If I Was Visiting Seoul… What Would I Do

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul
Gyeonghoeru Pavilion at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul

One of my friends is going to Korea later this month and it got me thinking about how much I’d like to visit Seoul again. Add into the mix the fact that one of my older articles, where I talk about my 10 favourite places in Korea, had a revival in August and it was like fate telling me that this was something I should write about. Okay, not my favourite places in Korea, I’ve already written about that, but rather about the places in Seoul I’d love to see again when I head back (whenever that may be). Notice I said “when” not “if” because I’m going back… someday.

Now, it’s been 3 years since I last visited Seoul and almost 8 years since I lived there (yikes!) so some of my memories might be a bit dated but here’s what I would want to see and do (and eat) if I was visiting Seoul.

Changing of the guards at Gyeongbokgung
Changing of the guards at Gyeongbokgung

Where/what to visit if you’ve never been

Gyeongbokgung (경복궁)

Sure, this is a touristy place to visit but it’s worth it. I’ve been four times. If you can, try to guard changing ceremony which happens once an hour during the middle of the day. Just don’t go when it’s 40 degrees like it was the last time I visited. Plan on spending a couple of hours.

Looking down one of the streets at Bukchon Hanok Village
Looking down one of the streets at Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok Village (북촌한옥마을)

This is another touristy place but again, it’s worth visiting. I love walking around gazing at all the traditional architecture and definitely recommend it, especially if you’ve never been. Best of all, it’s free and you can explore at your leisure or you can book a walking tour. There’s a lot to see, so plan on spending an afternoon.

A jjimjilbang (찜질방)

No trip to Korea would be complete without a visit to a jjimjilbang (a Korean bathing house). I was super nervous my first time as I didn’t know what to do but a couple of Korean grandmothers took me under their wing and showed me the ropes. By the end of my three years in Korea, I was a pro and went at least once a week to my local one. Definitely a must try experience!

Hongdae!

Seriously, I almost lived there when I lived in Seoul (actually I lived on the opposite side of the city but I was there pretty much every weekend). This neighbourhood has everything – live music, clubs, shopping, good food, cafes and bars with cheap drinks. You have to visit!

Insadong

Sure, it’s also a little touristy but if it’s your first time in Seoul, you should definitely go. There are traditional tea houses to explore (I loved spending an afternoon in one) and it’s a great place for souvenir shopping.

My EG "Family" aka co-workers
My EG “Family” aka co-workers

What I want to see and do when I go back

Visit Friends

Of course, visiting friends has to be first on my list. I would love to see those who still live there again – both ones I made when I lived in Seoul and others I met while they were studying in Toronto. The last time I visited, I had such a short time that I wasn’t able to see many of them so the chance to spend time with them would be fabulous.

Shopping!

Shopping would be the first, second and third thing on my list! Okay, I’m exaggerating a little but shopping in Seoul is so much fun, plus there’s all kinds of cute things I would want to buy starting with Korean cosmetics (and yes, they are cute ^^). I know I can get a lot of it here in Toronto – either in stores or online – but there’s more choice and better prices in Korea. I would also stock up on Dew Tea (이슬 차), which is my favourite Korean tea. And I haven’t even thought about clothes yet. ^^

Some suggestions for places to shop: Myeongdong (great for cosmetics), Gangnam or Jamsil underground shopping centres (at the subway stations), Hongdae (it’s not just live music and clubbing) and of course, Dongdaemun where you can shop all night long (and I did many times ^^).

Catch some live music

But life isn’t just shopping so I would also want to catch some live music in Hongdae (man, I miss Hongdae) or at one of the many music festivals. If I was planning my trip perfectly, I’d be in Korea while Zandari Festa is on as I really, really, really want to attend it. There are also several other great festivals, a few of which I attended before. Regardless, I would make sure to catch some shows.

Seokchon Lake and Olympic Park highlights
Seokchon Lake and Olympic Park highlights

Re-visit Bangi-dong

Okay, this one is more personal but I really want to spend an afternoon in my old neighbourhood exploring it to see what changed and what’s still the same. I really liked living in Bangi-dong (the neighbourhood I lived in for two years in Seoul) so I would love to revisit it, along with walking around Seokchon Lake again. By the way, if you are visiting Seoul this month, there’s a cute floating full moon in Seokchon Lake until October.

Explore some new cafes and tea shops

Korea has a very fun cafe culture with many of them being themed or simply cute. While there are chains of course, and I definitely spent time in them as well, there are lots of independent ones that I loved to sit and write in. I always felt inspired so I would love to spend some time in a few the next time I visit.

Like I said, I also liked exploring tea shops in Insadong and would definitely go back for some tea… and more tea. Hey, I love tea!

My yummy tteokbokki and chamchi kimbap
Tteokbokki and chamchi kimbap

What I want to eat

Street food

Toronto has some great Korean food and enough Korean grocery stores that it’s easy for me to cook many of my favourite Korean foods but I do miss street food. And since it’s the food I miss the most… here are some of the street food I’m really craving:

Tteokbokki (떡볶이, spicy rice cakes) and soondae (순대, Korean blood sausage). Okay, I can get both in Toronto and I make tteokbokki at home but maybe it’s my imagination but they taste better together at a street vendor.

Dalkkochi (닭꼬치, chicken skewers). This is my absolute favourite Korean street food and one that I miss a lot.

Roasted chesnuts. If it’s winter, or at least chilly, I’m grabbing a bag of these. So delicious!

Bokbunja-ju, my favourite Korean alcohol
Bokbunja-ju, my favourite Korean alcohol

Bokbunju-ja

Okay, so this might be an odd combination but my co-workers and I often drank bokbunju-ja (복분자주, black raspberry wine) when we would go out for daeji galbi (돼지갈비, seasoned BBQ pork) and I really miss drinking it. Okay, I miss drinking it with them but I would definitely grab a bottle as it’s hard to find in Toronto.

Having 치맥 with friends at the Han River (near Banpo Bridge) in Seoul - Chi-Maek or Korean fried chicken & beer in English
Having 치맥 with friends at the Han River (near Banpo Bridge) in Seoul – Chi-Maek or Korean fried chicken & beer in English

Chimaek at the Han River

Chimaek (치맥, Korean fried chicken and beer) is fabulous anywhere and we have some good chimaek restaurants in Toronto but there’s just something special about eating it on the grass at night with friends while gazing at the Han River. Plus you can get it delivered… to your blanket in the park. Seriously, how cool is that?! And

For other food I miss and that I would definitely try to eat while in Seoul, check out my “Food I miss eating” article.

Banpo Bridge in Seoul - my view thel ast time I had chimaek there
Banpo Bridge in Seoul – my view thel ast time I had chimaek there

Final Thoughts

Writing this article makes me realize how very badly I want to go back to Seoul. And I’ve already starting saving! While I’m a teensy bit jealous of my friend Jenna about her upcoming trip to Korea, I’m also happy for her as it’s her first time visiting and I can’t wait to hear all about her experiences. It’s been fun reminiscing about the things I miss and what I would love to see, do and eat the next time I visit.

What would YOU like to see, do and/or eat in Seoul? We’d love to hear from you! Any recommendations? 

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday – this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it’s taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I’m the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

2 thoughts on “If I Was Visiting Seoul… What Would I Do

  • September 27, 2016 at 7:09 pm
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    One thing for sure is how fast Korea is changing, Seoul especially. You may be surprise how different it is after 3-4 years. Hope u have the chance to revisit in near future.

    Reply
    • September 27, 2016 at 7:28 pm
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      True, Korea does change fast. I saw that during the three years I taught English there. And thanks, I hope to visit Seoul next year 🙂

      Reply

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