Whether you've been living here for years and on your way out, or just in Seoul for a mere 24 hours, we've narrowed down a list of the top 10 things to do in this city that are a MUST before you're outta here.
There’s one bang we can’t get enough of: Jjimjilbangs recently made headlines when host Conan O’Brien made a memorable trip to one such Korean bathhouse in Jjimjilbang Southern California—but we think he could up the ante and come visit a jjimjilbang here in Seoul. Our jjimjilbangs range from small, wood burning “well-being” centers to giant entertainment multiplexes complete with video arcades, nail salons and restaurants. Folding towels into lamb-like hats is an art form while ladies have hot seats to warm their wombs. Seoulites come to jjimjilbangs to meander happily in and out of boiling hot saunas and often bring the whole family along. You’ll get hours of entertainment and come out soft and scrubbed, for just 10–15,000 won. Not sure where to go? Try our go-to: Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan.
Even those who haven’t been to NYC have heard of the famous Greenwich Village—Bohemian capital of the world. Far fewer recognize that this district would not even exist today had it not been for the activism of sociologist Jane Jacobs who argued: “Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.” This concept struck a bell as we walked in and out of the recent venues set up in the old hanok-heaven neighborhood of Ikseon-dong. Built during the Joseon Dynasty, this area has the largest concentration of hanoks outside Bukchon Village. It is a place where salt-and-pepper haired grandpas in their pajamas peer curiously at you from their slightly open wooden doors smudged with fingerprints dating back more than 40 years. Grandmas and their daughters, now old women too, tend to small flowerspeckled jungles climbing the front walls of their low-roofed, brick wall buildings. Looking up, the newer, taller edifices that now shroud Ikseon-dong hover above. More so than any other hot spot, venue owners were passionate about the location’s history. “You have to tell the story of the land,” they pleaded. Some of them have taken great pains (financial and physical) to adapt the hanoks to the modernity of Seoul—even to the complaints of longtime residents. Not all land-owners in this town hold a deep affection for their spaces as many of them bought the land with the intention to sell it for a higher property value in the future, not realizing that a highly controv
If you’re a virgin to the room culture scene, we suggest starting with a norae-bang (personal karaoke space). Bang literally means room and with a great number of personal space-hungry Seoulites living with their families in small apartments, locals love themselves some bang. Bang culture's been around and has developed to suit the times. Today, there's a PC-bang for your computer needs. A board game-bang to battle it out in Scrabble. A DVD-bang to watch movies in. A multi-bang that combines all and adds Wii to the mix. Most bangs are open 24 hours and come available with refreshments, snacks and sometimes even ice cream. P.S. DVD-bangs and multi-bangs provide tissue boxes and they’re not for the sad movies.
For a more kosher bang experience, check out Board School.
Korean barbecue can now be found from Beijing to Nairobi, but there’s nothing like getting your fill (and then some) of grilled meaty goodness right here in Seoul. Korean barbecue is a social affair, and you’ll be surrounded by festive groups grilling and carousing (if you’re flying solo, pull an Anthony Bourdain and join some strangers at their grill). You can also find just about any kind of barbecue imaginable here, from eel to Jeju Island black pork belly to cow intestine. You’ll leave dinner clutching your bulging belly, reeking of grilled meat and beaming.
From the oldest bookstore, Daeo Bookstore which is built in 1951 to the old hanok-heaven neighborhood, Ikseon-dong where has the largest concentration of hanoks outside Bukchon vaillage, explore the oldest in Seoul. They're matters of pride—for what kept their originality through all the years.
Going back 110 years, Gwangjang Market was originally Korea’s largest hanbok (traditional clothing) and silk goods market. These days, it is now the country’s hottest market for tasty street food. A number of the food stalls have gained cult status: Mayak Gimbab (which literally means "narcotic gimbap") is famous for its addictively delicious miniature gimbap rolls, consisting of rice in a special sauce of mustard, sugar, and soy sauce wrapped in crispy dried laver. Eunseong Hoejib is well known for its daegu maeuntang, a spicy and rich cod fish stew that will leave you sweating and asking for more. You can't leave without trying the bindaeddeok, crispy mung bean pancakes stone ground and fried right in front of you; or the jokbal, a sweet, salty and chewy pork hock dish; or any of the noodles... and the list goes on. With 90 places to eat, you'll have your pick of vendors and plenty of reason to come back again and again. The huge assortment of food stalls attracts a huge assortment of people, locals and tourists alike, every day of the week, so get ready for bustling crowds and lively fun.
Fika is the Swedish word for drinking coffee in cafes, but no city can fika like Seoul. Most cosmopolitan cities offer quaint and cozy but here, even dog and cat cafes are for amateurs. Playing with sheep at the Thanks Nature Café in Hongdae’s newer but there’s more. At Café Namu Guneul in Myeongdong, you can have an Americano while little fish eat the dead skin off your feet. There’s also the Princess Diary café near Ewha Women’s University where you wear wedding dresses and take photos… And have coffee. Yes, normal cafes exist, too. For some of the best cafes in Seoul, check out --
"I'll tell you how the sun rose,-- A ribbon at a time. The steeples swam in amethyst, The news like squirrels ran. The hills untied their bonnets, The bobolinks begun. Then I said softly to myself, "That must have been the sun!" - Emily Dickinson Just as some interpret Emily Dickinson's poem to be about birth and death, many in Korea observe the sun as the year comes to a close and take a time of reflection. For the country's best views, the truth is most flock to the East Coast or to Jeju Island, but for those of you who might want to make a simple gesture without leaving the city - here are some great views for you to be inspired.