The capital of South Korea and the 16th largest city in the world is home to over half the country’s entire population! Currently at around 10 million residents, Seoul is a massive metropolis that’s considered to be one of Asia’s most livable cities. In fact, it sat atop that list in 2015!
The history of Seoul dates back over 2000 years, as it was founded in 18 BC. However it was not officially called Seoul until 1945, after it was liberated from Japan. During the Korean War (1950-1953), the capital was relocated to Busan, as much of the city was damaged or destroyed.
Today, Seoul has the world’s 4th largest metropolitan economy backed by companies like Samsung, LG and Hyundai. Plus it was the birthplace of K-Pop, a popular type of music thats influence has spread around the world! … for some reason.
The North Seoul Tower (as seen above, in the distance, and below) was built in 1971 and it marks the highest point in the city. Sitting atop Namsan Mountain, the Tower lights up at night and has 4 observation decks from which you can enjoy the views!
You can catch a city bus to the bottom before walking up to the tower OR you can hop aboard the Namsan cable car, all the way to the top!
Along with the Seoul Tower, Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1395, is the most recognizable landmark in the city.
Gyeongbokgung was the main palace during the Joseon dynasty and it was the largest of 5 that were built. The palace was destroyed between 1592-1598 and restored during the 19th-century. However, the beginning of the 20th-century saw further destruction, as the Japanese systematically demolished 90% of the buildings within the palace grounds.
Today, the walled complex is still in a state of restoration, however it is regarded as the most impressive of the 5 palaces!
Just down the street from the Gyeongbokgung Palace lie two distinct landmarks!
The first is a statue of Admiral Yi Sun Sin (1545-1598), a naval commander famous for defeating the Japanese despite unsurmountable odds. Yi Sun Sin is regarded as one of the best, if not the absolute best, naval commanders in world history as he continuously overcame near impossible situations throughout his tenure.
The second landmark is a statue of King Sejong (1397-1450) who was the creator of Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Prior to Hangul, Korean’s generally wrote using classical Chinese (much harder to learn) and this was problematic because the lower classes, who lacked education, were generally illiterate. King Sejong implemented Hangul, a 28-letter Korean alphabet, which gave everyone a much better opportunity to learn how to read and write!
Sejong was also known for appointing people from different social classes to government positions and he governed based on the principles of Confucianism.
Major landmarks aside, a trip to Seoul would not be complete without trying some of Korea’s famous foods!
If you’re a budget conscious traveller and aren’t opposed to fulfilling a days worth of sodium in one meal, make sure to grab some ramen from the supermarket!
After slurping (for those of you who’ve been to Korea, you know what I’m talking about..) back this salty snack, you can wash it down with one of Korea’s prominent beers, Hite. Be aware that Hite (like most Korean beers) is pretty awful… but it is cheap!
However, if you have some more disposable Won (the currency used in Korea) to spend on a meal, there are a few delicious Korean classics to try.
The first, a spicy dish called Dak Galbi, will leave your taste buds on fire! There are many different forms of this dish – many containing noodles or rice – but they are all extremely spicy! This was a favourite dish of many foreigners, excluding myself.
Next, Korean BBQ is an absolute must-eat when in Seoul. After ordering the quantity of meat you want, you will be served an unlimited (yes, you can keep asking for more and more!) amount of side dishes throughout the meal.
Be aware that you’ll be required to cut and barbecue the meat yourself, as that is how things work in Korea!
A dinner for 2 will cost about $20-30 cdn, but you can be guaranteed to leave the restaurant with a full stomach!
Next, Korean kimchi is another ‘must-try’ while in Seoul. This spicy fermented cabbage isn’t too appetizing at first, but it definitely grows on you over time! Over the past few years, kimchi has become quite popular outside of Korea so there’s a good chance you’ve seen this in your local grocery store.
Generally in Korea, kimchi is eaten as a side with every meal. Along with cabbage, kimchi can be made from radishes, but I, along with many foreigners, did not enjoy the radish version very much.
Lastly, Korea is known for its delicious seafood. Even though Seoul isn’t located on the coast, it’s close enough to make seafood a fantastic option. Don’t miss out on the raw fish and live octopus (the top right dish)!
Soju, far too common with every meal in Korea, is also something you’ve got to experience at least once. This insanely cheap (less than $5 cdn) liquor is usually added to beer, or taken as a shot. It is sneakily strong and will have you forgetting all of the new Korean phrases you’ve just picked up… along with names, dates and general English.. Trust me, go easy on the soju!
Now that the main food and drinks have been covered, there is only one more thing that I absolutely recommend for you to do while in Seoul. Go to a Korean baseball game!
Unlike a North American baseball game that will put you to sleep by the 5th inning, Korean baseball manages to keep the crowd entertained throughout the entire match. In fact, you probably won’t even watch much of the actual game. There are a steady supply of distractions which include; coordinated team chants, groups of cheerleading dancers and a liveliness in the crowd that is uncommon for sporting events in North America!
Additionally, tickets are cheap ($7-30 cdn) and you are allowed to bring in any food or drinks that you want. In fact, it is common to see people lugging big coolers full of beer while carrying entire pizzas and a box of chicken. Pretty hilarious!
Ultimately, Seoul is an awesome city and it was my favourite spot to visit in Korea. It’s super modern yet contains a ton of history that is fascinating delve into. The prideful people are very welcoming once they get to know you and the whole country is extremely safe.
Home to a variety of different neighbourhoods, including ultra-posh Gangnam ( Psy’s song ‘Gangnam Style’ is lightly mocking it), Seoul offers something for just about everyone who visits!
Furthermore, starting in 2005 and each year since, the Incheon International Airport has been rated the best airport worldwide! So, next opportunity you get, don’t hesitate to pack your bags and head to Seoul!