Over the last decade Seoul has worked hard to soften its industrial hard edges into an appealing urban ideal of parks, culture and design. Glass, concrete and steel are crafted into natural forms at the spectacular Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park and the new City Hall. The popularity of the beautifully landscaped parks alongside the central Cheong-gye stream and the Han River has spurred on the creation of more green spaces and cycle routes. Join Seoulites enjoying time out shopping in stylish boutiques and drinking at cool cafes and convivial bars.
Gaze down on this sprawling metropolis of around 10 million people from atop any of Seoul’s four guardian mountains and you’ll sense the powerful pungsu-jiri (feng shui) that has long nurtured and protected the city. History clings tenaciously to the ‘Miracle on the Han’, a phoenix arisen from the ashes of the Korean War just over 60 years ago. So while Seoul has its eye clearly on the future, you'll also encounter fascinating fragments of the past in World Heritage–listed sites such as Jongmyo shrine, the alleys between the graceful hanok (traditional wooden homes) that cluster in Bukchon, and striding along the magnificent city walls.
Whatever you want, at any time of day or night, Seoul can provide. An early morning temple visit can lead to a palace tour followed by tea sipping in Bukchon and gallery-hopping in Samcheong-dong. Soju (a vodka-like drink) and snacks in a street tent bar will fuel you for shopping at the buzzing Dongdaemun or Namdaemun night markets, partying in Hongdae or Itaewon, or playing online games at a PC bang. Follow this with steaming, soaking and snoozing in a jjimjil-bang (sauna and spa). By the time you look at your watch, it will be dawn again.
Beyond the Walls
Public transport is brilliant, so there’s no excuse for not stretching your travel horizons beyond the city limits. The fearsome Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, splitting South from North Korea, exerts a powerful attraction and is well worth visiting. Nearby is the charming arts and culture village of Heyri. To the west, Incheon is a fascinating port where the modern world came flooding into Korea at the end of the 19th century, while to the south is Suwon, home to impressive World Heritage–listed fortifications.
Dongdaemun Market is a large commercial district comprised of traditional markets and shopping centers that covers the entire area around Dongdaemun Gate, a prominent landmark in Korea. It is Korea’s largest wholesale and retail shopping district featuring 26 shopping malls, 30,000 speciality shops, and 50,000 manufacturers. All kinds of goods can be found here including silks and fabric, clothes, shoes and accessories, electronics, leather goods, sporting goods, office supplies, pet products and toys.
lthough Dongdaemun Market is traditionally famous for its night market, this popular shopping district attracts hordes of shoppers and tourists at all times of day. Like Namdaemun Market, Dongdaemun Market sells a variety of products, but unlike Namdaemun Market, it is open 24-hours a day. The powerful appeal of Dongdaemun Market stems from the fact that you can buy everything you need at a reasonable price, in one convenient location and at anytime. Most major wholesalers and retailers are here along with specialist outlets focusing on the youth market, making Dongdaemun Market the best place to find the latest fashions at bargain prices. Dongdaemun’s famous food alley, Mukja Golmok, is also essential for anyone wanting to check out the latest trends in Korean cuisine.
In addition to selling everything under the sun, large shopping malls such as Good Morning City and Freya add an extra dimension to the shopping experience with their own multiplex cinemas, while Doota features a huge outdoor concert hall hosting a range of events including outdoor fashion shows, concerts, modeling contests and classical Korean music for tourists.
Myeong-dong is Seoul’s shopping mecca and is a must-see for tourists, but it is not just a shopping destination; Myeong-dong is also a hub of commerce, banking and culture with a daytime population of 1.5-2 million. For shoppers there is a mixture of street stalls and retail outlets selling everything from high fashion to casual attire, as well as many Korean cosmetics stores offering high-quality products at competitive prices.
Myeong-dong is very popular with international visitors and fills with Japanese and Chinese tourists during the holiday period known as “Golden Week” which takes place in spring and is called golden week due to the week-long holiday period that takes place in Japan and China. Part of Myeong-dong’s popularity stems from relatively affordable prices here, especially compared to the other shopping meccas of Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong.