Surrounded by four towering ‘guardian mountains’, this vibrant, pulsing city fizzes with life and energy, its deeply traditional roots contrasting with spectacular modern designs. The reason behind Seoul’s vast contrasts are in part due to the Korean War, which destroyed much of the Seoul of old and in its place a new, modern city was reborn. Its mix of old and new works in perfect harmony and it’s got a food scene that is gaining rank on a global scale.
Evidence of Seoul’s cutting-edge design comes in the form of the Galleria Department Store, the exterior of which has been covered with 4,330 glass discs. Come nightfall, it glows brightly with LED lights. The steel and glass Seoul University Museum of Modern Art sits on a concrete base, while the state-of-the-art Zaha Hadid-designed Dongdaemun Design Park and Plaza has 24-hour shopping and cafes as well as plenty of green space. If you’re looking for somewhere to take the little ones, try Lotte World. This is the world’s largest indoor theme park and features everything from roller coasters to an ice rink.
It is not all modern masterpieces, however. Look closely and you’ll find evidence of Seoul’s past too, most notably in places like the UNESCO-listed Jongmyo Shrine, which was one of the most important places of worship in the Joseon Dynasty. The 24 hour Noryangjin Fish Market comes to life between 1am and 3am when its frenetic live auction begins.
Theatre is also taken very seriously here in Seoul. Try the National Theatre of Korea and the MyeongDong NANTA Theatre. Or for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, opt for a K-Pop (Korea’s most popular music genre) tour around Korean TV studios.
Street food is a must in Seoul. Try beloved national dishes, such as ddeokbokki, soft rice cakes served with a fiery sweet red chilli sauce, braised chicken or tradition porridge (sweet with pumpkin or savoury with seafood). Equally unmissable is the bacchanalian feast that is Korean barbeque. For dessert, opt for patbingsu, red bean shaved ice topped with chopped fruit and fruit syrup.
Getting around Seoul couldn’t be easier. It’s got a fast, clean and cheap metro system, and most of the signs are in English. There is a cheap bus service and reliable train system too. Consider buying a T-Money card, which you can top-up and use on the bus, train, metro and even in a taxi.