Steeped in history and futuristic wonder
If it’s not already on your travel radar, Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is one happening destination. It’s a K-popping combination of booming high-tech and gleaming skyscrapers that blends seamlessly with the city’s considered green spaces and calming Buddhist temples. For all its urbane attractions, including palaces, kooky and contemporary design galleries, fabulous café culture and high-end shopping, it’s also a lovely, outdoorsy place. You can cycle along the Han River or go hiking one of the four ‘guardian’ mountains that surround the city. You can get some incredible views from these – Mount Naksan is one of the lowest ones and is home to an amazing village called Ihwa-dong, where you’ll find buildings painted with street art murals, if you want a bit of culture in your nature walks! If you’ve got time for a side trip, try Incheon, with its bustling waterfront and colourful, tasty and historic Chinatown.
Things to do
Visit a traditional village
With Seoul being on the cutting edge of technology, a visit to Bukchon Hanok Village gives you the chance to time travel back to a simpler time. Here you’ll find a hilltop village of alleys and traditional Korean homes (hanoks), many of which open their doors as teahouses or cultural centres. It is still a genuine, residential area that hasn’t changed in centuries and a great way to glimpse historic Korean culture.
Eat up (and shop up) at the market
The sprawling Gwangjang Market is one of South Korea’s biggest and oldest traditional street markets, with thousands of vendors selling everything from fabrics and handicrafts to every kind of Korean ingredient and street food imaginable. It’s famous for its food stalls so make like a local, order up some bibimbap, Korean dumplings or the signature mung bean pancakes, and wedge yourself onto a bench seat amidst all the sizzle and aroma of this genuine foodie hotspot.
Take a cable car to the stars
For some of the best views in town, head to the observation deck of the landmark N Seoul Tower, which sits at the summit of Namsan Mountain in the city centre. You can walk up, but there’s a cable car which gives you even more scenic views. It’s a romantic spot, and you’ll see lots of colourful padlocks engraved with couples’ names fixed on the railings. Aim for sunset and dusk for the prettiest views of the city’s lights.
See some artful architecture
Set across three buildings, the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art showcases traditional Korean art as well as contemporary works by local and international artists. Each of the museum’s unique buildings were designed by a different, renowned architect and they sit within a lovely, flowing landscape with a sculpture garden. Budding artists will love getting creative in the Samsung Child Education & Culture Center.
Picnic on the rail lines
Not unlike New York’s famous Highline, Gyeongui Line Forest Park was created when part of this rail line was moved underground, leaving room for some lovely green space. It’s a great place to hang out with the locals and sample a bit of laidback Seoul living. The park runs alongside some interesting neighbourhoods too, such as Hongdae and Yeonnam-dong, which is particularly rich in galleries, cafes, restaurants and quirky stores.
Distance to central Seoul 47kms
Train The AREX (Railroad Express) is the quickest option. Express trains take around 45 minutes to downtown Seoul; All Stop trains take around an hour. Trains depart from International Terminals 1 and 2.
Bus Buses run from Incheon Airport to downtown Seoul. Deluxe Limousine Buses are more expensive but make fewer stops and go to major hotels. Standard Limousine Buses are cheaper but make more stops and are therefore more crowded.
Taxi and car rental Both options are available. Taking a taxi is the most expensive way to get into Seoul and the ride will take approximately 60 minutes.Back to top
When to go
Weather-wise, it’s best to aim for spring and autumn in Seoul – summers can be stifling and unpleasant, and winter can be harsh (unless you’re planning to hit the ski slopes). Autumn brings with it a variety of traditional festivals and seasonal food highlights.Back to top
Seoul is a big city (its population is around 10 million) so it has an excellent public transport system. There’s a comprehensive bike-share program, and a wide range of buses and subway routes that run from 5:30am until midnight. Get a T-Money card to use on all transport forms. The roads are hectic so taxis or rental cars might not be the most efficient option.Back to top
Why you need to try Seoul’s soul food, Bibimbap
Move over laksa, see you poke. With oodles of protein and vegetables, and stacks of flavour, there is good reason why this hearty meal in a bowl is a South Korean classic.