Seoul travel guide
Encircled by mountains, home to a population of 10-million, and with more than a million registered motor vehicles inching through its congested streets, one would imagine the metropolis of Seoul to be a polluted nightmare. The city fathers, however, have made a concerted effort in recent years to clean and green this thriving, prosperous city, also ensuring that the mushrooming of gleaming skyscrapers has not meant the neglect or destruction of centuries-old palaces and shrines. The result is a bustling, but organised, city filled with fascination, where old and new co-exist happily.
A great deal of the credit for the well-ordered urban planning of Seoul can be given to the ancient Joseon Dynasty, which used great foresight when crafting the city into a capital way back in the 14th century. The old Joseon Dynasty city, with its central main palace, is now the traditional downtown heart of Seoul where many of the most popular sights, hotels and markets are to be found. One of the most interesting areas for visitors to explore is Insa-dong, filled with antique shops, art galleries, traditional teahouses, restaurants and bookshops.
Across the Han River the modern city is dominated by Korea's World Trade Centre, and the Coex Mall, a shopper's delight. Even the island, Yeouido, in the middle of the Han River, is densely packed with high-rise buildings; this is also the base for the Korean National Assembly, and the world's biggest Presbyterian church.
Interspersed through the urban landscape are several lush, green parks, the most central being Namsan Park, encompassing the mountain of the same name just to the south of downtown Seoul. Namsan Park is also home to the iconic Seoul Tower, which offers spectacular 360 degree views of the city and surrounding countryside.
Nightlife in Seoul is lively and legendary with something to suit all tastes, from a 'booze-cruise' through the raunchy red light district of Itaewon, or a sedate sit-down at a traditional teahouse. Eating out, too, is a feast for the senses in Seoul, with an enormous international variety to choose from, whether it is succulent steak, perfect pizza, multi-course gourmet, tasty tandoori or, of course, classic Korean.
The jewel of Seoul's five historic palaces, Gyeongbokgung was built in 1395 by Lee Seong-Gye, founder of the Joseon Dynasty, who established the city as the capital of Korea. The magnificent rectangular palace, which now contains the National Museum of Korea and National Folk Museum of Korea, and features Royal apartments and staterooms, gardens and elegant lotus ponds. The pavilion features on the 10,000 won note. The palace is in a process of continual restoration as new archaeological treasures are uncovered and restored to their former glory. This historic palace complex consistently ranks as one of Seoul's best loved tourist attractions.
Address: 1 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu
Transport: Five-minute walk from exit 5 of Gyeongbokgung station (Seoul Subway Line 3)
Opening time: The palace's operating hours are generally 9am to 6pm but these times can change depending on the season. Check website for details.
Fun and thrills are the order of the day at Seoul's main theme park, which draws about six million visitors annually. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Lotte is the largest indoor theme park in the world. The park is divided into an indoor and outdoor section. Inside, 'Adventure Land' covers acres of streets representing different countries, filled with hundreds of activities, entertainments, shops, restaurants and ongoing parades. Outdoors, Magic Island with its fairy-tale castle, offers thrilling high-altitude rides, laser shows and pleasant walking trails around a lake. There is also an indoor ice-rink and a fascinating Folk Museum complete with miniature villages. People of all ages will enjoy a visit!
Address: 240 Olympic-ro, Songpa-gu
Transport: Jamsil Subway Station (Line 2 and 8). Take exit 4 directly to Lotte World
Opening time: Operating hours are 9.30am to 10pm.
No visit to Seoul is complete without exploring the capital's heart and artistic soul: the alleyways of the Insadong district, known colloquially as 'Mary's Alley'. More than 100 antique shops and countless art galleries are tucked away here, delighting collectors and casual browsers alike. From ancient Chinese pottery to yellowed books and delicate jewellery, most visitors manage to find a treasured souvenir or special gift among the quaint stores. There are plenty of restaurants, taverns and traditional teahouses in the area, too, to ensure shoppers stay refreshed while seeking out treasures.
Address: Insadong Junction, Jongro-gu
Transport: Subway to Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line No.3)
Namsan, the mountain that stands sentinel in the centre of
Seoul, is a popular recreational feature in the city. The mountain
is not that high comparatively and hiking up through the park is
not that challenging. A cable car and stairway take visitors to the
summit, where there are several attractions to enjoy, including the
Maritime Aquarium, botanical gardens, fountains and the Seoul
Tower, which, rising 1,575ft (480m), offers a fantastic view of the
city and surrounds. The revolving restaurant on top of the tower is
particularly popular for dinner because of the breathtaking view it
affords of Seoul by night.
Also set within the park, the Namsangol Hanok traditional Korean village comes as a pleasant surprise. Centred on five restored Korean historical homes depicting various social levels from the Joseon Dynasty, the village is a time capsule in the midst of the city with its peaceful pond and pavilion. Visitors can not only explore the houses, but also enjoy traditional tea, shop for souvenirs, browse traditional crafts, or try their hand at ancient games like 'neolttwigi' (jumping on a see-saw) or arrow throwing. At weekends in summer traditional wedding ceremonies are held at midday.
Address: 100-177 Hoehyeon-dong 1-ga Jung-gu
Transport: A 10-minute walk in the direction of Lila Elementary School from Myeong-dong Station on Seoul Subway Line 4 (Exit 2 or 3)
Opening time: The park's operating hours are generally 10am to 11pm but these times can change depending on the season and weather conditions. Check website for details.
One of the 'Five Grand Palaces' built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty, Changdeokgung is set within a large park in Jongno-gu and the whole complex has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Located east of Gyeongbok, Changdeokgung is also referred to as the East Palace. It was the favoured palace of many kings of the Joseon Dynasty and in accordance with the Three Kingdoms of Korea period, its buildings blend harmoniously with the natural landscape. At least 600-years-old, this historic site is one of Seoul's touristic gems. The colourful, intricate architecture is set in expansive gardens, a peaceful green place for a stroll.
Transport: Subway line 3, Anguk Station, Exit 3. Subway lines 1, 3 or 5, Jongno 3-ga Station, Exit 6.
Opening time: The Palace's operating hours are generally 9am to 6pm but these times can change depending on the season. Check website for details.
Jogyesa is the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. First established in 1395, Jogyesa is located in Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, in central Seoul. In 1998, Jogyesa made international news when several monks occupied the temple for more than 40 days in a power struggle between factions of the Jogye Order. A highlight of this attraction is Natural Monument 9, an ancient white pine tree, within its grounds. The principles of Buddhism have been taught at this temple for more than a century and visitors keen to interact with the monks and learn something about their faith can join one of the temple's teaching programmes.
Address: Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu.
Jongmyo Shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is celebrated
as one of Korea's foremost cultural treasures. Visitors to Seoul
will be hard-pressed not to visit the Jongmyo Shrine. Built in
1394, it is the oldest royal Confucian shrine in the world and
ceremonies, rituals and traditional dance performances are often
held here. Jongmyo is the official shrine of Korea's Joseon
Jongmyo is made up of a number of halls as well as a small cloister, the interior of the shrine as well as the roofs and ceilings are exquisitely painted and decorated. 'Jongmyo' is the term used for a place where memorial services are performed for deceased kings and it is therefore unsurprising that the shrine is home to more than 40 memorial tablets of past kings and queens of Korea.
Tourists visiting Seoul will find that the shrine is situated within walking distance of the Changdoekgang Palace complex, and the two attractions can be conveniently combined while sightseeing.
Address: 157 Jong-ro, Jongno-gu
Transport: Take subway lines 1, 3 or 5 to Jongno-3-ga subway station.
Opening time: The Shrine's operating hours are generally 9am to 6pm but these times can change depending on the season. Check website for details.
A quintessential Korean pastime, and a good everyday option for budget-conscious travellers, Galbi Restaurants are immensely popular places, full every night of the week with locals, expatriate workers in Korea, and tourists. The basic concept of Galbi is simple: patrons sit around a private barbecue grill and order portions of raw, succulent pork, which they then cook themselves at their own leisure. Of course, over the course of the evening, the waiter will bring a seemingly unending selection of complimentary side-dishes (banchan) to the table, including the ubiquitous national dish kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), a variety of jjigaes (soups), pajeon (pancakes), bean sprout salad (kongnamul), spicy soy bean paste (doenjang) and more. Over and above the culinary experience of eating in a Galbi restaurant, tourists will love the laid-back atmosphere and unique social dynamic of cooking food with friends in a restaurant setting; while solo travellers or newly-arrived expats will find that Galbi restaurants are the perfect places to meet people and establish new friendships. Alcohol - the selection usually consisting of soju or maekju (beer) - is always served at these establishments, and is generally quite cheap.
Without doubt the most popular area of Seoul for foreign
visitors, the gritty neighbourhood of Itaewon is one of Korea's
coolest, most cosmopolitan urban enclaves. Located near the US Army
base in Seoul, Itaewon is full of great bars, restaurants, clubs
and shops, while on any given day a polyglot of languages can be
heard in the streets. Shopping in Itaewon is a unique experience,
as everything from fine tailored suits to cheap plastic jewellery,
from impossible-to-find vintage records to American football
jerseys can be found. The area is also celebrated for the range and
variety of its restaurants: over and above the plethora of
fast-food joints and Galbi restaurants, visitors can tuck into
authentic French cuisine, fine Indian and Pakistani curries, and
even thick steaks and racks of barbecue ribs (Nashville
However, as wonderful as Itaewon is during the day, it really comes alive at night, offering visitors an inexhaustible selection of clubs, bars, discos, karaoke rooms and live music venues to choose from. Some of these places are very upmarket and feature internationally-renowned DJs, while others are pretty seedy, and should probably be avoided. An exciting, edgy neighbourhood, Itaewon is the perfect base for young travellers looking for an unforgettable big-city experience in Seoul.
Address: Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Many people may not think there is much to do in Seoul for children on holiday, but look a little closer and you'll discover that there is actually a surprising amount of fun activities and attractions for kids to enjoy.
Head to the Samsung Children's Museum which will educate and captivate young minds, or the IMAX Cinema or the Aquarium which are both located close to the Grand Hilton Hotel. Lotte World Adventure Amusement Park will keep the kids entertained indoors and out, making it an ideal attraction during the summer and winter months. Renowned as the world's largest indoor theme park, kids will love the carnival shows, rides, roller coasters, folk museum and ice rink.
Head to Seonyudo Islet, an island park on the Han River for a day of fresh air, picnics and playing games in the sun, and it even features a small playground for kids to enjoy. Seoul Grand Children's Park in Neung-dong is worth a visit for families with children as it features a multitude of attractions including a zoo, an aviary, a circus, elephant rides, a giant greenhouse and even a small amusement park with rides which will delight younger children, but older kids will find these a bit tame.
Seoul attractions include historic temples and palaces, as well as some natural and cultural highlights. The preferred seasons for sightseeing in Seoul are spring and autumn, with comfortable temperatures and blue skies, but in winter the city is covered in snow and can be quite beautiful, though it is very cold. Some people enjoy the summer, but the heat and humidity can be uncomfortable.
Seoul is home to three UNESCO-listed sites, as well as numerous other cultural treasures and some fun entertainment hubs. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites are Changdeokgung Palace Complex, Jongmyo Shrine and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. The Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1395, and home to the National Folk Museum of Korea as well as other sites of interest, is a great Seoul attraction. The Namsangol Hanok Village is also a good stop, featuring traditional Korean homes from the Joseon Dynasty. The Bongeunsa, a Buddhist temple founded in 794 AD, is one of a number of temples that offer temple stay programmes for visitors, allowing foreigners to gain insight into the way of life and the faith of the resident monks.
For a break from high-brow cultural sightseeing, visitors can ride the Namsan Park cable car to the
summit of the mountain to see the maritime aquarium and botanical gardens, or visit Lotte World, the largest indoor theme park in the world and one of the most exciting Seoul attractions. There are lovely antique shops and art galleries to be browsed in the Insa-dong alleyways, and many other fun shopping districts, and the Galbi restaurants are a recreational must, at once a culinary and a cultural experience.
The service is amazingly friendly and helpful in Seoul and there are support structures in place for confused tourists: cheerful operators at the 120 Dasan Center provide answers to any question you might have for free, 24-hours a day, in Korean, English, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Mongolian, if you call 02-120 (from a cell phone) or 120 (from a landline).
For those with even a passing interest in historical affairs,
the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) - about two miles (4km) of
demilitarised land that divides the Korean peninsula in two - is an
absolute must-see. The DMZ was established in 1953, at the end of
the Korean War, and remains not only the most heavily-armed and
guarded territory on the planet, but also the last surviving relic
of the Cold War.
Day-trips, which include guided tours of North Korean infiltration tunnels and the Joint Security Area (Panmunjeon), the site of negotiations between the warring nations, leave from downtown Seoul. Upon entry into the DMZ, visitors are required to put their signature on an indemnity form, acknowledging that they are entering a 'hostile area', where they face 'the possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action'. Of course, the risk is part of the excitement, but travellers should ensure that they keep informed on regional upsets because at times there is still open conflict between North and South Korea.
Another interesting aspect of the DMZ is that, due to the total absence of development in the area for nearly 60 years, it has become the site of what must be the world's most unlikely wildlife sanctuary. An area of serene and unspoiled beauty, it is home to several rare and endangered species, such as Asiatic black bears, Amur leopards and Korean tigers. There are some hotels and hostels in the area for those who want more than just a tour.
Address: Korean peninsula region
Transport: Since tours of the DMZ are strictly by reservation only, visitors will need to engage the services of a tour company to visit the site.
Opening time: The DMZ is closed on Mondays and Korean national holidays
Hop a bus and visit Incheon, a major Korean port city on the West Sea, about an hour from Seoul, where the surrounding irregular coastline and mountainous inland terrain provide a popular outdoor playground. Incheon is home to an international airport, but this does not stop it from being a charming little city, surrounded by rice fields, and the source of the renowned Incheon flavoursome rice. Since the days of the Joseon Dynasty the city has also been famed for its therapeutic hot springs, and the downtown hotels all operate public bath facilities and swimming pools where visitors can bathe in the spa waters, claimed to benefit skin ailments, eye problems, neuralgia and gynaecological diseases. This is also the place to buy ceramics. In the Incheon Ceramics Village there are hundreds of studios and shops with traditional wood-fired kilns producing traditional porcelain.
Transport: Buses depart for Incheon from Dongseoul Express Bus Terminal and from Gangnam Express Bus Terminal.
Hwaseong Fortress is yet another of South Korea's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The fortress is situated in Suwon, south of Seoul central but still within the greater Seoul area. Hwaseong Fortress was completed in 1796 in order to protect the capital from Japanese invasions. The three-and-a-half-mile (5.7km) fortress wall weaves in and out of the modern buildings and roads of Suwon. Visitors to Suwon can climb parts of the fortress wall and marvel at the intricate and often colourful architecture that makes this extraordinary stone edifice blend in to its surroundings in a typically Korean, harmonious fashion. The Hwaseong fortress includes 41 watchtowers, the Great South Gate, Paldalmun and Seobuk Gongsimdon. There are also some traditional teahouses in the vicinity of the most popular sections of the wall where visitors can stop for a refreshing cup of iced tea.
Address: 910, Jeongjo-ro, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do
Transport: Take Seoul Subway line 5 to the Suwon station.
Opening time: Operating hours in the summer season are 9am to 6pm and in the winter season 9am to 5pm
Everland is South Korea's version of Disney Land. This massive amusement park is situated on the outskirts of Seoul and is the perfect daytrip for visitors travelling with kids. Everland has a selection of rides ranging from heart stopping to sedate. The amusement park hosts a variety of restaurants, a safari section and a snow sledding area for winter visitors. There is also a fantastic water park called Caribbean Bay, a racing track, a golf course and flower display gardens as well as a twice-daily procession of cartoon characters and trapeze artists through the park.
Address: 199 Everland-ro, Pogog-eup, Cheoin-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do
Transport: Take bus number 6000 to Yongin from Suwon Station, there is a free shuttle bus from Yongin to Everland.
Opening time: Operating hours are 10am to 10pm
Lotus Lantern Festival
The annual celebration of Buddha's birthday is a delightful experience for visitors to Seoul, who are welcome to join in the many festivities and activities that take place in and around Jongno Street and the beautiful temples of the city usually in early May each year. Included is an exhibition of wonderful traditional paper lanterns that come in every shape and size depicting various symbolic animals and objects. The associated Buddhist Street Festival is packed with activities, from folk dancing, traditional games and lantern-making lessons to temple food tastings. The culmination of all the excitement is the spectacular Lantern Parade when thousands of Buddhists carry their lanterns along Jongno Street.
Venue: Jongo Street and various temples; Date:28 April - 7 May 2017; Website: www.llf.or.kr
On Valentine's Day in Korea women traditionally buy chocolate for men; on White Day, a month later, the pattern is reversed, and women receive gifts. Popular White Day presents include white or dark chocolate, marshmallows, white clothing, jewellery or objects of sentimental value. As an extra twist, Black Day is held on 14 April, an informal traditional celebration during which single people get together to eat Jjajangmyeon (white Korean noodles with black bean sauce), commiserating not having received gifts on Valentine's or White Day.
Date:14 March annually;
Changing of the Palace Guard
At Daehanmun Gate outside Deoksusung Palace, visitors are invited to watch the ceremonial Changing of the Palace Guard three times every day at 11am, 2pm and 3:30pm. Each Changing of the Guard ceremony takes about 30 minutes. Other highlights include a guard patrol ceremony held from Deoksugung to Sungryemun, and the Watchman Ceremony at the latter. These regal events are a must-see for 'pomp and circumstance' enthusiasts, and provide a good opportunity to see the national military costumes and regalia.
Venue: Sungryemun, Daehanmun and Deoksusung Palace.; Date:Daily (except Mondays); Time:11am to 4pm.; Website: english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_2_1.jsp?cid=292853
Seoul International Marathon
One for the sports enthusiasts, the Seoul International Marathon progresses through the heart of the city annually. The marathon attracts competitors and spectators from all over the world. Visitors should take note that relevant traffic lights are restricted for the duration of the race and that certain roads are closed, which leads to some travel disruptions for those not participating. This slight inconvenience is more than compensated for by the festive atmosphere in the streets and the spectacle of so many people enjoying the race.
Date:19 March 2017; Website: marathon.donga.com/seoul/international_e1.html
Pentaport Rock Festival
Summer in Seoul brings a number of the world's top rock bands to the Korean peninsula for the Pentaport Rock Festival in Incheon. The festival is usually held at the end of July and is scheduled to coincide with Japan's Fuji Rock Festival. Visitors to Korea are able to enjoy many of the bands and artists scheduled to play at the more expensive Japanese festival for half the price. The Pentaport Rock Festival is held over three days, camping facilities are available and concert goers are advised to pack raincoats and gumboots.
Venue: Incheon Dreampark in Incheon; Date:11 - 13 August 2017; Website: www.pentaportrock.com
South Korea has a very distinct cuisine, which may take some getting used to for foreigners, but provides an exciting and unique taste experience. The selection of Seoul restaurants is vast and varied with everything from local specialities, such as Saeng Galbi(pork or beef ribs cooked on a barbeque), to huge American cheeseburgers and exotic Moroccan kebabs on offer. Options for eating out in Seoul range from cheap noodle stalls to fine-dining establishments. Travellers keen to mingle with the locals should note that Koreans like to share food and eating is a very communal activity - it is polite to accept offers to share food and friendly to offer to share in return.
The Itaewon entertainment strip has the best collection of Seoul restaurants, serving both local and international cuisine. Otherwise, good areas for traditional Korean food are Gangdong-gu and Yeongdeungpo-gu, while restaurants with international menus can be found in Gangnam-gu, Seodaemun-gu and Namdaemun.
Tipping is not customary in South Korea but some Seoul restaurants may add a service charge of 10 percent to the bill. Restaurant hours vary quite dramatically throughout the city and reservations are recommended for the more upmarket and popular venues, although it is generally possible to stroll into a decent restaurant off the street.
Don't miss the experience of dining at Sanchon, or sipping tea at their attached tea house. Run by a former Buddhist monk, this restaurant specialises in vegetarian dishes prepared with ingredients from the mountain valleys and flavoured with subtle herbs and roots. The menu features a perilla seed soup, radish mushroom and red pepper wraps, Goso-namul (seasoned goso, a wild vegetable favoured by monks), as well as a tofu stew and traditional Korean pastries. Traditional folk dancing every evening is made more colourful by Nong Ju rice beer or a glass of fruit wine. Reservations recommended.
Address: 14 Gwanghun Dong, Jongno-gu, Insadong; Website: www.sanchon.com
Myeongdong Hamheung Myeonok
hwae(raw fish). Open daily from 9.30am to 10pm, reservations not required.
Address: 26-1 Myeongdong 2-ga;
For the ultimate dining experience, offering a French fusion menu or a seven course set meal, the Seoul Hilton's Seasons restaurant scores top marks for cuisine, service and ambiance. Executive Chef Hyo Nam Park is a recognised master of his craft who enhances traditional French dishes with his own special touches. Both the set menu and the à la carte change frequently. The setting is decidedly elegant and intimate, and the service discreet and old-fashioned. Open daily for lunch and dinner, reservations essential.
Address: Millennium Seoul Hilton Hotel, 395-5 Ga, Namdaemun; Website: www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/south-korea/millennium-seoul-hilton-SELHITW/dining/index.html
Aptly named, Dugahun is set in the 'very beautiful house' of the Hyundai Gallery, and also has a lovely outdoors area for alfresco dining. Menu favourites include the king-crab, grapefruit and avocado salad, and the glazed beef tenderloin. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and Monday to Saturday for dinner, reservations recommended.
Address: 109 Sagan-dong; Website: www.dugahun.com/sagan/
Chinese cuisine is popular in Seoul, as evidenced by the large number of Chinese restaurants. One of the tried and trusted restaurants in this genre is Wan Chai with a vast menu covering all the traditional favourites. Named after Hong Kong's nightlife district, Wan Chai is popular with young Koreans and serves tasty Chinese food in a relaxed environment. Highly recommended are the spicy noodles and spicy Hong Kong shellfish.
Address: 5-35 Jangchun-dong, Seodaemun-gu;
galettes(cakes) and salads, and also boasts a good range of French wines. Open daily for lunch and dinner, reservations not essential.
Address: 123-1 Itaewon-dong;
insamju(ginseng wine). Open daily from 9am to 10pm. Reservations are accepted but not required.
Address: 50-11 Myeongdong 2-ga;
The Flying Pan Blue
Located in a quiet Itaewon alleyway, The Flying Pan Blue is a popular café set in a lofty building and charmingly furnished with chairs that don't match each other, at all! Menu favourites include chicken curry sandwiches, Saturday brunch pancakes, bagels with cream cheese and the delicious chocolate mud (brownies with wine sauce). Open from breakfast till 9.30pm Monday to Saturday, reservations recommended.
Address: 123-7 Itaewon-Dong;
The cosmopolitan city of Seoul is known for having quite a good nightlife, packed with just about every activity and all kinds of entertainment venues, and with a particular proliferation of karaoke bars.
Itaewon is the neighbourhood where most foreigners start their explorations of Seoul's night scene, and is known to be a very 'foreigner-friendly' district, with lots of international restaurants and bars and more English-speakers and expats than most of the city. The night markets in Dongdaemun see plenty of action, while Myeongdong is a great spot to start off the evening with a dinner or a few beers at one of the many cafés and bars. Theplace to be seen in Seoul is at any one of the exclusive wine bars, clubs and expensive bars in Apgujeong-dong or Sinsadong, which attract a trendy crowd. The more relaxed, younger crowd tends to hang out in Gangnam, where plenty of Western-style clubs and bars can be found. Dongdaemun is great for a few quiet ales and a spot of theatre, or to stroll through a gallery. Hongdae is the best area for live music and great dance floors on which to move into the early hours. Whatever your taste, you can be sure to find something in Seoul.
Soju is South Korea's rice wine, traditionally served in small shot glasses and drank all at once with a shout of 'Gumbay!'. Although traditions often become blurred on the party scene, it is customary in South Korea for people to buy and pour each other's drinks rather than their own - those who don't want their drinks refilled should leave a bit of liquid in them.
Shopping in Seoul is an interesting and sometimes chaotic experience; a vast selection of products, busy shopping areas and communication barriers all offer beguiling challenges. There are, however, many bargains and treasures that make it worthwhile. Most shops stay open till 10pm and some markets are open 24 hours, giving shoppers ample time to spend their money.
Myong Dong, the most popular shopping district, is home to sports and fashion shops offering cheap and trendy clothes for young people. In Tongdaemun, Doota sells cheap beads, accessories and shoes, as well as every imaginable type of fabric for homes. Second-hand goods such as televisions, CDs, clothing and shoes are available from the Hwanghak-dong Flea Market. Chang-anp'yong Antique Market treasures include paintings, calligraphy and old chests, as well as stone and ceramic artefacts. Also in the Myong Dong area, are Seoul's 'Big Three' department stores: Shinsegae, Lotte and Hyundai. These dazzling shopping emporiums stock everything under the sun, from cheap electronics to high-end fashion, and all feature labyrinthine grocery sections and popular food courts.
The birthplace of leading global electronics companies such as Samsung and LG, Korea is renowned for its cutting-edge technology. The best place to take advantage of this is at the Yongsan Electronics Market, where dozens of buildings house stores that specialise in one or two of the latest high-tech items and frequent sales mean excellent prices.
The Itaewon area has shops selling discounted designer clothes from brands such as DKNY, Nike and Adidas; stalls on the street sell hats and fake designer handbags. Apkujong has upscale department stores and boutiques, as well as the Kangnam underground shopping mall. Prada, Gucci, Armani, Stella McCartney and the Galleria are also found here. Counterfeit goods are illegal and may be confiscated at home. Tax-free shopping is advertised where applicable.
Seoul Incheon International Airport
Location: The airport is located 30 miles (50km) from central Seoul at Incheon.
Time: GMT +9.
Contacts: Tel: +82 (0)2 1577 2600.
Transfer between terminals: The two terminals are connected by inter-terminal shuttles.
Getting to the city: An express railway connection operates between Seoul station, Gimpo Airport and Incheon International. Visitors can transfer to the city along the Airport Expressway by public or courtesy bus from the airport Transportation Centre. Tickets and information can be obtained from the Bus Ticketing Office at Exits 4 and 9 (indoors) and Exits 3B to 6B and 10A to 13A (outdoors). There is also a ferry service from Incheon port.
Car rental: Europcar, Avis and Sixt operate from kiosks at airport arrivals.
Airport Taxis: To catch a taxi into Seoul, exit Arrivals via Gates 4 through 8, cross the street, and make your way to the taxi stands located at platforms 4C to 7C. The taxi ride to Seoul central will cost between KRW 55,000 and KRW 110,000 during the day, and take around one hour. Road tolls and surcharges may be added to the fare. Drivers seldom speak English so write down your destination in Korean on a piece of paper.
Facilities: This well-equipped airport has bureaux de change and banks, a large variety of restaurants and other eateries, numerous duty-free shops and a basement supermarket. There is a mobile phone rental outlet and internet kiosks, pharmacies, saunas, hair salons, a post office and luggage storage facilities.
Parking: There is short and long-term parking located within walking distance of the main terminal. Short-term parking rates start at KRW 1,200 for the first 30 minutes, to a daily maximum of KRW 24,000, but prices vary according to parking lot. Long-term parking, connected to the terminal building via shuttle, is charged at KRW 9,000 per day.
The easiest and quickest way to traverse the crowded city is on the subway, which serves all the main areas of interest. Station signs are written in English as well as Korean, and most lines have English announcements too. Subways are extremely crowded during the morning and evening rush hours, but are generally safe, though plagued with hawkers and beggars. Tickets are bought from vending machines or at ticket windows. Buses are frequent and cover the whole city, but tend to be very crowded. Tickets can be bought on board, or debit tickets can be purchased. Taxis are readily available. Regular taxis (orange, white or silver) charge an initial fee and have a complex system of metering thereafter. Black luxury taxis, called Mobeom taxis, are superior both in condition and service.
Seoul is classed as having a humid continental/subtropical transitional climate with four distinct seasons. Temperature differences between the hottest part of summer and the depths of winter are extreme. Summer (June to August) brings hot, humid weather with average high temperatures soaring as high as 85°F (29°C) on occasion; in winter (December to February) average low temperatures drop as low as 21°F (-6°C). The most pleasant seasons in the city are spring and autumn, when blue skies and comfortable temperatures are a sure bet. The city experiences heavy rainfall, but most of it falls in the summer monsoon period between June and September.
World wide weather
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