- Gwanghwamun Gate (광화문)
- Gwanghwamun Square (광화문광장)
- Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁)
- National Folk Museum of Korea
- Cheongwadae (Blue House)
- Myeongdong (명동)
- N Seoul Tower
- Namsangol Hanok Village (남산골한옥마을)
During the Joseon (조선) dynasty (1392-1910), Yi Seong-gye established his capital in Hanyang (modern-day Seoul서울) and brought forth a dynasty that would last more than 500 years; this led to many cultural, scientific, and technological achievements that would define Korean history.
Seoul, today, is home to one-fifth of the country’s population (about 9.8 million) and has remained South Korea’s capital since its founding. Its sprawling metropolis is divided into 25 districts, but it can be visualized as two halves: north and south of the Han River (Hangang). Our guided tour primarily focused on the districts north of the Han River.
We arrived in Seoul on October 5th from Tokyo, Japan. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a Hanatour driver, who took us to the Center Mark hotel. After refreshing ourselves, we explored the city on our own that same evening.
Our guided tour began on October 6th at Gwanghwamun Square (광화문광장) that enshrines a statue of King Sejong the Great, the fourth ruler of the Joseon dynasty and founder of Hangul—the Korean writing system. The Square was the center of the tumultuous history of South Korea; from the March 1st Independence Movement to civil revolution against the Japanese annexation of Korea to celebration of the Candlelight Culture Festival, the Square withstood these changes and represents the Korean spirit of democracy.
Following the road north of the square, one would reach Gwanghwamun Gate (광화문). Rebuilt multiple times and now restored to its original place in 2010, the gate is not only the main entrance to the royal palace but also a symbol of protecting Korea from foreign invasions.
Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁), originally built in 1395, is the largest and most beautiful of the five palaces in the country. Upon entering the palace, there is the main governmental area called Geunjeongjeon Hall—where court officials and the king handle state affairs—and the separate hall, Sajeongjeon Hall, for the council meetings that the king held with his high-ranking officials.
To the left are the remains of government offices. In the far back are the quarters for the king, queen, consorts, princes, and the rest of the royal family. See the official layout of the palace on the official website.
After perusing the palace buildings, we passed through the royal gardens and headed to the National Folk Museum of Korea.
The exhibits here depict the daily life of the Korean people in the past and how Confucianism played a significant role in their rituals and ceremonies.
Before leaving the palace grounds, one has the opportunity of seeing the “Changing of the Palace Guard” ceremony outside Gwanghwamun Gate (광화문), which involves the king making a proclamation and then the guards demonstrate their martial arts.
We said our farewells to the delightful palace and went to our next destination near the Myeongdong (명동) district.
Along the way, the bus took us past Cheongwadae, also known as the Blue House, where the current president of the Republic of Korea resides and conducts state affairs.
The Myeongdong (명동) district is renowned as a major shopping area from fashion brands to restaurants. While there, we had the opportunity to try Korean ginseng, which is a major export of South Korea. Ginseng has many health benefits, including helping the immune system.
We also stopped for a delicious beef stew with rice at one of the local restaurants.
Afterwards, we headed to Seoul’s special observatory— N Seoul Tower (777 feet tall). According to the tour guide, it is a popular spot for lovers to pledge their love and seal it with a Lock of Love. The cute heart chairs are shaped like a “V,” allowing one to be closer to one another.
The observatory looks over the entire city. The day we visited the observatory, the sky was quite hazy but the sight of the dense sea of skyscrapers among the greenery was still a wondrous sight.
Our final destination on the tour was Namsangol Hanok Village (남산골한옥마을). This restored traditional hanok village is located in the Namsan Mountain. The five houses show the differences in the lifestyles of the commoners and nobles from the 19th century (Joseon dynasty).
The garden around the village was said to be among the most beautiful scenery in Seoul at the time. At the very top of the slope in the garden is a time capsule that houses 600 items from 1994. It is said that on November 29, 2394, the time capsule will be opened to reveal those items.
Touring Seoul in two days is certainly not enough time to experience all the different delights and sounds of the city. Although we were pressed for time, it can be said that Seoul is a futuristic city and one that will continue to change and grow with each passing year. It is definitely a city worth revisiting in the future.
Seoul Metropolitan Government. Official website about Gwanghwamun Square. https://gwanghwamun.seoul.go.kr/eng/main.do
Official website about Gyeongbokgung palace. http://www.royalpalace.go.kr/
Korean Tourism Organization. Information about Gyeongbokgung Palace. https://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264337
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Information about Asian ginseng. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/ginseng-asian