Hi hi, My name is Sarah and I was in South Korea for 2 weeks for a friend’s wedding, now that I’m back I’m ready to share my experience in this little yet culturally vast nation with lots of oddly pronounced destinations (some even a bit of a tongue twister). My 12 full days in South Korea included 6 full days in Seoul (Ilsan), 3 days in Jeju, 3 days in Daejeon. My blog will list my full itinerary and more details.
Put on some good comfy walking shoes, and let’s go on a walking tour of Seoul, South Korea. Be aware: this is a long post (It was a long day).
LINE 3 Gyeongbokgung Exit 5 or LINE 5 Gwanghwamun Exit 2
Gyeongbokgung Palace (also known as the Northern Palace) is the main palace among the 5 palaces located in Seoul. This palace was destroyed during the Japanese occupation of Korea but has since been restored. source
We arrived at our start point just before 10am to catch the Change of Guards at the front of Gyeongbokgung Palace. Walking up to the main entrance of the palace felt as though we had jumped back in time to ancient Korea (like the TV dramas I’ve seen). Of course if you turn around you’ll see the big city again, which is the backdrop of the Change of Guards. We are going to go see another palace later in the day and therefore decided not to visit this palace after the Change of Guards.
Walk straight out of the main gates of Gyeongbokgung Palace and cross the street or LINE 5 Gwanghwamun Exit 2
Gwanghwamun Square is an historic, symbolic square. At its center is a statue of King Sejong; who is considered to be one of Korea’s greatest Kings. He created the Korean alphabet. Standing tall in front of King Sejong is Admiral Yi Sunshing; a Korean war hero. These statues look as though they are guarding the Korean Palace. Source
Gwanghwamun Square reminds me of Tienanmen Square. Both are open paved land in front of a big palace (does that sound like a far stretch?).
Gwanghwamun Square connects Gyongbokgung Palace and our next stop Cheonggyecheon Stream. Along the way you you’ll even walk past the American consulate (It’s not a very good looking building).
Keep walking straight until you see the rainbow horn sculpture, turn left or
LINE 5 Gwanghwamun Exit 5 or
LINE 2 Eulijiro 1-ga Exit 2/3 or
LINE 1 City Hall Exit 6
Cheonggyecheon Stream was actually a sewage channel running through the middle of the Seoul. Opened in 2005, Cheonggyecheon was transformed into an urban stream running from the center of the city to a popular shopping district Dongdaemun about 11km to the east. Source
You would never have guessed that this was once a sewage channel. It felt like a tranquil oasis in the middle of a bustling city. The water was so clear, I even saw people dip their feet into the water. We spent about an hour walking along the stream taking pictures, reading signs, throwing coins to make wishes (they even had a changed machine for you), and a little of bit of people watching (not only was a good tourist spot, it was also a date spot). If you have more time in Seoul, I would definitely recommend walking along the stream a little more. From my research, I found that there are many little activities and waterfalls along the way. You can go on a nice hike in the middle of Seoul.
Going to Gwanghwamun Square and Cheonggyecheon Stream was a bit of a detour for us. I would recommend starting your trip at Cheonggyecheon instead of Gyeongbokgung. We did the ladder because of our commute to the city from the suburbs of Seoul (that’s an hour on the subway!)
Bukchon Traditional Hanok Village
Walk back to Gyeongbokgung, turn right at Gyeongbokgung, turn left after passing the Anguk subway station
or LINE 3 Anguk Exit 2
Located right in between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village is a residential area with many well restored traditional Korean homes and buildings. These homes are called “Hanok” which literally means Korean home. Source
This is a big area to cover, and I definitely recommend going to an information booth (where they speak English, Chinese, or Japanese) and asking for a map and a recommended route. There are guides walking around dressed in red that could help guide you back on route as well.
We went ahead and attempted to find “Bukchon 8 Spots”, which are marked on the ground by a little plaque that says “Photo Spot”. Sounds easy right? Not really. Even with the map and guides that helped point us in the right direction, we got lost and found 3.5 of of 8. Why half? Well we were supposed to find some stairs, we found plenty of stairs but no sign and of course I don’t think it actually looked like the stairs pictured on the map. But we concluded that we kind of found that spot.
It was definitely a beautiful area to wander around though, and well worth the time we spend even after getting lost. Just don’t forget to give yourself a little bit of time to sit down and relax at any of the super cute little cafes in the area. Koreans love their Iced Americano!
Changdeokgung and Secret Garden
Head east from Bukchon Hanok Village
or LINE 3 Anguk Exit 3
Changdeokgung Palace (also known as the Eastern Palace) is the secondary palace to the main palace of Gyeongbokgung Palace. This palace is considered to be one of the most well-preserved palaces comprised of official and residential buildings as well as a large garden known as the Secret Garden. In 1997 Changdeokgung Palace was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Source
Because this palace was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, we decided to visit this palace instead of the main palace. Tickets cost a little more then the tickets at the main palace because we had to get additional tickets for the Secret Garden as well; which include an English guided tour.
Upon walking into Changdeokgung Palace we realized that the colors of the building were not as vibrant as Gyeongbokgung Palace. Do they keep it this way to keep it as a heritage site? It looks more original in this state to me, and less like a big tourist attraction where things looks new and almost fake. We didn’t really walk about the palace grounds, we simply walked right through it to the entrance to the Secret Garden for our guided tour.
This was a 1.5 hour tour of what they call a garden, but I think it was more like a park. It was huge! The tour group was huge too! We stayed at the back of the tour group to stay away from the crowd, but unfortunately we couldn’t hear everything she was saying. It was a beautiful garden with many traditional buildings nestled throughout. I would recommend that you take a long break at a cafe before taking this tour, because it was a lot of walking up and down some hills. Check out more of my pictures of the secret garden on my blog.
Walk back to Anguk subway station and take Exit 6 walk straight and turn left onto Insadong St.
or LINE 3 Anguk Exit 6
Insadong is a must stop for tourists, a perfect place to pick up some souvenirs and traditional Korean arts and crafts. You will also find most store signs written in Korean characters instead of in English (the way it is usually written throughout Korea). Source
We quickly discovered that we were in Seoul to go shopping after setting foot in Insadong. One interesting stop in Insadong was the Ssamzie-gil shopping complex which houses many little shops as you walk up the 4 story (I think it was about 4 stories) ramp to the rooftop of the shopping complex. Apart from all of the traditional arts and crafts, there were lots of trendy accessories and cute socks. I recommend that you buy these things from one of the street vendors in the area where it may be a little cheaper.
Sarah, thanks so much for sharing your trip to South Korea with us! I almost feel like I was there and now you’ve made me want to visit South Korea myself. I guess Korean BBQ and candy will have to do for now.