48 hours… in Seoul
This intriguing South Korean city may be best known for its Korean barbecue and K-pop culture, but that shouldn’t distract you from its stunning ancient temples, trendy neighbourhoods and dynastic, yet unsettled history.
Seoul is the gateway to South Korea; from the forward-thinking capital city, you can explore some of the 30,000 offshore islands, luscious tea plantations and discover the historical cities of Gyeongju and Daegu, both of which showcase beautiful Korean architecture. Take an educational trip to the DMZ (Demilitarized zone) between the north and south, or enjoy the scenic mountain views from the Songnisan National Park.
As you walk through Gwanghwamun gate, discover the network of pavilions, courtyards and passageways of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is the oldest and largest palace in Seoul. During the Joseon dynasty, who ruled from the late 14th century until 1910, the country’s leaders lived here. The changing of the guards’ ceremony, which takes place three times a day involves soldiers in flowing robes carrying flags and an array of weapons!
Changing of the guards, Gyeongbokgung Palace
Nearby, in the Insadong neighbourhood, is the Jogyesa Buddhist temple. If you visit just before Seoul’s Lotus Lantern festival – which takes place in the first two weeks of November – you can watch them make elaborate colourful paper lanterns. After visiting the temple, why not peruse the area’s numerous art galleries, traditional tea houses and handicraft shops of calligraphy, embroidery, paper lanterns and ceramics?
Jogyesa Buddhist temple
After a morning of sightseeing, you will have really worked up an appetite. The Gwangjang food market is the perfect spot for lunch, with plenty of restaurants offering all the Korean favourites. These include bibimbap (mixed rice served with meat, vegetables and eggs) and nokdu bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), which are served with a side of salted and fermented vegetables, known as kimchi.
Culinary journey through Seoul
On a clear day, the 236 metre-high N Seoul Tower offers uninterrupted views across the city and you can often see as far as North Korea. The observation deck is a great place to watch the sunset and the most scenic way to get there is by cable car. Alternatively you can also take the number 2 Namsan Sunhwan shuttle bus.
N Seoul Tower
The Maple Tree House in the neighbourhood of Itaewon, is one of the best places in the city for a Korean barbecue. We recommend the perfectly-aged hanu – thinly cut Korean premium beef sirloin – that you can cook yourself on the grill. Bulgogi, which literally translates to fire meat, is perfect for grilling and its sweet marinade enhances the flavour of the beef or pork. Alternatively, you can choose from a kimchi stew, cold noodles or a bean-paste stew, if you’d rather go meat-free.
After tasting the delights of Korean cuisine, head to the CineCore Bibap Theatre for Delicious Musical: Bibap, a musical and theatrical performance based on the Korean dish bibimbap. The comical show includes beatboxing, breakdancing and acapella as they recreate scenes from the kitchen.
Stay at the traditional Rak-Ko-Jae Boutique Hanok Hotel. Hanoks – which are traditional Korean houses – are reminiscent of the aristocratic houses of the Joseon dynasty and offer true Korean hospitality. Built to suit their surroundings – with the mountains at the back and the river at the front – their design and architecture keeps them cool during hot weather and warm during cold weather.
Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul
Alternatively, the Grand Hyatt Seoul is a luxurious 5-star hotel in the centre of the city, making it easy to get around the city and access a variety of restaurants.
Morning & lunch
Take a cooking lesson at the Korean Cooking Institution, where you can learn how to prepare and cook typical Korean cuisine. Dishes may include bulgogi (a marinated beef that is grilled), pajeon (a pancake-like dish made with spring onion) and kimchi, made from fermented vegetables. Once prepared, you can sit down to enjoy your culinary creations.
For a pleasant afternoon stroll, you can walk along the tree-lined banks of the Cheonggyecheon river. Having been neglected until 2005, an urban renewal project has regenerated the area, turning it into a recreation space. Nearby is Seoul’s oldest and largest market, Namdaemun, dating back to the 1400s. It is a perfect place to buy handmade jewellery and is bursting with Korean specialities like ginseng and lacquerware. Around the market you can find both cat and dog cafes, where you can sit down for a drink, while enjoying the animals’ company for hours. To see the height of Korean fashion, visit the Dongdaemun all-night market, which is filled with an impressive 30,000 shops.
Discover the up-market neighbourhood of Gangnam, notable for its high-end shopping and entertainment. With 12 Michelin-star restaurants, the neighbourhood certainly isn’t short on fine-dining options. Featuring on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants year after year, Mingles, named for its Japanese, Spanish and French influences, truly captures the imagination. Chef Mingoo Kang retains Korea’s culinary heritage of fermented condiments and vinegar, which play integral roles in the dishes, even being incorporated into the desserts! We recommend the seven-course tasting menu that includes grilled lamb marinated in soy bean paste: the restaurant’s signature dish.
Bansang at Mingles © Mingles
Stay another day…
Created in 1953, the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) is a sobering and yet fascinating tourist attraction. The 248-kilometre-long and 4-kilometre wide division between the north and the south is the most fortified border in the world and is just an hour’s drive from Seoul. From the Dora observatory you can see the city of Kaesong, Geumgangsan Diamond mountains and the propaganda village of Gijeong-dong, which is thought to be a decoy to lure South Korean defectors.
The DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)
If you’re interested in a trip to the DMZ, read this fascinating blog here.
Cox & Kings’ Wonders of South Korea private tour spends four nights in Seoul and includes a visit to the DMZ, Gyeongju, Songnisan and Busan. Alternatively, our Far East experts can organise a tailor-made itinerary to suit your preferences.