The winter semester is over and I finally have some free time to enjoy Seoul. I’ve already been living here 1.5 years now, and I’m so happy to call this amazing city my home. Once in a while, I make sure to take some time off to enjoy some quality alone time in the city, just strolling, exploring, discovering, and enjoying.
There are several places in this wonderful city that I find myself coming back to again and again, so I thought I’d share my favorite places with you here (in random order).
Bukchon hanok village 북촌한옥마을
If you are looking to immerse yourself in the history of Seoul, this is a wonderful place to go. Literally meaning ‘the northern village’, Bukchon is located in the northern part of the city center right between Kyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung palaces. Bukchon consists of hundreds of traditional Korean houses, called hanok, and walking through the steep and narrow streets will surely take you back in time. Once in a while, you’ll see people walking around dressed in the traditional Korean costume, hanbok, which just adds to the amazing atmosphere. My favorite thing to do in Bukchon is getting lost between the old houses and discovering new coffee houses that overlook the narrow streets. Then, I can sit for hours just gazing out on everything while sipping my coffee (and, quite often, eating my cake).
Jogyesa temple 조계사
Located right in the heart of Seoul, this beautiful temple provides a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the big city. I like to come here at least once a month to invite some reflection and tranquility into my heart and mind. The temple is small but extremely beautiful. Except around Buddha’s birthday, there’s rarely crowded and slowly strolling in the temple yard while listening to the chanting monks is sure to bring you some much-needed zen.
Jongno Tower 종로 타워
Easily my favorite building in all of Seoul. With its characteristic architecture, this building stands out among the many skyscrapers in central Seoul. I used to use it as a beacon for figuring out where I was, whenever I got lost and as such it has come to symbolize something safe and well-known. The two best things in the building are in the basement and top floor respectively. The basement is home to Jongno books – a newly reopened bookstore with a lovely cafe inside. The top floor has my favorite sky bar, Top cloud 33. The view from here is breathtaking, and I always come here when I feel like celebrating. It also doesn’t hurt that they carry a beer with my name 🙂
Han River park – Yeouinaru 한강공원 여의나루
This is more of a spring, summer, or fall place, so I must admit that I haven’t been there this winter, although the bright weather we have these days would surely make for a wonderful walk. This park is perfect for a picnic, and I’ve very often taken my picnic blanket and my book and just spent a couple of hours right underneath the 63 building, which used to be the tallest building in Seoul before the Lotte World Tower was constructed. From the park, you can see the Han River, the Namsan Tower, Mapo on the other side and several of the bridges – Mapo, Sogang, and Yanghwa. It’s also an ideal date spot on spring evenings, and don’t worry about bringing food. Most places deliver straight to your picnic spot by the river bank. It’s particularly pretty in early April when the cherry blossoms bloom.
Jeongbalsan – Ilsan 정발산 – 일산
Technically not in Seoul but in suburban Ilsan, 30 minutes north-west of Seoul, this place has also grown to become one of my favorites. While Ilsan is definitely residential, the area around Jeongbalsan is vibrant and full of life. It’s home to several broadcasting stations and of course the famous Ilsan lake park. It’s not uncommon to see a tv program being filmed on the streets, and the restaurants and cafes in the area are less crowded and more welcoming than it’s often the case in central Seoul.
Hyehwa – Daehangno 혜화 – 대학로
Hyehwa is close to both Sungkyunkwan and Korea University and also has this vibrant college atmosphere. What I particularly like about this part of the city is its many theaters. Saying that Daehangno (literally meaning university street) is to Seoul what Broadway is to New York City is no exaggeration. There are countless theaters and there’s always a show that will catch your interest. It’s a super artsy area that also houses a few galleries and exhibitions, not to mention some amazing cafes.
Finally, I’m pretty fond of my own neighborhood, Sinchon. Sinchon is a fast-changing, young, and vibrant neighborhood that’s usually full of university students. Sinchon is located right in the middle of three major universities, including my own Sogang. Whether I’m looking for a good restaurant, a quiet bar with a view, a beer place, a shopping mall, a grocery store, or a department store, Sinchon has it all. On weekends, the main streets of Sinchon are closed for traffic, which makes it perfect for a stroll or a little window shopping. The many street performers and food carts make every evening feel like a little festival. I’m really thankful that I live in such an awesome part of town.
Feel free to share your favorite parts of Seoul in the comments below!