3 days in Seoul might be just enough time to explore what this fascinating city has to offer. There are many unique things to do in Seoul as it is a place where tradition meets modernity. A place where creative design connects with historic elements, glass embodies with concrete and nature integrates with urban life. It is where skyscrapers cosy up to temples and pop-culture high-fives long-established street markets. For people who enjoy seeing and experiencing these unusual connections, this is what this itinerary is made of.
Established over 2,000 years ago, Seoul provides a great history lesson and insight into South Korean culture while still keeping the connection to the modernity of everyday life. It is considered to be a leading global city due to its very high quality of life and many exciting attractions that charm thousands of tourists every year. For example, it has 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the main part of the city centre alone!
Getting to Seoul from Incheon International Airport is also easy as trains run very often (express included) and take under an hour to reach the city. Consider also purchasing a Seoul Pass if you intend to visit a lot of the city's tourist attractions while you are there.
Before Korea became an empire in the 19th century, it was a kingdom with the longest-ruling dynasty, the Joseon Dynasty. The Joseon Dynasty ruled Korea for over 5 centuries and was responsible for moving its capital to Seoul, which left behind most of the beautiful sites you see around the city today. The Joseon kings also built many incredible structures that praised their greatness and Korea's distinctive Asian architecture. Four of the five UNESCO Heritage Sites in Seoul are relicts of the Joseon kings and queens. However, many of these relicts were frequently destroyed and rebuilt due to the many wars that took place in the capital.
This impressive palace compound, set in green gardens, served as the main palace for the Joseon Dynasty for about two centuries. The compound originally had over 300 buildings that needed about 2000 members of staff to take care of it. Today, Gyeongbokgung Palace still takes up a lot of space, but the whole park is filled with beautiful buildings, notable sculptures and a couple of interesting museums.
It is worth beginning your first day by watching the changing of the guard ceremony at Gyeongbokgung's main entrance. Here, you will also be able to see lots of beautifully-dressed women in traditional Korean dress known as the Hanbok.
Instead of visiting two palaces back-to-back, check out Bukchon Hanok Village to break up your morning/day a little bit. This Village is a traditional Korean village and is located on top of a hill/situated between three of today's sites - Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine. Inside the Village, you will find many charming windy alleys and traditional Korean houses, so do take your time wandering around as it is a favourite among both locals and tourists.
Changdeokgung Palace is another example of the “Five Grand Palaces” that were built in Seoul by the Joseon dynasty kings. It is often described as the most beautiful of all of Seoul’s palaces and the most favoured by the Joseon princes. It can be found in Jongno-gu Park - an area filled with many administrative and residential buildings with Changdeokgung Palace somewhere in between. To explore the Palace and its famous Secret Gardens, you will need to book a tour with a guide.
Located right next to Changdeokgung Palace, the National Palace Museum of Korea is a must-see for all those interested in Korea's royal heritage. The Museum features about 40,000 artefacts from the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire periods. This includes 14 of the National Treasures of Korea, such as the Golden and Bronze Statues. The Museum is also divided into a number of permanent exhibits and occasionally features special ones as well.
A short walk away from Changdeokgung Palace, you will find a neighbourhood park with another UNESCO Heritage Site in it, the Jongmyo Shrine. The Jongmyo Shrine is the oldest preserved Confucian shrine. It was dedicated to the kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty and is still currently being used for events and rituals. One of the most famous rituals it is used for is the Jongmyo Jerye, which involves ancient court music ('Jerye-ak') and a traditional dance performance ('Ilmu').
Despite Seoul being one of the world's fastest-growing global cities, it still provides fantastic experiences for those who wish to see how old Korean history and culture have been integrated into modern city life. So the second day will start with a refreshing walk in nature, panoramic views of Seoul city and end with more insights into the culture of the Joseon Era and Korean traditions.
After a day familiarizing yourself with Korean royalty, it may be nice to spend some time connecting with Korean nature. Namsan Mountain, or Nam Mountain, is a 200m high peak in central Seoul. It offers hiking paths, picnic areas and panoramic views of Seoul. Many residents feel that Nam Mountain is the most scenic place in Seoul.
The communication and observation tower, the N Seoul Tower, is located right on top of Namsan Mountain. The Tower was built in 1971 to provide general radio and TV to all of Seoul's residents. Today, it is still used by major media networks in Korea, however, it is also an observation deck for visitors to enjoy an even more expansive 360-degree view of the city.
Namsangol Hanok Village is located in the northern corner of Namsan Park and is known as the “Village of Traditional Houses." Its name basically says it all as all of the buildings in the area were restored, preserved and furnished to represent the atmosphere of a village from the Joseon Era. Visitors can take part in various activities here to experience for themselves what Korean's lives used to be like during this period. For example, you can dress up like royalty for a couple of hours if you wish.
The name of this traditional market comes from its location as it is right next to Namdaemun, which is a gate in the Fortress Wall of Seoul that used to serve as the city's main southern entrance.
Walking through Namdaemun Market, you may continue to feel like you too were once a resident of the Joseon Era as the market dates back to the beginning of the 15th century. Despite being one of the oldest and still-running markets, it is also the largest in Seoul. While exploring Seoul’s retail culture, you should also try some of the amazing street food that Namdaemun offers, such as 'Kimchi Mandu', which is Korea's take on Asian dumplings, and 'Kalguksu', a Korean soup made with seafood broth and topped with hand-cut wheat noodles.
Seoul is all about interesting connections, growth and keeping traditions alive. On your last day in Seoul, you should check out the South Bank of the Han River, which will take you through wealthy neighbourhoods, Buddhist temples and world-class skyscrapers. The sites on Day 3 are a little further apart, but there is a great variety of public transportation that can take you from one stop to the next in about 10-15 minutes.
Apgujeong-dong is one of South Korea’s most expensive neighbourhoods. It is filled with high-class department stores and famous name-brand shops, but also 'normal' restaurants and coffee shops. The most famous street in this neighbourhood is Apgujeong Rodeo Street, which symbolizes youth and trendiness in the city.
Bongeunsa is a Buddhist temple that used to stand tall on the slope of Sudo Mountain. It has been around since the middle of the 8th century. Despite being mostly unused during the Joseon Era, it served as the main Buddhist temple from the mid-16th century to the mid-20th century. Unfortunately, visitors today cannot admire its full glory as the Temple was severely destroyed by fires during the Korean Wars. But despite this, Seoul’s authorities are putting a lot of work into reconstructing this magnificent Temple, and the reconstruction itself is quite impressive!
You can't speak of Seoul’s impressive growth and modernity without mentioning its tallest skyscraper, the Lotte World Tower. This interestingly-shaped building stands 555-meters tall over the capital. Since it was opened to the public in 2017, it became the 5th tallest skyscraper in the world. Seoul Sky, located on the top 6 floors of the Tower, features many interesting tourist attractions, such as the Sky Terrace, Photozone and Sky Café.
Seoul Olympic Park was built to host the Summer Olympics in 1988. It features many sports facilities as well as an Olympics Museum. It also has a sculpture park that has about 200 sculptures from around the world in it and the famous World Peace Gate, which was built to celebrate the peace and harmony of the Seoul Olympic Games. All this is set in a serene and beautiful green park, which is surrounded by an ancient fortification - Mongchontoseong.
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