Centuries at the center of Korean politics, business and art have made Seoul a traveler's paradise. Seoul is home to some of the nation's most elaborate palaces and temples, including popular Gyeongbokgung. Fine art fills the galleries of the Samcheongdong district and the Seoul Museum of Art, while traditional Korean dance graces theatres across the city. Of course, Seoul's younger residents love pop culture, fashion and nightlife as much as anyone. You'll find trendy cocktail bars and even Irish pubs attract as many Koreans as international travelers.
Things to Do
Having been the capital of Korea for centuries, Seoul is riddled with elaborate palaces, each adorned with gently-swooping eaves and intricate red and green floral paintings. Gyeongbokgung is one of the largest and most famous. See how ordinary Koreans lived at Namsangol Hanok Maeul, a village of traditional Korean houses relocated to form an open air museum in Seoul. Delicate celadon porcelain, jewelry and textiles reveal Koreans' artistic traditions at the Seoul Museum of Art.
Traditional carved, wooden masks, hand-painted wall hangings, paper goods and ceramic tea sets fill the shop windows and spill onto the streets in Insadong, a shopping and artist market for centuries. The international draw of Itaewon means shops that sell inexpensive Korean-made fashions, shoes and silks at prices -- and sizes -- that fit most Western visitors. For Korean antiques and artwork, including high-quality celadon, silky-smooth wooden tables and gemstones, visit the galleries in Samcheongdong.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Graceful, traditional Korean opera, or pansori, draws culture lovers to the Korea House. One-hour shows include mask dances and musical performances. For more contemporary nightlife, head to the Dongdaemun district where night markets, coffee shops and bars buzz into the wee hours. The eclectic Itaewon neighborhood pours drinks to please all comers at German-style beer halls and Irish-style pubs as well as a few Korean bars.
Restaurants and Dining
Traditional restaurants serving Korean barbecue and bibimbap (rice pot with veggies, beef, and raw egg) stand alongside Asian fusion bistros in the restored houses and art galleries in Seoul's Samcheongdong district. Inexpensive, family-owned Korean restaurants, tea rooms and street vendors are the rule in Insadong, where you can get a cheap and filling bowl of noodles. If you need a break from noodles, Itaewon is home to Western-style food . . . but don't be surprised to see even these dishes accompanied by pickled kimchi.