No less than 25 city districts together form the South Korean capital of Seoul. In Dutch, the name is also written as Seoul, but if you listen to the correct Korean pronunciation of the city name, you wonder where the second ‘e’ comes from. You clearly hear a sound where the ‘u’ belongs. Seoul has a history that goes back thousands of years. The first people lived here about six thousand years ago. Only in the year 18 of our era there was a real settlement: Wiryeseong. Over the centuries, this place has slowly developed into the metropolis that Seoul is today.
If you go to Seoul as a tourist, you can get to know different facets of the city. Historic palaces and city gates are surrounded by modern high-rise buildings, creating beautiful contrasts. Seoul is a wonderful city with plenty to discover.
Top 10 sights of Seoul
#1. Gyeongbokgung palace
According to EDUCATIONVV, the first palace complex at this location in Seoul was built at the end of the fourteenth century. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed most of it. Subsequently, an even larger royal palace complex was built during the nineteenth century. In total, the royal area of Gyeongbokgung had more than five hundred buildings that together accounted for thousands of rooms. After the Japanese occupation in 1911, most of it was completely destroyed. Today you can still admire some restored structures, including the palace of the crown prince, government buildings, the Gyeonghoeru pavilion and Geoncheonggung palace.
#2. Bukchon Hanok Village
Want to experience old Seoul? Then take a stroll through Bukchon Hanok Village. This district is an example of what life must have been like over the past six centuries. Here you can get lost in wonderful winding streets that together form a great journey of discovery through the past. In several places you can drink tea in the traditional way (take off your shoes!), get acquainted with traditional crafts and shop in nice little boutiques. Bukchon Hanok Village is actually one big open-air museum.
#3. Deoksugung Palace
Of the five major palaces in Seoul, Deoksugung Palace is a special one. This is mainly because, in addition to the clearly Asian buildings, there are also two buildings emphatically present on the complex that have a European architecture. It now houses the Museum of Modern Art. The complex of the Palace of Virtuous Longevity is quite compact, so you’ll need less time to visit than some of the other palaces in Seoul.
The most touristic area of the capital Seoul is located in the Jung-gu district. The streets of this central district are filled with a multitude of shops, theatres, bars, clubs and restaurants. The most visited street is Myeongdong. All kinds of big and smaller brand names are present in this popular street. You can also visit various shopping centers here. Do not forget to satisfy your appetite at the many street food stalls that you will find in the various streets. In terms of street food, Seoul can be mentioned in the same breath as Bangkok and Beijing. In between shopping, you can also visit the nineteenth-century Myeongdong Cathedral. This Catholic cathedral is visited by both visitors and the residents of the city of Seoul. If you think it can’t get any busier? Then you should definitely visit the Myeongdong Festival. This musical dance and party festival takes place twice a year, in spring and autumn.
#5. N Seoul Tower
You cannot miss the N Seoul Tower in the capital Seoul. The tower, which is beautifully illuminated at night, is about 237 meters high. Because the N Seoul tower is built on the Namsam mountain, it looks even bigger. The design of the N Seoul tower is attributed to Jong Youl Chang. There are two restaurants in the tower and four observation decks from which you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city. On the second floor there is a wishing fountain where many visitors leave their coins.
You have to pay an entrance fee to visit the tower. However, you can also enjoy a beautiful view from the hill itself and that is free, unless you go up with the cable car.
#6. King Tombs Seonjeongneung
In the south of Seoul you will find the Seonjeongneung King Tombs. Here are the tombs of two kings and one queen of the Joseon dynasty. The westernmost tomb belongs to King Seongjong who lived from 1469 to 1494. His second wife, Queen Jeonghyeon, is buried in a tomb to the east of her husband. The third tomb is located on the eastern side of the site. The eleventh king of the Joseon dynasty is buried here: King Jungjong.
The tombs are located within a large area that now forms a green oasis within the heavily urbanized area. Besides the fact that you can admire the beautiful tombs during a walk of about 45 to 60 minutes through the grounds, it is also a pleasant place of tranquility within the otherwise rather hectic city.
The Gangnam district is one of the 25 districts that make up the city of Seoul. Gangnam-gu rose to international fame thanks to Korean artist PSY’s hit ‘Gangnam Style’. He actually mocks the luxurious lifestyle of the people of Gangnam-gu with his song. When you walk through Gangnam, the number of expensive cars you see driving and parked will certainly stand out. Although it is a large district (more than half a million inhabitants live there), in addition to the city bustle in the busiest streets, there is also quite a lot of room for more relaxed places. For example, Gangnam-gu is one of the few districts in the city where you will find quite a few small terraces where you can eat and drink in the open air. The epicenter of Gangnam-gu is Gangnam-daero Street. This is a very busy shopping street with a large selection of food and beverage outlets in the side streets.
#8. Lotte World Tower
Like many Asian cities, Seoul also has its mega skyscraper. With a height of 554.5 meters, the Lotte World Tower is not only the tallest building in Seoul, but in all of South Korea. At the time of completion, it was even the number five building in the world. It has taken some effort to realize this project. The initial plans were created in 1997, but the actual work only started in 2010. On April 2, 2017, Lotte World Tower was officially opened. The skyscraper is located in the southeast of Seoul. Because there are no other serious high-rise buildings around the tower, the Lotte World Tower stands out even more than if it had been in an area full of skyscrapers. In addition to residences, offices and a hotel, the top of Lotte World Tower also contains a number of publicly accessible floors that are collectively named Seoul Sky. For a fee you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city from here. The 360 degree panoramic view is breathtaking.
#9. Dongdaemun Gate
As the ‘Great East Gate’, the Dongdaemun Gate fulfilled an important function during the Joseon dynasty. It was one of the most important entrance gates in the wall that surrounded the city of Seoul. The original design dates from the fourteenth century. However, the current Dongdaemun gate was built in the nineteenth century. At the gate you can also see a large part of the old city wall.
#10. Namdaemun Market
What is an Asian city without a good market where you can get your fresh ingredients for delicious meals? Seoul’s main market is Namdaemun Market. This large market is spread over several streets near the Sungnyemun Gate in the south of the center. It is the largest and oldest market in all of Korea. Its history goes back to the year 1414 when the then King Taejong designated this place as a regulated trading zone. The Namdaemun Market is a mix of indoor and outdoor outlets, some of which are open 24 hours a day.