A weekend warrior’s guide to… Seoul
By Ben Cowles
“A WEEKEND Warrior: A person who holds a regular job during the week which restricts their ability to party / go on trips / partake in awesome activities, and thus plans epic weekend adventures to compensate.”
SEOUL: a gargantuan city in perpetual change. Go traipsing in unprepared, and the high-rise metropolis might swallow you whole. So, with only 48 precious hours to gallivant through town before the crushing reality of Monday, be sure to follow this weekend warrior’s guide to ensure you see the best of Seoul.
Seoul By Day
Swathed in the regal majesty of the Joseon Dynasty, Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbokgung stn.) is Seoul’s biggest crowd-pleaser and best place to start. Originally constructed in 1395 (though reconstructed many times since), the royal palace is a historical gem besieged by modernity. Inside the thick palace walls are rows upon rows of oriental-roofed buildings, imposing gates, tranquil gardens and a folk museum.
For a slightly grim, yet fascinating experience, The War Memorial (Samgakji stn.) is well worth checking out. Highlighting the incredibly harsh times of Korea in the early 20th century, the memorial honours those who fell defending their country. Also exhibited outside are actual missiles, planes, tanks, submarines and other assorted instruments of death.
Mountains are literally everywhere in Korea. The average Seoulite enjoys hoofing up them regularly. Mt. Gwanaksan (Gwanak stn.) is probably the easiest to climb – plus the temple clung to the stomach-churning precipice up top should not be missed! If hiking seems like far too much physical exertion, cable car your lazy derriere up Mt. Namsan to N Seoul Tower (Chungmuro stn.), and survey the city in all its splendour from the revolving restaurant.
Feeling the urge to splurge? Then grab your Wons and squeeze through the narrow alleys of Namdaemun Market (Hoehyeon stn.). Anyone out for bargain clothing will definitely want to venture through this orgasm of consumerism. While here, chow down on the delicious spicy inferno that is Korean street food. Popular delicacies are Ddeokbokki, Sundae, Odeng, and pretty much deep-fried everything.
(READ MORE: 5 great markets in Asia)
Depending on the political situation (ghastly at the time of writing!), the intrepid visitor can experience the tension of the Cold War in all its glory by touring its last bastion at the DMZ. Tours are numerous and the best ones take in the joint security area of Panmunjom, the North Korean tunnels, and even amble inside the demilitarised zone. You’ll need to book before you arrive.
(READ MORE: The Korean DMZ: War zone or tourist trap?)
Seoul By Night
Having toured all day, it’s time to sortie into the city nightlife. Lucky then that Seoul has three distinct districts in which to carouse till sunrise.
Itaewon, a mecca of foreign restaurants, bars and nightclubs, is popular with the expat crowd. Head to Itaewon stn and take pretty much any exit. Popular bars are Geckos, Three Alleys and The Wolfhound.
To get down with the student crowd, head off to Hongdae (Hongik Dae stn.) where you’ll find literally hundreds of bars, clubs, and Korean BBQ restaurants.
For the swankiest nightclub action, go south of the river to Gangnam (Gangnam stn.). Club Answer, Club Mass and Club Eden are where the city’s hardcore clubbers congregate. Gangnam is the ritzy area of Seoul immortalised by that infuriating song. So if expensive coffee shops, boutique / department stores and plastic surgery are your style, then perhaps it’s worth checking out by day, too.
Ben Cowles (UK)
Once upon a time, Ben was living, teaching, traveling, writing and photographing in Seoul, but he spends most of his time in Korea’s second city, Busan. You’d might like to visit his blog: monkeyboygoes.com.