South Korea’s capital and biggest city is truly a force to be reckoned with, not just in east Asia but all over the advanced world. Whether it’s unique fine dining, vibrant fashion, catchy music or ancient spiritual centers you’re seeking, Seoul can be almost overwhelming with its memorable attractions. Before long during your stay, you’ll see why this economic powerhouse has people turning layovers into weeklong stays—or never leaving at all. Be mindful of the current season: over the course of a year, Seoul can be hot and humid, blistering cold or just a little chilly.
Buy up the place or simply window shop at COEX Mall, a giant underground shopping center that has everything from coats to suitcases to an endless supply of food courts and restaurants. Experience the novelty of “cat cafés”, coffee shops that let you interact with cats of all shapes and sizes, which can be found all over the city. Timeless temples in the urban area include Bongeunsa, Jogyesa and Myogaksa, to name a few popular sites. Still looking for indoor fun? Peruse the halls of the Seoul Olympic Museum (dedicated to the Games in 1988) or SOMA Museum of Art, both located in Olympic Park. If you have kids in tow, check out the Seodaemun Museum of Natural History for stunning exhibits of evolutionary progression and fossil records.
If you have any interest in geopolitics or world history, purchase a tour package for entry into the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), where you may peek at North Korea over its southern border with binoculars, explore one of the many unfinished tunnels around the DMZ and visit an abandoned international subway station. Most tours will end with a stop at an amethyst factory outlet store, and some even take tourists to the tense Joint Security Area—inside, North and South Korea soldiers stand face-to-face. A less depressing option, though, is a subway ride to Mangwolsa Temple for an opportunity to hike and sightsee Buddhist structures and monuments carved into the mountainside. If sunny weather is in the forecast, take less than an hour’s train tide to the picturesque town of Gapyeong and enjoy a relaxed contrast to the fast-paced city noise of Seoul.
Seoul is the 40th most densely populated city in the world, so naturally its residents live exclusively in high-rise apartments and condominiums. Renting a temporary space in top-tier neighborhoods is no headache at all: for shockingly low rates, you can find a loft in the swanky Gangnam district, only blocks from the Gangnam subway station, or an apartment near Gyeongbokgung Palace in northern Seoul. Generally speaking, there should be plenty of booking options around any major transit station.
Most international travelers arrive at Incheon International Airport (IIA), a facility built in 2001 that continually receives praise for its cleanliness, luxury features and the general speediness of its security and customs areas, and from there can take the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) to Seoul proper in just 43 minutes. Those coming from mainland China, Taiwan, Japan or somewhere else in Korea might land at Gimpo International Airport (GMP), the older and closer airport in town. The subway system is very easy to navigate, and if the directions become overwhelming, Uber operates in the city as well as standard cabs.
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