My tips for travellers to Seoul, South Korea
Seoul Travel Blog› entry 2 of 3 › view all entries
Here are my tips for travelers visiting Seoul
(1) Best Time to Go
The tourist office for Seoul recommends autumn as the best time to visit. This is because the heavy rains during the summer months of July and August have passed. This how they describe the city: “Of Korea’s four seasons, the autumn is by far the most spectacular. It as if the entire country becomes a riot of color, from the high, cloudless deep blue skies to the mountains sides blazing in red and yellow. Even Seoul, re-energized as the brisk fall weather wakes the city out of its late-summer malaise, becomes a showcase of natural delight as its sidewalks and avenues turn golden yellow with the leaves of the ubiquitous gingko tree.”
In Summer Seoul can be very hot and very humid due to the rain, with the monsoon at this time.
Saying this, no matter what time of the year you go, one tip is not to plan to stay here too long as there is not a lot of tourists to do!
(2) Getting there and around once there
There is a major and very modern airport in the nearby town of Incheon (about an hour from central Seoul) that is the international airport. The Gimpo Airport nearer to town is now primarily a domestic terminal. Seoul seems well served by regional airliners like Singapore Air and the Japanese Airlines in particular, and Korea has Korean Air and Asiana Air based there.
There is a modern subway system that is very heavily used (about 8 million passengers a day) as well as buses.
The taxi drivers seem very good natured and helpful but struggled with me trying to explain Grand Hyatt Hotel but got me there with me directing sometimes.
One thing I will add is that I felt very safe in the city, and not sure if that was a function of the volume of people or the overall nature of the city and its people.
The city is divided into districts and I found, with the use of the map from the hotel, that it was fairly easy to find where to go. Partly as there is not a lot to see as a tourist and so the places are easy to locate!
(3) Korean War Memorial and Museum
As I mentioned earlier, this was (for me) the highlight of the trip. Not only because it is so well done and so extensive and informative, but also really helps you to understand the history and its impact on the people of Korea.
This is a relatively new memorial and museum.
There are really 3 elements to the memorial:
- First, a massive set of sculptures with a set of huge spires representing North and South divide and the most amazing sculptures.
- Second, there are the outdoor exhibits of row upon row of planes, tanks and vehicles from the Korean and Vietnam War, which you can go inside of.
- Third, there is the museum, which has long open halls on either side with the names of people who lost their lives in the war. Inside the museum are a series of halls as follows: Commemoration Hall, War History Hall, Korean War Hall, Foreign War Hall, and Army History Hall.
(4) North Seoul Tower
This is a huge tower in Namsan Park on what is called the Namsan Mountain, though it is more of a very large hill than a mountain! Here is the place to get views of the city, but chose a clear day. The tower first was built in 1969 to enable television and radio broadcasts in the Seoul area. It was eventually opened to the public about 10 years later in 1980. Recently the tower was renovated and a light show was added which is supposed to run every night from 5PM until 11PM with various color presentations.
On the ground floor is what they call the “media zone” where you can relax and watch music video and movie commercials. There is also a playground where children can play with water and sand. Con the 2nd floor if the sky café. Then there is the observation platform where you can get 360-degree views of the city.
(5) City Bus tour
I am a fan, as regular listeners will know, of the hop-on Hop-off type bus tours with commentary. They did start one in Seoul but this seems to have been put on hold, but worth checking if it has started up again.
There is another option that the tourist office promotes quite hard which is called the “Seoul City Bus Tour”. They described it as “the quickest, most convenient way for visitors to explore Seoul’s tourist sites. For the price of a single ticket, you can get on and off the bus as many times as you like. Courses take you past Korea’s royal palaces, though downtown Seoul’s major tourist destinations and to the city’s nighttime attractions”. This is fine and convenient, running every 30 minutes, but you need to then have read up and have a guidebook so you know what you are seeing and what to stop and do. But it is an efficient and cheap way of getting to the sights, and you can buy tickets at hotels or even the airport when you arrive.
(6) One Day Cultural Tour
I was looking at things to do when one had limited time and on the visitseoul.net site they suggested what they called a “one Day Cultural Tour” which you could do yourself. It is a really good suggestion.
It takes about a day and focuses on the downtown area and specifically Gyeongbokgung Palace, Insadong, Cheonggyecheon and Deoksugung Palace.
They suggested starting at Gyeongbokgung Palace in the morning. Here you can explore what is called the most magnificent of the “Five Grand Palaces” of the Joseon kingdom. This large structure includes Geunjeongjeon, the imperial throne room, and the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion that stands on 48 granite pillars in an artificial lotus pond. There is also the National Folk Museum of Korea located to the rear of the palace complex. From the palace you get a view of Cheongwadae, the presidential residence
From the palace, it is a short walk over to Insadong, which is the largest market of traditional Korean art and cultural items.
From here down to the Cheonggyecheon river, which used to be covered over and has been opened up. You follow the stream to the Deoksugung Palace, which is also one of the “Five Grand Palaces” and based on timing you may get to see one of the changing of the guard ceremonies that take place across the day.
(7) National Museum of Korea
This place is huge and has 6 permanent exhibition halls, a children’s museum, three museum shops, a food court, and a theater.
It is a vast structure, which would require at least a few visits to cover everything. The permanent exhibition halls are divided into the following sections: the Archaeological Gallery, the Historical Gallery, the Fine Arts Gallery (I and II), Asian Arts Gallery, and the Donation Gallery.
(8) Seoul Olympic Museum
In 1988, Seoul hosted the Olympic Games which, like most other cities hosting them was used to focus regeneration and development • in Seoul’s case for the south of the city. The Olympic Museum is in the Olympic Park in a three-story building. It is fairly interesting but not that unusual, the first exhibit hall is the Place of Peace where you learn the origin and history of the Olympics and the games involved.