By Catherine Taylor
Seoul, South Korea is a sprawling metropolis showcasing the perfect blend of old and new Korean culture. Now one of the most popular cities to visit in Asia, Seoul is a cosmopolitan individual’s personal dreamland. From the exemplary food (both Korean and Western), to the fashion and beauty destinations on every corner, and the obvious but enjoyable K-pop attractions, visit Seoul for a taste of all the finer things in life, on a budget.
The most expensive part of any trip to Seoul is the flight. When I travelled to South Korea last October after a year of saving, the flight was about €700. Pricey, but the cost of tourism, accommodation, food and taxis in Seoul is so low that the rest of your trip turns out relatively cheap. Unless, of course, you’re tempted to buy a whole new wardrobe once you see the range of fashionable items this style capital has to offer!
Seeing as Seoul is made up of 25 individual districts, I spent my time exclusively in the capital city, but trains to other cities like Busan and Daegu range from €30 to €50 if you’re interested in seeing seaside or rural Korea. The Korean subway is very cheap and easy to navigate, but you’ll need a T-Money card (similar to Ireland’s leap card) to take all forms of transportation, including taxis, buses and trains. Grab yours at the nearest convenience store when you land in Seoul, top it up at the till and get travelling to these amazing Seoul tourist destinations!
Given its obvious connections to a certain viral K-pop phenomenon, Gangnam has much to offer Korean pop fans looking for fun in South Korea. Visit the old Bighit building (home of K-pop sensation BTS) in Nonhyeon-dong, or head to the SM Entertainment headquarters in Seolleung-ro. I know that you’ll want some pictures for the ‘gram, so check out the Psy Gangnam Style statue on your way home from shopping at Seoul’s famous Starfield COEX mall, and grab some street-food while you relax outside. The atmosphere in Gangnam at night is electric, so make sure to grab some Korean chicken and beer in the evening, then make your way to a karaoke bar (Noraebang) for the full K-pop fan experience! Gangnam is also home to the “K-Star Road” in the business district of Apgujeong-ro, another essential for the K-pop curious.
2. Changgyeonggung Palace
For an amazing experience of old Korea, add this breath-taking palace to your bucket-list! Located in the Jongno-gu district, this 15th-century ancient palace was originally built by the 4th ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, King Sejong (1418-1450). Featuring stunning architecture and sprawling gardens, entry to this must-see palace is free if you arrive in traditional Korean dress (called Hanbok). Rent a Hanbok for under €10 at one of the specialised outlets nearby, and enjoy your trek around this vast slice of old Korea.
3. Trick Eye Museum
Located in Seoul’s Mapo-gu district, the Trick Eye Museum is a wondrous and mind-boggling experience. As per visitkorea.kr, the museum is a “one of a kind painting gallery which combines art with high-end technology featuring AR (Augmented Reality) effect and 2D/3D illusions”. Swim with sharks, dance on stage with prima ballerinas, jump across volcanic caverns and so much more in this interactive Seoul experience. Most importantly: don’t forget to download the app before you enter the museum. This will save you time (and your sanity) so you can enjoy this immersive attraction.
4. Myeong-dong Shopping Street
Fashionistas and beauty buffs, this is our heaven! Myeong-dong’s shopping street is famous for its many, many clothing stores, beauty counters and cafes (I’d recommend an iced latte from The Coffee Bean for refreshments). When visiting Myeong-dong for a shopping trip, pack light and wear breathable clothing; you’re going to need it if you’re trying on fabulous clothes in multiple stores. My personal favourite destination is the Stylenanda Pink Hotel; a Korean clothing store with multiple floors laid out in the design of a Literal. Pink. Hotel. Do not miss this fashionista’s dreamhouse when you visit Myeong-dong!
And finally, an essential of Seoul nightlife is the hip town of Hongdae. Known as a young person’s hangout, Hongdae is located near various Korean universities, so this is where students come to party! Enjoy some street-food, watch up-and-coming K-pop stars and dance in the street and check out the coolest bars in town. A must-see for college students looking for a crazy night-out in Asia’s coolest capital!