I can’t resist a city break, even if said city is on the other side of the world. So when my flights to Vietnam flew via Seoul, I decided to extend my stay there for a couple of extra days to soak up some South Korean culture.
Seoul is a vast metropolis that is home to about half of the country’s population, and I had two full days in this cultural and historical hub. With the city’s brilliant subway system it is easy to get around quickly, and I was able to pack in a lot in just 48 hours. Here are the places I visited on my stopover in Seoul.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed at the size of Seoul and the tiny amount of time I had in which to see it, I opted to head straight to the cultural heart and tourist haven of Gyeongbokgung Palace to ensure I ticked at least one ‘must-do’ place off my list. Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty and is as impressive as it is huge. I think I spent about five times longer there than I was expecting to, wandering around the extensive grounds and admiring the various pagodas, pavilions and halls.
I then hopped on the subway and headed over to the nearby neighbourhood of Insa-dong. Featuring one main street connected to various alleys with little restaurants, modern galleries and traditional tea shops, Insa-dong is vibrant with a bustling, young crowd, and was probably my favourite part of the city. There was even a vegan restaurant in this meaty metropolis! I stopped for some tea and udon noodles overlooking the central street before heading off to the third and final stop of the day, Bukchon Hanok Village.
As one of the only traditional Korean villages left in Seoul, Bukchon Hanok Village is a beautifully preserved 600-year-old urban environment. The narrow, sloping streets are great to wander around and there are some stunning views across the city from certain points, although it can get very crowded. The houses here are still occupied by residents, and I’m not sure how the locals deal with the constant streams of tourists taking Instagram-worthy shots right outside their front doors!
Today, the sun made an appearance, and so a visit to the beautiful Namsan Park with it’s panoramic views over the city (once you climb up there!) was on my agenda. Walking through the winding roads lined with pink cherry blossom, I felt at peace with the warm sun streaming in through the branches. The pathways eventually led to a cable car entrance up to the N Seoul Tower. Tempted by a leisurely lift up to the second highest point in the city, I resisted and instead walked up the steps – the reward was definitely worth it.
Going back down was a lot easier, and I hopped back on the subway to Itaewon. The other areas in Seoul I’d been to were filled with predominately Korean and Japanese restaurants, but Itaewon had an eclectic mix of American, Mexican, Italian and little cafes to try. I decided to indulge in a spot of people-watching and went for a banana drink and scrumptious cake in I Me Mine cafe overlooking the streets below.
The final stop on my busy couple of days was Hongdae, the university region of Seoul and known for its indie music culture, clubs and entertainment scene. As soon as I exited the subway station I was met with a five storey karaoke club, the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the main road. With street food vendors selling giant ice creams, waffles and Korean chicken, as well as performers entertaining passers-by, Hongdae was full of life and the perfect place for me to end my hectic but brilliant 48 hours in Seoul.
Words and photographs by Alice Bzowska