1. Cheonggyecheon Stream
A fascinating story of urban renewal, Cheonggyecheon Stream is truly an oasis in the middle of one of the world’s biggest cities.
Our hostel was near Dongmyo, so we started our walk further upstream, appreciating the beautiful park without the tourist crowds that are closer to the beginning of the stream.
By 1958, the stream was an eyesore in Seoul due to the trash and makeshift houses that had sprung up along its banks due to a large influx of refugees from the Korean War. The stream was covered with concrete, and in 1976 a highway was built over it.
In 2003, a project was initiated to remove the highway and restore the stream. The restored creek was opened to the public in September 2005, and since then many species of fish, birds, insects and other wildlife have returned to the area. It has also become a center for tourism, as well as economic and cultural activities.
2. National Museum of Korean Contemporary History
This museum documents South Korea’s remarkable growth in the face of overwhelming difficulties, to become one of the most developed countries in the world only sixty years after being completely devastated by war.
We highly recommend visiting this museum as an opportunity to learn more about this country, its fascinating culture, and its hard-working and resilient people.
3. Korean Folk Village
Price: 15,000 KRW
This is a living museum, located about 1 hour outside of Seoul, beautifully designed in the style of a traditional Korean village of the Joseon era.
It is complete with replicas of homes from different social classes, preservation of traditional crafts, and vivid outdoor exhibitions.
Although it is a tourist attraction, it exceeded our expectations and we never felt like we had come to a tourist trap!
4. Eat Korean barbecue
Price: expect to pay between $15-$20 USD per person
Share this experience with Korean friends if possible! Korean barbecue is a social event, so enjoy the good food with good company!
A built-in charcoal grill is heated at the table, and marinated raw meat is brought to be cooked on the small grill by the guests. A large variety of side dishes, typical of all Korean meals, is also provided. These include kimchi, rice cakes, fresh whole garlic, red chili paste, lettuce leaves and other greens, salt, and other options depending on your host or the restaurant.
A variation of this presents the meat cooked as a stew, kept warm at a gas grill on the table.
The goal in eating Korean barbecue is to take a little bit of each item and wrap in a lettuce leaf. But this is not a Giant Lettuce Burrito… no, it’s a small, tidy, bite-size lettuce wrap. Easier said than done; and I’m sure we demolished a lot of Korean etiquette in the process!
5. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Price: 3,000 KRW
Originally built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung served as the home and seat of government of the Joseon dynasty.
After being abandoned for about 200 years, the palace was restored in the 19th century. After 1911, Imperial Japan destroyed many of the buildings, and in 1926 built a massive government building in front of the throne hall. The main gate was completely destroyed during the Korean war.
The Imperial Throne Hall is one of the few surviving buildings from the original restoration in 1867, and is a National Treasure.
In 1989, the South Korean government started a massive restoration project, and in 1995 the Japanese government building was demolished and the gate was restored in its original location.
6. Seoul tower (also known as N Seoul tower or Namsan tower)
Price: 10,000 KRW
This 777 ft. high tower was completed in 1971, and the observatory was opened to the public in 1980 and remodeled in 2005. The elevation above sea level at the top of the tower is 1,574 ft.
The panoramic views are impressive. From the top, you realize what it really means to be in one of the world’s largest cities!
7. Fortress Wall of Seoul
Built in the 14th century and restored several times since then, this wall is unique in that 70% of it has been preserved or rebuilt in a city of over 10 million people.
We would have loved to hike to some of the more remote sections of the wall; due to time constraints we were only able to see the wall in the vicinity of Mt. Namsan, near Seoul Tower.
If you have time and enjoy exploring, visiting a section of the Seoul City Wall will be an unforgettable opportunity to learn more about Korean history and cultural heritage. (And please send us your pictures!)
8. Eat Korean-Chinese fusion food
Price: expect to pay between $8-$20 per plate depending on the location
The primary menu item of Chinese restaurants in South Korea is Jajangmyeon, steamed noodles topped with a black soybean sauce. It is serving with a side dish of yellow pickled daikon (a type of radish), onions, and of course, kimchi.
Jajangmyeon is unique to Korea, forming a fusion of Chinese cuisine adapted to the Korean palate. We had this dish in several restaurants, from small neighborhood eateries with a few tables, to very fancy restaurants with beautiful decorations. Ask a local for the best place to eat Jajangmyeon. It is different, but has a taste that even picky eaters would enjoy. Think spaghetti with an Asian flare!
Price: Free (depends on what you purchase!)
Traditional and modern culture and crafts combine in this beautiful district of Seoul. Here you can window shop or purchase hanbok and other traditional crafts.
You can appreciate the extreme cleanliness of this mega-city; on the crowded streets of Insa-dong we can guarantee you will not find a single piece of garbage!
Price: Free (depends on what you purchase!)
This insanely busy shopping district is unlike anything you will see in the West. One million people pass through its streets every day, and you will hear a multitude of languages. This is where you come to window shop or purchase fashion items and cosmetics.
Even if you’re trying to stay away from the tourist beaten path, or you have decided not to buy anything, at least take a walk through the streets of Myeongdong for the experience, the crowds, and the lights! At the very least you will realize that ice cream cones anywhere else are boring.
Final thoughts on Korea: One of the many things that we loved about Korea (and Japan) is that most of the attractions are completely free! The most popular ones, like Gyeongbokgung Palace, have a very small entrance fee of $3-$5. Traveling in Korea definitely does not have to be expensive.
Also, it’s clean. Not just clean. There is no garbage. Anywhere. Do you realize how amazing this is in a city of TEN MILLION people? (If not, just look around the streets of New York City or Atlanta next time you’re in town.)
And, of course, nobody steals. Nobody steals anything. You could leave your latest $800 iGadget on a park bench and come back for it the next day.
What was your favorite experience in Korea? Or, if you haven’t been to Korea yet, what would you like to do or see while you are there?
Atlanta-Seoul on American Airlines
- Atlanta-Dallas-Seoul on American Airlines
- Spent 50,000 Alaska MileagePlan miles to fly Business Class on American Airlines
- Paid about $200 in taxes & Business Class upgrade
Seoul-Osaka on Japan Airlines
- Spent 10,000 American AAdvantage miles to fly Economy on Japan Airlines
- Paid about $15 in taxes
Tokyo-Atlanta on Japan Airlines & American Airlines
- Tokyo-San Diego on Japan Airlines
- San Diego-Charlotte-Atlanta on American Airlines
- Spent 50,000 American AAdvantage miles to fly Business Class
- Paid about $45 in taxes