South Korea may not be the first destination of choice for many tourists, but it's much under-rated capital, Seoul, has it all. Set in a mountain valley, Seoul is packed with ancient traditions which contrast beautifully with the fast-moving metropolis, with its modern architecture and thriving night-life.
It is impossible to ignore the lingering vestiges of post-war Korea, yet Seoul has become a mega-city, in which shack-like eateries nestle alongside chic restaurants and nightclubs, and its people look to the future while acknowledging the past. As the city continues to flourish in a delectable fusion of the modern and traditional, so Seoul rises in popularity. There is little doubt: if you take a trip to Seoul, you are likely to fall in love with this vibrant city.
Direct flights to Seoul will bring you to Seoul Incheon International Airport (SEN), thirty miles west of the city. The state of the art airport has won “Airport of the Year” on several occasions and, in 2016, was announced the second-best airport in the world.
Seoul experiences distinct seasons, with winter temperatures frequently dropping below freezing and summer reaching a balmy, but often rainy, 25°C. If you are looking for cheap flights to Seoul, plan your trip in the shoulder months of June and September, when temperatures hover at around 20°C. Whether you are a night owl or an early riser, Seoul awaits you. The city is awake 24 hours a day, with myriad opportunities that will not fail to delight.
From ancient temples to soaring towers, Seoul’s architecture represents the city through the ages. Since the fourth century, Buddhism has been at the heart of Korean life. Today, a quarter of Koreans call themselves Buddhist. A visit to one of the temples in Seoul is, therefore, a good starting point on your journey to discover this incredible city. Formerly known as Gyeonseongsa Temple, Bongeunsa Temple was constructed in 794AD. It was renamed and refurbished by Queen Jeonghyeon in 1498, and moved 50 years later to its current location south of the Han River. The Temple complex is the heart of Buddhism in South Korea, and affords incomparable peace and tranquility among the hustle and bustle of the mega-city. Appropriately for futuristic, high-tech Seoul, the temple is presided over by a statue of Maitreya, the Future Buddha which, at 28 metres tall, is one of the tallest in South Korea. Well into the 1900s, Bongeunsa Temple was surrounded by lush countryside; over the last half-century the vibrant, forward-moving Seoul has crept up and surrounded the tranquil temple, bringing a fascinating comparison of the Seoul of today and the city of yesteryear. The Temple is open from 03.00 a.m. to 22.00 p.m., with the monks performing a percussion ceremony at sunrise and sunset. Seoul’s Five Grand Palaces, Changdeokgung, Deoksugong, Changgyeonggung, Gyeonghuigung and Gyeonbokgung each have a distinct feel, but Gyeonbokgung, or the Northern palace, has the most allure for people visiting Seoul. The Northern Palace is the largest of the five and was constructed in 1395. Although the palace was destroyed by fire during the Imjin War at the end of the 16th Century, it was reconstructed in the 19th Century, and the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion and Hyangwonjeong Pond remain intact. The breath-taking architecture and historical significance give the palace iconic status in South Korea, making it a crucial stop on your trip to Seoul. Modern South Korean Architecture has moved away from the harsh, utilitarian designs favoured in the past, opting for fluid forms and quirky designs, such as the GT Tower East, whose undulating form rises from the city’s skyline, or the Galleria Department Store, whose pearlescent façade is dramatically illuminated at night. You will be unable to turn a corner in South Korea without encountering more reality-defying, mould-breaking designs; remember to look up occasionally, and enjoy every moment!
Seoul’s progressive attitude to design and incredibly hard-work ethos means that amazing detail is applied to everything, from fashion to coffee cups, from hotels to restoration projects. This makes shopping in Seoul a unique experience! Whether you love authentic street markets, cutting-edge boutiques or opulent malls, Seoul offers the full shopping package. Birthplace of major technology companies, such as LG and Samsung, South Korea is perfect for a bit of high-tech bargain hunting – head to the Yongsan electronics Market for the latest tech – and don’t be afraid to haggle. For a glimpse of how the rich and famous shop, head to Gangnam, where you can browse top brands in opulent boutiques and malls. The streets of Gangnam are a veritable fashion show, with Seoul’s inhabitants modelling the latest trends by up-and-coming designers, for which the city has become famous. At the Insa-dong Maru shopping complex you will find dozens of shops selling fashion, crafts and homeware. If you need a break from shopping, head to the centre of the multi-storey complex, where a piano invites impromptu concerts from passers-by. If you are looking for an insight into South Korean culture, head to the country’s biggest medicine market, where stalls are laden with leaves, flowers, roots and herbs said to do anything from cure back-ache, reduce blood pressure, and promote longevity. There are plenty of other open-air markets, where you can experience traditional food and produce, grab a fashion bargain, or pick up a unique souvenir. The nandaemun market is fantastic for souvenirs, while Dongdaemun market is fashion heaven – be warned, however, that South Korean women are tiny, so Westerners may be hard pushed to find clothes that fit! Whether you are after the latest trends, digital bargains or quirky souvenirs, the shopping opportunities in Seoul are limitless. So, dive in, have a look, and soak up the sleek or gritty vibes of Seoul’s shopping districts.
Surrounded as it is by mountains, your trip to Seoul should include a little hike or two! There are a number of hiking routes, depending on your experience, fitness levels and time, but the Obong Course in the Bukhansan National Park is fairly gentle, and not over-populated. The 4-mile walk takes you along the Songchu Waterfall. It should take about two hours and you will be rewarded with breath-taking views.
Whether you go to Seoul to take in the architecture, museums, vast galleries or for a spot of shopping, you can refuel at every stop with delicious cuisine. Experience the city glittering below you as you enjoy a cocktail in a sky-bar, before heading out for a bite to eat. The fermented cabbage dish, kimchi is ever-present at mealtimes in Seoul. Aside from its culinary benefits, the dish has been credited with helping to prevent SARS and bird flu. Kimchi is mixed with rice or soup and served at pretty much every meal. Korean Barbeque is a speciality: meat grilled at the table served with a huge array of side dishes. Food is incredibly fresh and packed with flavour – crisp, fresh vegetables make up a large proportion of most meals. Like the city itself, dining out in Seoul can take you from the sublime to the ridiculous – you may well have the best meal of your life at a back-street, family-run restaurant, whilst a visit to the Hello Kitty Café is truly surreal. There is no doubt that your trip to Seoul will be a whirlwind of experiences. The culture, the skyline, the food and location make the city simply mesmerising. However, it is its people, with their incredibly hard-working, forward-thinking attitudes, who are simultaneously ambitious, loving and demure, that make Seoul such a captivating city. Do you fancy discovering this multi-faceted city, your way? Travangelo can help you to find cheap flights to Seoul.