There was so much to see just in the very heart of Korea, Seoul, that only half of my itineraries were fulfilled. I stayed there for 5N/6D but it felt like 3 days indeed. My guide was Lonely Planet Seoul City Guide book. My advice is to bring it everywhere with you and plan ahead before your visit. I met two girls from England at the Guesthouse where I was staying and they were using the same book.
This book has a Seoul map and SMRT map, which stands for Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit, the underground train that will take you anywhere on the city. If you’re ready for this adventure, make sure you’re wearing a comfy shoes because you will walk a lot. I mean, a lot. Don’t worry, though, the views and street stalls are great to stop at. In the book you will also find highlighted places you would want to visit, places to stay, where to eat, and how to get there. Click here for similar information online at Korea official tourism website.
I will highlight three places on this post. Even if you don’t like history, you will love Changdeokgung Palace for its true beauty. You will have to join the guided tour in this palace, and I would recommend you to take the Biwon or Secret Garden tour. It has one of the most spectacular view you will find in Seoul. After you take this tour on 10.30 am, you can join the Changdeokgung Palace tour which takes place on 1 pm. It’s great to take a tour here, you will get insights on Korean culture. For example, the Kings and Queens slept at a separate building, where the King will come to the Queen’s chamber at certain times to do certain things 😉
It was late February when I was there and the water were still frozen. I like this winter view. Yet, we will certainly lose our breath away to be here on Summer. The view would be something like this:
Changdeokgung Palace is located at Gwanghwamun area. To get there, get on Metro (SMRT) and take line 3 to Anguk Station and Exit number 3. You see, I was confused when I just read all of the instructions on which exit to take at which stations. Apparently there are a station every hundred feet, some inter-connected with different lines of Metro. Each stations have around 6 exits, each leading to different way of the streets or even across the street, which is why you will find many underground stores. Love it! Be aware to find the right exit by reading instructions on-site. Sometimes what’s written on the book could be mistaken. Click here for more information and schedule for Changdeokgung Palace.
My next favorite place is just outside Jongmyo Shrine. The Shrine house the spirit tablets of the Joseon Kings and Queens (Old Korean Dinasty) and some of their most loyal government officials. It is also believed as a place where earth meets the heavens.
There is a big park in front of the Jongmyo Shrine complex. There were many Korean Ahjussi (Korean language to call older men) playing an Othello-like board game. At another side, an Ahjussi fed the birds like it was his prize of the day. Other Ahjussi came to watched him does that, smiling. Everyone seems to just enjoy life at the moment.
To get there, take Metro line 1 or 3, or 5, towards Jongno 3-Ga station, and exit 11. Beware, there is a Jongno Ga station, and a Jongno 3(Sam)-Ga station. Number 3 is spoken as ‘Sam’ in Korean. It is still located in the Gwanghwamun area. Click here for more information and schedule for Jongmyo Shrine. You could also buy an ‘Integrated Ticket of Palaces’ you can use for 3 major Palaces and Jongmyo Shrine for a month period if you plan to visit them. It costs about KRW 10.000 ($8.75)
On the other hand, the most famous Korean Drama known to their fans would be Winter Sonata, which is also known as the early booming of Korean Drama. Its most famous location is in Nami Island, located not far from Seoul but gives you that getaway feeling just right. I’ve found many people who doesn’t want to go here because they’ve never watched Winter Sonata. Let me tell you this, it was beautiful not because of the movie, but because it is.
The most famous scene on Winter Sonata is when the two main characters made snowmen on a wooden table during a snowy day, and they kissed. Until today, the tables are still there, supposedly on the same location where the exact scene was taken. It is important to notice that the Korean people themselves are their biggest fan, seen by the writings and signatures written all over this fake snowmen made to replicate the scene. It’s still beautiful nonetheless. Another one is when they bike with a double bicycle, and they relive that scene by renting similar bikes. Love is in the air indeed.
Nami Island is not all about romance and scenery, but its about preserving nature at its best and mixing it with culture and art. You will find many art exhibitions depending on the schedule, but you will mostly find sculptures spread around the island. Click here for more information and schedules. Entrance fee is KRW10.000 ($8.95).
The hardest part is probably getting yourself to Nami Island without joining a tour, which I highly recommend because joining a tour does not give you freedom to explore. If you stayed at Seoul, you would take the Metro (SMRT) using whichever line from your place and stop at Cheongyanni Station (located somewhere at line number 1 or Jungang the green line), and then from then transfer to a train heading to Gapyeong. From there, just take a taxi to Nami Dock, where several ferries awaits you to depart to Nami island. An Ahjumma (Korean language to call older women) helped me in getting to the right train and make sure I exited at the right station. If you’re not sure where you’re going, just ask people around you but make sure you know how to use sign language! 😀