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Seoul: Five grandiose things that give the city its charm

You want to start or end your trip through South Korea with a bit of big city flair? Good idea. In the capital, you can easily spend a month without being bored. A small declaration of love to the underrated metropolis of Seoul.

In spring, I spent a week in Seoul. Although I looked at a lot in the days, the time was not even enough to do justice to the exciting metropolis. As I left with a heavy heart, I decided to stay a full month next time.

That Seoul has so much to offer may surprise you. If you like Far Eastern big cities and concentrated urbanity, you usually turn to Tokyo, Hong Kong or Shanghai. That Seoul can play in this league, is the least aware. The city still has real insider tip character.

I admit: Seoul, which is also a concrete desert and a cultural center, has cast a spell over me. But what makes the charm of the city exactly, I can hardly put into words. For me, it was mainly five points that made the metropolis something special for me. I would like to introduce you today.

What I’m writing here is just a small part of what you can do and experience in Seoul. Another inspirational text can be found in my blogger colleague Matthias, who introduces you to 10 cool sights. Also recommended is this beautiful declaration of love on the second view of Franzi.

And of course I recommend reading my compilation of the 10 most important questions before the first trip to South Korea. He will help you decide if the country is the right destination for you.

1. The magnificent music scene

In Seoul, there must be a few hundred stages where local garage bands, local K-pop groups and top international acts perform. On the first evening I went to the cultural center “KT & G Sangsang Madang” in the Hongdae nightclub and watched a concert with five different Korean R & B bands.

Common ending song by different interpreters.

Although I did not like the style of music, I was impressed by the high quality of the music and the professional performances. What I especially liked was that between the songs the musicians told funny stories. I understood nothing, but enjoyed the mood when the audience laughed around me. I watched that later at other concerts in Korea.

You do not necessarily have to go to a (expensive) concert hall. Seoul has many great jazz clubs and there are always free concerts in public places as well as many good street musicians. According to my Korean friends, the best street artists are in Hongdae. An overview of current concerts can be found here.

2. The delicious Korean food

Korean food fasts a shadowy existence in German-speaking countries. Everyone knows how Chinese or Japanese food tastes. But few can name more than a Korean court. It’s a pity, because the kitchen in Korea is incredibly good and has much more to offer than kimchi. Alone the food would be a reason to stay longer in Seoul.

Of course, the selection of restaurants in the metropolis is huge. As an introduction to the Korean cuisine, you can choose Korean BBQ and Bibimbap. It’s just around the corner everywhere. After that you can risk the rest. I was a little surprised that there is a lot of street food in Seoul. So you do not have to plunder the travel fund to fill your stomach.

Of course, the selection of restaurants in the metropolis is huge. As an introduction to the Korean cuisine, you can choose Korean BBQ and Bibimbap. It’s just around the corner everywhere. After that you can risk the rest. I was a little surprised that there is a lot of street food in Seoul. So you do not have to plunder the travel fund to fill your stomach.

Behind the stove: My visit to a cooking school.

If you like fish and seafood, the Noryangjin fish market is a good place to start. There you get the squid so fresh that his legs are still wriggling. I tried this in Busan. After overcoming the initial disgust, I found that delicious.

Another great way to enhance your culinary knowledge is a cooking class. I visited one at O’ngo and I can recommend it. The two-hour cooking lesson was very entertaining and instructive. After dinner, I found it exciting to buy the ingredients for the next course in a local market.

3. The sloping theme cafes

Korea not only offers delicious cuisine, but also has a lively café and bar scene. Worth mentioning are the mostly abstruse theme restaurants and cafes. From restaurants, where you not only drink coffee, but also caresses cats and dogs, we’ve all heard. Seoul, however, drives the concept to the top with a café where you can pet sheep.

Pink and sweet: The Hello Kitty Café.

Many theme cafes are also quite cute. For example, near the Enha Women’s University, I found a café where you can dress up as a princess and have your drink in a gingerbread house. (No, I have not disguised myself or nibbled the decoration!) Near my hotel there was a Hello Kitty cafe. Also known is the Barbie Café. Somewhere outside there should be a porno-cafe.

The selection of these slightly weird cafés and restaurants is huge. Many of them exist only for a short time. Just keep your eyes open and you will definitely find something for you.

4. The remnants of the Cold War

Luckily, the Cold War is over. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the most dangerous conflicts in the world has imploded. Only in very few places, the remains of it are still felt today. One of them is the inter-Korean border. It is possible to visit the Demilitarized Zone DMZ as part of a tour. I have written in detail here.

Memorial in the War Museum.

But you also encounter the conflict in many other places. In the metro, I started talking to an ancient war veteran who wanted to know what we Swiss from North Korea think. Right in the city center, there is the War Museum, where you can watch propaganda video of the Korean Air Force. Very oblique there is also the shooting simulator, which is exclusively for children.

I do not like to speak of “charm” here. But this strange mixture of repression and fear of a new outbreak of the decade-old conflict, I found fascinating.

5. The exciting architecture

Seoul is an Eldorado for architecture lovers. Unlike most East Asian metropolises Seoul has quite a lot of old town. You can find them for example in Hanokdorf Bukchon. This is a hill in the north of Seoul with numerous historic homes. Here you can easily stroll for half a day in the quiet streets.

Feeling the big city you have in the south in the well-known business district Gangnam, which transforms after sunset into a huge amusement mile – Gangnam Style.

Modern architecture: The Enha Women University.

If you are more in the mood for exceptional single buildings, you should go to the Enha Women’s University. As a non-student you are not allowed to enter the “Glasfurche”, but the architecture is nevertheless interesting. Also worth seeing: The Kring Kumho Culture Complex.

Another special feature of Seoul is the artificial river Cheonggyecheon, which flows through the middle of the center and follows the trail of a former highway. The extraordinary thing is that the river somewhere in the center starts out of nowhere. For many city dwellers, the waters are a popular destination for relaxation – making it an ideal place for us travelers to observe people.

Practical tips

Other attractions: What I have summarized here is just a selection. However, the city offers many more options and more destinations. A classic must-see are the old royal palaces, which you should not miss. From the TV tower you have a magnificent view over the city – especially at sunset. The ethnological museum was very interesting on my first visit to Seoul 15 years ago. The small town of Suwon with its ramparts and the palace was nice, but after all I’ve heard about the place, a bit disappointing.

The Palace of Suwon: sight in a suburb of Seoul.

Language: For a modern industrial nation, the English language skills of the locals are surprisingly bad. In my daily life I came across people who did not understand me at all. But you should not let that stop you, because in Seoul most things are explained by themselves anyway. If you feel insecure, you should read my tips on communicating in foreign countries.

Accommodations: At the invitation of Korea Tourism, I spent a few days at Hotel The Designers. The location is hard to beat: The nearest metro station is only a few meters and the nightlife district Hongdae can be reached on foot in a few minutes. The rooms are lovingly furnished and offer a great view, especially on the upper floors. Great, I found the noble, free-standing bathtub. However, until today I did not understand, why one regulates the air conditioning with the TV remote control and why all lights can only be operated on a central touch screen on the wall.

On the way back, when I spent another few days in Seoul at my own expense, I stayed at the Lazy Fox Hostel, which is within sight of The Designers. If you prefer the casual atmosphere of a hostel, you’re in the right place. A special highlight is the shared kitchen table, where you can talk to other guests. If you like it a little quieter, you can retire on a small roof terrace.

Transportation: Seoul has a dense subway network that will take you everywhere. With the many exits (some stations have up to 20 different exits) it is easy to get lost in the stations. Always remember the number of the correct output. Also irritating is that you have to decide at the most stations before the payment barrier, in which direction you drive, but there are usually no route plan in this area. Another tip at the end: If you push your (single ticket) ticket into a special machine after getting off, you will receive a deposit of 500 won back.

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