Seoul, South Korea is one of the most chill, interesting places I’ve ever visited. I absolutely loved how it felt like New York City in a way – modern and slightly congested with lots of holes in the walls, yet there are so many beautifully natural elements everywhere. Added to that was the historical aspect, South Korea is rich and vast in that respect. My trip to South Korea was with the Seoul government, so I got to experience SK’s many facets.
Where to Stay in Seoul
The hotel we stayed at was Fraser Place in Central Seoul, and it was a hotel reminiscent of any business-class spot. The hotel was truly central to everything – I was able to get to a number of restaurants, shopping malls, street markets and tourist landmarks. Fraser Place has a number of restaurants, a swimming pool, and loads of other amenities. One thing that was comforting were the receptionists speaking English – by the time I arrived to the hotel from the airport, I was pretty frazzled by the long flight and the language barrier. It was a relief. They also had umbrellas at the front desk, and gave lots of helpful tips for getting around.
Fraser Place also had really amazing room service! At times, my sleep schedule was so off and I had to lock myself in my room to get work on NYC time, so I had to order in for meals. The meals were hearty and super flavorful.
Where to Eat in Seoul
The first restaurant we ate at was Goryeo Samgyetang near the Gyeongbokgung Palace. We had a traditional chicken soup, that comes out as just broth, and you add the seasonings for yourself. This was a warm, communal restaurant that felt very western in its setup.
Euljiro (aka “Hip Jiro”) Nogari Alley is one of the hipster hot spots in Seoul. It reminds me of Williamsburg before the gentrification. It goes on for about a mile, and it’s a strip of hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars. If you are not Korean, be prepared to be stared at, as this is one of those “if you know, you know” areas. It’s not expected to see many non-locals here.
The first piece of Korean food I ate in Seoul was a ham & cheese toast from Namdaemun Market. During an early morning stroll, I caught one of the many women out there making sandwiches. There are lots of options for toppings – I just got ketchup – and they folded and stuffed my sandwich into a cup. It was honestly one of the best things I ate on the trip!
One of the most interesting things I had in Seoul was budae jjigae, a Korean army base soup that has ramen, cheese, spam, eggs, and a ton of other things in it. It’s prepared in the middle of the table and you just keep asking for additions throughout the meal. This meal I enjoyed the most – we were super relaxed and all dying because of the spice of the stew!
Honorable Mention: You cannot leave Seoul without having ddukbokki. These spicy rice cakes are chewy and warm, and I had it at almost every restaurant we went to. Loved it!
Where to Visit in Seoul
I’m not sure where to begin, Seoul is so vast and diverse.
Seoul City Hall is so gorgeous, and can be a tourist’s introduction to SK’s modern architecture. There are walking tours available in a number of languages. This is a great place to start on your trip.
Gyeongbokgung Palace is stunning, and as you’re walking through the plaza you will catch a glimpse of the mountains (and if it’s a cloudy day you’ll catch those too). There’s so much history here, really take the time to walk around and drink it all up.
Seochon Hanok traditional village is breathtaking. It’s what I imagined Seoul was going to be, lots of tight, winding hills, bamboo everywhere, and quiet corners of traditional homes. There’s lots of shops and walking around, you can catch groups of people walking around in traditional garb. I recommend going with some walking shoes on and a couple of hours.
Jogyesa Temple is the center of Korean Buddhism. Go in quietly and respectfully to honor those who have come before.
N Seoul Tower is the Empire State Building of Seoul. The best view of Seoul can be seen from the top of the tower. There’s an observatory deck with gift shop, and lots of activities inside. It’s legitimately like Times Square in there. And beware if you don’t like hills, it’s a pretty massive hill climb to get to the base of the tower!
Mapo Oil Tank Cultural Park is fascinating, and doesn’t seem interesting at first but it is very cool. The architecture here is beyond, every corner is something beautiful for you to see. There are art museums here, movie screenings and more. MOTCP is surprisingly full of things to do.
Haneul Park is huge and stunning. I visited in October, and the park was just robust and full of flavors and seasons changing over. I’ve never seen anything like it. There are trolleys to get to the fields, but also trees. It felt like Central Park, but better (dare I say it?).
Dongdaemun Design Plaza DDP Seoul is awesome, and this photo does not do it any justice. It’s a huge mall and cultural center with shops and restaurants. It’s definitely worth seeing, even if just to go pick up souvenirs. It’s breathtaking.
The Starfield Library is a showstopper, and an Instagram dream. It’s a beautiful library and is very indicative of the spirit of COEX, period. Starfield COEX Mall is awesome and deserves its own day to fully walk through (it’s massive). There’s so many shops, a world class movie theater (with the most luxurious theaters I’ve ever seen), and really just left me speechless. I couldn’t believe it!
Honorable Mention: I really, really enjoyed Myeongdong night market – so much so that I didn’t get any pictures because I was enjoying it too much. This condensed shopping block has all of your favorite stores (I did some damage at MCM!), tons of street food, and souvenirs. It’s within walking distance of the Fraser Place hotel.