BY DAVE FAULK
Seoul is HUGE – It’s more like 6 cities glued together, rather than one city. I started out making three itineraries (one for shoppers, for partiers, for museum people), but realized I had everyone seeing a core of a few famous places. Therefore, I’ve made a base itinerary, and added a few extras down below to tweak your experience based on what kind of traveler you are.
SEOUL 2-DAY ITINERARY
Where to stay: I think that staying in Myeong-dong is a good bet due to its central location. If you’re going with the intent to party, I’d maybe stay in Itaewon or Hongdae. In Myeong-dong, there are lots of hotels/motels/inns are on the side of Namsan hill, on the other side of the shopping area.
Assuming you’ve taken the KTX to Seoul, you’re at Seoul Station. Grab a tourist map of Seoul, or at least a map of the subway system, and hop on the subway (line 4 – light blue towards Danggogae) for 2 stops and get off at Myeong-dong. Go to your hotel, get settled, etc, etc.
Myeong-dong is nearby, but it gets better later on in the afternoon when the street vendors come out. So start by walking west down the street (towards the Shinsegae Dept Store) to NAMDAEMUN MARKET. It’s huge, and awesome. Load up on some 3000 won weird Korean T’s for your friends, get some cheap dresses, and people-watch to your heart’s content.
You’re headed to GYEONGBOK-GUNG PALACE. Jump on the metro at Hoehyeon (at Namdaemun Market). You only need to ride two stations on the light blue line from Myeong-dong (again towards Danggogae), and transfer to the orange line (go towards Daehwa). Go a few stops to Gyeongbok-gung station.
There’s a museum and plenty of palace to explore. Either tear through quickly or take your time – your choice, of course. Also on the grounds, there’s another museum – the Nat’l Folk Museum – just find the tall building with all the stacked pagodas.
Now you’re headed to nearby INSA-DONG – the place to go for Korean souvenirs to send home (think pottery and textiles). Either take a taxi to Insa-dong, or it’s only one stop on the orange line (back the way you came) to Anguk station. Go out exit 6, walk 30-50 meters and turn left at the first major road. That’s Insa-dong. You’ll see a really nice street with tons of shops. That’s Insa-dong! Grab some of those giant steamed man-du from one of the shops for a snack or lunch.
Keep walking down the street (south) after the shopping street ends, and you’ll come to the CHEONGGYECHEON STREAM. The Cheonggyecheon stream cuts east-west through the middle of Seoul. It’s been beautifully landscaped and famous architects built tons of bridges across the stream. Very cool.
Now for the evening, get back to MYEONG-DONG (either Metro light blue line 4 to Myeong-dong station – exit 5, 6, 7, or 8 OR Metro green line 2 to Euljiro-1 station – exit 5 or 6, depending how far along the stream you’ve walked). Buy some fake Louis and Longchamp bags on the streets, and get your shopping fill of chains that you can’t find in Busan: H&M, Forever 21 and more. Stop at some bars or cafes, and people-watch.
Other cool stuff to do in Myeong-dong: get a foot massage and do Dr. Fish (walk down the street that runs perpendicular between The Gap and UniQlo and look up and to the left – “The Foot Shop” – see pic); get a take-out pizza or Kraze Burger and go to a DVD Bang; or watch a movie at one of the theaters in the area.
You’re headed for SEOUL TOWER upon NAMSAN. Grab a taxi and tell the driver “Seoul Tower” (or walk if you’re feeling very sportive – I don’t recommend the cable car – very long lines). Namsan is Seoul’s ‘mountain’ that’s smack-dab in the middle of the city, and has the Seoul Tower right on top of it. If you’re with your lover, buy a lock and seal your eternal love as you put it on a chain-link fence with 2948924982925529258259 other locks.
After you’ve had your fill of the views, walk or cable-car down the hill and head to the WAR MEMORIAL OF KOREA. Get to the Myeong-dong metro station, and ride about four stops (towards Oido) to Samgakji Station, exit 1. This is an impressive museum that talks about all of the times Korea was invaded.
Enough history; let’s get down to eating. Get on the brownish-orangeish metro line (line 6) and head 2 stops (only 2 stops, but it covers a lot of ground, so I wouldn’t walk) to ITAEWON. This is a pretty weird-at-times foreigner-y district that is near the US’s main army base. Ladies, they have shoes in sizes above 250 (US sizes 8 and up), so it’s got that going for it too. Shop, eat some good food and have a few drinks to settle your nerves before you get on the train back to Busan.
If you’re looking for MORE STREET MARKETS AND SHOPPING,
Head to DONGDAEMUN MARKET (Line 1 (dark blue) and Line 4 (light blue) to Dongdaemun Station). This is where the boutiques in Busan and all over Korea get their clothes from – the largest garment district in Korea. For the malls, go Dongdaemun Station exit 8 (line 1 dark blue and line 4 light blue) OR Dongdaemun Stadium Station exit 14 (line 4 light blue, line 2 green, or line 5 purple). There’s also street shopping in the area. For this, head out exit 6 (line 1 dark blue, line 4 light blue).
If you’re looking to PARTY MORE,
Head out to HONG-DAE (Hongik University area). Make your way there by going west on the Metro green line 2. Get off at Hong-dae Ip-gu station, exit 8 or 9. Go back off the main road, and you’ll find tons of boutiques, and TONS of bars and coffee shops. Buy some scarves, cheap clothes, and get liquored up.
If you want a little bit less-foreigner party experience, ChrisInSouthKorea has a great article, “The five places in Seoul you’re not partying at – yet”
If you want some MORE TOURIST SITES,
Check out CHANGDEOKGUNG – an old summer palace with some nice grounds. When I visited here a few years ago, they made us go around with a tour guide. I don’t know if that’s still required, nor do I know if that’s a deal-breaker for you. Go Anguk Station on the orange line 3, exit 3, and walk for 5 minutes.
You can also visit OLYMPIC PARK. It’s pretty. Olympic Park Station on the purple line 5, exit 3.
Check out LOTTE WORLD, a large indoor/outdoor amusement park. There’s also ice skating and shooting (?) down below. Jamsil Station on green line 2, exits 3 or 4.
If you want to do some HIKING,
Head up BUGAKSAN behind the Gyeongbok palace grounds. See some cool views of Seoul as well as an old fortress.
If you want to see some of NEW(er) SEOUL,
Check out GANGNAM. This is a large, spread-out, newer area of Seoul. It’s basically more of the same that you’d get in other parts of the city, but I still like it a lot, though. The main drag of Gangnam is at Gangnam station on green line 2, exit 6 or 7. COEX mall is nearby at Samseong Station, green line 2 (2 metro stops down).
Jimjillbang for some spa day or sleeping
Siloam jimjilbang is located very close to the train station. Weather you need to kill a few hours before checking in to your accommodation looking for over night accommodation, this jimjillbang has the all space and spa you could want or need.