On my way back home from Japan last year, I spent three days exploring the South Korean megacity of Seoul. While I couldn’t wait to discover Korea for the first time, I did have some seconds thoughts on my flight to Incheon airport. Did I make the right decision? Maybe I should have spent two extra days in Kyoto instead? Is Seoul worth visiting?
Damn you, first world problems.
So, was it? Let’s start by going over the things I liked about Seoul:
Bukchon Hanok village
I’m just going to say it – Seoul is aesthetically challenged. I know looks aren’t everything, but can I just say that flying there straight after Kyoto was particular brutal. Was there any beauty amidst 370 square miles of concrete? Actually, there was. A whole Korean village to be exact. Bukchon Hanok Village contains some of the last traditional homes, called ‘hanoks’, in Seoul. They’re amazing. We paid a small fee to drink raisin tea on the wooden porch of one of the village’s 900 gorgeous hanoks. Bliss.
Korean food is seriously underrated. This was the first time I’d tried Kimchi, Korean BBQ or Bibimbap and I’ve been hooked ever since. In fact, I now count Bibimbap – a delicious mixture of rice, meat, vegetables and chilli paste served inside a hot stone pot – as one of my favourite meals. If you’re only going do one thing in Seoul, make sure it’s eating one of these bad boys.
Namdaemun’s Underground Market
Whilst I didn’t think the famous Namdaemun Market was anything special, the underground market was definitely an interesting experience. It basically consists of lots of food stalls crammed underground. I loved it. Claustrophobics should avoid at all costs.
The coffee shops
Coffee shops are a huge deal in Seoul. The city is literally covered in them. I’m a big fan of cafes so hunting the best ones in Seoul was definitely a highlight of my trip. They’re a great alternative to dull and overpriced hotel breakfast too. Most of them have free wi-fi, which is really great when you’re lost and need help Google Maps. Over the course of two days, we visited about five or six different coffee shops. Out of these, my favourite was MMMG Cafe & Store, a cute little coffee shop in Anguk. Here’s a picture of what it looks like from Loose Leaft Travels‘s blog.
I love palaces as much as the next girl, so it’s not a big surprise that visiting Changdeokgung was on my Seoul to-do list. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s grandiose, has striking colours and a slightly eery feel to it. A short walk from Bukchon Hanok village, Changdeokgung also has a secret rear garden that you shouldn’t miss.
Last but not least – shopping. I usually avoid spending time clothes shopping when travelling as quite frankly I see it as an absolute waste of time. Seoul is different though. You can get amazing things in places you would least expect, like underground stations. I actually bought one my favourite ever black jumpers for around 35,000 won (about 20 pounds) inside the Gangnam subway! The area around Bukchon Hanok Village has some beautiful artisanal shops. And then there’s the famous Dongdaemun, a huge shopping district which feels as big as London, with malls open 24 hours a day. Stay away if you have a shopping addiction.
Verdict, is Seoul worth visiting?
Honestly? Yes and No. It really depends on the context of your trip. If like many people, you’re going to Japan for a short time (anything under 2 weeks) while trying to squeeze Seoul in, I would say don’t do it. Spend that time making the most out of Japan instead. If you’ve got more time in, it would seriously be a shame to miss out on Seoul.
The bottom line – I think that Seoul and just didn’t really click. It happens. Maybe I didn’t spend enough time there, maybe I was too tired from my hectic two weeks in Japan to really appreciate Seoul in all its glory. That’s not too say I wouldn’t want to visit the rest of South Korea. Quite the opposite. And when I do, I’ll be more than willing to give Seoul a second chance.
What did you think of Seoul? Was it worth visiting?