Over the past two decades, South Korea has experienced a dramatic economic boom and transformed from being an underdeveloped country into what many would now consider to be one of the region’s top international players. With South Korea gaining financial recognition, Seoul has also become a top tourist destination; this beautiful and culturally rich city has plenty of captivating attractions and activities, so here are just five of our top picks:
The main palace of the Chosun Dynasty, Gyeungbokgung (meaning Palace of Shining Happiness) was the main seat of power for Korean kings in ancient times. This stunning palace compound includes a number of structures such as the Royal Throne Hall, the living quarters of the Queen Dowager, and several pavilions and gardens. The National Folk Museum sits in the eastern section of the grounds and houses several exhibition halls showcasing a wide selection of Korean culture and history.
Originally built in 1405, Changdeok Palace was completed in 1412 by King Taejong who expanded its grounds and created the tranquil Biwon Garden (Secret Garden) at its rear. The palace grounds cover 110 acres of ponds and gardens, including several trees that are over 700 years old. Destroyed many times by invading armies, the palace has been rebuilt and restored to its former glories with thirteen of the original buildings remaining, plus an additional 28 in Biwon Garden.
Ride the cable car up to the mountain and then walk to the Namsan Tower at night for a spectacular view of the city. The observatory deck is a popular attraction in itself because of the hundreds of colourful locks with love messages written on them, which hang all over its fences.
"The Blue House" (Presidential Residence)
The equivalent of the US White House, Cheong Wa Dae (commonly known as the Blue House) is Korea's presidential residence. The impressive Mount Bugaksan lies to its north, flanked by two mountains – Naksan, symbolising the Blue Dragon, on the left and Inwangsan, symbolising the White Tiger, on the right. At present, Cheong Wa Dae consists of a main office building, the official Presidential residence, Yeongbin-gwan (the guest house), Chunchugwan press hall and the secretariat buildings.
For something more leisurely, head to Myeong-dong, one of Seoul’s most popular shopping and dining areas. Aside from countless rows of shops, the roads here are also lined with dozens of street stalls offering various delicious Korean snacks. For more Western food options, head over to Itaewon but bear in mind that prices in Korea are significantly higher for imported goods – including Western meals!