Simply Seoul

Navjot Singh, a well-known British author, journalist and photographer, shares his thoughts on how to best explore the capital of South Korea.

South Korea’s capital city, with a population of over 10 million souls, needs little introduction. It’s one of Asia’s finest cities that never fails to captivate the first time visitor. The country that is perhaps most famous for giving birth to K-Pop and the famous Korean Wave holds closely a rich and vibrant culture which brings the best of its food, language and history all together to its fullest here. The first thing that strikes you immediately as you arrive at Incheon Airport is how immaculately clean, orderly, well-informed and spacious everything is. Indeed, Incheon has been awarded as the world’s best airport for countless times.

The South Korean people have been enormously successful when it comes to preserving their traditional values in the modern world. The sights of proud South Koreans visiting the Gyeongbokgung palace in traditional dress, or the Buddhist temples dotted around the metropolis, attract your attention right away as you tour the city.

Gyeongbokgung Palace (Navjot Singh)

Gyeongbokgung Palace (Navjot Singh)

Despite the impact of modernization and globalization that is evident in every area of life, including the influence of American culture with baseball being shown on most TV channels, plus the countless number of cafes dotted at every street corner, South Koreans are a very patriotic and proud bunch who have kept their centuries-old music, food, art, customs of respect and dignity, handicrafts and architecture alive in today’s world. If one was to describe Seoul using a few adjectives and specific words, then think of cafes, art galleries, cosmetic surgeries, green tiled roofs, kimchi, KTVs and cupcakes. Most importantly of all in today’s age, complimentary free wi-fi is available everywhere – Seoul is one of the most wired cities in the world. Here is my take on the 10 reasons to visit Seoul:

Korean women in traditional wear at Gyeongbokgung Palace (Navjot Singh)

Korean women in traditional wear at Gyeongbokgung Palace (Navjot Singh)

  1. Start the first day of your visit and explore the fascinating Gyeongbokgung Palace, a Unesco world heritage site which is the oldest and largest palace in South Korea. The Joseon dynasty ruled a united Korea from the late 14th century until 1910 with an ideology based on Confucian principles. In the earliest days the country’s leaders resided here, at Gyeongbokgung. This architectural marvel is a complex of eclectic, courtyards and independent structures where you can witness Seoul’s rich historical splendor. The best place to start is at the Gwanghwamun gate, where you can witness the changing of the guards’ everyday in their traditional attire.
  2. Seoul stands out for its museums. After spending around a few hours at Gyeongbokgung Palace, head to the nearby National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea. The other two notable museums to explore are the War Memorial of Korea near Itaewon and the Yongsan Garrison U.S. base, and the striking Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu showcases the best of traditional Korean art as well as contemporary art.
  3. Within walking distance from the Gyeongbokgung Palace is the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential palace. This two-storied granite main building is covered with blue roof tiles and provides informative tours, each lasting approximately two hours.
  4. Seoul with the N Seoul Tower (Navjot Singh)

    Seoul with the N Seoul Tower (Navjot Singh)

    Seoul’s most iconic sight, the N Seoul Tower is among the tallest towers in the world and perfect for escaping the bustle of the downtown areas, and affords breathtaking panoramic views of the skyline from the observation deck. Dine at the French eatery, N Grill with your friends or family and become mesmerized by the jewel-like night view.

  5. For those keen to observe life in a traditional South Korea town, and who may not have the time to visit the rural parts of South Korea outside of the capital, the residential area of Bukchon Hanok Village, located within a stone throw’s away from Gyeongbokgung Palace, is a perfect example of tradition neatly blending in with art. Numerous homes with beautifully crafted old wooden floors and doors. There are numerous boutiques, cafes, and restaurants worth nipping into.
  6. Bukchon Hanok Village (Navjot Singh)

    Bukchon Hanok Village (Navjot Singh)

    Sandwiched between two of the city’s most idiosyncratic and engaging shopping areas (Namdaemun Market and Namsan), Myeongdong Cathedral is one of the earliest and most notable examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Korea.

  7. Made famous globally by the South Korean singer, Psy, the area of Gangnam is increasingly being seen as Seoul’s answer to London’s Oxford Street or New York’s Fifth Avenue. It is primarily for high-end luxury shopping, boutique shops, eating good food (South Korean and international), and people watching. The area symbolizes wealth, luxury and excess, with high-priced housing, up-market shops and stylish restaurants. It is also full of plastic surgery clinics (this is London’s Harley Street hundred times over!), 24-hour spas and karaoke bars.
  8. Dining is a massive pastime of Seoul residents. If a full day of sightseeing leaves you feeling a little puckish, Seoul offers many excellent dining options. For a truly authentic South Korean dining experience, try the Song Jook Heon (37-1 Unni-dong, Jongro-gu), which is a well-established provider of the Hanjeongsik tradition and offers a magnificent introduction to the more lavish aspects of South Korean cuisine, including endless amounts of kimchi.
  9. Gangnam at Night (Navjot Singh)

    Gangnam at Night (Navjot Singh)

    To experience a slight hint of multiculturalism in Seoul, plus the nightlife, head to Itaewon. The area is renowned for its entertainment scene and the array of restaurants and bars offering every cuisine under the sun, including Turkish, French, Chinese and American Steak houses. The latter even more so because of the large number of U.S. military personnel (over 30,000) that are based at the nearby Yongsan Garrison.

  10. There are many markets in Seoul; some operate 24 hours a day and every day. The most famous and oldest one is the Namdaemun Market, located a short stroll from Hoehyeon Station (Line 4 – Exit 5). Here you can buy anything that is traditional Korean, including food, clothes and whatever else tickles your fancy. The Noryangjin Fish Market is highly recommended as the best seafood market in Seoul. It’s a short stroll from Noryangjin Station (Line 1 -Exit 1, Line 9 – Exit 2).

    Namdaemun Market (Navjot Singh)

    Namdaemun Market (Navjot Singh)

Where to Stay

The Ritz-Carlton Seoul (Navjot Singh)

The Ritz-Carlton Seoul (Navjot Singh)

Leave feeling better than you arrived at The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul, which is located within a stone’s throw from the hip-hop Gangnam area. It offers generously spaced and cozy rooms along with state-of-the-art facilities, gym and delightful options for food. From the outside you’d be forgiven for mistaking the flawless and reassured Grand Hyatt Seoul for a government headquarters: an imposing structure in both size and geometry. Yet it is a charming and smart jewel offering many creature comforts, including seven sleek and stylish dining venues.

How to Get There

Two international airports serve Seoul, Gimpo and Incheon. All flights from the U.S. fly into Incheon as it’s the city’s main hub.

Non-stop services to/from Seoul Incheon:

Asiana Airlines flies to Chicago-O’Hare, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, San Francisco and Seattle/Tacoma

American Airlines flies to Dallas/Fort Worth

Delta Airlines flies to Detroit and Seattle/Tacoma

Hawaiian Airlines flies from Honolulu

Korean Airlines flies to Atlanta, Chicago-O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Guam, Honolulu, Houston-Intercontinental, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, San Francisco, Seattle/Tacoma and Washington-Dulles

Singapore Airlines flies to Seoul Incheon from San Francisco

United Airlines flies to Guam, San Francisco and Tokyo-Narita

Regional departures are available via the Middle East with carriers such as Etihad, Qatar, and Emirates.

The best way to get around once you arrive in Seoul is by using the ultra-modern, well-arranged and clean metro or one of the KAL Limousine buses, both of which are fast, reliable and inexpensive to use.

To learn more about Navjot and his travels, be sure to check out his website:

Art Cafe in Itaewon (Navjot Singh)

Art Cafe in Itaewon (Navjot Singh) Expert Tips

How To Get There: As noted by the author, Seoul is served by two airports, Gimpo (GMP) and Incheon (ICN), with Incheon being the primary airport for flights from the U.S. and is approximately 31 miles from downtown. Trains are the fastest and cheapest way to get into the city, and you can either take the commuter rapid trains for (approximately $4 one-way and takes about an hour) or the A’REX Airport express train ($8 one-way and takes about 45 minutes). Information regarding area transportation is available here.
Best Time To Visit: Seoul’s shoulder seasons (Sept.-Nov. & March-May) are the best times to visit, as the weather is more pleasant and you won’t have to contend with the summer crowds. Plus summer is Seoul’s rainy season, so not only might you encounter extreme heat and heavy rainfall, hotel and airfare prices are generally higher during this period as well.

Sample Fares: Calendars display lowest roundtrip fares over the next 90 days to Seoul  from:

* All fares are roundtrip including all taxes and are accurate at time of publication. For updated pricing, conduct a new search on Updates

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Featured Image: Seoul and the N Tower (Navjot Singh)

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