There is no reason to be bored in Seoul. Whether you are visiting for a few hours or staying for a few weeks, Seoul offers round-the-clock opportunities for shopping, performing arts and cinema going, sightseeing, sports activities, nightlife and more, suited to every travel budget.
Shoppers will delight at the range of choices available, from bustling noisy outdoor markets and antique alleys to conventional department stores. Namdaemun Market
, close to downtown, is thronged with locals and tourists alike, haggling for the best prices in clothing, outdoor equipment and Korean souvenirs, such as ginseng. At Dongdaemun Market you can shop until dawn, then head over to Yongsan Electronic Shopping Town
for the latest gadgets and necessities. How about some snake medicine or elks horn? You will find these and other oriental medicines at the Kyongdong Herbal Market
. A smile and some body language will go a long way when bargaining at any of these markets.
For traditional Korean art, crafts and antiques (lacquerware, brassware, paper, ceramics, paintings and embroidery) the district of Insadong should be number one on your list. When you tire of browsing through these shops, take a break in one of the many traditional tea rooms. Itaewon
—the most Americanized district in Korea—is the best place for Western-sized clothing, tailor shops, shoes and leather products, while Myungdong and Apkujung
are the fashion districts of choice for Koreans. Visitors to Seoul should not overlook the hidden world beneath the street either; the Kangnam Express Bus Terminal Underground Arcade
is just one example of arcades selling inexpensive clothing and other products.
Performing Arts and Cinema
As the cultural capital of Korea, Seoul is teeming with music, dance and theatre venues. Performances at the Traditional Performing Arts centre
, Chongdong theatre
and the National theatre display thousands of years of history. The colourful and elegant "fan dance" and the humourous "mask dance" are examples of Korean cultural treasures. Pansori
—a narrative folk story which is sung and performed—is a very powerful musical experience, though to unaccustomed ears the warbling tones may be rather overwhelming. Lively farmers' drum music, accompanied by energetic dancing with flowing ribbons, is a Korean experience not to be missed. Check out the free outdoor performances at the Seoul Nori-Madang; the dinner theatre at Korea House
is another way to get a taste of traditional music and dance.
Of course opera, classical concerts, musicals and plays are also readily available in Seoul; the Seoul Arts centre
and the LG Arts centre are the largest venues. The Taehangno district has the highest concentration of theatres in Seoul; come here to enjoy a play or musical in the DongSoong Art centre
or at smaller alternative theatres, such as Hakchon Blue. If you crave a movie (especially a Hollywood blockbuster), you should have no trouble finding a cinema, especially downtown. Obtaining a seat on the weekends, however, may be difficult; be sure to arrive at least one hour in advance of the show. Films are usually screened in the original language—no dubbing. Movie lovers can check schedules in the Friday editions of English newspapers around the city. Then, for a uniquely Korean experience, try a videobong
—private rooms where one to six people can watch a rented movie on comfortable chairs or a sofa.
Palaces, Museums and Galleries
Korea's historical relics were partially or completely destroyed in times of conflict and subsequently rebuilt numerous times over the years. The central part of Seoul has the highest concentration of palaces; Kyongbuk
are well worth the small admission fee, while Changdok Palace with its attached "Secret Garden" (guided tour only) should also be on your agenda. On a rainy day, why not visit a museum? Visitors have a wide choice ranging from the Kimchi Museum (where you can learn more about Korea's favourite food) to the Sodaemun Prison History centre. For an open-air "living" museum, experience the past in the Korean Folk Village. If art is more your style, don't miss the myriad of local galleries displaying traditional Korean art in the alleys of Insadong. The National Museum of Contemporary Art will satisfy your craving for more modern art, while the Hongik University area is known for its creative outdoor murals and small galleries.
Activities and Sports
"Yaho!" is a cry you might hear at dawn if you are staying near a mountain or hill in Seoul. Koreans are very fond of climbing and making their accomplishment known early in the morning, or at any time of day on weekends. Seoul is surrounded by mountains
, easily accessible by public transportation. Well-marked trails exist for both the novice and the more experienced hiker. Pukhansan National Park
is known for its rock-climbing as well as regular hiking; Suraksan and Inwangsan
are other good choices. For flatter scenery, pay a visit to Yeouido Park, one of the few places you can rent a bicycle and pedal along the Han River, or stroll through some of the small historical and ecological parks located throughout Seoul.
As the proud co-host of World Cup 2002, Seoul has numerous venues for professional soccer matches. The biggest are the Olympic Stadium and the Seoul World Cup Stadium. Baseball and basketball fans will also be happy to know there are regular games in season. Traditional sports such as taekwondo
(martial arts) and ssirum
(wrestling) can be seen at Changchung Stadium
For individual sports enthusiasts, bowling alleys, billiard halls and ping-pong rooms abound in most neighbourhoods, and swimmers and ice-skaters will be delighted by Seoul's facilities. If you prefer being a spectator, try your luck punting at the Seoul Racecourse. With your winnings, you can play at Seoul's only casino, the Walker Hill Casino
, open only to non-Koreans and Koreans who reside abroad. For a hair-raising adventure, visit one of the city's amusement parks, such as Lotte World, the largest indoor amusement park in the world, with its exhibition hall and Folk Village in addition to all the rides you would expect.
Koreans work long hours and like to "let off steam" at the end of the day, contributing to Seoul's lively nightlife scene. Officially, there is a midnight closing time at bars and nightclubs—a remnant of the city's military past—but the reality is that you will find places to linger until dawn if you so desire. Itaewon, declared an "official tourism zone," has some bars that remain open 24 hours a day. Most drinking spots
have a selection of local and some imported beers, or you can try the potent potato vodka, soju
, or the more traditional rice wines, dong dong ju
. Music lovers will find a range from jazz to rock or classical in Seoul bars and cafes. Chonnyon Dongan Do in Taehangno is one of the best places for live jazz
, while the Hongik area features more alternative
and underground clubs
in addition to regular bars. Taehangno and Shinchon are especially popular areas for students, being near the largest university campuses. Kangnam, Apkujung and Myungdong, on the other hand, will appeal to adults of all ages. Don't miss the ubiquitous noraebong
(singing rooms), a typically Korean experience where up to twelve friends can cram into a room to belt out songs to the karaoke machine.
Night owls can enjoy midnight shopping at Namdaemun or Dongdaemun or take the Han River Boat Cruise to see Seoul after dark. And be sure to take in the night view from Seoul Tower
after the sun goes down.