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Seoul travel guide Seoul () is the capital of South Korea. With a municipal population of over 11.8 million, and a metropolitan population totaling over 25.6 million, Seoul is by far South Korea s largest city and one of East Asia s financial and cultural epicenters. By some measures it is the second largest urban agglomeration on the planet, after Greater Tokyo. Seoul has a long history stretching far back into Korea s dynastic past. There is evidence for settlement in this area as far as 18 BC but Seoul as the capital city of Korea has a history back to the 14th century. Originally named Hanseong (; ), the city was the capital of the Joseon Dynasty from 1392 to 1910, and remained the capital of Korea during the period of Japanese colonial rule which followed under the name Gyeongseong (; ), or Keijo in Japanese. The Joseon Dynasty built most of Seoul s most recognisable landmarks, including the Five Grand Palaces and Namdaemun. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the city was re named to its current name, Seoul. Since the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, Seoul has been the capital of South Korea. Occupied twice during the Korean War by Communist forces, the city was extensively rebuilt and today is one of Asia s primary metropolises. While few historical points of interest remain (most of the temples and palaces are reconstructions), much of Seoul s infrastructure is exceptionally modern and clean. Skyscrapers and high rises abound. The subway system is the third largest in the world and perhaps one of the finest. Seoul is truly vast though the casual traveler can see most of the main sites in a few days, a dedicated traveler could spend weeks exploring all the alleyways and far off neighborhoods. As the capital of a country that has gone through massive development in the past sixty years, it is constantly changing at an incredible pace, matched only by the mainland Chinese cities. This frantic pace of life is reflected everywhere in Seoul s cutting edge digital technology, in the millions of commuters rushing to work everyday, in one of the vibrant nightlife scene, and in the thousands of buildings still under construction. In recent years, Seoul has been swamped with tourists from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, following the success of Korean pop culture. Travelers will frequently overhear Japanese, Mandarin, or Cantonese; many restaurants and stores, especially in the more touristy areas like Myeongdong, will have signs in Japanese and Chinese as well as Korean and English. Long popular among Asians, Seoul has been relatively unknown in the West and frequently passed over by Westerners for nearby Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, and Hong Kong. It is a new modern city built on an ancient and shining history. The city is located in the north western portion of South Korea approximately 40 km east of the Yellow Sea and 60 km south of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The city is roughly bisected by the Han River ( Hangang), which runs east to west across the city. Seoul blurs seamlessly into its surrounding satellite cities, most of which are also served by the Seoul metro. The largest of these is Incheon (to the west) in which Seoul s main Airport, and the area s main seaport, are located. Other satellite cities include such as Ilsan (to the north) and Anyang (to the south). Administratively, Seoul is divided into 25 districts ( gu), each with an area and population comparable to a small city. The districts are then further subdivided into 522 sub districts ( dong). The Han river bisects the city, splitting it into two halves: Gangbuk (), the northern, more historical half, and Gangnam (), the southern, wealthier and more modern half. The sheer size of the city means that travelers to Seoul will find it difficult to Moncler Men Shirts locate a true "center" of Seoul; instead, Seoul is almost more like a collection of cities that happen to be bunched together, each with their own central business and commercial districts. The two largest core areas are Jongno/Jung in the north, and Gangnam in the south. For travelers with more time, there are many more, smaller centers and districts to be explored, such as the island of Yeoui do and the college district of Hongdae/Sinchon. For the typical traveler, it would be useful to divide the city into the following areas:  North of the River ( Gangbuk) Jongno () The Joseon era historical core of the city, containing most palaces and government offices. This district, along with Jung () district immediately to the south of it, makes up one of the main centers of the city. Here you can find the most famous of the Five Grand Joseon Palaces, Gyeongbokgung, with a long avenue attracting many tourists leading up to the main gate. To the east of Gyeongbokgung are clustered Changdeokgung and Changyeonggung, two more of the Five, and Jongmyo Shrine, the main Confucian shrine in the dynastic era designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Sandwiched between these two areas is Bukchon, a quaint housing area filled with hanok , beautiful traditional Korean houses that also date Moncler Down Coat Sale back to the dynastic era. South of Bukchon is Insa dong which is the largest antiques market street in Seoul and the cultural heart of the city, and further south is Cheongyecheon, a renovated stream and park that runs through the heart of the downtown area. Jung () This district makes up the other half of the historic core, with Cheongyecheon stream as its northern border. It holds some of the few remaining European style government buildings left over from the Japanese imperial colonialism era the City Hall and the Bank of Korea, both in the west, centered around a large plaza often serves as a rallying point for protests and soccer games. Immediately to the southwest of the City Hall is Myeongdong, an large upscale shopping district that gets extremely busy at night and on weekends, and one of the top ten most expensive shopping districts in the world by rent. To the south of the City Hall is Namdaemun Market, another large shopping district that is decidedly cheaper than neighboring Myeongdong. Further south of Namdaemun is Seoul Station and Namsan Mountain, with the Seoul Tower at its summit. Finally, the eastern part holds Dongdaemun, an enormous fashion district with dozens of clothing malls, complexes, wholesalers, and department stores. Seodaemun/Mapo (/) These two districts lie immediately west of Jongro and Jung, and contain dozens of universities and colleges. As such, this area is home to some of Seoul s most active nightlife districts: Hongdae () and Sinchon (). Sinchon is close to Yonsei University, one of the most prestigious in Korea, and has hundreds of restaurants, bars, clubs, and stores that are open well into early morning, packed with throngs of students during the weekend. Hongdae is famous for being the center of Seoul s indie and underground arts scene expect to see street performers, indie rock bands, graffiti, and independent stores. During the night, Hongdae really comes alive, even more crowded than Sinchon and absolutely enormous it s easy to get lost inside this huge nightlife district, and has the second highest concentration of foreigners, after Itaewon. Yongsan () Yongsan is home to the US Army Military Base as well as one of the largest electronics markets in the world, Yongsan Electronics Market. On the top floor of this market is a Starcraft Arena and yes, computer obsessed Korea does, in fact, regularly broadcast Starcraft matches on national television. This is also where you ll find Itaewon (), perhaps the most culturally diverse area on the entire peninsula and home to dozens of restaurants featuring cuisine from the world over, numerous shops selling everything from custom tailored suits to antiques, and several Western pubs and bars. Itaewon also has the only mosque in Korea, and as such there are a growing number of Middle Eastern and Pakistani immigrants. Talks are also finalizing on Yongsan International Business District, a $28.8 billion dollar project that when completed, will have a 665m centerpiece tower, the second tallest in the world.  South of the River ( Gangnam) Gangnam () Gangnam is the glitzy center of modern Seoul, home to hundreds of glass and steel skyscrapers, neon billboards, and some of the most expensive real estate in the country. The core business district runs along Tehran ro from Samseong Station to Gangnam Station. Gangnam station is the true center of Gangnam with dozens of high rises, hundreds of restaurants and bars, and thousands upon thousands of neon signs lining Gangnam street, this area is not only a major commercial and nightlife center for young adults, it is Korea at its futuristic, digital, high tech best. Samseong station at the other end of Tehran ro is connected to COEX, a huge underground shopping mall with a movie theater, aquarium, hotels, food courts, and a Hyundai Department Store. To the north of this business district (but still in Gangnam) is Apgujeongdong and Cheomdangdong, some of the most affluent areas in Seoul, and home to hundreds of upscale luxury brands and department stores. Songpa a primarily residential district east of Gangnam where you ll find Lotte World, Fashion Moncler Down Jackets Women Buff Olympic Park, Seoul (Jamsil) Sports Complex, and the Sincheon nightlife district. Lotte World is an unusual place just a few bus stops away from COEX, it is yet another enormous shopping and entertainment complex, but with a twist: It holds one of the largest ice skating rinks in Korea, and the largest indoor theme park in the world. Good for families with children, but be warned: on a rainy day, the shortest lines may be an hour or longer. Sincheon (, not to be confused with Sinchon, ) is a large, crowded nightlife area, mainly populated by an older, local business crowd due to its location near Gangnam. Yeoui do () An island in the Han River in Yeongdeungpo gu ( ) and the closest Seoul gets to Manhattan with skyscrapers, the National Assembly and the Seoul Stock Exchange. Though it may seem attractive for tourists, in reality there isn t too much to do here, and the island gets pretty desolate during the weekends. Yangcheon a district of western Seoul with the Mok dong area at its centre, home to some of the tallest residential buildings in Seoul, a large Hyundae department store and an ice rink.  Get in  By plane  Incheon Airport Most visitors arrive via Incheon International Airport (IATA: ICN),(), located on Yeongjong Island in the neighboring city of Incheon and covered in detail in its own article. The A REX  train link connects the airport to Seoul Station (for further connections to KTX high speed services) and Gimpo Airport (most domestic flights), operating from 5:20 AM until midnight. Two versions exist: Express services to the city (every half hour) takes 43 minutes and cost 8,000 (with WiFi available on board), while commuter services (every 6 minutes) take 53 minutes and cost 3,700. It is worth noting that with some airlines you can check into your Incheon flight in Seoul Station before you get on the AREX train. Immigration officers are also on hand to stamp your passport, which means you are processed and can quickly go through the Diplomatic Departures entrance in Incheon Airport. Travel time to Gimpo Airport is 28/35 minutes, with both services charging 3100, making this the fastest and cheap option for intra airport transfer as well. If you are heading to Incheon International from Seoul Station and using Korean, Asiana or Jeju Air, the express train may be your best option. You can check your bags and even pass through security and immigration, allowing you to skip the lines at the airport and to spend a little longer in the city, or helping you make a mad dash to the airport. However, if you have a lot of luggage or are heading to southern parts of Seoul (eg. Gangnam), the airport buses remain your best option. Limousine buses  (15,000 to/from city for one way, 6500 to/from Gimpo Airport (domestic flight)) travel directly to major areas and big hotels in Seoul, while public buses (8,000 9.000) will take you to major transit hubs. If you re visiting for the first time, it s worth paying a bit extra for the limousine bus. For either bus type, consult the big maps or staff to figure out which route best suits your needs; you can then find the shuttles outside 1st floor arrivals (if possible get this information from your hotel before arriving). Or simply, walk out and ask the many ticket sellers (they are wearing vests) which bus goes to your hotel because if it s a popular one or in a popular area, they ll surely know which you ll need. It s best to buy tickets at any of the the ticket gates near the bus arrival area but you can also pay the fare using won or a T Money card if you have one. The limousine bus drivers are extremely friendly but don t count on them knowing too much English. There are maps inside the buses letting passengers know which stops are upcoming and these are also announced in Korean and English. Pressing any of the red buttons inside signals to the driver you want off at the next stop. You can purchase and recharge a T Money card at the GS25 store which is located at the end of the arrivals area, next to "International Arrivals F" exit. If you have a late flight and plan on getting into Seoul via bus, make sure you get out to the curb as soon as you can. The last buses run shortly after the last flights land. If you miss your bus, you ll be stuck paying for a taxi, as the trains will stop running too.