If you’re looking for a place where East meets West, then Seoul is the place to be. From ancient temples, bustling nightlife, crazy delicious food, animated culture, progressive politics, massive high rises, and friendly people, South Korea offers something for every visitor. Here is how you can make the most of your vacation here in just 48 hours! By Bayar Jain
Combine the glitzy glow of Tokyo, the food options of Singapore, the English-speaking streets of Hong Kong, and the sprawling skyscrapers typical to metropolitans like New York, and you’ll find yourself in Seoul. With a history dating back to 4000 BCE, it’s not surprising that this South Korean capital is home to many tourist locations. If you’ve managed to squeeze in 48 hours in this bustling city, here is how you should spend your time!
- Bukchon Hanok Village
Located on a hilltop between Gyeonbok Palace, Changdeok Palace, and Jongmyo Royal Shrine, the Bukchon Hanok Village is sure to give you a glimpse of the traditional Korean lifestyle. Replete with alleys and narrow streets, the village comes to life owing to the 600-year-old urban environment that nestles traditional houses known as ‘hanoks’. Although it is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, it has now taken on a completely new avatar. Hanoks have now doubled up as stores selling traditional handicrafts, art galleries, restaurants, and even guesthouses. You can choose to wander through the lanes or sit inside a traditional Korean tearoom while sipping on jujube tea (apricot tea). There are also a wide variety of interesting museums and cultural centers located in the area including the Bukchon Traditional Culture Center, Donglim Knot Museum, Han Sangsu Embroidery Museum, Bukchon Asian Art Museum, and Owl Museum.
2. Gyeongbokgung Palace
After strolling through the village, it’s only natural to head to the close by Gyeongbokgung Palace. Here, you can observe the changing of guards. Breaking free from the stereotypical London-style ceremony that many of us are familiar with, here the changing ritual is more vibrant and colourful. Being solemn doesn’t find space in these celebrations, so go ahead and cheer to your heart’s content! The palace, by itself, is a marvel worth exploring. Built in 1395, the Gyeongbokgung Palace once served as the home of Kings of the Joseon dynasty, the Kings’ households, as well as the government of Joseon. Today, the palace is arguably regarded as being the most beautiful and grandest of all five palaces in the city. It also houses the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum within the premises of the complex.
3. Changdeokgung Palace and its Secret Garden
Although Gyeonbokgung Palace is considered the main castle, Changdeokgung and its secret gardens served as the primary royal residence from the early 1600s to 1800s. This UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site houses a lotus pond, several outstanding pavilions, and innumerable landscaped lawns, trees and flowers in its 78-acre land. Streams, rocks and hillsides add to the magical glory of the lawns, while architectures dating back to 1411 amplify the vintage vibe, which the palace complex radiates.
4. Jogyesa Temple
A whiff of fragrant incense sticks spilling onto the streets is enough to lure you into the Jogyesa Temple. Considered one of the most famous Buddhist Temples in Korea, the Jogyesa Temple’s Dharma Hall serves as the main venue for many rituals, lectures, ceremonies and events all year long. Each year, a lantern festival in celebration of Buddha’s birthday is also celebrated here. The party, though, feels to be on throughout the twelve months. As you enter the hall, the ringing of drums greets you in full furor, while the gardens don colourful paper lanterns. For a rounded experience, the temple even offers a Korean Temple Stay Programme, which allows international guests to shadow a monk for an entire day.
5. Lotte World Tower
Chances are by the time you’re done exploring the city, the sun would have already set, making it the ideal time for you to head to Lotte World Tower, Seoul’s tallest building. Known as the ‘beauty and pride of Korea’, this 123-storeyed structure boasts of having the highest glass bottomed observation deck in the world. Even though the daytime views are worth every penny, it’s the twinkling lights at night that steal the show. Oh, did we mention that the Lotte World Tower also houses the world’s highest swimming pool on the 85th floor?
1. Ihwa Art Village
Break away from the previous day’s temple-filled day by heading straight to the Ihwa Art Village. Known as a ‘moon village’ since it is perched on a hilltop, and in turn closer to the moon itself, the area was once an aging slum. To bring it back to life, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism transformed it into a tourist landmark by installing metal sculptures, colourful mural paintings, and mosaics. However, when exploring the area, keep in mind that it is residential living area. Try not to disturb the local harmony of the region and be respectful of their property – irrespective of how Instagrammable they look!
This one is for all the shopoholics out there! Essentially a mecca for quirky K-pop fashions, and Korean cosmetics, Myeongdong always buzzes with energy. Street vendors set up shop amid even the busiest of lanes, and snack find space in smallest nooks and crannies. From international fashion brands, to luxury department stores and homegrown souvenir shops, this area has it all. If shopping isn’t your idea of fun, then sit back and immerse yourself in staged folk musicals and dramas at the Myeongdong Nata Theatre here.
3. Namsan Park and Namsan Tower
Famous for its walking trails with a plethora of wildlife species, the Namsan Park offers panoramic views of downtown Seoul. Atop this hillside park is the daunting Namsan Tower, one of Asia’s tallest towers. Though most visitors come to Namsan Park to enjoy the views, or go for a hike, there are other tourist spots you could see while you’re here. Other than the Namsan Seoul Tower, there is the Mongmyeoksan Beacon Hill Site (Bongsudae), a set of beacons constructed to warn the city of incoming enemy invasions, an octagonal pavilion known as Palgakjeong, and Locks of Love, a wall of locks that symbolise endless love for those who hang them.
4. Cheonggyecheon Stream
As the sun starts to set, a stroll along the Cheonggyecheon stream is the perfect way to end your vacation. Created as a part of the city’s beautification process, the calm waters create an ideal contrast against the city’s tall skyscrapers. Local light installations, art exhibitions, and creative endeavours add to the lively atmosphere. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a chance to see the area donning colourful paper lanterns, which find a space here every few days.