Spring time free events to enjoy
Now that the weather’s warmed up a bit, it’s time for all the hibernating hermits to crawl out of their shells! Spring is here and that means brings luscious blooming flowers and great events to enjoy with your friends, coworkers and family. And better yet, these events below require not cash flow at all, they’re all free!
Yeongdeungpo Yeouido Spring Flower Festival
This year’s cherry blossoms are forecast to be in full bloom on April 6 until April 13 in Seoul. One of the best occasions to check out these awesomely pink flowers is Yeongdeungpo Yeouido Spring Flower Festival from April 4 to April 10, happening in Yeouido Park and on Yeouiseo-ro (behind the National Assembly building). The area consists of around 13 types of 87,859 flowering trees and shrubs including azalea, forsythias, royal azaleas, bridal wreaths and deutzia, along with 1,641 king cherry (wangbeot) trees which are native to Jenu Island. The 7-day festival will start off with a parade performed by a professional parade troupe, while interesting culture and art performances will be showcased throughout the park and streets. You’ll be able to stay late this year if you wish, as special lighting will let the cherry blossoms glow at night, creating a perfect mood for a dreamy retreat along the Han River.
Seoul Fashion Week
While Korean fashion is yet to become a global phenomenon, it is slowly but surely getting more recognition. The biggest force behind such growth is, without a doubt, the designers. As fashion icon Chriselle Lim, one of today’s most influential stylists with a huge number of followers on YouTube and Instagram, speaks of the potential this small country has to offer: “Because Korean designers haven’t hit the mass market yet, they’re able to just create things they’re passionate about.” To encourage such creative endeavors and to boost the local industry, 2017 F/W Seoul Fashion Week will be taking place from the 27th until April 1st at DDP. Just walking by to spot some outfit inspirations won’t be such a bad idea as people are going to go over the top and beyond to stand out in the crowd.
Good Runner Good Running
A lot of people use the cold winters as an excuse to take a break from working out. Well, now that spring is on the way, it’ll be a good time to start your routine workouts, and running could be one of the best ways to get you energized (runner's high, anyone?). Starting on February 13th, anyone who wants a good run in the outdoors can join a group of motivated runners every Monday. The group will meet at around 7:45pm at a designated area (usually around Seoul Forest). The run will last around an hour a half. All you have to do is inform the group through their Facebook/Instagram page (the admins will contact you for the time and location). It won't cost a dime, and you'll get to meet new people while getting your body back into shape!
Great ways to tour Seoul
Euro inspired places found in Seoul
Struck by a bit of wanderlust? Same here. While we so often wish we could drop everything and leave for a week, it wouldn’t hurt for us to have some places within our reach that we can retreat to. From Berlin to Copenhagen, Paris and Barcelona. Check out our list of temporary solutions within Seoul.
Read everywhere, in Seoul
In Seoul, paper is popular this season. It is in large part due to these marvelous bookstores, libraries as well as book bars and cafés providing unique atmosphere and materials ranging from poetry to fashion magazines and LGBTQ books. Here’s our list of places for your autumn reading.
In celebration of the oldest in Seoul
The oldest venues in Seoul might not be all that glamorous from the outside, but they all have a unique and rich story of their own. Whether it’s the oldest bookstore in town or a Joseon Dynasty neighborhood getting a new spotlight as Seoul’s hot spot or even the oldest barbershop, these places are sure to shine light on Seoul vibrant heritage.
Hot spots around Seoul
Welcome home to Mangwon-dong
Driving through Mangwon-dong six years ago, my mother noted all the changes in the neighborhood. “There was no subway here. I used to have to carry you on my back while riding the small village bus.” My great-aunt, who who took care of me during my infancy, lived there for over 40 years and since 2009, I’ve seen and been surprised by all the changes in the neighborhood. Surprisingly enough, everyone I’ve spoken to, from English teachers to exchange students and locals, seems to have a memory of Mangwon-dong. Is it the close approximately to the Han River? The relatively short distance to Hongdae? (Only 10 minutes by cab, but a world apart in noise.) Dominated by the market on one end and the Han River on the other, the entirety of Mangwon-dong is difficult to summarize in a couple sentences. Longtime residents will tell you about how this used to be “the poor part of town,” while cinephiles will reference the streets from movies and many younger employees head to this neighborhood for their first jobs (a slew of start-ups and small music production companies have opened up here). It’s interesting to find new foreign foods here, from goulash to macaroons, in a neighborhood I’ve long associated with my great-aunt’s mouthwatering kimchi. I see a little girl, just a toddler, holding hands with a woman who appears to be her grandmother walking through the market and I wonder what meaning Mangwon-dong will take on for her.
Hold your breath for Seongbukdong
“Oh, Seongbuk-dong is very beautiful,” remarks the taxi driver as he drives along the Bugak Skyway to get to Alex the Coffee. In the morning sunlight, there’s hardly a shadow from one architectural marvel to the next. Weaved into the neighborhood are relics of the past: Late author Choi Sunu’s hanok, the villa of 1900s merchant Yi Jong-seok and the teahouse, Suyeonsanbang, once home to the late author Yi Tae-jun. The significance of these places seems especially pronounced in contrast to the Western-style churches, embassies and diplomatic residences. The latter establishments have made for an unusually large demographic of foreigners in the neighborhood, despite its relatively long distance from central Seoul. Late last year, the current head of the Seongbuk-dong district office, Kim Young-bae, announced his plans to turn this neighborhood into more of a tourist attraction, hence the number of hotels, brunch cafés and Airbnb listings in the surrounding area. On a weekday morning, the streets are nearly empty save for a group of 50s-something Korean hikers and the occasional mother and son combination (Seongbuk-dong actually won a UNICEF Child Friendly City certificate in November 2013). Outside the quiet cafés, there’s the distant sound of construction, and you can’t help but hope that no one will demolish Seongbuk-dong’s intrinsic beauty.
Hot spot: Oh damn, Cheongdam
For those who vow to never hang out south of the river, Cheongdam can be the epitome of everything that is dislikeable about the Gangnam area. Expensive, exclusive and elite; Cheongdam’s the meanest of the Mean Girls. All the buildings become a blur with one lavish, luxurious exterior after another, and unlike central Seoul spots where it’s easy to walk from one place to another, the blocks are long and arduous, making Cheongdam somewhat of an intimidating space to explore. A name that’s long been in the know amongst trendsetters, the neighborhood is making a comeback and it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase, “Cheongdam is rising again.” For many a K-pop lover, the Hallyu streets, which are becoming more and more tourist-friendly, smell of their favorite celebrities with the JYP building and the K-Star Road right in center of the neighborhood. But the neighborhood is making other developments as well—becoming slightly more affordable and mixing in some down-to-earthness without losing its upscale feeling. Put on your nicest shoes and hold your head high because this is your exclusive invite to the most elite Gangnam party.
Gye-dong: The road not taken
Nestled between the Bukchon Hanok Village and Changdeokgung Palace, it may be easy to write off the long stretch that is Gye-dong as a disposable tourist attraction— beautiful and worth seeing, but not worth revisiting. Indeed, the street is jam-packed with tourists with maps in hand, peering curiously at the restaurants with no menus outside and having their photo taken outside Choong Ang High School (a historical institution founded in 1908 during Japanese colonial rule and made famous by the drama Winter Sonata). Filled with residential hanoks and guesthouses at the end of each alley and small shops from the ‘70s, the neighborhood’s experienced a resurgence in interest by the local community recently. Examples of this are Joongang Bath, Korea’s oldest public bathhouse founded in 1969, which was taken over as a Gentle Monster showroom last year, and the fact that the twenty-somethings dressed in hanboks are mostly local Koreans and not tourists. Soundtracks from the cinemas waft onto the streets from bustling cafes themed around arthouse movies, and there’s an ironic sense of nostalgia as giggling schoolgirls dressed in hanboks take selfies with their smartphones in Gye-dong’s alleys. Be it through books, dress, cinema or history, there are plenty of small ways to escape from the everyday here in Gye-dong. It just might be the one tourist hub worth returning to.
The coolest city attractions in Seoul
City Hall Plaza
If you should ever happen to catch the plaza outside City Hall without an event, take note of how green that oval space is and how distinctly that grass stands out. Facing both the former City Hall (now the Seoul Metropolitan Library) and the New City Hall, a quick look here can often highlight what's going on in the country. The Hi Seoul Festival takes place every autumn when Korea peaks with creative energy while an ice skating rink opens in the winter for cold Seoulites seeking activity. And on a hot and humid summer day, the floor fountain dances with flashes of water. City Hall Plaza serves as a metaphor for Seoul as a whole, showing that the city is ever-changing and new again every season.
National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Built in 2013 as an annex building of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) Gwacheon main location, the Seoul branch is located on the historic site of the former Defense Security Command offices. In addition, the Joseon-era former Office for Royal Genealogy is a traditional building with wooden pillars and graceful tiled roofs, which looks a little out of place next to the museum's modern buildings made of red bricks and mortar. Wedged in between the old and contemporary architecture are scultpure parks, which are also utilized as outdoor exhibition spaces. The museum has eight exhibition halls in total as well as a video library, movie theater, and a food court, so if you have the energy, you can very likely spend the entire day at the musuem. But if you do get tired of looking at art for any reason, popular attractions Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace), Bukchon Hanok Village, Samcheong-dong, and Insadong are all just around the corner.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
Designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, DDP is a cultural playground that operates 24 hours. The futuristic landmark shines in silver during the day, as the exterior is fashioned out of aluminum panels. The building lights up in the dark and flickers its lights, just like a spaceship that transmits visual signals into space.
Two day trips from Seoul
Transportation Express busTime 2hrs 40mins Ticket 12,800 won (from Express Bus Terminal) *Until Dec 27th, foreign passport holders can apply to take a free shuttle bus from Seoul (the parking lot of the Donghwa Duty Free Shop near Gwanghwamun) to Jeonju’s National Intangible Heritage Center and back. Applications are taken at shuttle.dongbotravel.com and buses leave every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Where the forest is
It takes 3hrs and 20mins to get from Seoul to Hamyang by Express Bus. This is the only option because trains don’t travel here. A lot of people assume that the only reason I’d want to go Hamyang is because I’m from there and before I came to Seoul, no one ever talked about this particular forest. I later came to find that it’s the oldest artificial forest in Korea, created 1,100 years ago under Choe Chi-won of the Silla Dynasty. Installation artist Jang Min-seung and composer Jung Jae-il collaborated last year to create records about their observations of this artificial forest. Then, they released an app called, Sanglim, which features videos of the forest coupled with a digital album made especially for the place. I always wanted to go to Hamyang because it was my dream to listen to the song “Sanglim” in Sanglim Forest.
Sightseeing: the O and V trains
“There are other memories, not only flowers from the fire but little sprouts that suddenly appear when I go on trains,” wrote poet, and avid train lover, Pablo Neruda. In Temuco, Chile, the National Railway Museum was built in his honor and is laced with his poetry, as his train travels were often the windows for his words. I had imagined the five-hour O-Trainto be quiet and pensive like my muse for this trip—the Bergen Railway. Instead, it turned out to be filled with a bipolar pop music playlist and cheery train attendants who also doubled as the hosts of a game show aired throughout the train. Rain and fallen branches on the tracks meant a two-hour delay in Buncheon, where we were scheduled to transfer from the O-Train to the V-Train. To kill time, we bought fresh dongdongju and apples from the 55-year old convenience store named Hwang-su Super, until cheering from hiking-gear dressed ajummas and ajusshis signaled the V-Train’s departure. The V-Train, only an hour long, served as the highlight of the trip, where we rode with the windows down as it wove in and out of tunnels built into the soft mountain hills, wet with raindrops and trickling valley rivers. Though supposedly most beautiful in winter, the occasional white flowering perennials speckled like snow showcased the mountain’s appeal even off-season. Once in Cheoram, we walked around the Coal Mine History Town—a preserved collection of buildings from the ‘40s to the ‘60s made even more realistic by the gray weather.