We’ve been really busy exploring Seoul. It’s a huge city with so many things to see and do that we have been kind of overwhelmed trying to figure out how we can pack it all in. We even bought a stroller so that we could spend more time out and let Nu nap on the go sometimes – which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. In the end I think we have managed to see most of what we had hoped, and we have thoroughly enjoyed Seoul.
We spent a lot of our time in the historical center of the city. We wandered the streets of Insa-dong, which has an amazing mix of old and modern Korea, climbed the tiny steep alleys of Hanok village and visited the palaces of Korea’s royalty.
Insa-dong is super trendy – even the trees are cool with their crochet covers. There are tons of small boutiques and innovative cafes. There are churros sold absolutely everywhere, as well as these very interesting ice cream cones. Beyond looking hilarious, they are actually ingenious for sharing an ice cream with your son on your back.
Exploring Hanok village is probably the top tourist experience in Seoul, and with good reason. It’s an extremely well preserved historical village right in the heart of Seoul. Long ago this neighbourhood was home to the nobles that served in the nearby palaces but today is filled mostly with guesthouses, where people can experience what its like to live in a hanok. In order to truly appreciate the history of the place and add to the fun, tons of people dress up in traditional outfits called Hanbok. We saw so many of them that I was inspired to try one myself.
The added bonus of wearing this outfit was free entrance to Changdeokgung. This palace is huge and beautifully decorated. The Koreans visiting seemed to love that I was dressed in a Hanbok and I really felt like I was in the spotlight with people asking to take selfies with me.
We also visited the hip area around Hongik university called Hongdae. Its packed with students and feels very artsy. Here we visited a dog café where you can have a coffee or beer and sit and play with 30+ dogs. There are big dogs and small dogs and long dogs and tall dogs…and Nu loved them all! He went crazy chasing all of them around.
We tried to visit several museums but somehow on those days my planning skills were seriously off and every time we went to another museum it was closed. Luckily for us the War Memorial Museum has tons to see outside and so we were still able to see and learn a little. The Memorial is seriously impressive and moving, and there are about 20 different fighter planes on display. Even Nu learnt a little playing on the airplane playground.
We took a very long walk along the Cheonggycheon Stream, which is a huge urban regeneration project that spans about 10 km in downtown Seoul. It feels very fresh and quiet here, and it’s a great escape from the urban landscape of Seoul.
Near the Cheonggycheon Stream is the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which is a very futuristic landmark. It’s a huge art exhibition space, that has a large park on its roof filled with interesting art installations. We had a great time here with Nu running around everywhere.
We had a very special day out with our host, Emma and her family. We visited an ancient Buddist temple in the mountains, an urban farm, and then finally made our way to the annual festival at her children’s school, which is right at the base of Bukhansan National Park. The performance and costumes were amazing and Nu spent a good portion of the night clapping his hands to the music.
Our final stop in Seoul was Gangnam, the hangout spot of Seoul’s elite. The area we walked around in, called Garusugil, is packed with high-end clothing stores, French cafés and plastic surgery clinics. Of course, the streets were also filled with people dressed to the nines. We didn’t find Gangnam to be particularly remarkable and have to say we prefer ‘Eunpyeong Style’.