Seoul travel guide Seoul is South Korea’s capital and its largest city, with a population of 10.4 million. Seoul, which means ‘capital’ in the traditional Korean language, has long been the centre of political and economic rule since the year 18 BC when the Baekjae Dynasty ruled. Traversed by the Han River and surrounded by mountain ranges, Seoul has since developed into an economic and cultural megacity with over 700 museums and 400 galleries. The fifth largest city in the world is also home to World Heritage th sites like the 16 -century Jongmyo Shrine and Changdeokgung Palace, famed for its traditional Korean architecture. When to go? Seoul is a city of four seasons. Winter (Dec-Feb) sees temperatures dip to about -10°C while spring (March-May) is a warm 20°C on average. Summer (June-Aug) is a hot, humid and rainy 35°C on average while the weather in autumn (Sep-Nov) is a cool 15°C. Travelling to Seoul is best in late April for its cherry blossoms or October when the parks turn a fiery orange. Getting there By air Incheon International Airport is the main gateway to Seoul and South Korea, located 52km west of downtown Seoul. The main carriers travelling to Seoul are Korean Air and Asiana Airline. Gimpo International Airport serves mostly domestic routes but also flies to Japan and China. Getting around By bus Seoul has an extensive bus system that runs until midnight. Buses are colour coded and most have destination names written in English. The standard adult fare costs W1000. By metro The best and most common form of Seoul transport is the metro. It is clean, fast, efficient and covers an extensive network. If you’re planning to travel a lot consider buying the T-Money electronic touch card. It costs W2500 and can also be used on buses and in convenience stores. By taxi Taxis are an excellent way to get around Seoul and can even work out cheaper if you’re going a short distance with a group of 3-4 people. All taxis are metered and most accept T-Money and even credit cards. By car Rented cars are a convenient form of transport in Seoul, especially if you are planning to visit the outskirts. Most car rental agencies Companies can be found in the airport or in downtown Seoul, costing around W70,000 a day. © 2011 AsiaRooms.com. All rights reserved. Sightseeing Gyeongbokgung Palace One of the most important things to do in Seoul is to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest of five grand palaces built by Joseon Dynasty rulers (1392-1910), who reigned Korea for 500 years from their seat in Seoul. which has a state banquet hall and the two-storey Hyangwonjeong Pavilion. Located within the grounds is also the National Folk Museum of Korea. Changdeokgung Palace Changdeokgung Palace, also known as the East Palace, is a UNESCO World Heritage site listed for its ‘outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design’. The second royal villa to be built after Gyeongbokgung Palace, it is the best preserved out of the five Joseon palaces. The ground has beautiful gardens, lotus ponds and pavilions. Jongmyo Shrine A visit to Jongmyo Shrine tops the list of things to do in Seoul. Located opposite Changgyeonggung Palace, the World Heritage-listed Confucian shrine is the oldest and most th authentic in the country. The 16 -century shrine houses the ancestral tablets of teachings inscribed for kings and the royal family. Every May, the Jongmyo Daeje ritual is performed here to honour the royal ancestors. National Museum of Korea The National Museum of Korea is the main museum of Korean history and art located in Yongsan Family Park. The popular museum in Seoul has five permanent galleries covering archaeological, historical, fine arts and Asian arts. Don’t miss the Bangasayusang statue of a sitting and thinking Buddha in the Fine Arts Gallery, considered to be a national treasure. Admission is free. Samneung Park Samneung Park in Gangnam District is a densely wooded park that is also a royal family masoleum. Samneung, which means ‘three royal tombs’, are three out of 40 royal tombs from the th 14 century Joseon Dynasty inscribed on the World Heritage List. Built in the shape of green hillocks and protected by stone figures, the burial site for King Seongjong, his queen Jeonghyeon and their son King Jungjong is also popular with locals who come for morning walks amidst the old pine and willow trees. Namsan Park Take a stroll around Namsan Park, one of the most enjoyable things to do in Seoul’s patch of green amidst the busy shopping district. Once the centre of capital defence during the Joseon Dynasty, the historical site was used as a signal hill to transmit news between local authorities. Several hiking trails lead to Mount Namsan, a popular resting site which also has a library, aquarium, fountains and spectacular views from Palgakjeong Pavillion and Seoul Tower. Where to eat Korea House Korea House is a famous restaurant in Seoul serving traditional Korean meals to tourists. Located in Namsan, diners can also watch cultural performances and a traditional wedding ceremony. The restaurant was once a state guesthouse and the private home of Bak Paeng-nyeon, a famous Joseon scholar. Buit in traditional Joseon architectural style, the Seoul restaurant also has a gift shop and cultural exhibits. © 2011 AsiaRooms.com. All rights reserved. Hongdae district To find other restaurants in Seoul, head to Hongdae, a trendy art school area popular with students from one of the country’s best art departments in Hongik University. Besides underground clubs and chic cafés whose walls are covered with student artwork, visitors can find anything from Korean street food to Indian, French and American eateries. Shopping Myeongdong Myeongdong is the prime shopping area in Seoul. The shopper’s paradise in downtown Seoul attracts over one million shoppers daily with its countless international fashion, food and entertainment chains. Myeongdong is also home to flagship Korean department stores like Lotte and Shinsegae, and is the best place to buy cosmetics and skin care products as many beauty brands are represented in the area. Namdaemun Market Seoul’s number one market is Namdaemun Market. It is one of Korea’s largest wholesale markets, with over 10 acres of shops, department stores, underground arcades and street vendors. Over 1,000 stalls sell everything from clothes to flowers, toys and watches. The Seoul market is open from 7am to 5pm. Dongdaemun Market Seoul’s largest commercial district is in Dongdaemun Market, which is filled with traditional markets and shopping malls. Open almost 24 hours, Dongdaemun has over 30 shopping centres and 30,000 stores leading the way in Korea’s fashion industry trend. There are entire floors dedicated solely to bags, shoes or clothes and is popular with young people. Yongsan Electronics Market Head to Yongsan Electronics Market, a Seoul shopping precinct with over 20 buildings and 5,000 stores selling games, gadgets and all things electronic. Located near Yongsan train station, it is a good place to find foreign and Korean-made products at cheaper prices than retail stores. Nightlife Itaewon Itaewon is undoubtedly Seoul’s most popular nightlife area due to its proximity to the US Army’s Yongsan Garrison. A favourite with expats and foreigners, Itaewon even has a Taco Bell. Classy bars like Bliss have posh interiors and outdoor patio seating, while Macaroni Market has a private boutique club called Club Function. Bars like Between, M Lounge, Above and Gecko’s Garden all add to the party atmosphere. Gangnam The nightlife in Seoul’s Gangnam district is replete with megaclubs like Volume, Heaven and Eden, the latter which is located in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The area south of the city has hip-hop clubs like NB and Harlem near Gangnam Station – these clubs are extremely popular and get very crowded during weekends. © 2011 AsiaRooms.com. All rights reserved. Festivals Lunar New Year (Jan/Feb) The Lunar New Year is South Korea and Seoul’s most important festival. The city comes to a virtual standstill as businesses shut and Seoulites return to their hometown for this three-day celebration. However, many events are held in the capital for visitors. See the traditional new year ceremonies performed at the Namsan Hanok Village, take a royal stroll around Gyeongbok Palace and Changgyeong Palace or enjoy a free concert at the National Theatre of Korea. Seokjeondaeje Memorial Rite (March) The Seokjeondaeje Memorial Rite held at Sungkyunkwan University is an important religious festival honouring Confucius, China’s most popular philosopher and educationalist. The traditional Seoul festival sees performances by a traditional court orchestra, folk dancing and a dazzling parade as officials are dressed in traditional ceremonial wear. Yeouido Spring Flowers Festival (Apr) The Yeouido Spring Flowers Festival is a not-to-be-missed cherry blossom festival held at Yeouido Park. Take a stroll through a tunnel of cherry blossom trees along Yunjung-ro, the street behind the National Assembly Building before heading to the park. The best time to celebrate this Seoul festival is after the sunset when the blossoms are said to be most fragrant. Jongmyo Daeje (May) Jongmyo Daeje is a World Heritage-listed ritual performed to honour Korea’s royal ancestors. th Created by King Sejong of the 14 -century Joseon Dynasty, the procession from Gyeongbokgung Palace to Jongmyo Shrine through downtown Seoul sees thousands of people accompanying the ‘king’ on a mounted sedan chair. Ritual music is played by a court orchestra while a traditional dance is perfomed by female dancers. Seoul Fringe Festival (Aug) Music lovers should stick around for the Seoul Fringe Festival held in late summer in the area around Hongik University. An off-shoot of the Asian Fringe Festival, the celebration of Seoul’s indie scene sees young artists from all over Asia come together to present their works of art, music and performances in various venues around Hongdae. History Seoul’s history dates back to 18 BC, when it was first documented as Wiryeseong, the capital of the Baekje Kingdom. It wasn’t until 1392 when founder of the Joseon Dynasty, King Taejo, fully developed the city and introduced the Confucius culture. Over the next 600 years, the city controlled by kings and aristocrats grew to half a million inhabitants. In 1910, Seoul fell under the invasion of Japan, which conquered the city for 35 years until World War II ended in 1948. The post-war years led the city to rapid recovery and modernisation. Today, Seoul is a highly modern city with a population of 10.4 million, though the old palaces and the city’s ancient walled gates of Namdaemun (south gate) and Dongdaemun (east gate) still stand. Culture Koreans have a strong cultural identity as all Koreans speak and write the same language, making them one of the most homogenous countries in the world. The Korean language, culture, dress and cuisine are also distinctively different from neighbouring Far Eastern countries like China and Japan. Family, hard work and education underpin the values of Korean society, which © 2011 AsiaRooms.com. All rights reserved. is traditionally grounded in Confucian teachings of duty and loyalty to others. Buddhism and Christianity are the main religions in Korea. Useful info Time zone GMT +9 Population 10.4 million Language Korean Currency won (W) Dialling code +82 Weather -10-0°C (winter) and 25-35°C (summer) © 2011 AsiaRooms.com. All rights reserved.