Seoul is the largest and the capital city of Republic of Korea (South Korea). Seoul has a population of 9,794,304. South Korea is a presidential republic consisting of 17 administrative divisions. It is a developed country with a very high standard of living. It is Asia’s 4th largest economy and the world’s 15th (nominal) or 12th (purchasing power parity) largest economy.
Introduction to Seoul
Seoul is a story of success. Following years of annexation under the colonial regime and then by decades of civil war, Seoul has in the recent past undergone a cultural renaissance to emerge as a bustling metropolis and a hot tourist destination. Tradition and modernity go together to create the unique identity of this city. It is the cultural center of Korea and a fast-paced urban cluster which uses a high level of technology and is also big on environment consciousness.
Seoul is distinctive on the global map. It has earned world recognition for its rapid economic development and served as the host city to several major international events in the sports calendar–the Asian Games in 1986, the Olympics in 1988, and the FIFA World Cup in 2002.
The city of Seoul is enclosed by mountains which are about 700-800 meters high. Eight mountains surround the city. In the heart of Seoul stands Namsan (Mount Nam). The Han River flows across the city from east to west, dividing Seoul into two main areas-the older and more historic Gangbuk (River North) and the more contemporary and wealthier Gangnam (River South).
The transportation system of the city is extremely well-organized and efficient. Moving around the city is actually quite a lark. Bus services are good and regular. Ground railways are available. The subway has great connectivity and is cheap, and runs till midnight. The taxi service uses a system of color coding. While grey and white cabs are affordable, black cabs are more luxurious and certainly more expensive. Also, the water taxis ply on the Han River.
Seoul has earned the distinction of being one of the safest cities in the world. It is safe even for women to be out on the streets of the city, at any time of the day or even midnight.
Facts about the City
|Area||605.2 square km|
|Average Day Temperature||25° C|
|Average Night Temperature||13° C|
|Major Airport||Incheon International Airport|
|Geographic Coordinates||37° 34′ North, 126° 59’East|
|Time Zone||UTC/ GMT +9|
How to reach (transport)
You can arrive in Seoul in the following ways :
- The most widely used route to travel to Seoul is the Incheon International airport that is located in the neighboring city of Incheon. Flights are available to several destinations of Europe, Asia, America and Australia.
- The other option is the older Gimpo Airport. It provides domestic flights and shuttle services from several Japanese and Chinese cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai etc.
- You can travel to Seoul from any part of South Korea by high speed trains. The city is served by three train stations.
- There are five major intercity bus termini in Seoul and the bus connections to all corners within the country are very well developed. Tolled expressways and national highways connect the city with every part of South Korea.
- If you are coming from China, you can take the ferry to the city of Incheon and then travel to Seoul.
When to visit
There are plenty of attractions in Seoul in all seasons, but the best time to go is in October and November or in May as the weather remains most pleasant during this time.
Culture (fairs and festivals) and traditions
A number of festivals are celebrated in Seoul. Some of them are as follows:
- The Yeouido Spring Flower Festival is held in April. The cherry trees are in full bloom and flower decorations are put up and street performances are held.
- The Lotus Lantern festival celebrates the birth of Buddha and streets are decorated with thousands of homemade lanterns. Lantern parades are held and street performances are displayed.
- The Seoul Friendship fair is held in May. A number of free events like music and dance are performed.
- Korean motion is a unique festival celebrated for a month in October and November where non verbal performances like street theatre, puppet shows, magic shows and dance are held.
- The Seoul Fireworks festival is held in October, when fireworks displays and laser shows take place.
- The Seoul design festival is held in December when designs from all over the country and abroad are displayed.
- Jongmyo Daeje is a Royal Shrine Rites held on first Sunday of May. The Joseon Royal family take part in a Royal procession and in a seven-hour-long Confucian rite.
- The Seoul international drum festival is held for three days in October or November. Various drumming sessions and competitions are held and participants are invited from all over the world.
The Shaping of Seoul.
The history of Seoul is rich and ancient. The city has long been associated with the growth of human civilization. Archeological evidence and remains of settlements proves that the area around the Han River was inhabited since the Paleolithic age. In 18 BC, the kingdom of Baekje established its capital city, Wiryeseong which has developed into the modern day Seoul. Thereafter, the Three Kingdoms of Korea fought over the control of the capital.
Sovereignty over the city passed from the Baekje to the Gogureyo in the year 392 and after that to the Silla-Baekje alliance in 551. However, it was with the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty in the year 1394 that Seoul acquired the political significance of a capital city. King Taejo, the founder of this dynasty did much to establish the prominence of his capital by building palaces, forts and places of worship. Under the Joseon dynasty, Seoul became a protected and fortified citadel.
For several centuries, Seoul remained under the Joseon regime until it was taken over by the Japanese Empire in 1910. It remained under Japanese occupation till August, 1945. Following liberation from the colonial regime the Republic of Korea was established and Seoul was formally named the capital. During World War II however, the city suffered severe damages. Thereafter, more devastation followed as Korea became involved in a civil war. Finally, the armistice was signed in 1953 and the process of restoration of Seoul began in earnest. Today, Seoul is a predominant Asian city and a major global power.
Places to See
Seoul has much to offer the traveler both in terms of historical interest and cultural variety. The Gyenbok Palace is one of its primal attractions. It was built in the late 1300s and served as the seat of power. It has been damaged and rebuilt several times. The palace has a unique aura even today and is attractive not only for its architectural splendor but because it acquaints the visitor with the courtly customs of ancient Korea. Located close to the Gyenbok Palace is one of Seoul’s quaintest attractions- the village of Bukchon which has the largest number of wooden homes traditionally known as hanok in Seoul. These hanok will charm any visitor with their tiled roofs, decorated walls and old-world courtyards. And all this antiquity preserved in a city known for its high-rises and modern infrastructure.
Itaewon is another charming neighborhood of Seoul studded with clubs, restaurants and shopping centers. Another shopping destination is Namdaemun market, open around the clock and extremely crowded but displaying an array of wares and the most amazing street food in the city. One must also visit the War Memorial which is actually a military history museum displaying not only guns and tanks but serving as an archive of the country’s troubled history.
And there is no way the tourist can avoid visiting the Seoul N Tower, the highest point of the city and its first transmission center. Its base can be reached by a cable car and then one can take an elevator to get a spectacular view of the city. The monument is surrounded by a steel fence where as a long-standing tradition, Korean couples place locks as a pledge of devotion to each other.
More about Seoul
Service with a Smile
Seoul is all about hospitality. Not only does the city welcome the traveler in a host of ways but free gifts are offered on almost all purchases ranging from a designer handbag to a carton of breakfast cereal. Seoulites take great pleasure in handing out freebies. And the icing on the cake is, leaving a tip is not expected.
Kimchi has long been the favorite Korean dish. However, its medicinal properties were highlighted recently when Seoul managed to escape the outbreak of SARS. It was scientifically proved that kimchi, a fermented concoction consisting of cabbage, radish etc. has the capacity of protecting the body against bird flu.
Health is Wealth
Seoul is obsessed with a healthy way of living. Demand for organic food is high. Tonics which hold out the hope of increased longevity are experimented with; And Seoulites are never weary of discussing the latest health fads.
Things to do in Seoul
- Taking the City bus tour is an inexpensive way of getting a feel of the city and acquiring history lessons en route. The bus stops at 26 palaces of tourist interest and is available every half an hour. There is also a night run of the bus available from 8:00 pm-10:00 pm for the tourist who would like a glimpse of the nightlife
- Trekking up the mountains of Seoul is a recommended activity. One particularly favorite trail is along the Bugaksan which is close to the President Palace. It provides a fantastic view of the capital. You have to however, produce your passport due to security reasons to go on the trail. Mountaineering is a popular local pastime, so it is advisable for the tourist to avoid trekking during the weekends.
- Walking along the Cheonggyecheon stream is most of the most relaxing pastimes of Seoul. Located just away from the boulevards teeming with crowds, the area around the stream is an idyll of peace and quiet. Along it are small waterfalls and overhead are small bridges. One can walk along and even dip feet into the refreshingly cool water.
- Taking a night cruise on the Han River. However, tickets cannot be booked in advance. The cruise is a favorite for couples on dates. It also provides a memorable view of the muti-colored water and a light show at the Banpo Bridge.
- Visiting the Jeongdong Theater to experience the color and drama of Seoul’s varied performing arts. Following the finale of the performance the audience is welcomed to participate in the samulnori,a Korean percussion music, which is a fun experience for any visitor to Seoul.
- Learning to make the traditional Korean handicrafts such as Hanji, a handmade paper made from the bark of the mulberry tree. Classes are offered at various museums. One can also learn to make masks, fans, and traditional Korean embroidered garments.
Food is an obsession in Korea, and Seoul boasts of several small towns each of which are associated with a particular dish. Each of these towns is dotted with restaurants all of which serve their particular versions of that dish. Some such popular dishes are:
Tteokbokki : Rice cake in sauce
Gamjatang : Pork and potato soup, a winter dish
Sundae : Blood sausage filled with noodles, a dish that a first-timer had better try with eyes closed
Korean barbecue and the city’s most popular dish
Mini octopus cooked in gochugang sauce, a very spicy dish
sondubu : Homemade tofu
Koreans also love sweet potatoes. Sweet potato cake, crackers, chips, as well as sweet potato bread, potato salad, potato latte and potato pizza are widely eaten. Fruits are extremely expensive in Seoul because they are not easily available. The high level of rainfall is detrimental to fruit cultivation. Seoul’s popular drink is Soju, a rice wine traditionally drunk out of small shot glasses often accompanied with a shout of ‘Gumbay’. Another popular drink is Hwache made of flower petals, fruits and steamed grains. Confectionery consists of oil and honey pastries, dasiks which are made of rice, starch or chestnut. Tea is commonly drunk and often prepared with cinnamon, ginger, and berries.
Best season to visit
Spring is the best season to visit Seoul. It lasts from late March to May, when Korea is at its prettiest with flowers blooming all over the country. Summer is best avoided because of high humidity. However, the autumn months of September to November again offer an agreeable climate. Some tourists also visit Seoul in winter for skiing. However, the conditions are rather harsh at this time of the year.
Restaurants in Seoul
Seoul is a gourmet’s paradise and has a thriving tradition of dining out. Korean cuisine is known for its sophistication, variety and complexity. However, the bar and restaurant scene in Seoul is in a constant state of flux because peoples’ tastes change often and experimentation with cuisine is a way of life.
Restaurants to visit :
|Matjip Myeongpum Haemul
16, Dosan-daero 56-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul +82-2-542-9263
Song Jook Heon
661-18 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea +82-2-549-1459Si Hwa Dam
5-5 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seou +82-2-798-3311
Hotels to Stay
The Westin Chosun
Hostel Korea 6th
Greentel 97-6, Cheonggyecheon-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul