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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.