Believe me when I say that two visits to South Korea is not enough to fully enjoy what it has to offer. Listed below are some of the activities that make me miss the place and want to go back for the third time. The list is a mix of common and unusual places, so do check it out. (WARNING: Photo-heavy post ahead!)
1. CAFÉ & GALLERY HOPPING AT HEYRI ART VILLAGE
Heyri Art Village is the place all artists dream of. The art village consists of various cafes and bistros that feature art exhibits and sell products–ranging from stickers to furniture–by local artists. Some creatives even actually live there! If you’re lucky, you may see them working on their latest piece.
Each shop has its own personality. For starters, there’s a chocolate bar-shaped building that is both an art gallery and a cafe that specializes in *yup you got that right* chocolates, and a cafe with a lovely industrial look that features a huge wall full of artworks.
QUICK TIP: If you want to experience snowfall in South Korea, take a shot and travel somewhere north, like Paju. According to our Korean friends whom we met during our winter vacation, it’s more likely to snow in the northern area rather than is Seoul.
Half a day is enough to explore the area, but if you really want to take in all the art in each establishment, you should allot a day in Heyri Art Village.
HOW TO GET THERE: Ride the train to Hapjeong Station (Green Line) and take Exit 2 • Ride Bus 2200 (7:00 – 23:20; every 15 minutes) and get off at Heyri Art Village Gate No. 4.
2. CHILLING IN HONGDAE
If I were to go back to Seoul for the third time, I’d still choose to find a place to stay in Hongdae. That’s how much I love this place. It’s like a Korean version of the UP Village neighborhood with its free-spirit vibe, but with so much more to offer.
Rows of trendy fashion stores, cozy cafes, clubs and holes-in-the-wall are scattered around the area. You’re sure to find something that fits your taste, whether in clothing, music, drinks or food.
Hongdae is also home to many talents waiting to be discovered. There is a pedestrian-friendly street that turns into an impromptu stage every night, where various indie artists perform live. Aside from this, Hongdae holds a “Free Market” every Saturday (from March to November), where artists get to sell their own creative work a la flea market.
HOW TO GET THERE: Ride the train to Hongik University Station (Green Line) and take Exit 9 • Upon exiting, turn left and walk straight until you reach the pedestrian-friendly street.
3. SHOPPING IN MYEONGDONG
Fond of Korean fashion and makeup? Then you can’t miss Myeongdong, one of the most famous fashion districts in Seoul. According to the Visit Korea website, every Korean cosmetic brand has a branch in Myeongdong. Every. Korean. Cosmetic. Brand. Say whut?!
Aside from the stand-alone stores lined up along the streets, Myeongdong is also surrounded by major department stores like Lotte and Shinsegae, and an underground shopping center that sprawls all the way to the City Hall Station.
QUICK TIP: It is best to go here at sundown, to see the place teeming with pretty lights from the endless rows of shops. It is also at night where more clothes and food stalls are set up in the middle of the street, night market-style.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Option A: Ride the train to Myeongdong Station (Light Blue Line) and take Exit 7 or 8.
Option B: Ride the train to Euljiro 1 (il)ga (Green Line) and take Exit 5 or 6. Myeongdong is just a short walk from there.
4. DAYDREAMING AT EWHA WOMANS UNIVERSITY
The Ewha Womans Unviversity library is an architectural masterpiece. Once you see it in person, you wouldn’t help but dream of becoming a student there.
Other than the beautiful architecture, there is nothing much to see around the university grounds. If you go on a weekday morning, it might be nice to just sit somewhere and watch the students go about their day. And after checking out the campus, there is a shopping area right outside the gate waiting for you to surrender your remaining won.
QUICK TIP: Some apparel sold in the Ewha Womans University Shopping Street are relatively cheaper than those in Hongdae and Myeongdong, making it truly worth checking out.
HOW TO GET THERE: Ride the train to Ewha Womans University (Green Line) and take Exit 2 or Exit 3 • Walk straight along the main road to get to the Ewha Gate • Walk around the area on the left of the main road (facing the direction towards the university) for shopping. See the map in our South Korea artinerary for directions to the Ewha Womans University and Ewha shopping area.
5. HIKING AT HWASEONG FORTRESS
Hwaseong Fortress is located in Suwon, which is 30km south of Seoul. It was built in the 1700s during the Joseon Dynasty, and was designated a UNESCO Heritage Site in the late 90s.
The fortress wall stretches for a total of 5.52km and has a great variety of military facilities that’s hard to find anywhere else. Four gates face each of the cardinal directions—Janganmun (north), Paldalmun (south), Changnyongmun (east), and Hwaseomun (west)—and the seven-arch style Sumun gates straddle the point where the nearby stream reaches the palace. Above the Sumun gates is a pavilion called Hwahongmun. —Visit Korea
A visit to the Hwaseong Fortress is the perfect day trip for travelers looking for a leisurely hike, with a mix of cultural and historical learning. Don’t forget to savor the awesome view of Suwon once you reach the top of Mt. Paldal.
After the hike, you may also want to check out the Hwaseong Hanggeung Palace at the foot of Mt. Paldal. This served as the royal family’s temporary palace during a war.
HOW TO GET THERE: Ride the train to Sindorim (Green Line) • Transfer to the Blue Line going to Suwon Station and take Exit 4 • Ride Bus 13 and get off at the Paldalmun Gate of Hwaseong Fortress.
6. EXPLORING DONGDAEMUN DESIGN PLAZA (DDP)
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) has been among the most popular places to visit in Seoul since it opened its doors last March 2014. Designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, the huge complex serves as the art, design and technology hub of the fast-growing city.
So if you want to know and see the latest in design and technology, a visit to DDP will help. It has a multi-purpose hall, eco-friendly park, museum, 24-hr “Design Market” and a number of exhibition halls.
DID YOU KNOW? DDP also had its share of negative remarks. Aside from the actual design (some called it an ugly spaceship) and choice of location (they had to demolish an 80-year-old stadium to give way to the rise of DDP), the project’s $450 million cost also stirred debates.
To add to the visual extravaganza, an LED Rose Garden was also installed next to one of the exhibition halls, in 2015. The last day of the installation is always moved to a later date, so I’m guessing that there’s a high probability that the said garden, which is composed of more than 25,000 lighted roses, will be there for quite a while.
HOW TO GET THERE: Ride the train to Dongdaemun History & Culture Park (Green Line) and take Exit 1.
7. VISITING GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE
Gyeongbokgung Palace is one of those places that you just can’t miss on your first visit. Among the five royal palaces in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung is the grandest and largest, thus making it the most commonly visited palace by tourists.
NOTE: All Gyeongbokgung Palace photos were taken during our trip to South Korea last October 2014.
The premises were once destroyed by fire during the Imjin War (Japanese Invasions, 1592-1598). However, all of the palace buildings were later restored under the leadership of Heungseondaewongun during the reign of King Gojong (1852-1919). —Visit Korea
Entrance fee is 3,000won for adults and 1,500won for children. If you plan to visit the three other palaces and the Jongmyo Shrine as well, better get the Integrated Ticket for Palaces at 10,000won, which you can buy at the entrance of any of the palaces. The ticket is equivalent to one entrance pass per palace and is valid for one month.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Option A: Ride the train to Gyeongbokgung Station (Orange Line) and take Exit 5 • Follow the directions and walk towards the palace.
Option B: Ride the train to Gwanghwamun Station (Purple Line) and take Exit 2 • Walk towards the palace thru the Gwanghwamun Square.
8. WANDERING AROUND BUKCHON HANOK VILLAGE
One thing to love about Seoul is how it perfectly mixes the old and the new. A testament to this is the existence of the beautiful Bukchon Hanok Village, in the midst of the technologically-advanced metropolitan.
NOTE: All Bukchon Hanok photos were taken during our trip to South Korea last October 2014.
Here, you’ll see streets lined up with traditional Korean houses called “hanok.” Some serve as guesthouses, galleries and cafes, while some are actual homes occupied by Seoul residents. That’s why as you walk along the village, you’ll see a “silence please” signage from time to time.
We tried looking for the “sanggojae” featured in the Korean drama Personal Taste, but gave up due to the number of tourists during our visit. It was October then, which most people say is the best time to travel to South Korea because of the cool weather.
HOW TO GET THERE: Ride the train to Anguk Station (Orange Line) and take Exit 2 • Walk straight and follow the directional signage to the Bukchon Hanok Village.
9. CHECKING OUT THE NAMSAN TOWER
Honestly, I wasn’t fascinated with the view from top of the Namsan Tower. It was incomparable to Hongkong’s Victoria Peak. However, the place offers a certain appeal and romance, that made Ivan and I visit it twice.
Another reason to visit, especially for couples, is the famous love locks area. Of course Ivan and I didn’t miss the opportunity to put our own lock during our first visit. We threw our key like most couples do, to signify a never-ending love. We both know this doesn’t have to do anything with maintaining a happy relationship, but did it anyway for fun! 😉 So we weren’t really disappointed when we couldn’t find out lock anymore two years later.
K-drama fans (like me, admittedly) will also want to check out the Namsan Tower since it is a popular shoot location for various shows. One of the most recent dramas that featured the place is the top-rating “My Love from the Star.”
HOW TO GET THERE: Ride the train to Myeongdong Station (Green Line) and take Exit 3 • Take the Namsan Sunhwan Shuttle Bus No. 05 (7:00 – 23:30; every 15 minutes) and get off at the Namsan Cable Car Station. Alternatively, you can walk from the station (towards the street with the 7-Eleven Store, follow the directional signage) • Ride the cable car going to Namsan Tower.
10. BIKING AROUND NAMI ISLAND
I first saw Nami Island in the K-drama series “Endless Love: Autumn In My Heart” and since then, I’ve always dreamt of visiting it. That dream came true during our first trip to South Korea in 2014, coincidentally during autumn. The island was painted with warm tones of yellow, orange, and red, due to the changing of colors of the leaves. It was the perfect complement to the cool breeze.
Namiseom Island is 63 km away from Seoul in the direction of Chuncheon, and is famous for its beautiful tree lined roads. The island is 30 minutes away from Chuncheon and an hour away from the suburbs of Seoul. Since it is not far from Seoul, many couples and families come to visit. —Visit Korea
QUICK TIP: Aside from the usual ferry, another way to get to the island is via zipline. YES, zipline from one island to another! Cool, huh? We tried it ourselves during our first visit and it was SUPER FUN!
Our second trip to Nami Island was during winter, and I must say that it was equally charming. There were lesser tourists as well, so that’s a plus.
I’m sure the photos are enough to tell you how beautiful Nami Island is, so I will just tell you this: when in South Korea, DO NOT miss the opportunity to visit this island, regardless of the season. I’m sure each season offers a different personality.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Option A: Ride the train to Yongsan Station (Gyeongui Jungang Line) • Transfer to the ITX – Cheongchun Line and take the train to Gapyeong Station (best to pre-purchase tickets via ITX kiosks or online) • Ride the Gapyeong Circle Tour Bus right outside the Gapyeong Station, going to Nami Island • Get down at the wharf and take the ferry to Nami Island.
Option B: Ride the train to Mangu Station (Gyeongui Jungang Line) • Transfer to the Gyeongchun Line and take the train going to Gapyeong Station • Ride the Gapyeong Circle Tour Bus right outside the Gapyeong Station, going to Nami Island • Get down at the wharf and take the ferry to Nami Island.