SeoulSeoul is a city of contrasts in which the ancient and the modern harmoniously coexist. In one sense, it’s a hi-tech 21st-century city awash with neon lights and the sights and sounds of a 24-hour metropolis, while at the same time, a city retaining the majesty and graceful ambience of ancient dynasties that once ruled. Like the river Han on which it sits, Seoul is constantly moving as it strides boldly into the future, yet simultaneously managing to keep one foot firmly entrenched in its historical past.
The CityThe Jongno-gu area of Seoul is one of the city's most fascinating districts, symbolizing the duality of Seoul as both ancient and modern. Here, the historic palaces and the old quarter of Insadong sit aside Daehakno and University St, which is the centre for alternative art brimming with galleries, theatres, restaurants and bars. This dichotomy between the ancient and the modern is also seen in the district of Gangnam, where skyscrapers tower above the delicate architecture of Gyeongbukgung Palace. The city’s commercial centre, Gangnam, is more workmanlike than other areas of the city. However, like Myeongdong, the city’s financial district, Gangnam is also becoming known for its restaurants and bars. Missing home? Then head for Itaewon - the international hub of Seoul, where expatriates, tourists and locals gather. It is known for its legendary nightlife where Western-style pubs and nightclubs proliferate. Failing that, a spot of retail therapy in the Namdaemun and Dongdaemun areas should certainly cure all.
Do & See
As one of the largest cities in the world, Seoul offers visitors plenty to explore. Any traveller will find an activity to fit their taste - the Korean capital has everything from historical sites to museums, art galleries, recognizable landmarks, traditional parks and palaces, casinos (only open to foreigners!), theme parks and much more. Seoul certainly is one of those cities that boasts the thrilling variety a traveller craves.
Much as expected from a busy Asian metropolis such as Seoul, the city truly has a lot to offer in the way of dining, from traditional Korean restaurants to flavourful and endlessly varied street food, along with, of course, a plethora of eateries serving cuisine from all corners of the globe. In Korea, every sit-down meal is accompanied by kimchi--a spicy pickled cabbage, and some of the must-tries include bibimpab (vegetables and rice with an egg on top), Korean-style BBQ, and the many side dishes (banchan) that come with a staple of steamed rice.
One thing that becomes instantly obvious when walking down any street in South Korea is that coffee shops are incredibly popular here. Both international chains and small independent cafes dot the capital, providing a plethora of options to choose from. Seoul is known for its quirky themed cafes--ones where you can enjoy a beverage while playing with a resident cat or dog, those selling a very specific type of food or drink (the everything-green-tea O'Sulloc, for example), and even Hello Kitty-themed establishments, where everything revolves around the iconic Japanese character.
Bars & Nightlife
Nighttime entertainment in Seoul is really more about the neighbourhood than a particular establishment. Each area is known for its very specific vibe, and knowing what kind of pastime you're looking for might be a good idea before deciding on a location. The go-to areas are the stylish and bohemian Hongdae, Gangnam (favoured by young, trendy twenty-somethings), and Itaewon--a location most favoured by internationals. Other great nightlife areas of town include lower-key Myeongdong and Daehangno, as well as upscale Apgujeong-dong or Sinsadong. Most clubs and bars remain open late into the night, and one type of entertainment for those looking for an authentic experience of sorts is one of the many Seoulian "noraebang"--karaoke bars are still quite popular with locals.
Seoul is absolutely the place to be for shopping devotees - from street markets to high-end shopping malls, the Korean capital has it all. Some of the most popular shopping areas are Myeongdong, Itaewon, and Insadong - each with its own distinctive character. Seoul is a metropolis filled with shopping opportunities at every turn. Markets worth a stop include Namdaemun and Dongdaemun, the Gyeongdong Oriental Medicine Market selling all sorts of traditional miracle cures (Chegidong Station) and Noryangjin Fish Market, even if only to watch the traders in action (line 1, Noryangjin Station).