Seoul is in many ways the capital of South Korea. About 45% of all Korean people in the world live in or around Seoul. It is the biggest city in the world (when only the city itself without urban agglomeration area is taken into account). It is political, cultural and economic center of Korea. After living six months in Seoul and coming back two more times, I am sure I still did not see every interesting spot in this crazy town! See here some pictures of my explorations:
Seoul has five ancient palaces:
The biggest and most famous is Gyeongbokgung (경복궁). The entrance is the gate Gwanghwamun (광화문):
Inside the main building, the large throne hall, is called Geunjeongjeon (근정전):
Another beautiful building (among many others!) inside Gyeongbokgung is the Gyeonghoiru (경회루) pavillion that is located inside a small pond:
Another famous palace is Changdeokgung (창덕궁):
Inside Changdeokgung is a precious throne hall (only the ugly lamps were installed after reconstruction after Japanese invaders burned down the palace in the early 20th century):
The third palace is Changgyeonggung (창경궁). The picture shows the palace area with the downtown of Seoul in the background:
In the heart of the city, right next to the city hall, there is Deoksugung (덕수궁):
The fifth palace is Gyeonghuigung, today the smallest of the five (all palaces burned down and were reconstructed several times, most damage was caused by Japanese invaders):
The difference between Korean and Japanese or Chinese royal architecture can be noticed by the colours. Whereas the Japanese often only use black and white or sometimes orange and the Chinese use mainly red, Korean architecture is very colourful with a slight focus on green. Also the tiles are artworks. This is part of the roof of a hall in Gyeongbokgung:
Also the gates of the ancient city wall are famous. This is the East gate: (Dongdaemun, 동대문):
The South gate (Namdaemun, 남대문) burned down a few years ago, but in 2006 I saw it like this:
A popular spot for tourists is the road Insadong (인사동) with many traditional tea houses, souvenir shops, art galleries (like Ssamjikil, 쌈지길), restaurants and other shops selling traditional goods:
Another popular shopping and leasure time area is the always crowded Myeongdong (명동):
In Myeongdong there is also Koreas biggest church, Myeongdong Cathedral (명동 성당):
Although Seoul is a densely populated place with houses up to the horizon, heavy traffic and 24/7 life without ever sleeping, there are many spots to forget the busy daily life, to relax and escape from hectic. One of them is the renewed small river Cheonggyecheon (청계천) in the city center. 5 Meters below road level, with artworks on its sides, it invites for calming down:
An essential place for couples to visit is the Seoul TV tower on top of Namsan, a mountain in the middle of the city. From there a magnificent view over the city can be enjoyed, especially in the night (The urban region of Seoul is most beautiful at night!)...
The Han river (한강) flows through Seoul. North of it is the older part of Seoul (all pictures so far are from the North part), but today 60% of all inhabitants live in the South. Along the river there are many parks, playgrounds, beautifully illuminated or fountain-equipped bridges and stops of river boat cruises, another essential activity when visiting Seoul!
At Han river, there is also Yeoeuido (여의도), an island that is a business district and therefore called the "Manhattan of Seoul". There is the "63 building", a 63 floors skyscraper, the LG Twin towers and the National assembly.
The world cup stadium of the 2002 soccer worldcup is also located near the river in the west of the city, right next to a beautiful park called "heaven's park" (하늘공원). It is amazing how in this park it feels like countryside although it is in the middle of a huge city...
Another famous sports park is the Olympia park from 1988. The people in Seoul are very proud of it, because this event was the beginning of Seoul being recognized in the world.
Not far from here is Lotte World, an amusement park:
In the south of Seoul there is a Zoo and botanical garden. The zoo is really beautiful with many animals in big enough cages or compounds that are well decorated and offer the animals an acceptable life.
My favourite location to go out at night is the area around Hongik University, called Hongdae (홍대). There are many jazz bars, Noraebang (Karaoke), restaurants and clubs. Here I had some gigs with a small band in a Club called Jammers:
This is a typical Noraebang (노래방, Karaoke). There are rooms for 2 to 20 people, the number of songs to choose from is around 30,000. Usually people rent one room for one or two hours and have fun together. They sing for themselves, there is no audience like in western style Karaoke.
One of my favourite Korean things is Jjimjilbang (찜질방, Korean Spa). It is open 24/7 and costs an entrance fee between 6000 and 12000 Won (5-10 Euro). It is a mixture of bathroom, pool and Sauna. When entering, everybody gets a set of shirt and shorts, usually girls get white or pink, men get blue or brownish clothes. They also have towels, so there is really no need to bring anything. First men and women are separated for showering, laying down in very hot bathes and clean themselves. After putting on the uniformed dress people go to the main area where they can sit down, watch TV, talk, eat and drink something (typically steamed eggs and rice tea) or sleep. There are many hot chambers with different temperatures between 50 and 90°C. Some large Spa also have an iceroom with 4°C (my favourite!). Before leaving, people shower and use the pools again. This place is perfect to stay after drinking in the night. Also when travelling I never stayed in Hotels but always in such Spa.