Guest post by warnold2010
Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click each marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.
I lived in Seoul for 3 years, from 2012 – 2015. We lived in Gangnam (yes, the one from the song), which is a very ritzy area just south of the city center with expensive restaurants and shopping. Seoul has incredible public transit – lots of subways and a loop around the city so it’s very efficient and you can get anywhere. The buses are easy to use, too. Everything is in English and is safe.
The Han River splits Seoul and there are always lots of people around there, especially in summer. Spring is the best time of year to visit – the winter is really rough/cold/snowy, and the summer is really hot and there are lots of mosquitos.
I think 3 days in Seoul would be the right amount of time. You can take the AREX train from the airport to the city center in about 45 minutes, and here’s what I’d recommend.
- Namsan Tower
- Seoul City Hall
- Hongdae Street
Namsan Tower – at the center of the city. A great way to get a feel for the layout of Seoul.
City Hall – a very unique-looking building and popular spot.
Coex – huge mall on the south side of the river, in Gangnam.
Hongdae – party scene, a lot of clubs, shops, and restaurants. Korean-focused and locals.
Itaewon – similar scene, but more foreigner-focused. It’s closer to the city center and right beside the war memorial, which isn’t that great but lots of people visit.
After visiting a few of the places, I’d choose either Hongdae or Itaewon for dinner. You can try the other one on another night, or go back if you really liked it. Buffets are really, really high-end in Korea. So if the prices are alarming, it’s usually going to be worth it. Street food is plentiful as well.
Day 2: Demilitarized Zone
Take a trip to the DMZ (demilitarized zone). We booked through Adventure Korea (http://adventurekorea.com/front/daily/dailytrips_view.asp?pg=1&idx=1064). They pick you up close to City Hall and you’re all set. One of the coolest parts is going through the small, underground tunnels that go into North Korea. Seoul is about an hour from the area, and the whole tour is a pretty full day, 8-5:30.
Day 3: Bukhansan National Park
There are mountains everywhere and a lot of Koreans hike. You can hop off the subway and start hiking up a mountain within minutes, which is pretty unique for a capital city. Bukhansan is right on the outskirts of the city and very easy to get to. The best way to get there is to take the metro to Gupabal station on line 3 and then bus 704 to the Bukhansan Mountain entrance bus stop. Baegundae Peak is the highest point and a pretty easy hike, just under 5 miles roundtrip.
Lots of older Koreans hike, too, so a lot of the hikes (including Baegundae) are very accessible. There will be stairs or railings if it’s technical or sketchy. Seeing old Koreans at the top of a mountain drinking makgeolli and lifting weights is not uncommon.
If you have an extra day or really like hiking, Seoraksan National Park has some amazing hiking and views. It’s about 3 hours from Seoul each way, so either a really long day trip or an overnight would be best.
Also, any location that ends in -san is a mountain.
Food and Drink
The best thing about living here is the food – so cheap and so good. Many locals eat out for every meal, and a lot of companies provide food for the employees, so there isn’t a lot of cooking done at home. Seoul is worth a visit just for the food. The BBQ is phenomenal, and you have to try Kimchi obviously, which is everywhere. Kimbap is a great snack – looks like a roll of sushi but has egg, cucumber, ham, carrot, and really cheap. You can also try eating a live octopus, called san-nakji.
Makgeolli – rice wine, super cheap and really good. Like a milky-rice liquor that sounds terrible but is the opposite.
Soju – vodka-like drink. Standard in Korea – a person might ask you what your name is, how old you are, and how many bottles of Soju can you drink. If you’re ever in Asia and see a bottle, definitely get it.