We just came back from spending a full week in Korea, with four days in Seoul and three days in Busan. Weatherwise, we were spoilt with blue skies and up to 24°C in the daytime every day! Not to mention the rich colours of the autumn leaves everywhere… Spending four days in Seoul felt just the right time and we really squeezed out as much as we could culture-, food-, shopping-, hiking- and sightseeing-wise.
These are our favourite things we did during our time in Seoul and I hope they are helpful to you in case you need inspiration to plan your own Seoul itinerary!
Bukchon Hanok Village
When I asked a friend of mine who has lived in Korea where we should go in Seoul, her first answer was that we should definitely visit Bukchon Hanok Village to see the old, historic area and architecture in Seoul. And she was right, we loved it!
At first, we weren’t sure where exactly go to, as Google Maps doesn’t work properly in Korea, but then we just walked around further up a hill in this area and found more and more beautiful side streets with traditional houses. In some of them, you can attend workshops and locals actually still reside in this old neighbourhood!
If it hadn’t been for my friend who recommended us a special route to walk up to Seoul Tower, we would have taken the advise off a tourist website and had either walked or taken the bus or ropeway up the mountain to Seoul Tower, along with hundreds of other tourists. Instead, we took a bus to Itaewon-Dong and walked through this upscale residential neighbourhood (spotting quite a few local expats) and then entered the forest surrounding Seoul Tower via the top of Itaewon. From there, you can take slowly walk along well-built paths up to the tower, enjoying the fresh autumn breeze with almost no other people around. It was bliss!
Arriving at the base of the tower though, the game changes and you’ll be surrounded by bus loads of noisy tourists who all push their way towards their perfect selfie. Of course it was great to go up the tower and see Seoul from above but I think I prefered the walk up the hill to the tower.
Two of my friends recommended this Buddhist temple to us, but there was ignorant me thinking ‘yeah, we’ve already seen a lot of temples, let’s leave that one to last’. Until one day, when we returned from Busan to Seoul and randomly stumbled upon this temple on our way to the hotel and could not believe how beautiful it was.
It was late evening and we were drawn to Jogyesa Temple when we walked past in a small alley and saw all the temple halls lit up with colourful lanterns hanging off a huge tree. We were amazed that the temple was still open at that time and made sure to come back to visit the temple every evening on our return to the hotel. Only later we found out that you can do a temple stay at Jogyesa Temple – a tempting thought for the future!
Changdeokgung Palace & The Secret Garden
As we love East Asian palaces and gardens, it was a no-brainer for us to come here. But the sheer size of the palace grounds was almost overwhelming! We paid for our ticket at the entrance and spent two hours wandering off to the left, taking lots of photos of the different halls only then to realise we haven’t even seen the famous Palace or Secret Garden yet. By that time, we were already pretty tired and chose just to visit the Secret Garden. (Tip: Make sure you check the guided tour times for this garden, as they only let you in once a tour starts, even if you don’t want to follow the tour).
Obviously, the secret garden is as incredible as it sounds, but you need to make sure to get away from the tour groups to enjoy it in peace. In comparison to the Gyeongbokgung Palace that we visited another day, we much preferred this one, as it seemed more authentic and wide-spread. When we saw the change of the guards ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace, I didn’t take a single photo and left half way through the ceremony, as I couldn’t bear watching something that seemed just like play put up for tourists (who come dressed in cheap traditional Korean dress rentals).
Another day, another hike. And this one was not planned! After visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace and leaving at its north gate, I noticed on Google Maps that we were not far from Samcheong Park and thought why not take a look! Totally unprepared for a hike, as usual, we walked up a pretty steep but well-built footpath many, many, many steps until we reached the top of the hill just before sunset. And wow, what an incredible view! If you are looking for an authentic experience in Seoul with no other tourists around, just to enjoy a bit of nature with stunning views, this is gotta be it!
Of course, there are many more places of interest in Seoul and we also did a lot of cosmetics shopping in Insadong and the famous Myeongdong Shopping street, as well as a bike ride along the Han river, but didn’t take any photos. Sometimes it’s nice just to walk around and take in all the new impressions without taking any photos. See you next time, when I will write about the two best things we did in Busan!
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