10 things to do with your guests
Impress your visitors, and become a tourist again
Since retiring in 2010, my mother has been full of energy. She’s visited me in Japan, Ecuador and Korea. We met up in Peru and explored Machu Picchu together.
You might think that having an enthusiastic, world-traveling mother is a good thing, but that means an easygoing itinerary won’t cut it; real planning is needed to ensure she leaves the peninsula with great memories. I don’t want her telling my grandma that her trip was anything less than perfect.
Here’s a cheat sheet that will satisfy any visitor to Seoul. Here’s hoping these experiences and getaways impress your guests as much as they did my mother.
1. See it all — Seoul City Tour
I was skeptical at first, but my mother loved it. The beauty of the Seoul City Tour is that you can get on and off the bus at any destination without time restraints. There are four courses, the City Circle Course, Cheonggye Course, Night Course and the Traditional Market Course. All the city’s popular tourist attractions can be visited, from Namsan Tower to Dongdaemun Market to Itaewon and the National Museum of Korea. Little planning is needed to make this a fun and exciting option.
Bonus: A one-day pass comes with discounts to 17 places throughout Seoul.
Getting there: Buy a ticket at Gwanghwamun Station, line 5, exit 6.
More info: www.seoulcitybus.com
TEL: (02) 777-6090
2. the Han — Han River Ferry Cruise
One place to start this cruise is Yeouido. This small island — home to the nation’s National Assembly and referred to by Koreans as “Korea’s Manhattan” — is spectacular during the day, but takes on a mystical air at night. The cruise meanders up the Han River, allowing you to take in the sparkling lights of Seoul’s urban landscape at night. The highlight is the rainbow water display on the Banpo Bridge. The trip costs 11,000 won and there are three places to get on and off the ferry: at the Yeouido, Jamsil, and Ttukseom docks.
Getting there: Buy a ticket at Yeouido Dock, a five-minute walk from Yeouinara Station, line 5, exit 3.
More info: www.hcruise.co.kr
TEL: (02) 3271-6900
3. Rethinking attractions — Insadong/Bukchon
The key to visiting touristy places is finding new ways to explore them. One way to enhance a visit to Insadong and Bukchon is to take a pedicab tour. Your personal cyclist will give detailed information of the area while allowing you to zip through the city without breaking a sweat.
Getting there: Catch a pedicab at Anguk Station, line 3, exit 1.
More info: www.facebook.com/arteein
TEL: (02) 1666-1693
4. Streets made for walking — Downtown Seoul
Any good vacation includes a stroll through the streets to discover a city’s architecture and cultural landmarks. To get a taste of the urban splendor of industrialized Korea, there’s no better place than downtown Seoul. Start at City Hall Station; first walk to Seoul Plaza to compare the new and old city halls. Next, cross the street to see the Deoksugung Palace Royal Guard-Changing Ceremony (11 a.m., 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m. except Mondays). Stroll the palace grounds if time permits. Grab a sandwich from Café Mama or Long Bread Café and have a picnic lunch along Cheonggye Stream. Continue up the main road to Gwanghwamun Square. Make sure to visit the Admiral Yi and King Sejong museums, which are beneath the plaza. End the day with a tour of Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Getting there: Start your adventure at City Hall Station, line 1, 2, exit 5.
More info: Deoksugung Palace Royal Guard-Changing Ceremony
Sejong Center for the Performing Arts
Other palaces downtown
5. Off the tourist track — Sillim
Looking for a less touristy adventure? Visit Sillim to mix sightseeing with outdoor adventure. You can rent a bicycle and bike to the Han River, hike Gwanak Mountain and visit Seoul National University, or stroll through Boramae Park and have a picnic. Afterwards, treat yourself to a traditional lunch.
Getting there: To get to Gwanak Mountain, go to Seoul National University Station, line 2, exit 3.
More info: www.gwanak.go.kr
6. Theatre night — Nonverbal show
You don’t have to know Korean to enjoy some of the country’s best artistic performances. These nonverbal shows provide laughs and excitement through live, interactive performances. The most popular are “Nanta” and “Ballerina Who Loves a B-Boy.”
Getting there: There are three “Nanta” theatres, at Jeong-dong, Myeong-dong and in Gangnam. “Ballerina Who Loves a B-Boy” plays at City Hall Station, line 1 or 2, exit 1 or 12.
Walk along the stone wall of Deoksugung Palace for a few hundred meters. Chongdong Theater is on your right.
More info: “Nanta”
TEL: (02) 739-8288
“Ballerina Who Loves a B-Boy”
TEL: (02) 1599-9727
7. Chef for a day — Cooking class
What better way to explore a new culture than in the kitchen? Several companies and organizations offer cooking classes throughout the city. There are even makgeolli-brewing classes. We suggest the Food & Culture Korea Academy.
Getting there: To get to the Food & Culture Korea Academy, go to Gyeongbokgung Station, line 3, exit 2. Walk one block and the F&CK academy is on the 5th floor of the Saemaul Gumgo building.
More info: http://koreanrecipe.co.kr
TEL: (02) 720-6704
8. Gangnam style — Trends and temples
Even before Psy, Gangnam was a Seoul hotspot, but now it’s become a must-see place for all tourists. After checking out the main street shops, cafés and restaurants, continue on to the ancient Bongeun Temple. Although it’s surrounded by the chaos of Seoul, you can still find a serene moment (they also offer temple stays).
Getting there: To get to Bongeun Temple, go to Samseong Station, line 2, exit 6. Go straight for about half a kilometer and turn left. Bongeunsa Temple is straight ahead.
More info: bongeunsa.org/eng
TEL: (02) 3218-4895
9. Slow It Down — Nami Island
If the fast pace of Seoul is a bit overwhelming, a day trip to Nami Island showcases Korea’s more serene side. Famed for its picturesque trees, you can spend the day walking and biking in the hills. Before taking the ferry, sample Chuncheon’s famed dak galbi (spicy chicken). Many movies and dramas have been filmed on the island, so a Korean movie night here would be the ideal end to a day of sightseeing.
Getting there: Getting to Nami Island has been simplified since a new subway line was opened. From Gapyeong Station, Gyeongchun Line, follow the throngs of people to the ferry dock. If there aren’t thousands of people, you are in the wrong place.
More info: www.namisum.com
TEL: (031) 580-8153
10. The “Hawaii of Korea” — Jeju Island
Known as the ultimate Seoul escape and honeymooners’ paradise, this island provides something for everyone. Sunning on some of Korea’s best beaches is an option, but you can also explore Halla Mountain, see ajummas in wetsuits and eat black pork. There’s also an elephant show and a sex theme park (different places).
Getting there: Korea has lots of budget airlines now. Two that always seem to have great deals are Jin Air and Eastar Jet.
More info: www.jeju.go.kr
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