During my time in Korea, I've been lucky enough to have a fair number of visitors. My best friend is currently visiting from back home in the U.S., and as I've been pulling her around Seoul to the spots I deem the most interesting and picturesque, I realized that I've got this tour guide thing down to a science. So whether you're new to Korea yourself or you're expecting visitors during your time here, let this be a guide for the spots you should definitely see.
1. Bukchon Hanok Village
I just spent part of Saturday walking around the hanok village, and I enjoy its charm every single time. The neighborhood was bustling with tourists, but we still found quieter alleyways to wander through, marveling at the detail in the doors and walls and rooftop tiles.
2. At least one of the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul
All the palaces of Seoul are beautiful, so you really can't go wrong here. Gyeongbok Palace is my go-to palace since it's so marvelously huge and grand. We even happened upon some music and dance performances, which made the experience even more interesting. I highly recommend, whichever palace you see, letting yourself wander aimlessly. I never pick up a map, simply because it's much more fun to get a little lost while walking around.
We headed over to Insadong to eat and shop. From the kitschy to the extravagant, Insadong is a great spot for souvenir shopping. The variety of items we picked up ranged from postcards that say "Keep Calm and Each Kimchi" to some beautiful jewelry. If you're looking to sample a variety of street food, this is a great place for it, so just follow your nose!
4. Hongdae, preferably on a Saturday night
While Hongdae is great for shopping, partying, clubbing, and especially eating, I also just enjoy walking around on a Saturday night for the people watching. The hoards of people on the sidewalks and the streets make walking around Hongdae an experience in itself, especially with the addition of the weekend crowd of street vendors and busking musicians. Definitely eat while you're there, because there are countless restaurants that are delicious (especially if you're looking for Western food), and have fun!
5. Ihwa Mural Village
I just recently visited this village for the first time myself, and I wish I'd been able to share it with more of my guests. This little neighborhood with its maze-like streets that are covered in murals is great for a photo adventure. The village is also located on a mountain that has part of the old Seoul City Wall, so while you're there, hike on up to the top and watch the sunset. It's a pretty spectacular view and the hike is quite easy.
6. Dongdaemun Design Plaza
I really, really enjoy the spaceship building that is the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. The architecture is funky, it's fun to walk around trying to take pictures of it, and the inside actually features great food and quirky shopping. This is a good place to buy gifts, especially if you're looking for things that are a little silly or artsy. Keep an eye out for events at the DDP, too, from exhibits to things like Seoul Fashion Week (which is next week)!
7. A temple, like Jogyesa or Bongeunsa
You have to see a temple while you're here, so if you're going to be in the Seoul area, it's easy to take a detour to one of the most popular temples. Jogyesa is a short walk from the Bukchon Hanok Village/Insadong/Gyeongbok Palace area, and Bongeunsa is only a couple subway stops away from Gangnam. Stop by, take some photos, learn about Buddhism, and enjoy the peacefulness in the middle of the city.
I won't sugarcoat this for you: Myeongdong can be an absolute mess. The streets are packed, noisy, and overwhelming. There are more stores than you can even comprehend, and shopping there can be exhausting. But, I really, really enjoy taking a visitor to this area. It's just so nuts, and for many of us, it is exactly the big-Asian-city vibe that's expected in the big cities over here. It's fun to just marvel at the sea of people, preferably from a second-floor cafe window. If you are hoping to shop and would prefer to avoid the masses, going early in the morning is an excellent and peaceful time.
9. The Han River
The Han is vitally important to this country, with the "Miracle on the Han River" being what propelled Korea into the modern century. That being said, it's also just a beautiful river smack in the middle of Korea's cityscape. You can take a walk, rent a bicycle, fly a kit, have a picnic -- basically, it's a great place for enjoying beautiful weather. While you're there, you also have the option of visiting the 63 building, which has an observation deck that overlooks the Han and offers stunning views of Seoul.
Oh, Gangnam. Many of you will become somewhat acquainted with this area during Chungdahm's training week, but it's worth revisiting when you aren't stressed out and busy learning how to be teachers. The shopping, the eating, the fancy clubbing -- these are all reasons to come back to Seoul's most famous area.
This list, of course, reflects my own preferences. I know many people would also recommend a slew of other spots, but I'll leave that to the commenters! By all means, if you know of another place that you think everyone should check out in Korea, let us know below in the comments!
Between studying Japanese and Asian culture in university and setting her sights on a teaching career, it came as no surprise when Zannah Smreker announced that she was moving to South Korea to teach for Chungdahm Learning. In November 2011, Zannah accepted a position through Aclipse with the Songdo branch in Incheon, just southwest of Seoul. When she's not teaching, she keeps herself busy with exploring Korea, eating all the street food, and hunting down strange Engrish shirts. Check out her blog and her Instagram for more of her adventures!