Seoul is a dynamic, round-the-clock city – consumerist and cutting edge as it may be, amongst the skyscrapers, nightlife districts and colossal shopping malls there is an exceptionally amount of culture and tradition, from bustling teahouses to magnificent palaces. While Seoul’s treasures old and new are must visits, the very best way to see into Seoul’s soul is to stroll the narrow old streets, eat at the plethora of incredible street food stalls and soak up the atmosphere.

What to see

Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbok Palace

Originally constructed in the late 12th century as the principle residence of the king, Gyeongbok was burned down or destroyed and rebuilt a good few times. Left in ruins after the Japanese occupation of the 20th century, today the palace is being systemically restored to its former glory. The ornate two-storey main palace (Geunjeongjeon) and the gorgeous lakeside pavilion (Gyeonhoeru) perfectly display the elegance and grandeur of Korean palace architecture and, in spite of the centuries of destruction and reconstruction it has retained its regal air. Also on the Gyeongbok complex you’ll find the National Palace Museum and National Folk Museum.

Changdeok Palace

Changdeok Palace

Built in 1412 and occupied all the way up to 1910, Changdeok is Seoul’s best preserved palace and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Set within a large park, the palace complex was adapted to fit harmoniously into the topography of the land – although heavily damaged during the Japanese occupation this design is still very much in evidence. As you wander amongst the stately buildings keep an eye out for some of the original furniture that once belonged to the royal residents. Another must is the tranquil secret garden which you reach through an entrance concealed by an arch of leaves.

Insadong

Insadong

Part of one of Seoul’s oldest districts, the old narrow lanes of Insadong are the tourist heart of Seoul. Renowned as an area for traditional arts and crafts, Insadong’s streets are lined with an exciting array of art galleries, tea rooms and traditional restaurants, along with plenty of traditional wooden buildings that once housed merchants and officials. The best way to enjoy Insadong is to wander – spend a relaxed morning strolling the streets, popping in and out of galleries and teashops and soaking up the vibrant atmosphere.

N Seoul Tower

N Seoul Tower

Standing tall on top of Mt Namsan in central Seoul, the N Seoul Tower is one of the iconic sights of the city. The tower itself is 236 metres tall – with the added height of the mountain beneath it, the panoramas from its observation deck are unsurpassed – there is even a revolving restaurant at the top. The tower can be reached from the city by either hiking up Mt Namsan or taking a cable car. Head up in the late afternoon so you can both see the impressive sprawl of the city to the mountains behind in the daylight and watch the city light up as night sets in. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the famous Teddy Bear Museum while you are there!

Bugaksan

Bugaksan

Sat on the plain of the Han River, Seoul is backed by eight mountains – Bugak, to the city’s north, is the tallest. This peak is particularly popular for hiking especially as you can find the remains of Seoul’s old fortress wall originally constructed in the late 12th century. The mountain ridge trail involves hiking along a section of the wall, which has been excellently preserved – keep an eye out for the wealth of wildlife that breed here when the area was closed off for years for security reasons. The views back over the city from the top are commanding.

The DMZ

The DMZ

Running along the 38th parallel, the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a strip of land that splits the Korean Peninsula in two. Created as a buffer zone between the north and the south at the end of the Korean War it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most heavily militarised border in the world. Access to the zone is strictly controlled, so visiting involves a set list of attractions including the Nuri Peace Park, the Third Tunnel of Aggression, Dorasan Station and Panmunjeom. Interestingly due to the fact that the land within the DMZ has been left completely undisturbed for many years the area has become known as one of the best preserved temperate habitats in the world and is home to many rare species.

Where to stay

Lotte Hotel Seoul

In an excellent central location near Myeongdong, directly linked with the Euljiro 1ga subway station, the five-star Lotte Hotel offers spacious and stylish accommodation with excellent views out over the city. With an excellent range to facilities, including a spa, pool and golf practice range, this is the perfect hotel to indulge in comfort and relaxation after a day of sightseeing.

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CenterMark Hotel

In the heart of the city, just a 10 minute walk from Changdeok and Gyeongbok Palaces, the CenterMark is a well-designed, contemporary hotel in an excellent location. Boasting good facilities and accommodation that is cool and comfortable overlooking the city, you can dine on Korean or Japanese food in the onsite restaurants.

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