Every time that I come to Seoul I end up feeling frustrated by the subway system. In the cities defense, this is well organized and run. Nothing ever breaks down and I have never had a train get delayed. The problem is just that this city is so big and spread out. There are things to see in every area but spending a majority of the day riding the subway does take some fun out of the trip. The best thing to do is to chose sights that are around the same area, you still have to subway but it will mean less time spend underground missing out on the amazingness going on above you.
Cultural day on lines 3 and 4
One of the main attractions in Seoul is Gyeongbokgung Palace, the old residents of the Korean emperors.
The size of this is absolutely amazing, you could easily spend a couple of hours walking around and pretending you are in old Korea. Aside from the main palace when you walk in, there is also a beautiful lotus pond, various temples and the buildings in which people would have lived and slept. One of the most stunning aspects of the palace is that it is situation right in the middle of Seoul’s government complex. On one side the area is surrounded by mountains, but on the other all you can see are high rise buildings and the modern city. It is interesting to think about how the new and old government and just sitting next to each other.
The palace is only 3,000won to get into and has a free museum attached which houses various treasured from Korea’s past. It is always a little sad to read about the extend of artifacts which were lost or destroyed during the Japanese occupation, and gives you a good insight to how complex Korea’s history is.
The palace is on the orange metro (line 3) and is easy to find as signs point you right to its entrance. I recommend starting out your day here to miss some of the crowds, before heading back to the subway to Anguk station (line 3) where you can check out the artistic history at Insadong and grab some lunch.
This is the area where poets and artists once resident and has a very quaint and traditional feel to it. By following exit 6 you can take the first left and you’re on Insadong street where you will be met with a ton of galleries and souvenir shops.
If you feel like visiting another temple, Jogseya is a beautiful one which is parallel to the main shopping area. When walking down the main road simply make the first right and you will see it across the road. There is a templestay program offered by the temple which you can find out more about when visiting.
It’s pretty beautiful at night too!
Of course no visit to Insadong is complete without a traditional Korean tea.
You can spend awhile walking around Insadong, shopping and just admiring all the pottery for sale, but this is also a good place to grab some lunch.
There are various restaurants in Insadong, mostly selling Korean food but the staff all throughout the area seem to have good English. Just pick a side street and have a wander until a menu strikes you eye. My vegetarian recommendations are Oh Sae Gyae Hyang which serves cheap Korean food such as vegan BBQ, tofu soups, vegan donkatsu and everything else. The food here is delicious, fresh and good value for money. From Exit 6 of the station walk left down the main Insadong rd and turn left down the fourth alleyway – just in front of the big spiral staircase building. Walk to the end of the street and you will find their sign saying ‘vegetarian food.’
If you are wanting something a little different, try Balwoo, a Buddhist restaurant that serves traidional vegetarian meals. This is a pretty amazing experience, albeit a more expensive one. You can chose from the 10, 12, 15 or 17 course meals and are served each dish one by one. The whole experiences lasts over an hour and it is great way to have authentic food without worrying about any meat being added. When I visited I went with the 12 course which was 38,000 a person but worth it in my eyes. The restaurant is right opposite Jogyesa temple in the templestay building on the 5th floor.
After exploring Insadong, Myeongdong is only a few stops away on the blue train (line 4). You have to transfer once at Chungmuro station but this is easy enough. This area is known as the main shopping area in Seoul, although males may find it hard going! The streets are lined with beauty stores, clothes and souviners so walking around is an experience on its own. There are also a ton of bars and cafes here if your legs are needing a break.
Or if you want something different, head to the trick art museum.
This is a really fun way to spend an hour or two. The museum is full of art works you can get into so bring your camera! By taking exit 6 at Myeongdong station and walking down the main street just turn at the first right. Keep walking until you see a restaurant called Gogung, it sticks out for the big statue of bibimbap out front. The museum is in the same building as this on the 7th floor, just walk around the side to the elevators. It does cost 15,000 won but it is a lot of fun and doesn’t close until 10pm so makes for a good after dinner activity.
Just across from the area is Namsan park and tower which overlooks the whole of the city. If you want a sense of just how large Seoul is then this is a good way to check out the area.
From exit 3 of Myeongdong station, face left and walk towards the Pacific blue hotel. The route to the tower is well marked by a little cartoon on the left side of the road so simply follow this. At the end of the street you will reach some stairs which you need to climb and then keep walking straight down the road for about 3 minutes. There are a ton of restaurants here and signs directing you. The cable car costs 8,500 round trip per person or you can walk up the tower if you are game enough.
At the top is a beautiful park area where you can see over the city and try to take it all in.
This is well designed for couples with the bridge where lovers have written messages on lockets and left them as a sign of commitment. It’s cheesy but also very sweet and fun.
Myeongdong is a great place to eat, there are restaurants everywhere. One of the favorites is Gogung, just below the trick art museum.
This sells traditional Jeonju bibimbap and pancakes for around 11,000won a bowl. I ask for them to leave out the meat and this is never a problem. The interior is well set out and most nights you can enjoy live Korean music.
This area feels like New York should renounce their title of the city that never sleeps. The shops are open until around midnight and people are constantly buying items or just sitting in a café chatting. Myeongdong is a good way to end your night.
So there you go, only a few subway stops but so much to see! I hope this has been helpful, more day trips are to come 😀