Seoul makes my blood race. Sometimes there’s an ongoing list of things of events taking place or sometimes, I just have to create my own ways of having fun.
1. Take the Seoul City Bus Tour
For a first timer to Seoul, this is the #1 recommend. As simple as it sounds, Korea’s city bus tours make (across the land) make a budget vacation possible. It’s easy to get around and see the main sights within a day with this tour. And above-ground travel is a perfect springboard for getting your perspective of how the city spans
The Seoul City Bus Tour is cheap, quick and the fastest way to see the city’s highlights. A hop-on/hop-off course (city, palace or night) tours, it hits almost every tourist area you’ll want to see from your guidebook. Best of all, it costs only 10,000W ($9 USD), which is cheaper than a cab and less annoying than figuring out subway routes; not to mention, it’s foot-friendly. I threw my family on it– knowing my parents are old and don’t like walking much, the tour made their getting around more efficient and easy.
The entire course (without getting off) takes 2 hours. Buses run every 40 min and there are headsets aboard if you’d like a short summary (very short) of each place as you pass by. The tour is smartly offered by the Korea Tourism Organization who has a pretty comprehensive website.
2. Take the DMZ Tour
As the tensions between the North and South mount, why not take a DMZ (Military Demarcation Zone) Tour to understand the history (and occasional humor) of what goes on at the front line. I won’t lie, it’s pretty intensely cool and a bit haunting. Tours range from full day and half and include lunch. Itineraries vary from DMZ line, Panmunjom/JSA, 3rd infiltration tunnel, Mt. Dora Observatory, Freedom Train, etc…
Cost: Approx. $77 USD full day tour; $35 half day
Meet place: USO Camp Kim
Dress code and passport policy are in effect.
3. See Seoul from the back of a scooter.
I hear Seoul drivers are pretty crazy on the roads. Perhaps. But I wouldn’t name drivers as the motorists to watch out for in Seoul…
It’s the delivery scooters, who literally make up their own rules at times. Nevertheless, Seoul is pretty impressive when you’re viewing it from the back of a scooter, shooting over bridges and weaving through traffic. You feel like you’re getting to understand a bit of that crazy local energy that Seoul is and you’ve got front row seats!
If you have a friend with a scooter, no other form of transportation will beat it!
4. Brush up on Seoul’s arts and festival scene.
While other cities and towns in Korea offer you a taste of the “traditional”, Seoul is your gateway to more a modern, international and contemporary scene. For a listing of gallery events, festivals and performances in the city : check out Seoul Style and the Korea Tourism Organization.
5. Shopping in Seoul
Cultural events or shopping… what is your thing? Eye-shopping (Konglish for “window shopping) through Insadong, Apgujeong, Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Itaewon, etc… and exploring what the streets bring in curiosity, you can easily spend up to a day. Each area has got its own style of quirks which will dazzle and entertain you.
Are you a fan of Korean drama and K-pop? Seoul isn’t only the capital of Hallyu, but it’s got a lot of paraphenalia to dress your inspiration with. There’s the gift and souvenir shops in Insadong (on the main walking street), Namdaemun Market, a small corner shop in Myeongdong‘s subway near one of the exits (wish I could remember which one!). The latter you can even buy K-pop CDs and subtitled versions of the K-dramas or films for cheap.
Skin care shops are also popular with everyone. The skin care products in Korea are hitting their competition hard with great skin and naturally flawless beauty (with some BB cream help!). They’re hard to miss. Generally, they’ll have posters of popular celebrities and if you see a girl standing outside grabbing customers to go in, go along with the flow and you’ll be getting a nice package of free stuff!
6. Visit historical palaces, museums & villages
Seoul may look impressively modern on the outside but the city is steeped in tradition. Visit the wealth of palaces, museums and villages and learn about Korea’s dynamic history. Some locations offer historical re-enactments to boost your cultural education.
Best tour: Take Seoul City Bus tour as it offers a palace route. It also offers a stop at Namgansol Traditional Hanok Village. Going to Bukchon Hanok Village? Check out my related post for directions.
7. Have a Goodwill guide show you around the city
The Korean tourism organization offers a free service to travelers, which they call a goodwill guide. The guides are generally local volunteers, who can speak English and will be your guide to whichever locations you want to go. Our family got a Korean goodwill guide, Ken. He was warm and excellent at offering tips and recommendations to places to see and eat at. Best of all, he shared his insight into the history and culture, which made my family’s stay so much better!
Recommendation: You must apply for a guide so do this in advance. Also this is a voluntary service on the part of the guides; while you aren’t required to tip, please pay for their transportation and meals; it’s the least you can do. They volunteer to make your stay a welcome one, so please show them appreciation.
For more shopping ideas, tours & festival information go to the Korea Tourism Organization site
For a listing of events, restaurants and the scene in Seoul, check out Seoul Style
Utility apps: 4 Essential iPhone/iPod Apps for Korea
For a post on my favorite spots in Seoul:
Finding Seoul: 8 Reasons to fall in Love with Seoul.
Finding Seoul: The Locks of Love
Visiting the Coffee Prince Cafe
How to make your own Korean drama film tour