Seoul the capital and largest city of South Korea. With a population of over 10 million, it is one of the world's largest cities and the second largest mega city in the world. The Seoul National Capital Area, which includes the major port city of Incheon and satellite towns in Gyeonggi-do, has 24.5 million inhabitants and is the world's second largest metropolitan area. Almost half of South Korea's population live in the Seoul National Capital Area, and nearly a quarter in Seoul itself, making it the country's chief economic, political, and cultural center.
The jewel of Seoul's five historic palaces, Gyeongbokgung was built in 1395 by Lee Seong-Gye, founder of the Joseon Dynasty, who established the city as the capital of Korea. The magnificent rectangular palace, which now contains the National Folk Museum of Korea, features Royal apartments and staterooms, gardens and elegant lotus ponds. The pavilion features on the 10,000 won note. The palace is in a process of continual restoration as new archaeological
Transport: Five-minute walk from exit 5 of Gyeongbokgung station (Seoul Subway Line 3)
Hours: Daily except Tuesdays 9am to 6pm, closes at 5pm November to February
Admission: 3,000 won (adults 19-64 years old); 1,500 won (children 7-18 years old)
Namsangol Hanok Village
Set among the skyscrapers, the Namsangol traditional Korean village comes as a pleasant surprise. Centerd on five restored Korean historical homes depicting various social levels from the Joseon Dynasty, the village is a time capsule in the midst of the city with its peaceful pond and pavilion. Visitors can not only explore the houses, but also enjoy traditional tea, shop for souvenirs, browse traditional crafts, or try their hand at ancient games like 'neolttwigi' (jumping on a see-saw) or arrow throwing. At weekends in summer traditional wedding ceremonies are held at midday.
Transport: Subway station Chungmuro line 3 and 4, and a five-minute walk from Exit 3
Hours: Daily (except Tuesdays) 9am to 10pm, 9am to 8pm (November to March)
Fun and thrills are the order of the day at Seoul's main theme park, which draws about six million visitors annually. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Lotte is the largest indoor theme park in the world. The park is divided into an indoor and outdoor section. Inside, 'Adventure Land' covers acres of streets representing different countries, filled with hundreds of activities, entertainments, shops, restaurants and ongoing parades. Outdoor, Magic Island with its fairy-tale castle, offers thrilling high-altitude rides, laser shows and pleasant walking trails around a lake. There is also an indoor ice-rink and a fascinating Folk Museum complete with miniature villages.
Transport: Jamsil Subway Station (Line 2 and 8). Take exit 4 directly to Lotte World
Hours: Daily 9.30am to 11pm
Admission: Day Pass: 35,000 won (adults); 30,000 won (youths 13-18); 26,000 won (children under 12). Cheaper admission after 5pm
No visit to Seoul is complete without exploring the capital's heart and artistic soul: the alleyways of the Insa-dong district, known colloquially as 'Mary's Alley'. More than 100 antique shops and countless art galleries are tucked away here, delighting collectors and casual browsers alike. From ancient Chinese pottery to yellowed books and delicate jewelry, most visitors manage to find a treasured souvenir or special gift among the quaint stores. There are plenty of restaurants, taverns and traditional teahouses in the area, too, to ensure shoppers stay refreshed.
Transport: Subway to Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line No.3)
Hours: Daily 10am to 10pm
Mount Namsan, the mountain that stands sentinel in the center of Seoul, is a popular recreational feature in the city. A cable car, and stairway, takes visitors to the summit, where there are several attractions to enjoy, including the Maritime Aquarium, botanical gardens, fountains and the Seoul Tower, which, rising 1,575ft (480m), offers a fantastic view of the city and surrounds. The revolving restaurant on top of the tower is particularly popular for dinner because of the breathtaking view it affords of Seoul by night.
Transport: A 10-minute walk in the direction of Lila Elementary School from Myeong-dong Station on Seoul Subway Line 4 (Exit 2 or 3)
Hours: Namsan Park is open 24 hours every day. The cable car operates daily: 10am to 10pm daily (closing at 9pm from March to October). Seoul Tower: 9.30am to 11.30pm (March to October), 9am to 10.30pm (November to February)
Admission: Cable car: 6,300 won return (adults), 4,000 won (children under 13)
Paradise for shoppers, Myeong-dong is Seoul's retail haven covering a vast area that spreads out from the Myeong-dong subway station. Massive department stores, boutiques, restaurants, fast-food outlets and malls are crammed into this buzzing district. Brand name clothing and accessories can be had at good prices at venues like the Lotte or Shinsegae Department stores, and malls like U-too Zone, or seek out bargains at outlet stores like Migliore and Avatar. If you need to rest your feet and your credit card take a look at the famed Gothic style Myeong-dong Catholic Church, where you'll find a peaceful garden.
Transport: Myeong-dong station (Seoul Subway Line 4)
Hop a bus and visit Incheon, a major Korean port city on the West Sea about an hour from Seoul, where the surrounding irregular coastline with its islets and mountainous inland terrain provide a popular getaway from the city. Incheon is home to the International Airport, but this does not stop it from being a charming city, surrounded by rice fields, source of the renowned Incheon flavorsome rice. Since the days of the Joseon Dynasty the city has also been famed for its therapeutic hot springs, and the downtown hotels all operate public bath facilities and swimming pools where visitors can bathe in the spa waters, claimed to benefit skin ailments, eye problems, neuralgia and gynaecological diseases. This is also the place to buy ceramics. In the Incheon Ceramics Village there are hundreds of studios and shops with traditional wood-fired kilns producing traditional porcelain.
Transport: Buses depart for Incheon from Dongseoul Express Bus Terminal every 15 minutes between 6.30am and 9.40pm, and from Gangnam Express Bus Terminal every 30 minutes between 6.20am and 9.20pm
Bongeunsa is a Buddhist temple in Gangnam-gu and was founded in 794 by Yeon-hoe, the highest-ranking monk of Silla at the time. The temple was reconstructed in 1498 and became the main temple of the Korean Seon (Zen) sect of Buddhism. Today Bongeunsa is a flourishing complex offering a 'Temple Stay Program' where visitors can live as monks do for a few hours.
One of the 'Five Grand Palaces' built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty, Changdeokgung is set within a large park in Jongno-gu. Located east of Gyeongbok, Changdeokgung is also referred to as the East Palace. It was the favored palace of many kings of the Joseon Dynasty and in accordance with the Three Kingdoms of Korea period, its buildings blend harmoniously with the natural landscape.
Olympic Park and Stadium
The Seoul Olympic Park, or Olpark, was built to host the 1988 Summer Games, located in Songpa-gu, Bangi-dong. It is home to Jamsil Olympic Stadium, the main stadium built for the summer games. The arena occasionally hosts shows, such as the Michael Jackson concert, and other attractions include the Seoul Olympic Museum, Mongchon Fortress and the World Peace Gate.
Jogyesa is the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. First established in 1395, Jogyesa is located in Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, in central Seoul. In 1998, Jogyesa made international news when several monks occupied the temple for over 40 days in a power struggle between factions of the Jogye Order. A highlight of this attraction is the Natural Monument 9, an ancient white pine tree, within its grounds.
Address: Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu.
Seoul's bus system is operated by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, with four primary bus configurations available servicing most of the city. Seoul has many big intercity/express bus terminals. These buses are connecting Seoul and cities all around Korea. Major bus terminals are
- Seoul Express Bus Terminal in Seocho-gu
- Central City in Seocho-gu
- Seoul Nambu Terminal, also in Seocho-gu
- Dong Seoul Bus Terminal in Gwangjin-gu
- Sangbong Terminal in Jungnang-gu
To reduce air pollution in the city, the government is planning to change over seven thousand of Seoul's diesel engine buses with natural gas by 2010.
Seoul is connected to every major city in Korea by railroad. Seoul is also linked to most major Korean cities by the KTX high-speed train, which has a normal operation speed of more than 300 km/h. Major railroad stations include:
- Seoul Station, Jung-gu - Gyeongbu line (KTX/Saemaul/Mugunghwa-ho), Gyeongui line (Saemaul/Commuter)
- Yongsan Station, Yongsan-gu - Honam line (KTX/Saemaul/Mugunghwa), Jeolla/Janghang lines (Saemaul/Mugunghwa)
- Yeongdeungpo Station, Yeongdeungpo-gu - Gyeongbu/Honam/Janghang lines (Saemaul/Mugunghwa)
- Cheongnyangni Station, Dongdaemun-gu - Gyeongchun/Jungang/Yeongdong/Taebaek lines (Mugunghwa)
There are two international airports that serve Seoul. Gimpo International Airport, formerly in Gimpo but annexed to Seoul in 1963, was the only international airport for Seoul since its original construction during the Korean War. Other domestic airports were built around the time of the war, including at Yeouido.
Upon opening in March 2001, Incheon International Airport on Yeongjong island in Incheon changed the role of Gimpo Airport significantly. Incheon is now responsible for almost all international flights and some domestic flights, while Gimpo serves only domestic flights with the exception of flights to Tokyo International Airport (Haneda) in Tokyo, Osaka Kansai International Airport and Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai. This has led to a significant drop in flights from Gimpo Airport.
Meanwhile, Incheon International Airport has become, along with Hong Kong and Singapore, a major transportation center for East Asia. The 2005 AETRA passenger survey, jointly administered by the IATA and Airports Council International, voted it the best airport in the world. It was named by Skytrax as the world's 5th best airport for 2006.
Incheon and Gimpo are linked to Seoul by highways, and Gimpo is also linked by subway (line #5). The Incheon International Airport Railroad, a rail line connecting Incheon Airport to Gimpo Airport opened in March 2007, but the line to Seoul Station in central Seoul will take at least a year more to open. Shuttle buses transfer passengers between Incheon and Gimpo airports.