48 hours in Seoul: Your essential guide

48 hours in Seoul: Your essential guide

Two days to cover 234 square miles is no easy task, but we're nothing if not fast workers

Where do you start exploring in the world’s second-largest metropolitan area, a sprawling city of more than 10 million people? At the beginning, of course, with a trip through the Old City. 

Day One: Old City - North of the Hangang River


A teahouse in InsadongInsadong

Insadong is a narrow corridor stretching from Anguk Station (subway Line 3) to Tapgol Park that's stuffed with antique shops, small galleries and craft shops. Branching off the main drag are plenty of side streets dotted with low-ceiling hanok, traditional Korean houses, many of which have been converted to cafes and restaurants.

Don't miss the group of teahouses in the courtyard of the Kyung-in Museum of Fine Arts. Another top attraction is Min’s Club (tel: +82 (02) 733 2966, Exit 6 at Anguk Station and turn down the fourth street on your left where you’ll see Sudo Pharmacy), a restaurant and wine bar built in the 1930s by one of Korea’s first modern architects. There’s a great assortment of set menus blending Western and Korean-style cuisine.

Getting to Insadong: Insadong Can best be reached by taking subway Line 3 to Anguk Station. Get out exit 6 and walk around 50m to where you see the large statue of an upright paint brush. This is the top-end of the street. Simply follow it down and explore – the area’s loaded with shops and plenty of backstreets to keep you busy for a while. Whether it’s tea or trinkets you’re after, you can comfortably spend the entire day here.

Getting to Kyung-in Museum: Kyung-in Museum of Fine Arts & Min’s Club From the top-end of the Insadong street, turn down the fourth street on your left where you see Sudo pharmacy. From there take your first left to get to the courtyard of Kyung-in Museum of Fine Arts. To get to Min’s Club simply walk a little further and turn left at the large, open parking lot. Min’s Club is adjacent to Kyung-in.


Gyeongbokgung PalaceGyeongbokgung PalaceGyeongbokgung Palace and Samcheong-dong Sujebi

Gyeongbokgung Palace is the most prominent of Seoul’s five palaces. Like Beijing’s Forbidden City, Gyeongbokgung was once a city in itself and takes several hours to see. Along its eastern wall is Samcheong-dong Road, a stretch lined with gingko trees -- beautiful for autumn walks -- that eventually forks, with one road leading to the Presidential Mansion and the other to a road of cafes and shops that are always crammed with locals. Samcheong-dong Sujebi (102 Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, In Samcheong-Dong, tel: +82 (02) 733 1109) whips up a  refreshing bowl of potato noodle soup.

Getting to Gyeongbokgung Palace: Pretty straightforward. Simply take subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station. Exit 5 will lead you past the National Palace Museum of Korea. Admittance is 3,000 won for adults (2,400 won for group). The palace is closed every Tuesday. Regular hours of operation are 09:00~18:00 (March through October) and 09:00~17:00 (November through February).

Getting to Sujebi from Gyeongbokgung’s east gate: Turn left and continue up the tree-lined road until it forks (you’ll see a book café here). Follow it right and you’ll reach Samcheong-dong. The restaurant will be a little further up on the left-hand side.

Rak-Ko-Ja hotelRak-Ko-Ja hotelBukchon

It's a five-minute taxi ride from Gyeongbokgun to Bukchon, the area to really get a feel for the Seoul that existed prior to its late 20th-century modernization. The majority of the hanok are located at 31 Gahoe-dong. There are also a host of traditional and contemporary galleries to explore. For those looking for a place to sleep, the Rak-Ko-Jae hotel (tel: +82 (02) 774 2261) is replete with beautifully renovated traditional guesthouses. Meals are provided and the friendly owners sometimes host cultural events for visitors.

Rak Ko Jae (774-2261) Take subway Line3 to Anguk Station and hop out exit 2. Walk straight for about 300m until you reach Gahoe-dong Office, and take your first right. Set in an attractive bamboo garden, you’ll see the entrance about 80m down from there.



Cha MasineunCha MasineunCha Masineun Tteul

Cha Masineun Tteul (Samcheong-dong 35-169, Jongno-gu SEOUL tel: +82 (02) 722 7006) literally translates to “A garden where people drink tea.” Cha Masineun Tteul offers relaxing views and a spirit of ancient tradition. The signature sweet pumpkin rice cake (6,000 won) is superb, as is the chilled omija cha, a five-flavor berry tea (7,000 won.)

Getting toCha Masineun Tteul from Gyeongbokgung Palace’s east gate: Follow the tree-lined road, follow it right as it forks until you reach the police station on your right-hand side. Then take your first left at the Museum of Embroidery on the corner, and then make another left at the end. The teahouse will at the top of the hill.

Day Two: New City - South of the Hangang River


Bongeunsa TempleBongeunsa TempleBongeunsa Temple

Dating to 794, Bongeunsa Temple is one of Seoul’s largest and most impressive temples. Its trademark 23-meter-tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha alone makes it worth the visit. Detached from civilization, even beside the modern grid of Samseong-dong’s business district, there’s a real calm inside its grounds. The Buddhist artwork is also remarkable.

Getting to Bongeunsa Temple (tel: 511-6070): Take subway Line 2 and get out exit 6. The temple is beside the COEX across from the Business Intercontinental Hotel.




Korean BBQ at Koggi KoggiKorean BBQ at Koggi KoggiApgujeong

A playground for the nouveau riche, the ritzy area of Apgujeong is a favorite among Seoul’s most successful elite. The shops along upscale Rodeo Street (Is there such as thing as a non-upscale Rodeo Street?) are worth a browse. Korean BBQ restaurant Koggi Koggi (tel: +82 (02) 543 4244), a local favorite, is a great choice for lunch or dinner. Koggi Koggi serves up amazing samgyeopsal, bite-size strips of pork marinated in basil and paprika (8,000 won per serving.) Both the side dishes and traditional soybean soup (doenjan jjigae) are excellent.

Getting to Apgujeong’s Koggi Koggi restaurant: Take subway Line 3 to Apgujeong Station and make a u-turn as you walk out exit 2. From there walk straight for about 10mins until you reach your first intersection. Turn right after the crosswalk and then make your first left. Koggi Koggi is a short 50m walk down on your right.



Garosugil StreetGarosugil StreetGarosugil Street

This tree-lined street (Apgujeong Station, Exit 5) is full of European-style street side cafes, boutiques and wine bars. Buccella’s (tel: +82 (02) 517 7339) is a great choice for lunch. The tender beef sandwich (8,500 won) is the menu item of choice. Mug for Rabbit is a great place to to people watch over a cappuccino (4,500 won.)

Getting to Garosugil Street: Just south of the river, the easiest way to get here is to take subway Line 3 to Sinsa Station and get out exit 8. It’ll be the second street on your left. There’s a ton of cafes, shops and great restaurants all along this strip. Find your own hideaway and while away the hours.

Originally from Ottawa, I spent five years in Holland before finally moving to South Korea. Having made Seoul my home for the last decade, I've had the opportunity to work for The Korea Tourism Organization (where I came up with the idea for my photoblog www.hermithideaways.com, HS Ad (where I wrote the slogan for Seoul City's global campaign) and freelance for Time Out, Conde Nast, Morning Calm (Korean Air's in-flight magazine) and Yonhap News, the country's largest news agency.

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