Best of Seoul: 10 Favorite Moments

Food vendors in Gwangjang Market in Seoul, South Korea. Cho Seong Joon
By Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

Don't judge a city by its cover, or in Seoul's case, usually a thin layer of smog. A closer examination reveals modern skyscrapers built around ancient palace grounds, crowded traditional markets that operate 24/7, and well-heeled businessmen drinking soju, Korea's traditional distilled alcohol, under tarp-covered stalls. Hidden among the honking horns and crowded subways are some of our favorite places to visit and experience in this ever-changing city.

Photo Caption: Food vendors in Gwangjang Market in Seoul, South Korea.
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A traditional tea shop in Insadong. Seoul, South Korea. Cho Seong Joon
You can almost taste a bit of the Joseon Dynasty in the old arts district. Most of the traditional teashops here are converted hanok (traditional houses) or made to look like one. Choose one tucked into winding alleys or view the pedestrian traffic below from a second-floor vantage point.

Photo Caption: A traditional tea shop in Insadong. Seoul, South Korea.
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Originally the Summer Palace of the Goryeo Emperor, Changgyeonggung later became one of the Five Grand Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty. Seoul, South Korea. Cho Seong Joon
Though not the largest of the five palaces in the city, Changdeokgung is the best designed, built with location and natural balance in mind. Guided tours of the grounds save the secret garden (Biwon), with its lotus pond and royal plantings, for last.

Photo Caption: Originally the Summer Palace of the Goryeo Emperor, Changgyeonggung later became one of the Five Grand Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty. Seoul, South Korea.
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North Seoul Tower is a communication and observation tower located in Namsan Mountain in Seoul, South Korea. Cho Seong Joon
The glowing white N Seoul Tower, perched on top of Namsan, affords the best views of the city. Lovers bring little engraved locks, emblems of their relationships, and leave thousands of them along the edges of the viewing platform.

Photo Caption: North Seoul Tower is a communication and observation tower located in Namsan Mountain in Seoul, South Korea.
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Spice sellers at the Namdaemun Market in Seoul, South Korea. Cho Seong Joon
The largest traditional market in the city is Namdaemun Shijang, but Gwangjang Shijang is the oldest. Both are rambling collections of individual vendors hawking everything from housewares and blankets to eyeglasses and clothing. Don't be shy about bargaining down the sellers.

Photo Caption: Spice sellers at the Namdaemun Market in Seoul, South Korea.
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The Gahoe Museum in Seoul, South Korea. Cho Seong Joon
Only in the past decade has this old neighborhood been allowed to be developed. Now it has galleries and tiny boutiques selling the latest creations of Korean jewelry designers, ceramicists, and painters.

Photo Caption: The cafe at the Gahoe Museum in Seoul, South Korea.
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A lovely night cruise on the Han River. Seoul, South Korea. Cho Seong Joon
After the sun sets, Seoul comes alive. The lights of the city's skyscrapers and bridges reflect along the quiet waters of the Hangang. It's best to catch the boat off the dock on Yeouido.

Photo Caption: A lovely night cruise on the Han River. Seoul, South Korea.
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The Yongsan Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul, South Korea. Cho Seong Joon
Although modern Korean homes are equipped with baths and showers, natives still like to scrub themselves clean at communal bathhouses once a week. Twenty-four-hour jjimjilbang can be found inevery neighborhood, and modern spas and massage facilities, like the Dragon Hill Spa, are available in Yongsan, Gangnam, and other wealthier parts of town.

Photo Caption: The Yongsan Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul, South Korea.
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A selection of fishes for sale at the Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul, South Korea. Cho Seong Joon
If it's edible and from the ocean, you'll find it at this 24-hour marine products market. Sea creatures burble, wiggle, and slither underwater, waiting to make their way to restaurants and refrigerators all over the city. Come early to see the auction on the second floor and then have a breakfast of hwae (raw fish) that you choose from one of the many bubbling tanks.

Photo Caption: A selection of fishes for sale at the Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul, South Korea.
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The flashy Doota department store in Seoul, South Korea. Cho Seong Joon
In a city that never sleeps, bargains can be found at night market where you can shop into the wee hours. Of the many large complexes and open stalls crowded in the area, the multistoried Doota department store is the most popular.

Photo Caption: The flashy Doota department store in Seoul, South Korea.
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View of Seoul, South Korea from Bugaksan. Park Jongwoo
Serious hikers will make their way up Bugaksan's steep slopes to see the old fortress walls and the city from Palgakjeong. Those with less time and less hardy dispositions can grab a taxi to the top to enjoy expansive views of Seoul.

Photo Caption: View of Seoul, South Korea from Bugaksan. Photo by Park Jongwoo/Flickr.com
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