A visit to South Korean city of Seoul will keep you entertained and engaged throughout a stay of any length. Though navigating Seoul isn’t easy if you don’t read Korea’s Hangul alphabet, many residents speak English and are eager to help. But it’s easy to mispronounce the names of district and districts to the point where locals won’t recognize what you’re trying to say.
Do your best to get through it. Seoul is worth the effort and the descent into confusion. These are a few activities that will get you started as you plan your visit to Seoul.
Check Out Insadong
Insadong is a cluster of shops and restaurants that winds through northern Seoul. Don’t be afraid to walk down one of the many alleys that branch from the main street. That’s where you’ll find the best food. Along the way, you’ll find great places to shop for just about anything. I could’ve picked up everything from golf clubs to electric guitars and vintage collectible action figures.
Insadong can be difficult to find: I seemed to mispronounce it to every local, who sent me to a different part of the city. I wandered into it more by accident than anything else. The Fraser Suites high-rise hotel is a great landmark. If you’re near the Fraser, you’re near Insadong. “Dong,” by the way, translates into “neighborhood.”
Go for a Mid-City Hike
You can burn a few calories while you chase after the best view of Seoul – right in the middle of the city. Head to Namsan Mountain. Bring your water and climb about 850 feet to the top. There’s a cable car and buses if you don’t want to sweat. At the top, you’ll find the N Seoul Tower landmark and a large plaza. There, you might wind up watching a live entertainment. You can also sit down for a meal.
I noticed that many of the Koreans who troop up Namsan Mountain will be dressed to impress: Many of the men were dressed as if an emergency board meeting might break out, while many women looked like they were on their way to church.
Try Some Street Food
The chance to sample exotic food is one of my favorite reasons to travel. I correctly thought street vendors would be my best chance at getting some crazy vittles in Korea. And they didn’t disappoint.
If my choice of boiled silkworm larvae (known as boendegi) doesn’t appeal to you, it’s easy to stay on the mild side. Chicken, pastries, and fruit are all easy to come by. If you have access to a kitchen, you can have all sorts of fun in neighborhood markets – there, you can buy live bees, whole fresh fish, and just about every herb on planet Earth.
Wander the Palaces
Right in the middle of Seoul, you can walk across the street from a skyscraper to palaces dating to the 1300s. Start with the Five Grand Palaces, and bring your camera. At least three of the palaces are walking distance from Insadong, while others a quick subway ride and short walk away. No matter which you pick, it’s well worth admission prices that are below $5. The palaces are restored and preserved to show off impressive masonry, sculpting, painting, and woodwork.
The Cultural Heritage Administration website has a good guide to the different palaces, plus updates on hours, tours, and admission.