South Korea is a hot destination in 2018 as the Asian tiger prepares to host the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. That said, you are bound to find a lot more in this unique country than just winter sports. Here is a closer look at some of the most unforgettable memories you can create in its capital city, as we guide you through Seoul’s most interesting and unusual sights.
Steep yourself in local religion!
You can't leave Seoul without exploring two of the most famous religious sights: Guksadang shamanist shrine in the city's Northern district and the Jongmyo Confucian royal shrine surrounded by forests. The shamanist shrine is situated on Mt. Inwangsan and has been historically used for exorcism. Japanese forces demolished the original shrine in 1925; so, the local shamanic people relocated and rebuilt the shrine. Jongmyo, on the other hand, is Confucian in nature and has preserved its authentic condition from the 16th century. The shrine is still used for rituals and ceremonies, and has been added by UNESCO to its World Heritage List.
Discover the essence of Seoul in a day!
No guidebook or travel guide can compare to local knowledge. Take a full day city tour with a local tourist guide, and visit the Korea Folk Museum along with Gyeongbokgung Palace, pray at Jogyesa Buddhist temple, and shop at Namdaemun traditional market. The experience gets heightened, with your local guide right beside you all along to answer your questions about Korean culture, history, and traditions.
Tour the world-famous Gyeongbokgung Palace!
The hard-to-pronounce name Gyeongbokgung means "Palace greatly blessed by Heaven". One of South Korea's most iconic sightseeing destinations, this beautiful palace was constructed in 1395. In 1592, the original palace was burnt down during the Japanese descent upon Seoul, but this epochal sight was restored in 1867. You will be able to walk around the grounds while taking in the serene beauty of the gardens, lotus ponds, and even a gorgeous pavilion.
Take on a themed cafe marathon!
Try to visit as many themed cafes in a day as you can. Themed cafes, you ask? Seoul has seen a boom in cafes that are devoted to specific themes. For example, there's one for all things Hello Kitty, a coffee shop featuring live sheep, and even a cafe devoted to ... poop! Plus, there's even a cafe where you can play with raccoons, if you are lucky and the rascals aren't asleep. With so many themes to choose from, you will probably not have the time to visit even half of these quirky places.
Climb to Seoul's heights!
Are you an adventurous traveller? If yes, then a guided ridge climb is a must-do activity in Seoul. This tour rewards you with wonderful views of Seoul after climbing steep ridges. Along the way, learn about Korea's alpine climbing history and appreciate the effort that has gone into perfecting the safe techniques of rock climbing.
Relax in a spa with a Korean twist!
Jjimjilbang (yes, that's an actual word) in Korean means a traditional bathhouse. While the bathhouses resemble the Western spa concept, there are many differences that really stick out on the first visit. In addition to familiar spa procedures like massages or hot tub relaxation, you can find female-only premises or even a luxurious bathhouse, complete with a personal movie theatre and ice rooms. The actual experience really depends on the bathhouse you set out to visit, but there's one out there for almost any budget.
Eat your way through Seoul!
South Korea's capital has a high density of great restaurants. Don't forget to ask for local recommendations! Our Seoul tour guide started us off at Myeongdong Kyoja, an excellent place for ordering kalguksu. White noodles made of regular wheat are drowned in savoury chicken broth; also, you can get a side of lovely dumplings. Sushi Kojima is one of the places outside of Japan that wouldn't disappoint a true rice-and-fish aficionado. The know-how from Japan has retained its original essence, and the simplicity of obtaining fresh seafood doesn't hurt as well. And dessert? Fell & Cole is your stop for excellent ice cream. The friendly ice-cream parlour kicked off the artisanal gelato trend in South Korea. You can find rare flavours such as perilla leaf, and local rice wine called makgeolli. These three places are just a small part of the Seoul's ever-changing foodie landscape.
Sing your heart out at a noraebang!
Koreans love karaoke, which is why you can find local singing rooms called noraebangs in every major city. Singing in a noraebang means renting a private room for you and your friends, colleagues, or others. Usually, there's a big TV screen playing music videos with real-time lyrics, so you can sing along. People are really into singing rooms because they feel it's a great place to lower your stress levels and leave all the daily worries behind. Cheapest rooms can be rented from $5 an hour, but the ultra-chic options call for $800 for an hour's worth of singing. If you want to get the best experience, then ask your local guide for recommendations to the coolest noraebangs, as well as to accompany you and your fellow travellers in this fun activity.
Hike at the Seoraksan National Park!
Many national parks are especially busy at the summer, but Seoraksan NP unleashes its stunning beauty in autumn. The foliage turns into a mix of orange, yellow, brown, and everything in between. The highest peaks in the park are located 1708 meters above the ground. You will discover giant waterfalls, nice hot springs, and awe-inspiring rock formations while even having a chance to ride a cable car! Seoraksan is an easy day trip away from Seoul, though it feels like a million miles between the city’s hustle bustle and the natural beauty of the park.