With the Winter Games scheduled to be held in PyeongChang this month, Seoul is a great weekend break for travellers
One of Asia’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities, Seoul, the capital of South Korea offers travellers a dazzling range of experiences. Gleaming new office towers and apartment blocks, rising above crowded back alleys of homes and shops; have sprung up from the traditional downtown to the ‘south of the river’ Han. Language is a daunting barrier, but a translator or a good English guide can be of great help!
In the morning head to the royal Gyeongbokgung Palace, the former seat of power of Joseon dynasty, located at the northern end of Seoul’s main boulevard, Sejongro. Give yourself at least an hour to stroll around the pavilions and halls within the palace’s spacious walled grounds. The Royal Guard Changing Ceremony is a great opportunity to experience a rare traditional scene. The guards’ splendid costumes, with their brilliant primary colours, are a real treat to the eye.
South Korea is the land of appetising and affordable street food, with Myeong-dong being one of the key shopping and food districts in Seoul. Lined with almost every major Korean beauty shop, department store and of course, food, a must try here is bibimbap, a Korean dish made of rice topped with namul (edible leaves), gochujang (red chilli paste) and soy sauce. You can also try kimchi, a high-fibre, low-fat dish made with fermented cabbage and vegetables.
At the Seoul Kimchi Academy, you can learn the art of making kimchi by a chef. Besides kimchi, you can also wear the traditional Korean costume here and click photographs. The academy also holds a tea ceremony called darye (etiquette for tea) where one can learn about the revival of tea in the Korean society.
If you love to see aquatic species, head to COEX Aquarium, the largest in Seoul. It exhibits thousands of fish and other sea creatures from around the world. You can see live coral, sharks, turtles, rays, electric eels, octopus, evil-looking piranhas and pulsating jellyfish here.
Head to the Myeong-dong street for a dinner of your choice. It has family restaurants, fast-food joints, as well as Korean, Western and Japanese dining options. This street is also one of the primary shopping districts, with many shops and department stores, offering you an array of choices.
Your visit to Seoul is incomplete without visiting the Buddhist meditation temple, Bongeunsa. It is the best place to relax and have some quiet time. Visitors can experience some simple Buddhist practices such as the daily dawn service, Korean Zen meditation, Dado (a tea drinking ceremony) and Balwoogongyang (a Buddhist meal served in traditional bowls).
After your spiritual cleansing at the temple, move to the National Museum of Korea, a storehouse for historical facts and figures. Along with cultural artefacts, this museum also has a special exhibit gallery, children’s museum and various educational programmes for kids.
Follow this with a traditional lunch at Insadong. Here restaurants such as Hanul Poong-Kyung offer a wide range of options to choose from, like ginseng chicken with black rice, mung-bean jelly with beef and vegetables, soybean paste stew and more!
Continue with your museum tour and visit the Tteok museum, and get to know more about the traditional and rare kitchen utensils used by the Koreans. On display are over 2,000 old Korean kitchen utensils and tteok (rice cake) related items arranged by various themes.
End your visit with a cruise through the Hangang River. The majestic beauty of the Hangang makes river cruises very popular among tourists throughout the year. Enjoy spectacular night-time views of the river on themed cruises with live magic and delicious food.
Just before take-off
While you’re at the airport, admire relics from Korea’s past at the Cultural Museum of Korea on the fourth floor of Seoul Incheon Airport. Be sure to catch the “Walk of the Royal Family” which showcases the lives of kings and queens of Korea’s past.