. Dongdaemun is great for a few quiet ales and a spot of theatre, or to stroll through a gallery. Hongdae is the best area for live music and great dance floors to show your moves on. Whatever your tastes, you can be sure to find something in Seoul.


Shopping in Seoul is an interesting and sometimes chaotic experience; a vast selection of products, busy shopping areas and communication barriers all offer beguiling challenges. There are, however, many bargains and treasures that make it worthwhile. Most shops stay open till 10pm and some markets are open 24 hours, giving shoppers ample time to spend their money!

Myong Dong, the most popular shopping district, is home to sports and fashion shops offering cheap and trendy clothes for young people. In Tongdaemun, Doota sells cheap beads, accessories and shoes, as well as every imaginable type of fabric for homes. Second-hand goods such as televisions, CDs, clothing and shoes are available from the Hwanghak-dong Flea Market. Chang-anp'yong Antique Market treasures include paintings, calligraphy and old chests, as well as stone and ceramic artefacts.

The Itaewon area has shops selling discounted designer clothes from brands such as DKNY, Nike and Adidas; stalls on the street sell hats and fake designer handbags. Apkujong has upscale department stores and boutiques, as well as the Kangnam underground shopping mall. Prada, Gucci, Armani, Stella McCartney and the Galleria are also found here. Counterfeit goods are illegal and may be confiscated at home. Tax-free shopping is advertised where applicable.


Seoul attractions include historic temples and palaces, as well as some natural and cultural highlights. The preferred seasons for sightseeing in Seoul are spring and autumn, with comfortable temperatures and blue skies, but in winter the city is covered in snow and can be quite beautiful.

The Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1395, and is home to the National Folk Museum of Korea, a great Seoul attraction. The Namsangol Hanok Village is also a good stop, featuring traditional Korean homes from the Joseon Dynasty. The Bongeunsa, a Buddhist temple founded in 794 AD, offers a 'Temple Stay Program' for visitors.

Just out of town, visitors can ride the Namsan Park cable car to the summit of the mountain to see the maritime aquarium and botanical gardens. Lotte World is the largest indoor theme park in the world, one of the most exciting Seoul attractions, while the 1988 Olympic Park and Stadium is another. There are lovely antique shops and art galleries to be browsed in the Insa-dong alleyways.

Local time is GMT +9.

Bongeunsa is a Buddhist temple in Gangnam-gu and was founded in 794 AD by Yeon-hoe, the highest-ranking monk of Silla at the time. The temple was reconstructed in 1498 and became the main temple of the Korean Seon (Zen) sect of Buddhism. Today Bongeunsa is a flourishing complex offering a 'Temple Stay Program' where visitors can live as monks do for a few hours.

One of the 'Five Grand Palaces' built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty, Changdeokgung is set within a large park in Jongno-gu and the whole complex has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Located east of Gyeongbok, Changdeokgung is also referred to as the East Palace. It was the favoured palace of many kings of the Joseon Dynasty and in accordance with the Three Kingdoms of Korea period, its buildings blend harmoniously with the natural landscape.

Everland is South Korea's version of Disney Land. This massive amusement park is situated on the outskirts of Seoul and is the perfect daytrip for visitors travelling with kids. Everland has a selection of rides ranging from heart stopping to sedate. The amusement park hosts a variety of restaurants, a safari section and a snow sledding area for winter visitors. There is also a fantastic water park called Caribbean Bay, a racing track, golf course and flower display gardens as well as a twice-daily procession of cartoon characters and trapeze artists through the park.

The jewel of Seoul's five historic palaces, Gyeongbokgung was built in 1395 by Lee Seong-Gye, founder of the Joseon Dynasty, who established the city as the capital of Korea. The magnificent rectangular palace, which now contains the National Folk Museum of Korea, features Royal apartments and staterooms, gardens and elegant lotus ponds. The pavilion features on the 10,000 won note. The palace is in a process of continual restoration as new archaeological treasures are uncovered and restored to their former glory.

Hwaseong Fortress is yet another of South Korea's UNESCO World Heritage sites. The fortress is situated in Suwon, a city south of Seoul central but still within the greater Seoul area. Hwaseong Fortress was completed in 1796 in order to protect the capital from Japanese invasions. The 3.5-mile (5.7km) fortress wall weaves in and out of the modern buildings and roads of Suwon. Visitors to Suwon can climb parts of the fortress wall and marvel at the intricate and often colourful architecture that makes this extraordinary stone edifice blend in to its surroundings in a typically Korean, harmonious fashion. The Hwaseong fortress includes 41 watchtowers, the Great South Gate, Paldalmun and Seobuk Gongsimdon. There are also some traditional teahouses in the vicinity of the most popular sections of the wall where visitors can stop for a refreshing cup of iced tea.

Hop a bus and visit Incheon, a major Korean port city on the West Sea about an hour from Seoul, where the surrounding irregular coastline with its islets and mountainous inland terrain provide a popular getaway from the city. Incheon is home to the International Airport, but this does not stop it from being a charming city, surrounded by rice fields, source of the renowned Incheon flavoursome rice. Since the days of the Joseon Dynasty the city has also been famed for its therapeutic hot springs, and the downtown hotels all operate public bath facilities and swimming pools where visitors can bathe in the spa waters, claimed to benefit skin ailments, eye problems, neuralgia and gynaecological diseases. This is also the place to buy ceramics. In the Incheon Ceramics Village there are hundreds of studios and shops with traditional wood-fired kilns producing traditional porcelain.

No visit to Seoul is complete without exploring the capital's heart and artistic soul: the alleyways of the Insadong district, known colloquially as 'Mary's Alley'. More than 100 antique shops and countless art galleries are tucked away here, delighting collectors and casual browsers alike. From ancient Chinese pottery to yellowed books and delicate jewellery, most visitors manage to find a treasured souvenir or special gift among the quaint stores. There are plenty of restaurants, taverns and traditional teahouses in the area, too, to ensure shoppers stay refreshed.

Jejudo is one of the most popular holiday destinations in South Korea. Jeju Island is situated off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula and enjoys relatively warm weather throughout the year. Visitors to the island generally flock to the beaches, but there are many other fantastic sightseeing opportunities on Jejudo.

The island is home to a number of interesting museums including the Folklore and History Museum, the Independence Museum and the fascinating Haenyeo Museum which provides valuable insight into the tradition of the Haenyeo women divers of Jeju Island. Other places of interest on Jejudo include the Teddy Bear Museum, the Green Tea Museum and the Museum of African Art which is a life-sized replica of the Djenne Grand Mosque in Mali and boasts Asia's best collection of African Art. The touring Mount Halla Volcano is certainly one of the island's principal attractions.

Jeju Island has many places of interest: some are fascinating natural wonders such as the Gimnyeong Maze and Manjanggul lava-tube cave on the northern shores of Jejudo, Jusangjeolli hexagonal shaped rock, Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, or Iho beach which is made up of yellow sand and the dark grey volcanic sand which create beautiful patterns in the tidal waters. While others are quirky such as Mini World, a theme park with miniature replicas of famous buildings such as the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower. And other Jejudo attractions are unashamedly eccentric like Loveland, a themed sculpture park dedicated to the phallus and phallic representations which can often be found throughout South Korea as an ancient Confucian symbol.

Visitors to Jejudo can go on numerous tours of the island or they can relax on the beaches or at hot spring resorts. There are many hiking trails and going scuba diving is definitely one of the top things to do on Jeju Island. The island has a broad range of hotels and accommodation options and there are many small restaurants serving up regional delicacies ranging from live squid to Mandarin oranges, mushrooms, abalone and wild boar.

Jogyesa is the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. First established in 1395, Jogyesa is located in Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, in central Seoul. In 1998, Jogyesa made international news when several monks occupied the temple for over 40 days in a power struggle between factions of the Jogye Order. A highlight of this attraction is the Natural Monument 9, an ancient white pine tree, within its grounds.

Jongmyo Shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is heralded as Korea's foremost cultural treasure. Visitors to Seoul will be hard-pressed not to visit the Jongmyo Shrine. Built in 1394, the shrine is the oldest royal Confucian shrine in the world and ceremonies, rituals and traditional dance performances are often held at the shrine. Jongmyo is the official shrine of the Korea's Joseon Dynasty. Tourists visiting Seoul will find the shrine situated within walking distance of the Changdoekgang Palace complex. Jongmyo is made up of a number of halls as well as a small cloister, the interior of the shrine as well as the roofs and ceilings are exquisitely painted and decorated. The Jongmyo Shrine is also home to over 40 memorial tablets of past kings and queens of Korea.

For those with even a passing interest in historical affairs, the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) - a 4km-wide strip of land that divides the Korean peninsula in two - is an absolute must-see. The DMZ was established in 1953, at the end of the Korean War, and remains not only the most heavily-armed and guarded territory on the planet, but also the last surviving relic of the Cold War. Day-trips, which include guided tours of North Korean infiltration tunnels and the Joint Security Area ( Panmunjeon), the site of negotiations between the warring nations, cost around USD 40 and leave from downtown Seoul. Upon entry into the DMZ, visitors are required to put their signature on an indemnity form, acknowledging that they are entering a "hostile area", where they face "the possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action" - this, however, is all part of the quiddity of the experience, and should be appreciated as such. Another interesting aspect of the DMZ is that - due to the total absence of development in the area for nearly 60 years - it has become the site of what must be the world's most unlikely wildlife sanctuary. An area of serene and unspoiled beauty, it is (putatively) home to several rare and endangered species, such as Asiatic black bears, Amur leopards and Korean tigers. There are also plenty of hotels and hostels in the area, should one desire to spend their entire weekend 'on the 38th parallel' - enjoying the pristine natural surroundings, soaking up the unique atmosphere, and stealing otherwise-impossible glimpses into the most mysterious country on earth.

Fun and thrills are the order of the day at Seoul's main theme park, which draws about six million visitors annually. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Lotte is the largest indoor theme park in the world. The park is divided into an indoor and outdoor section. Inside, 'Adventure Land' covers acres of streets representing different countries, filled with hundreds of activities, entertainments, shops, restaurants and ongoing parades. Outdoor, Magic Island with its fairy-tale castle, offers thrilling high-altitude rides, laser shows and pleasant walking trails around a lake. There is also an indoor ice-rink and a fascinating Folk Museum complete with miniature villages.

Paradise for shoppers, Myeong-dong is Seoul's retail haven covering a vast area that spreads out from the Myeong-dong subway station. Massive department stores, boutiques, restaurants, fast-food outlets and malls are crammed into this buzzing district. Brand name clothing and accessories can be had at good prices at venues like the Lotte or Shinsegae Department stores, and malls like U-too Zone, or seek out bargains at outlet stores like Migliore and Avatar. If you need to rest your feet and your credit card take a look at the famed Gothic style Myeong-dong Catholic Church, where you'll find a peaceful garden.

Namsan, the mountain that stands sentinel in the centre of Seoul, is a popular recreational feature in the city. A cable car, and stairway, takes visitors to the summit, where there are several attractions to enjoy, including the Maritime Aquarium, botanical gardens, fountains and the Seoul Tower, which, rising 1,575ft (480m), offers a fantastic view of the city and surrounds. The revolving restaurant on top of the tower is particularly popular for dinner because of the breathtaking view it affords of Seoul by night.

Set among the skyscrapers, the Namsangol traditional Korean village comes as a pleasant surprise. Centred on five restored Korean historical homes depicting various social levels from the Joseon Dynasty, the village is a time capsule in the midst of the city with its peaceful pond and pavilion. Visitors can not only explore the houses, but also enjoy traditional tea, shop for souvenirs, browse traditional crafts, or try their hand at ancient games like 'neolttwigi' (jumping on a see-saw) or arrow throwing. At weekends in summer traditional wedding ceremonies are held at midday.

The Seoul Olympic Park, or Olpark, was built to host the 1988 Summer Games, located in Songpa-gu, Bangi-dong. It is home to Jamsil Olympic Stadium, the main stadium built for the summer games. The arena occasionally hosts shows, such as the Michael Jackson concert, and other attractions include the Seoul Olympic Museum, Mongchon Fortress and the World Peace Gate.

Looking for something a bit different?  Check out our selection of cultural & adventure holidays or if you're looking to go it alone then see our selection of solo holidays.

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