Seoul in a Day: How to Make the Most of a Day Trip in Seoul
안녕하새요 and welcome to Seoul! I know, I know. When in Manila, a day doesn’t seem to do much justice to the city, even more so in the bustling metropolis of Seoul. But I promise we will try our best to make your one day worth it. Day trippers like us, after all, always know how to make the best of our day. Now, shall we begin? This Seoul in a day trip is going to be intense.
Breakfast: Have a taste of chicken ginseng soup (samgyetang) at the very popular Tosokchon Chicken House near the Gyeongbokgung Station. It’s basically just boiled chicken stuffed with rice, ginseng and all kinds of good herbs that will warm the heart and the stomach. Our Korean friend says that they estimate about a thousand chickens die in this house every day. Yummy.
After your super hearty breakfast, it’s time to visit one of my favourite palaces in Seoul–Changdeokgung. It’s one of the smaller palaces in Seoul, but it’s reputed for its simple elegance and breathtaking beauty, especially in the spring and summer. You have never seen a real palace until you’ve sees Changdeokgung in the spring. Ugh, my heart.
One thing I haven’t been able to do in Changdeokgung is take the Secret Garden tour–I’ve been told it’s totally worth it, especially in autumn. The palace is closed on Mondays and the lines are crazy long on the weekends, though, so I recommend going on a weekday. It’s a nice place to stroll and feel like you’re watching a historical drama. I could hear the soundtrack to Princess Hours as we walked around. It’s just so…sigh. I know I make it so easy to understand.
Getting there: Take the subway to Anguk Station and take Exit 3. Keep walking for about five minutes (admire the Space Building on the way) and you should see it.
Admission is 3,000 won and the secret garden tour is 8,000 won.
A hop, skip and a jump away from Changdeokgung is the ever-changing, always fun Insadong. While most people come here to buy souvenir items like pouches, pens and the like, we come here for the eats and the art. My family has a tradition of buying statues in each place that we go to, so we got ours at Insadong. There are also shops with unique art pieces that you can take home and hang. There’s also Ssamzegil, a really cool ramp-style mall that is worth looking at (though the stuff is quite pricey).
When you’re there, make sure you try the food! The dung-shaped bread (ddong bang) in Ssamzegil is actually just waffles filled with warm red bean. Stand near the dragon peanut candy to get a demonstration and a free taste of one of our favourite Seoul snacks. There’s also a new stall in Insadong that sells these insanely weird shaped snacks filled with vanilla ice cream. It’s definitely worth a try.
Finally there’s my favourite snack. If I were to explain it, it’s basically fried dough with the most delicious, hot filling. The filling is made of cinnamon, nutmeg and nuts. The filling just explodes warmly into your mouth and you’re just chewing really good food. It’s called hotteok, and you cannot leave Insadong without trying it!
Getting There: It’s in Anguk station, Exit 5 (didn’t I tell you it was close?) less than five minutes from the exit.
Lunch: While you’re in Insadong, a nice way to transition from traditional Korea to modern Seoul would be to have lunch at Miss Lee’s Cafe. It’s on the second floor of the first building you see in Insadong (the one with the girl with the bangs). This cute, slightly run down cafe serves a lunch box that you shake to mix up your meal of rice, sausage, pork, nori and kimchi. It’s not as luxurious as your breakfast, but between the chicken and the Insadong snacks. It’s not bad.
Now it’s time to delve deep into Seoul’s youth culture and explore one of the craziest neighbourhoods I’ve ever been to–Hongdae. Some of the coolest neighbourhoods in Seoul are flanked by crazy neighbourhoods (like Sinchon with Sogang and Yonsei and Ewha with Ewha Woman’s University). It’s the area surrounding a major art university, where students and tourists alike like to spend their late nights and hang out. But since we have only half a day, it’s time to spend your afternoon in Hongdae. If you’re staying longer, the other exits play host to really cool hostels that college students and travellers stay in.
The most happening area in Hongdae starts at Exit 9 (you’ll notice it’s unusually crowded). You take the first left and then the second right (right after a shop that I kid you not, it called Sexy Cookie). Keep going straight until you see a fork in the road (right after H&M) with a Tonymoly in the middle. If you take the right side and keep going straight, you should eventually find the Trick Eye Museum, the weirdest museum you’ll ever have the pleasure of walking through.
The museum is full of art that you can interact with to create really interesting photos. We made the people around us laugh so hard with our poses. It’s a good way to spend an hour while visiting a place that just feels very…Korean. The ticket (13, 000 won) also admits you into the Ice Museum, but I wouldn’t spend too much time in that small room.
After the museum, you can stock up on art supplies at the Homi Art Shop next door.
In case museums and art shops aren’t exactly your thing, head on over to Hongdae Children’s Park to check out the local university scene instead. To find the park, take a left at the road in front of the H&M (instead of crossing to Tony Moly) and keep walking straight until you reach the gates of Hongik University. Then you make a right, staying on the right side of the road until you see a small uphill area.
The Children’s Park is a small place that’s been a shooting spot for many famous Korean Dramas. It hosts a small art mart during the weekends, and it’s definitely a place to check out some of the works of the university students. Walking around, seeing walls lined with graffiti and art is something I always like doing, so the park area is definitely one of my favourite spots. There’s even a secret cafe in the rundown building near the bathrooms–see if you can find it!
Getting There: Go to Hongik University Station and take Exit 9 to experience the happenings.
In case Hongdae isn’t exactly your thing, (or if you simply want to do a bit of shopping before your flight), head on over to one of Seoul ‘s major shopping districts, Myeongdong!
To illustrate just how crazy this area can get, the major cosmetics brands in Seoul ALL have more than one branch each. Nature Republic alone has three, and they have a huge storefront near Miligore. Forever 21 has a huge store here with 3 or 4 floors, as does Uniqlo, and you can find all of the major stores here. The street stalls that come out in the afternoon sell hats and things on the cheap (as long as you know how to haggle). I bought my now favourite snapback here for 20,000 won which is pretty pricey (but totally worth it for me)!
In case you feel bummed out by all of the shopping, take a break and grab some toffee cookies (called poppki) from the older ladies selling in the streets. A lot of people sit in front of the Skin Food store (in front of the Nanta Theatre) for a rest, usually while chewing on the street food in the store.
If you still have time, take a walk and check out the Myeongdong Cathedral. It’s a beautiful church at the back area, and on Sundays, you can meet a lot of Filipinos hearing mass.
Getting There: Take the subway to Myeongdong Station and take Exit 5. You should see Miligore on your left and Uniqlo across the street on the right. There are usually tourist guides in the intersection in front, but you might need a map to properly navigate the area.
As your day turns into night, make just one last stop before boarding your flight—Seoul’s Landmark, Namsan Tower (yay!). Although climbing the tower itself is the idea, the area surrounding Namsan is quite a sight. There are love locks, a small gazebo and enough trees to make you breathe in fresh air. This is where autumn is at its best. You can’t say you haven’t visited Seoul until you see it! Locals usually walk the park surrounding the tower as a way to spend the afternoon. There’s also a Teddy Bear Museum in the lobby.
If you’re hungry, we suggest you try the N Churros, basically churros served with ice cream of your choice. Not such a good idea in winter, but perfect for every other season.
Getting There: As the tower is surrounded by a park/forest, getting there is no easy feat. If you have the cash, take the taxi to the cable car station (the easiest and most scenic way to get to the tower), or else take the subway to Myeongdong Station and take exit 3. Talk towards the Pacific Hotel until you see the sideways elevator. After going up the elevator, you should be at the cable car station. This is an uphill climb, and I would not recommend it if you’re tired!
Once you get to the top of the tower, take in the sights one last time before you depart the beautiful city of Seoul. :)
Other places to take note of include:
– Gyeongbokgung Palace
– Gwanghwamun Plaza
– Everland and Lotte World
– Chonggyecheon Stream
– Bau House Dog Cafe (go to exit three of Hapjeong station. It’s at the big black building to your right!)
Seoul in a Day: How to Make the Most of a Day Trip in Seoul