Friday, January 13, 2012

Seoul City: where present encounter past

Source: The Korea Times

This is the first in a series featuring “Must-See Tour Routes” for foreign tourists, developed by the Visit Korea Committee. A total of five tour routes spanning the country will be presented over a three-month period. The series will introduce a high-quality tour biweekly and is in conjunction with the nationwide campaign to promote the “2010-2012 Visit Korea Years.” — ED.

Hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists visit Seoul each year, transforming the sprawling metropolis into one of Asia’s most popular tour destinations.

There are a range of attractive tour spots across the capital city, both traditional and modern. Seoul has a number of palaces, hanok villages, and other cultural heritage sites, enabling non-Korean visitors to experience Korea’s unique culture and tradition.

At the same time, the city offers everything modern travelers seek, such as shopping, dining and entertainment.

Large department stores await shoppers looking to purchase luxury goods, cosmetics, and other high-priced items, while budget-conscious travelers can go to Myeong-dong, Dongdaemun and other shopping districts for low-priced merchandise, such as clothes and foodstuffs.

Foreign visitors often face a dilemma over what to eat as there is a long list of restaurants that offer different types of Korean food. For those who want to try traditional Korean dishes, they may want to check out eateries in Insa-dong and its adjacent areas in northern Seoul. Travelers seeking to get a taste of what local Koreans eat can go to Myeong-dong or southern Seoul where many salaried workers and adolescents congregate.

If tourists do not know what to do at night, they can go to Seoul N Tower for a night view of the capital. Boarding a Han River cruise ship is another option to spend the night well. Those who want to experience how Koreans entertain themselves at night may want to check out clubs near Hongik University where university students and young salaried workers listen to live performances, or dance.

“Seoul has much to offer foreign visitors — sightseeing, shopping, dining and entertainment, which are unrivaled to those of other Asian cities. It is a city with many different faces fascinating visitors wherever they go,” said Han Kyung-ah, executive director of the Visit Korea Committee.

Han said the Japanese used to account for the majority of visitors to Seoul in the past. “But over the past few years, more and more Chinese and those from Southeast Asian countries have become a main tourist group in the capital city. Some of them come here to shop for cosmetics and other high-quality goods. Others are drawn to Korea for their love affair with hallyu, or the Korean wave, sweeping Asia and other parts of the world.”

She said Seoul has and will remain Asia’s most popular travel destination in the future on the back of hallyu. “A growing number of Asian visitors mostly in their 20s and 30s come to the city to watch K-pop stars’ performances. They also want to experience the Korean lifestyle.”


The Bukchon Hanok Village in northern Seoul has become a must-see place for foreign travelers seeking to see how Koreans lived in the past. The village is made up of 999 hanok, Korea’s traditional houses. Visitors can enjoy the amiable alley journey with two walking routes; street Nos. 11 and 31 in Gahoe-dong. In addition, four historical sites, three natural monuments, four Seoul folk material storage areas, three tangible cultural properties, one cultural material storage area, three registered cultural assets and other various cultural resources are gathered. For more information, call 02-3707-8388 or visit its website (

The Changdeok Palace is the second palace of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) built by King Taejong in 1405. The palace went up in flames during the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592, but was rebuilt in 1610. It was used as the main office of the king since then. During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), the palace was destroyed again but rebuilt in 1991. The structure, which has the most beautiful garden, was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1997. For more information, call 02-762-8261 or visit its website (

Insa-dong in Jongno district is one of the most popular tourist spots in Seoul offering Korea’s traditional artistic charms to foreign visitors. There are many traditional art galleries and antique shops that market a wide range of traditional artifacts and souvenirs. Restaurants there offer an array of authentic dishes to travelers seeking traditional tastes. Visitors can also drink a cup of green tea and other homegrown varieties that offer them peace of mind.

The National Museum of Korea, one of the world’s top six museums, has more than 135,000 exhibits. It is divided into 18 exhibit halls, with about 5,000 displays showcased on a permanent basis. For more information, call 02-2077-9000 or visit its website (

Located on the top of Mt. Nam, Seoul N Tower is a 237-meter-high observatory structure, which opened its door to the public in 1980. It is one of Seoul’s must-see spots for foreign visitors because it offers a spectacular view of the entire city all year around. The observatory deck consists of four levels. There are restaurants which serve Korean and Western style food, cafes and wine bars. The high-speed elevator, which moves at 240 meters per minute, takes visitors from the ground level to the top. For more information, call 02-3455-9277 or visit its website (

Myeong-dong, the city’s most popular and crowed shopping district, is flooded with both Koreans and foreign visitors all year around, with up to 2 million people visiting shops and other establishments in the area a day. A variety of restaurants, shopping malls, theaters and other retail businesses have opened in the district, drawing more foreign consumers. In particular, hundreds of both local and multinational cosmetics shops opened, making Myeong-dong a must-visit place for Japanese and Chinese female tourists.

Foreign visitors are also strongly advised to tour the Han River, which divides Seoul into two. First, the moonlight rainbow fountain installed on the Banpo Bridge has quickly become an attraction for non-Korean travelers. Water spewing from the fountain creates a rainbow. After the sun goes down, with colorful lighting and music, the water from the fountain starts to dance. Visitors can also enjoy a cruise ride along the Han River. For more information, call 02-3271-6900 or visit the website (

Garosu-gil in Sinsa-dong, is the most trend-savvy district in Seoul with contemporary fashion leaders forming its unique culture. Along the ginkgo trees on either side of the road, outdoor cafes are reminiscent of a beautiful European street. It is famous for cafes and fashion retail shops. For more information, call 02-2104-1114.

Located in Apgujeong, Hyundai Department Store provides convenient shopping and a variety of cultural experiences. The second basement is full of interior decorations and brands tailored for young people. The second floor is full of luxurious fashion brand stores including Burberry, Chloe, Bottega Veneta, and others for people in their 30s. Its roof garden is a perfect meeting place. For more information, call 02-547-2233, or visit its website (


Sawore Boribap provides healthy traditional cuisine consisting of steamed barley rice served with bean paste soup and vegetable-based side dishes. It is a perfect place for health-conscious travelers seeking to get the benefits out of Korea’s famous healthy diet. For location and other information, call 02-540-5292.

Neobijip provides steamed spicy galbijjim, braised short ribs seasoned with spicy sauce, with rice cake. Particularly, spicy galbijjim is popular with Japanese visitors. Saenggalbi, raw beef ribs, and yachae jeongol, vegetable and beef hot pot in broth, as well as yukhoe, shredded raw beef, are also popular with Asian tourists. For location and other information, call 02-756-4030.

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