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Seoul Tourism Spots
6645569There are many tourist spots to visit in Seoul. Picking where to go for Seoul sightseeing may be a hard choice. Some of the popular tourist sites are listed below along with a brief history of the area and what you can expect when you visit them.
The DMZ, or the Demilitarized Zone, is a unique 6km stretch of land that runs across the Korean Peninsula and serves as a buffer between North and South Korea, two countries that are technically still at war. It’s an iconic reminder of the tragedy of war, separation of people, and is one of the saddest legacies of the Cold War.
Korea was initially divided into northern and southern halves following the end of World War II. However, after the ceasefire arrangement following the countless destruction and loss of 3 million lives from a Soviet-approved invasion of the South by the north, the country was indefinitely divided.
The DMZ’s uniqueness makes it Korea’s most popular destination for foreign visitors. However, visitation to the DMZ is strictly prohibited. Due to this prohibition, the area has become one of the most well-preserved stretches of wilderness in the world. Direct visits may be prohibited, but there are several tourist agencies that provide tours to Panmunjeom, or the Joint Security Area where the armistice between North and South was signed in 1953. The unification observatory, tunnels North Koreans have constructed under the DMZ and Woljeongri Station, the last train station before the DMZ, can also be visited.
There are several reasons for DMZ’s uniqueness. It stands as the last bastion of the Cold War and visitors can learn about peace and conflict. Also, it is a place where one must visit to gain understanding of Korean psyche, which as be largely formed through the occupations, wars and division the nation has suffered. Most of the popular DMZ attractions are located within 90 minutes of Seoul.
Three years after the Joseon Dynasty was founded, the first royal palace built was the Gyeongbokgung in 1395. The location of the Gyeongbokgung was appointed capital of Seoul, back then known as Hanyang, and represented the sovereignty of the Joseon Dynasty. Gyeongbokgun is the largest of among Gyeonghuigung, Deoksugung, Changgyeonggun, and Changdeokgung, the 5 Grand Palaces, and served as the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty.
Until the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592-1598, Gyeongbokgung continued to serve as the main palace. All the palaces were severely damaged and Gyeongbokgun was not reconstructed until 1868. The palace was expanded to a 410,000 square meter complex with over 500 buildings. Gyeongbokgung flourished for several decades until the Japanese once again destroyed the palaces during their occupation of Korea in 1910-1945. Restored buildings were torn down, Gwanghwamun Gate was relocated and the Japanese General Government Building was contructed in front of the main area of the palace.
Since 1990, there has been an ongoing effort by the Korean government to rebuild and restore the buildings destroyed. The 40 year restoration project aims to fully restore Gyeongbokgung Palace to its original form. The palace is currently open to the public and houses National Palace Museums of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea. Only 40% of the buildings have been restored, but there are many beautiful things to see at the palace.
Geunjeongjeon is the throne hall of Gyeongbokgun where the king was formally briefed by his officials, issued proclamations, and greeted foreign envoys and ambassadors.
Gyeonghoeru is a highly prized architectural structure used as a pavilion. It is located next to Geunjeongjeon on an artificial island in the middle of a rectangular lake with 3 stone bridges stretching out to the palace grounds.
Hyangwonjeong is also a pavilion located north of the palace site. The hexagonal pavilion was constructed by the order of King Gojong on an artificial island in a lake and was connected to the palace grounds by a bridge.
Geoncheonggung Palace was once the royal residence of Emperor Gojong and his wife and is located within Gyeongbokgung complex.
Located south of the palace is the main gate of Gyeongbokgun, the Gwanghwamun Gate. Comprised of 3 arched gates called Hongyemun, the middle gate is reserved for the king and the other 2 gates for his officials.
The second gate that is seen after the Gwanghwamun is Heungnyemun, the second largest gate of Gyeongbokgung.
The changing of the royal guard and the patrol rituals are reenacted everyday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in front of Heungnyemun Gate. The guardsmen perform several ceremonies including the opening and closing of the royal palace gate and the changing of the guard. Followed by the reenactment is the Patrol Ritual in front of Heungyemun.
Stretching from Gwanghwamun to Sejongno Sageori, is Gwanghwamun Square. The area was once Yukjo-geori, the center of Hanyang, which was the capital city during the Joseon Dynasty. Now it is home to Government major administrative departments.
Gwanghwamun Square is divided into 6 sections. The square’s focal point is the center and holds the statue of King Sejong the Great, the fourth and most respected king of the Joseon Dynast and creator of Hangeul, Korea’s alphabet. The main inventions from King Sejong’s reign are on display in front of the statue. That includes the Hangeul alphabet and scientific instruments such as the sundial, rain gauge and celestial globe. A nearby gallery tells the “Story of King Sejong,” and features a variety of materials and artifacts portraying the life and achievements of King Sejong.
The statue of Admiral Yi Sunshin also stands at the center. A naval commander noted for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592-1598, he is a hero among Koreans. The 12’23 Fountain and Yeoksamulgil (“Waterway of History”) stands near the statue. The 12’23 Fountain commemorates the victory the great victory in 1597 when Admiral Yi defeated 133 Japanese naval ships with only 12 ships, and won 23 battles without a single loss. The Yeoksamulgil flowing on either side of the square tells the history of Korea from 1392 to 2006 on the east side. The other side is left blank for future events to commemorate.
Han river (hangang)
Hangang is a site for rest and relaxation whether its day or night. Numerous parks dot the embankments of Hangang and is a place for those on the lookout for leisure, sports and a lesson in history. An oasis of recreation awaits those in the heart of the city at almost every location.
The Hangang Cycling Trail stretches almost the entire length of the riverside and covers a total of 80km. Popular for both leisure and as a commuter route with eco-friendly travel, the cycling trail is increasingly becoming important to Seoulites. Cycle rental shots operated by Seoul’s 8 adminitrative districts are found along the route. With several parks found along the trail, there is always a place to take a break.
The ever-changing seasonal scenery of Hangang Cycling Trails is one of its greatest attractions. Watch the sunset as you cycle alongside the river and watch Seoul’s nightscape emerge as it is punctuated by stunningly light bridges, bright car headlights and twinkling street lamps.
Every park alongside the Hangang offers refreshments and restrooms for its visitors. The asphalt and concrete road surface ensures that cyclists will experience a smooth and safe ride, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government is constantly installing additional facilities along the trail for a positive experience.
The parks alongside the cycling trails of Hangang offer a variety of facilities that include a water sports center, other sports facilities and shaded rest areas. Everyparks besides the Seonyudo Park offers cycle rentals. The operation hours vary depending on the season, but they are usually open from 9 a.m. to sunset. Cycle repairs are also available for Korean-made brands.
One of the best ways to enjoy the Hangang is the Hangang Cruise. 8 different docks are available to board the cruise, including Yeouido, Jamsil, Yangwha, Ttukseom, Sangam, Seoul Forest, Jamdubong, and Seonyudo. Each cruise has their own themes to entertain the passengers with, including live performances and fine dining with beautiful scenery. The romantic setting makes the Hangang cruise popular among lovers throughout the year.
Lotte World is a major recreation complex that opened in 1989 in downtown Seoul. It consists of the world’s largest indoor theme park, Indoor Adventure, an outdoor theme park, Magic Island, a luxury hotel, the Korean Folk Museum, shopping malls, department stores, sports facilities, and a movie theater all in one place.
Indoor Adventure is the world’s largest indoor theme park which hosts a variety of seasonal festivals and parades all year round, including the Masquerade Festival, the Rio Samba Carnival, The Halloween Party, and the Christmas Festival. Themed with “Little World Village”, the Indoor Adventure features 22 different rides, and visitors can access the outdoor theme park, Magic Island, through a connecting passageway on the 2nd floor, and the Folk Museum on the 3rd floor.
The Folk Museum is located on the 3rd floor of Indoor Park. The Folk museum holds exhibits about Korean history and culture through animation and small scale models. Visitors can also enjoy traditional performances at Norimadang, a performance hall, or browse through stalls at Jeojageori, a traditional market street.
The outdoor theme park, Magic Island, is an artificial island located in the middle of Seokchon Lake, and can be accessed from the 2nd floor of Indoor Adventure. Designed with a medieval European style with a Magic Castle in its center, Magic Island holds 17 different rides.
Daily parades are held at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., and are the star attraction of Lotte World. Different parades are held every season and holiday, and for each theme. Popular parades include the Masked Festivals and the Passionate Dance Parades.
N Seoul Tower
Built as Korea’s first integrated transmission tower beaming television and radio broadcasts across the capital in 1969, N Seoul Tower was opened to the public in 1980 and has since then become a much loved Seoul landmark. N Seoul Tower’s main attractions include multi-colored digital art projected onto the tower at night, a digital observatory, a roof terrace, the HanCook restaurant, the n.Grill restaurant, and the Haneul Restroom. Surrounding the N Seoul Tower is Namsan Mountain, increasing its popularity with locals and tourists alike.
N Seoul Tower comes alive at night with a breathtaking array of light shows from the “Reeds of Light” whose 70 lights create dynamic displays changing with each gust of wind, to the “Shower of Light” where lights rain down from a shower head for 3 minutes for every 100 won deposited. More lights are beamed from the transmission tower, observation platform, main tower and the tower plaza. They’re constantly changing colors and patterns with the season and weather, making N Seoul Tower a true nighttime spectacle.
There are numerous viewing platforms in Seoul, where visitors can enjoy the view of the city’s nightscape or gaze onto the Hangang. But N Seoul Tower differentiates itself from the others through their 360 degree panorama over the city, and 32 CD screens recounting the 600 year history of Seoul.
At the top of N Seoul Tower lies the Roof Terrace, a spacious wooden viewing deck. It is popular with couples for their exotic atmosphere and their “Locks of Love”, where thousands of padlocks are attached to the fence by romantic Seoulites to symbolize their undying affection.
Guided tours are available in English, Japanese, and Chinese for groups of up to 20 people with prior arrangements 3-7 days in advance.
Namsangol Hanok Village
Namsangol Hanok Village is a collection of 5 hanoks, traditional Korean houses, recovered from different parts of the city and relocated at the northern foot of Namsan. They were built during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Each of the 5 houses reflect the social class of the owners, from middle class to the yangban, who were mainly high government officials, noblemen and aristocrats. Visitors can enjoy the hanoks of many important figures from the Joseon era.
Most hanoks are built in rectangular shapes with an outdoor courtyard centered in the middle. Each side of the rectangle was a different area of the house, with the main areas of the hanok including a sarangche for greeting guests, an anchae, where the lady of the house would rside, and a daemunganchae, which is just inside the main gate of the house. The hanok also featured special doors to partition areas of the house into separate rooms. These doors allowed for rooms, such as the sitting room and the master bedroom, to be joined into a single large room when necessary.
The Namsangol Hanok Village also includes a Taekwondo experience program for foreigners. They are held every Wednesday and Saturday at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. Foreigners who wish to experience taekwondo rather than simply watch may participate in their practice sessions by making a reservation.
Seoul City Tour Bus
If it is your first visit to Seoul, your best bet would be the Seoul City Tour, a convenient hop-on, hop-off bus tour that hits all the major tourist attractions in Seoul. One ticket allows you to visit markets like Dongdaemun Market, shopping districts like Myeongdong, ancient Korea palaces like Gyeongbokgun, and major landmarks like N Seoul Tower. They also provide discounted admission fees to many of these attractions.
Every bus comes equipped with wide reclining seats consisting of audio guides. The audio guides are available in several languages, including Korean, Japanese, English and Chinese. They provide detailed information on every stop of the route.
There are 4 tours available: the City Circulation Tour, the Cheonggyecheon (stream)/Palace Tour, and 2 Night Tours.
City Circulation Tour
This tour is done on a single-decker bus and stops at all of the major tourist attractions in central Seoul. The tour lasts for 2 hours and the adult admission ticket is 10,000 won and 8,000 won for high school students and younger. The bus runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and departs at 30 minute intervals. The last bus departs at 7 p.m.
Stops: Gwanghwamun->Deoksugung (palace)->Namdaemun Market->Seoul Station->USO->Yongsan Station->National Museum of Korea->War Memorial of Korea->Yongsan Army Base->Itaewon->Crown Hotel->Myeongdon->Namsangol Hanok Village->Grand Ambassador Hotel->National Theater of Korea->N Seoul Tower->Hyatt Hotel->Shilla Hotel->Dongdaemun Market->Daehangno->Changgyeonggung (palace)->Changdeokgun (palace)->Insadong->Cheongwadae (Blue House)->The National Folk Museum of Korea->Gyeongbokgung (palace)->Gwanghwamun
The double-decker bus tour stops along Cheonggecheon, a beautiful 11km long man-made stream that flows through downtown Seoul, and each of the 5 Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty. The tour is 1.5 hours long and adult tickets are 12,000 won and 8,000 won for high school students and younger. The bus tour runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1 hour intervals. There is no tour at 2 p.m. During the off-season, March, June, September and November, the tour runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Stops: Gwanghwamun->Deoksugung (palace)->Cheonggye Plaza->Cheonggyecheon Museum->Seoul Folk Flea Market->Daehangno->Changgyeonggung (palace)->Changdeokgung (palace)->Insadong->Seoul Museum of History->Agricultural Museum of Korea->Gwanghwamun
Night Tour 1
The Night Tour 1 is a single-decker and a double-decker bus tour and is perfect for those who enjoy romantic nighttime views of the city. These non-stop tours offer great views of the Hangang. The tour is 1.5 hours long and is 5,000 won for adults and 3,000 won for high school students and younger. The bus only runs once at 8 p.m.
Stops: Gwanghwamun->Deoksugung (palace)->National Assembly->Seogangdaegyo (bridge)->Seongsudaegyo (bridge)-> Hannamdaegyo (bridge)->N Seoul Tower (20 min stop)->Namsan Public Library->Namdaemun Market->Cheonggye Plaza->Gwanghwamun
Night Tour 2
The Night Tour 2 is a double-decker bus tour. This tour is also 1.5 hours long and is 10,000 won for adults and 6,000 won for high school students and younger. This bus tour runs once at 8 p.m.
Stops: Gwanghwamun->Seosomun->Mapodaegyo (bridge)->Seogangdaegyo (bridge)->Hannamdaegyo (bridge)->Olympic-daegyo (bridge)->Banpo Hangang Park->Dongjakdaegyo (bridge)->Seongsudaegyo (bridge)->Olympic-daegyo (bridge)->Hannamdaegyo (bridge)->Namsan Public Library->Namdaemun Market->Cheonggye Plaza->Gwanghwamun
Buses for the bus tours depart from the Gwanghwamun bus stop located in front of the Donghwa Duty Free Shop, but passengers may get on/off the buses at any one of the bus stops on the route. Tickets for the Seoul City Tour Bus can be purchased at the Gwanghwamun Ticket Booth or on board the buses from the driver.
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