Lonely Planet Seoul

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Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Seoul is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Walk along the long-buried Cheong-gye-cheon stream, wander the labyrinthine streets of Bukchon Hanok Village, or try some Korean cuisine at Gwangjang Market; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Seoul and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Seoul Travel Guide:

  • Full-colour maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - including customs, history, religion, art, literature, cinema, music, dance, architecture, politics, and cuisine
  • Free, convenient pull-out Seoul map (included in print version), plus over 28 colour maps
  • Covers Myeong-dong, Gangnam, Apgujeong, Dongdaemum, Itaewon, Insa-dong, Yongsan-gu, Jung-gu, Hongdae, Sinchon, Edae, Yeouido, Namsan, Gwanghwamun, Jongno-gu, Jamsil, Daehangno, Seongbuk-dong, and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

  • Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges
  • Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews
  • Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience
  • Seamlessly flip between pages
  • Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash
  • Embedded links to recommendations' websites
  • Zoom-in maps and images
  • Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Seoul, our most comprehensive guide to Seoul, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

  • Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out our Lonely Planet Korea Guide for a comprehensive look at all the country has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

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Gwanghwamun & Jongno-gu

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1Admire the scale and artistry of Gyeongbokgung the largest of Seoul’s palaces, fronted by the grand gateway Gwanghwamun where you can watch the changing of the guard.

2Discover Huwon, the serene traditional garden secreted behind Changdeokgung.

3Get lost in picturesque Bukchon Hanok Village, the city’s densest cluster of traditional-style homes.

4Learn about Buddhism at Jogye-sa one of Seoul’s most active temples and epicentre of the spectacular Lotus Lantern Festival in May.

5Browse the impressive collection of contemporary art at the Arario Museum in SPACE.

Although their size and splendour have been greatly reduced from their heyday in the 18th century, Seoul’s royal palace compounds, in the district of Jongno-gu, provide a glimpse of what it was like to live at the powerful heart of the old city. The area is also referred to as Gwanghwamun after the majestic gate to the main palace of Gyeongbokgung and the elongated square in front of it.

 

Myeong-dong & Jung-gu

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1Climb or ride the cable car up Namsan, topped by N Seoul Tower; the 262m central city peak is a leafy retreat from Myeong-dong’s commercial throng.

2Haggle day and night with the vendors at the mammoth Namdaemun Market.

3Learn about traditional Korean houses and culture at Namsangol Hanok Village.

4Go shopping crazy on the packed, neon-festooned streets of Myeong-dong.

5Enjoy the changing of the guard outside Deoksugung and wander the pleasant palace grounds.

Branding itself the city’s belly button, Jung-gu (www.junggu.seoul.kr) stretches from the southern city gate of Sungnyemun and round-the-clock Namdaemun Market towards the eastern gate of Heunginjimun. Dominating the district’s heart is the youth-fashion shopping area of Myeong-dong. Myeong means ‘light’ – apt for an area where Seoul’s commercial razzle-dazzle reaches its apogee.

 

Western Seoul

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1Shop at Noryangjin Fish Market, Korea’s largest seafood market, where you can buy everything from king crabs to sea cucumbers, and have it cooked up on the spot.

2Hit Hongdae for its buzzing nightlife where you can dance the night away or groove to the latest K-Indie band.

3Enjoy the view and surrounding art at the top of 63 Square.

4Hire a bike on Yeouido and cycle along the Han River to Seonyudo Park.

5Explore Mullae Arts Village where artists rub shoulders with metalworking factories.

The areas of Hongdae (around Hongik University), Edae (around Ewha Womans University) and Sinchon (between Yonsei and Sogang Universities) are all packed with places for students to be diverted from their studies. Hongik is Korea’s leading art and design institution, so this is a particularly fertile patch for chaotic creativity and unbridled hedonism; it’s also the epicentre for the K-Indie scene with scores of live music clubs and dance spots. Up the road, French architect Dominique Perrault’s stunning redesign of the Ewha campus centre has put that area on the archi-tour map.

 

Itaewon & Around

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1Survey centuries of Korean culture and art at the mammoth National Museum of Korea and take time to explore the attached gardens.

2Get inspired by the art and architecture of the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art.

3Pay homage to those who gave their lives for the nation at the War Memorial of Korea.

4Indulge in some of Seoul's most varied cuisine with an impressive array of world food, often with a Korean twist such as at Vatos.

5Join the party and head out for a hedonistic night on a pub crawl, starting off with craft beer at Craftworks Taphouse.

Immediately south of Namsan, Yongsan-gu has for many decades been defined by the presence of the US army base on a massive tract of land. Next door is Itaewon, a centre for army personnel and expats to shop and relax in an international mix of restaurants, bars and, umm, other places. For this reason it has had a dodgy rep, and was a place many Koreans feared to tread. While it maintains its gritty edge, and the hostess and transvestite bars of ‘Hooker Hill’ are still there (as is a cluster of Seoul’s most foreigner-friendly gay hang-outs on ‘Homo Hill’), it's now one of Seoul’s trendiest dining and shopping districts, attracting people from across the city.

 

Gangnam & South of the Han River

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1Stroll around Olympic Park, where there are 1700-year-old fortifications, museums and 200 quirky sculptures.

2Join in the amusement-park fun of Lotte World, with its thrill rides and fairytale carousel and castle.

3Make a lotus lantern and sip tea with monks at the venerable temple Bongeun-sa.

4Pay your respects at Seonjeongneung, the tombs of past Korean kings in Seolleung Park.

5Head to Seoul Grand Park to enjoy the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and science museum.

Meaning 'South of the River', Gangnam refers to an administrative area, Gangnam-gu, and the parts of Seoul that lie south of the Han. Looking at the ranks of tower blocks bisected by broad highways, it’s hard to imagine that there wasn’t much of the city here a few decades ago.

The area saw much development for the 1988 Olympics, the legacy of which is Olympic Park, one of the area's main sights with its green space, museums and galleries. Gangnam’s wide open spaces allowed Lotte to create its giant theme park, plus Seoul's tallest building nearby. But mainly this newer part of Seoul is a ritzy residential address, entertainment district and business hub with major company headquarters, such as Samsung D'Light, and the COEX complex with its convention centre and shopping mall.

 

Dongdaemun & Eastern Seoul

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1Uncover layers of Seoul’s history, from its foundation as the capital of the Joseon dynasty to its 21st-century incarnation, at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park.

2Cruise the malls and buzzing streets of Dongdaemun Market into the early hours of the morning.

3Cycle around Seoul Forest, past the wetlands, the riverside and Sika deer.

4Explore the Seoul Art Space Sindang in the underground arcade beneath Jungang Market.

5Learn about your yin and yang and the traditional Korean approach to medicine at the Seoul Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Museum.

Taking its name from the Great East Gate (Heunginjimum) to the city, Dongdaemun – an area synonymous with shopping for centuries in Seoul – is now famous for the Zaha Hadid–designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park (DDP), an architectural showpiece so complex that it wasn’t ready in time for Seoul’s stint as World Design Capital in 2010.

 

Northern Seoul

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1Hike up Bukaksan, the tallest of Seoul’s four guardian mountains, following an intact and heavily guarded section of the city’s original fortress walls.

2Admire the traditional buildings and elegant furnishings at the Korea Furniture Museum.

3Learn about the horrors of the Japanese colonial period at the Seodaemun Prison History Hall.

4Meditate at a templestay at serene Gilsang-sa in leafy Seongbuk-dong.

5Witness ancient shamanistic ceremonies at Inwangsan Guksadang.

The city’s northern districts seldom figure prominently on international tourist itineraries, which is a pity as they are home to some of Seoul’s most charming neighbourhoods and some fascinating sights, not least of which are the best sections of the old fortress walls. Start exploring in the university district of Daehangno, a performing-arts hub with some 150 theatres ranging from intimate fringe-style venues to major auditoriums such as the Arko Art Theater.

 

Day Trips from Seoul

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For history buffs and collectors of weird and unsettling experiences, a visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) buffer between North and South Korea is not to be missed; in the Joint Security Area (JSA) you can straddle the line between the two countries.

The art and culture village of Heyri is a charming place to browse galleries and while away time in cafes; Paju Book City is all about its contemporary architecture.

Stride around the World Heritage–listed, 18th-century fortress walls, drop by the restored Joseon-dynasty temporary palace and enjoy the charms of the Korean Folk Village.

Korea opened up to the world at the end of the 19th century in this port city where you’ll find a colourful Chinatown, creative Art Platform and pleasant beaches on nearby islands.

Connected to the mainland by bridge, this island has a rich history that briefly saw it as the capital of Korea in the 13th century. Today it's all about peaceful surrounds, temples and delicious seafood.

 

Sleeping

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Seoul has an excellent range of budget backpacker guesthouses and top-end hotels. In the midrange, however, blandness predominates, with the standout options being charming traditional hanok guesthouses and a handful of design-conscious hotels scattered around the city.

Book Your Stay Online

For more accommodation reviews by Lonely Planet authors, check out http://lonelyplanet.com/hotels/. You’ll find independent reviews, as well as recommendations on the best places to stay. Best of all, you can book online.

Backpacker guesthouses are mostly concentrated around Myeong-dong, Itaewon and Hongdae, but you'll find them in other districts, too. Rooms – dorms and doubles – tend to be tiny, but nearly always have a bathroom. Helpful staff speak English and there are good communal facilities, including lounges, kitchens, free use of a washing machine and internet access.

Traditional hanok (one-storey wooden houses built around a courtyard) are increasingly being turned into guesthouses – you'll find most in Bukchon and Ikseon-dong. Staying in one is a unique and memorable experience; some offer cultural programs such as dressing in hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) or cooking classes.

 

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