Things to Do in Seoul - page 2
Originally built in 1395 by the first Joseon king, Gwanghwamun serves as the main gate of Seoul’s Gyeongbukgung Palace, the largest of the five Joseon Dynasty palaces. The granite gate stood until the Japanese invasion of 1592, when the gate and the palace were burned and abandoned for the next 250 years. Further conflict with the Japanese and the Korean War led to the gate and palace being rebuilt, relocated and destroyed a second time. Gwanghwamun as it stands today was rebuilt in 1968 using concrete and steel instead of the original granite, though it was deconstructed and moved back to its original location during a major restoration project in 2006. Plan your visit to Gwanghwamun to coincide with the changing of the guard, a ceremony occurring hourly from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Visiting the gate and watching the changing of the guard is free, but you’ll have to pay an entrance fee to tour Gyeongbukgung Palace.
Located in the lively Hongdae nightlife district, Seoul’s Trickeye Museum does just what it says; it teases your senses with an optical illusion technique called trompe l'oeil that gives two dimensional works of art a 3D appearance. It’s also one of the few museums in the world that makes art interactive.
Bring a camera, because the exhibits at the Trickeye Museum are designed for photo ops. Plant a big wet one on the cheek of Mona Lisa, launch a giant Angry Bird or pose in an upside-down room that makes you look like you’re meditating on the ceiling. The museum’s Santorini Gallery houses three additional exhibit rooms with more serious works of art from contemporary artists.
The museum stays open well into the evening hours, so it’s a good place to visit on your way to a night out in Hongdae. For the price of admission, you’ll have a camera full of unique souvenirs to take home with you.
Not only is the National Museum of Korea the best in the country, it’s also free. In a sweeping introduction to Korean art, culture and history, the museum houses more than 150,000 artifacts with around 11,000 on display, so you’ll have plenty to see, even if you’ve been to the museum before.
The three floors are divided into six total exhibit areas. On the first floor, you’ll find the Prehistory and Ancient History section and the Medieval and Early Modern History section, each displaying artifacts from the beginnings of Korean civilization through the Joseon Dynasty. The second floor houses the Calligraphy and Paintings section as well as an area designated for pieces donated by private collectors. The third floor contains a Sculptures and Crafts section and an Asian Arts section with cultural and artistic artifacts from various Asian countries.
Cheongwadae Sarangchae is a two-story historical museum where visitors can learn about Korea’s political and cultural history. Originally the home of the public information hall of Cheongwadae and known as Hyojadong Sarangbang, the building underwent extensive renovations and reopened under its present name in January 2010.
On the first floor, the Korea Exhibition Center features displays depicting the country’s culture and tourism, including significant historical figures as well as its UNESCO World Heritage sites. There’s also a cafe and a gift shop on this level. The second floor is home to the Presidential Center, with photographs depicting scenes from Korea’s major political events from the past 60 years, along with information on past and present political leaders.
Originally constructed in the 10th century, Bongeunsa Temple, once known as Gyeonseongsa Temple, is a popular Buddhist temple in Seoul. Considered the epicenter of the Seon sect of the religion, it is both a living ornament and cultural gem of the city. It is also an important breeding ground for Korean texts, and is where sutras have been translated from Chinese since the 1970’s.
The temple grounds contain several large and smaller structures, including the main Buddha Hall, the Grdhrakuta Hall, the Sutra Hall and famously, the Hall of Selecting Buddha, Unhadang Hall and Bowudang Hall. It also contains a traditional tea house and historic and traditional stupas. In front of the Maitreya Hall stands the tallest stone statue of Maitreya Buddha in the country, at 74.5 feet (23 meters), and if you happen to be there during a holiday, the area is often used for outdoor ceremonies and traditional performances.
Many travelers visit Hongdae, the area surrounding Hongik University in Seoul, for its nightlife, the best in the city. On weekend nights, the district comes alive as Seoul’s youth come out in force to dance, drink and generally have a good time. With dozens of bars and clubs within a few block radius, Hongdae offers a little bit of everything, including easy-going taverns. Dance clubs where the music rages until the sun comes up, underground karaoke dens and themed cocktail bars.
If you’re in Seoul on the last Friday of the month, called Club Night locally, you can pay a flat fee to enter about a dozen different clubs, with one drink on the house in each. It’s a good deal even if you only plan to visit a few of the bars. While the city’s best nightlife spot, the area around Hongik University is quite charming by day as well, particularly on Saturdays and Sundays when markets spring up selling Korean handicrafts and souvenirs.
Easily accessible from Jamsil Station on the Seoul subway, this extraordinary recreational complex is the world’s largest indoor theme park, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Lotte complex also includes an outdoor amusement park (Magic Island), folk museum, shopping centers, an artificial island within an artificial lake, and a luxury hotel (all linked by monorail), and it receives an average of eight million visitors a year.
Housed largely in glass to permit natural light, the complex offers country-themed districts, complete with full-scale parades, feature films, laser light shows, souvenir shops, terrifying rides, and an astonishing variety of international cuisine, snacks, and foodstuffs.
Among the most popular rides within the grounds are a Spanish pirate ship that swings a full 75 degrees, the so-called “Gyro Drop” and “Gyro Swing”, the latter of which replicates the sensation of being inside a hurricane.
Garosu-gil, meaning “tree-lined street” in Korean, is a 700-meter-long street in the trendy Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul. Just like the name suggests, the street is lined with gingko trees, whose leaves offer shade in the summer and make for a colorful display in fall. Whether you are shopping for haute couture and international brands or hunting for unique pieces by local independent designers, the artfully built and landscaped fashion promenade is the place to be for fashionistas and up-and-coming artists. Shoppers are drawn into the chic stores with elaborately designed storefronts, many of which are an attraction of their own.
Seoul is a mecca for coffee lovers and along Garosu-gil, there are lots of little bakeries, coffee shops and bistros that serve beautifully arranged meals and drinks. One of them is the enchanting Café Oui, which is renowned the cozy interior and the cool coffee art they create.
More Things to Do in Seoul
63 City, sometimes also called “the golden tower” or 63 Building, is one of the tallest buildings in Korea and sits on Yeouido Island. One part of the name is true - due to the gold tinted glass, the whole structure tends to glitter in a beautiful rose gold hue during the day. However, the skyscraper only has 60 floors above ground, the remaining three are an underground restricted area. 63 City is anything but an ordinary skyscraper though. Apart from the dazzling views that can be had from the observation deck on the 60th floor, locals and tourists alike will find the inside of the building filled to the brim by a big selection of fun activities and attractions. There are several main attractions inside the buildings, including Sea World, a wax museum, an IMAX theatre, Sky Art and the Fanta-Stick performance. The latter is a Korean music show that takes elements of traditional Korean performance arts and gives them a modern twist.
While the Jeongdong Theater only seats an audience capacity of 340, the mark it’s made on the Korean performing arts world rivals that of much larger venues. The theater, located in a pleasant street next to the walls of the Deoksugung Palace, opened in 1995 and has been staging a variety of both modern and traditional works ever since. A longrunning traditional performance known as ‘Miso’ (meaning ‘smile’) is a permanent feature at Jeongdong Theater. Miso performances features longstanding Korean art forms, such as instrumental performances and traditional Korean dance and songs. A new version premiered in 2010, which sees a large cast of up to 30 dancers and musicians perform in a dazzlingly dramatic, high-energy show. To improve public access to Korea’s traditional performing arts, Jeongdong Theater also stages free ‘Performing Arts at Noon’ events in spring and autumn, attracting huge numbers of local people who work in the area.
The Seoul Museum of History charts the history of Seoul from the Joseon era right up to the present day. It was conceived in order to preserve and reinforce the cultural identity of Seoul and its citizens and to promote patriotism. The construction of the museum was completed in 1993.
The museum features a permanent exhibition documenting the history and culture of Seoul and its people, with displays in both Korean and English, plus there’s a large-scale model of the city for visitors to wander around. The museum also showcases themed temporary exhibitions and stages workshops, plus musical and cultural events. Sitting outside the Seoul Museum of History is a section of the Gwanghwamun Gate, plus an old-fashioned tram that operated in Seoul in the 1930s.
In 1988, Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics, and the Olympic Park has since been transformed into a massive green space where locals come to relax. Located on the site of the ancient Mongchon Toseong Fort, the park contains extensive grassy lawns, sculpture gardens, pavilions and walking paths, making it a popular picnic spot on the weekends.
The Olympic Park is divided into four sections. In the Culture Art Park, you’ll find the Olympic Museum and the Seoul Olympics Museum of Art. Locals come to the Leisure Sports Park for skating, walking, jogging and socializing, while the Environmental Eco-Park offers a bit more solitude as well as bird watching opportunities. If you want to see the Mongchon Toseong Fort, you’ll find it in the History Experience Park. The park is so large that there’s a tram to ferry visitors from one point of interest to another. If you’re planning to explore on foot, set aside at least three hours to see the entire area and its facilities.
The Namsan Cable Car in Seoul runs from the Hoehyeon-dong platform at the base of Mount Namsan up to the Yejang-dong platform near the Namsan Tower. Naturally, it’s a scenic journey, offering 360-degree views of Seoul and the mountain by both day and night.
New cable cars were put in place in 2008, which have increased the capacity of the cars and improved them so that they feature glass on all four sides, giving visitors more of a panoramic vantage point.
This is a popular attraction, with around 50,000 people riding the Namsan Cable Car every month, and it tends to get particularly busy in the evenings. Those looking for a quieter time to ride are advised to visit in the morning. As an alternative to the cable car, active types can instead opt to reach the top of the mountain and the tower by walking up.
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