What are the best things to see and do in Seoul?

Caroline Patek

Seoul’s charm extends to history buffs and shopaholics alike, providing much to see and do. Visitors have the choice of walking down the bustling streets of Myeongdong for some quality shopping or visiting the DMZ, where the soldiers standing at attention serve as a constant reminder that the two Koreas are still at war. Here’s a list of can’t-miss experiences in Seoul from our Forbes Travel Guide editors:
 
1. Stroll through Seoul’s cultural streets. Get a taste of Korean culture by walking down Insadong, a street known for its concentration of galleries, teahouses and traditional Korean restaurants. Leave yourself time to pick up some inexpensive souvenirs along the way. Or take a tour of Bukchon Traditional Village to view the well-preserved Korean-style hanok houses. There are plenty of museums and places to learn about Korean food, pottery and music.
 
2. Tour one of Seoul’s five palaces. Each of the Joseon Dynasty palaces has its own character, although there is a common thread: the bright colors that accent each building’s intricate architecture. Go to Gyeongbokgung, the main palace of the five, to watch the changing of the guard, or check out Deoksugung’s fusion of Korean and Western architecture.
 
3. Set foot in North Korea. About 30 miles from Seoul, you’ll find yourself at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the 2.5-mile wide area that separates South Korea from the North. Since the two countries are technically still at war, visitors need to book tours in advance and bring their passports along. There’s plenty to see, including the infiltration tunnels the North Koreans built into the South, the Panmunjom village where the 1953 armistice was signed ending the Korean War, and the Joint Security Area (JSA), where you can enter a building from the South and step across the imaginary line into North Korea.
 
4. Get a breathtaking view of Seoul’s skyline. Ride a cable car up Namsan, a mountain in Seoul that offers visitors a scenic view of the city. Atop the mountain sits the N Seoul Tower, where you can eat and relax while looking down at the city below. Namsan is a popular destination for day hikers.
 
5. Shop ‘till you drop. A visit to Seoul isn’t complete without taking in the massive Shinsegae, Hyundai and Lotte department stores. You also won’t want to miss the busy streets of fashionable Myeongdong or the luxury goods in Apgujeong, Seoul’s version of Beverly Hills. Night owls can shop into the morning at Dongdaemun Market or check out the more traditional Namdaemun Market.

  • On September 25, 2012
    Caroline Patek answered the question: Caroline Patek

    What are the best Seoul food experiences?

    In Seoul, you’ll find there’s more to Korean food than just your standard bibimbap or bulgogi. Take your taste buds on an adventure with these food experiences:
     
    1. Eat live octopus. The Noryangjin Fish Market is the largest of its kind in Seoul, featuring an assortment of fresh seafood on sale 24-hours a day. You can get the freshest catch and have it prepared for you at a restaurant in the back of the market. Try the sannakji, live octopus that will continue to suction to the inside of your throat as you eat it. Another tasty option is hwae, or raw sliced fish, which you eat with side dishes and then finish off with maeuntang, a spicy soup made from the leftover pieces of the fish you just ate. For night owls, get to the market around 2 a.m. to watch the wholesale auction.
     
    2. Try street food. Walking the streets of Seoul in the evening or after a late night of drinking, you’ll find food carts and pojangmachas, restaurants in tents that sell an assortment of Korean goodies. These include ddukbokki (rice cakes in hot pepper paste), odeng (fish cakes) and soondae (stuffed intestines). You can satisfy your sweet tooth with hodduk (sweet pancakes with filling). If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try the steamed and seasoned beondegi (silkworms).
     
    3. Dabble in dumplings. There are a slew of places to get dumplings, but Koong — located in a narrow alleyway in Insadong — is a dumpling shop best known for its large, plump dumplings. The dumplings are a point of pride for the North Korean city of Kaesong, which was once home to the mother and daughter that started the restaurant. English menus are available upon request.
     
    4. Test out different anjus. In Seoul, drinking a bottle of soju (rice liquor), a bowl of makgeolli (rice wine), or a glass of beer is often accompanied by food, called anju. Often, fried chicken gets washed down with beer; soju is paired with samgyupsal or pork belly; and makgeolli goes well with Korean pancakes, like nokdu bindaedduk, mung bean pancakes, or pajun, green onion pancakes. Other anju for the adventurous include jokbal, or boiled pig’s feet, and golbaengi muchim, sea snail and veggies in spicy sauce.
     
    5. Get a taste for Korean soups. The staples in every Korean meal include rice, kimchi and some kind of soup or stew. You may not be able to try them all, but start with classics like dwenjang jigae, soybean paste soup, and yukgaejang, spicy beef soup, then branch out by sampling samgyetang, ginseng and spring chicken soup, gobchang jeongol, soup that features tripe, or budae jigae, also known as “army base soup” that includes SPAM, cut up hot dogs, ramen noodles, tofu and veggies. Koreans also believe you can cure hangovers with haejang guk, a soup containing ox blood, as well as gamjatang, a spicy soup made by stewing pork bones and potatoes.
  • On September 25, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to eat in Seoul?

    There is no shortage of good places to eat in Seoul. Whether you venture to a hole-in-the-wall specializing in one Korean dish or dine at an upscale restaurant featuring the finest Western-style cuisine, visitors are bound to leave satisfied. Here are the Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the best places to eat in Seoul:

    1. Min’s Club. This upscale Korean fusion restaurant is located in a historic hanok building once owned by Queen Min’s relatives. The exterior has been preserved, while the interior has been infused with homey atmosphere filled with mouthwatering aromas of European and Korean foods. Set menus are available for lunch or dinner, or you can choose to spend a quiet afternoon at Min’s Club drinking tea and nibbling on Korean rice cakes or cookies.
     
    2. Byeokje Galbi. You can’t leave Seoul without trying Korean barbecue. And not just any kind of meat, but the best Korean beef out there. Enter Byeokje Galbi, a fine-dining restaurant dedicated to using only high-end hanwoo, beef that comes from domestically raised cows with special diets. You can expect the price tag to reflect the quality.
     
    3. Hanilkwan. If you’re hoping to spot a South Korean President or a foreign celebrity, then dine at this 70-year-old restaurant. Choose from traditional Korean specialties like galbitang, beef short rib soup, or bulgogi, marinated barbecued beef. Lots of seating makes it perfect for big parties; we recommend you make reservations before you go.
     
    4. Jung Sik Dang. Try Jungsik Yim’s innovative take on Korean food at this chic modern restaurant in Shinsadong. This Culinary Institute of America-trained chef infuses Korean flavors in many dishes while experimenting with preparation and ingredients. His repertoire includes sea urchin bibimbap dressed with a seaweed puree to replace gochujang, and herbal sujebi, the hand-torn noodle soup featuring a spicy parsley clam broth.

    5. To Sok Chon. Locals and tourists alike clamor to try the samgyetang at this well-known restaurant. Its proximity to Cheong Wa Dae, the president’s office and residence in Seoul, makes it a favorite among politicians, such as the late President Roh Moo Hyun. Samgyetang, or chicken ginseng soup featuring a spring chicken stuffed with ginseng, rice, chestnuts, dates and garlic, is popular among locals who want to fight the heat on hot summer days.
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