48 hours in Seoul
SEOUL, South Korea -- Spending two days in Seoul is a bit like spending a half-hour inside a three-story museum. You'll enjoy it, but you'll quickly realize how little time that really is.
“Seeing it all” is simply not an option.
That said, this two-day itinerary will fly by with a an enjoyable mixture of Seoul—both old and new.
10 a.m.: Start with the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History. That the museum gets campier shouldn't be surprising. Be sure to enjoy the room where you can beat a drum to a video from the World Cup.
Gwanghwamun Station, line 5, exit 2. Walk straight down the sidewalk, pass the US Embassy and look right.
11:30 a.m.: Make your way to Gwanghwamun Plaza in the center of the road. Head inside Sejong’s statue for the "Story of Sejong", a quaintly-sized archive of Korea's most highly regarded king and some of his creations.
Noon: Head towards Cheonggyecheon, home of the below-street-level stream and dozens of restaurants. The red-and-blue spiral vividly marks the start of one of Seoul's largest development projects in recent decades. Get some lunch nearby.
1:30 p.m.: Begin making your way to Insa-dong. With the red-and-blue spiral at your back, walk to the second major intersection of Cheonggyecheon (청계2가 사거리, Cheong-gye-2-ga sa-geo-ri). Turn left. At the next intersection cross straight, then bear left.
To the left is the Knife Gallery, an odd mash-up of store, gallery and museum. A 1,000-won entry fee is well worth the opportunity to take in some exotic corners and time periods. Also on your left is Toto's old toy museum (토토의오래된물건), a nostalgic look at yesteryear's playthings, both of Korean and Western origin.
Once finished in Insa-dong, get thee to the subway. When the alley comes to an end, bear right and walk about 50 meters. Ride the subway two stops towards Daehwa, exiting at Dongnimmun Station.
3:30 p.m.: Arrive at Seodaemun Prison Museum Hall (from Dongnimmun Station, take exit 5 to street level) and begin taking in a place that somehow combines “torture” and “kid-friendly”. In one example, a webcam takes your picture, then superimposes it into a projected movie torturing your body.
5:00 p.m.: After the torture, it's time for a little trivia. In a city of 10 million, where might you find some sheep? Located near Hongik University, the sheep cafe holds a pair of cute animals for your photographing pleasure. Hongik University Station, exit 9, walk 100 meters and turn left. You'll pass a building containing a number of restaurants (including Subway and Dos Tacos). Where that building ends is a set of stairs heading down and a large tree providing shade; head down for the Thanks Nature Café.
The evening is yours: check out Hongdae Park nearby to see what’s up. From the sheep café, keep walking up the hill towards the university. Cross the road to the right, then head up the side road to the right. After climbing the short hill, look left for the park.
For better or worse, a certain video by a now-infamous musician has given Gangnam a style to live up to. Wear comfortable shoes for the fair amount of walking today.
10 a.m.: Even if you've never had an interest in plastic surgery, the BK Plastic Surgery Museum (BK 성형 박물관) is unusual enough to merit a visit. Jawbones, silicone breasts, and plenty more are on display.
Directions: Sinsa Station, line 3, exit 2. Walk 10 meters and look right for the BK Hospital, then head to the second floor.
Once finished, make your way to exit 8 and walk 300 meters, then turn left down Garuso-gil. Walk another 100 meters and look for it on your left.
11 a.m.: The third through fifth floors of the Simone Handbag Museum are the museum part of the building, featuring everything from post-modern designs with exotic materials to last century's more practical bags. Other floors include a purse store and the requisite coffee shop, but go further down for the “Material Bazaar” to have a bag custom-made.
Once finished here, meander down the tree-lined street to the main road. When you reach Apgujeong-ro-14-gil (the main road), make a right and continue towards Apgujeong station. There are ample restaurants around, but be prepared for the upscale nature of the area.
1:30 p.m.: Time to see where “Gangnam Style” got started? Walk to Rodeo Drive, an area started in the early ‘90s emulating the Beverly Hills area it's named after. From exit 2 of Apgujeong Station, make a quick U-turn to your left, then walk down the street to your right. Cross straight about 500 meters, then begin looking right for the side streets.
3:30 p.m.: When finished, take a taxi down to Sinnonhyeon station (신논현역) and Gangnam's main strip. Restaurants, cafes, and clothing shops line Gangnam's sidewalk, and ensure a crowded lane. The touchscreens showing information and the skyscrapers all bring an energy to the air. Head out exit 5 or 6 and walk straight; either side of the street will be interesting, as are the side streets.
6:00 p.m.: Hop on the subway at Gangnam and ride line 2 east to Konkuk University station. Take exit 2 down to street level, then allow yourself to meander through the dozens of options for dinner and drinks. Kondae lacks the clubs and overpriced pretentiousness, and feels more Korean.
Your last stop of the night is Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. Take exit 13 or 14 to street level. Dongdaemun's mix of shopping, performances, and crowds takes it to 11... and later. Some of the department stores don't close until well after the subways stop running for the evening.
Have a great trip!
Chris Backe is an avid travel blogger at chrisinsouthkorea.com,and has made it a point to visit a new place or event every week. He’s recently released “Weird and Wonderful Korea”, a travel guide with pictures and directions to over 100 of Korea’s off-the-beaten-path places, available as an e-book on Amazon, Apple, B&N and in print.
After years on the peninsula, Chris recently picked up and moved to Bangkok, Thailand. You can check out his new blog at www.chrisinthailand.com.