Featured writer: Esther Haydock
With all the success of PSY’s Gangnam Style, Korea has been given a huge publicity boost, and it’s capital city, Seoul, is a treasure trove awaiting to be explored. It is a very modern and dynamic city with an efficient and easy to use subway system, the instructions on the ticket machines are fully in English, with English announcements on the trains as well.
We stayed in Isadong, which is the main tourist area with lots of side streets, traditional teahouses, interesting quirky shops and of course all the usual tourist traps, the first afternoon was very pleasantly spent meandering round.
I travelled with my husband and two elementary aged children, and we have a long standing agreement that when we go away we alternate days; so one day is the adults choice and the next is the children’s; so on day two we headed off to Seoul’s Grand Park, which hosts the zoo. The park has a cable car to take you to the top, which offers stunning views and is quicker than walking. The autumn colours were amazing but there was a real chill in the air, with the wind bringing the feel-like temperature down even further. The zoo itself was underwhelming, some of the enclosures were very good with interesting habitats for the animals, but there were a lot that are still cages that really didn’t look large enough. There were breaks from the cold provided in the reptile house and greenhouse and lots of sculptures that were designed to be interactive (which is parent speak for climbed on or in!) which kept everyone entertained.
Day three, back to an adult choice so we headed off to the palaces. There are five palaces in Seoul itself; Gyeongbokgung (gung is the Korean for palace) is the largest and the most set up for tourists, with a changing of the guard performed at 11am. Unfortunately, it isn’t open on Tuesdays, so we headed for its near neighbour (an easy walk away) Changdeogung; which is the only palace to be on the UNESCO World Heritage List. You have an option of an English speaking guided tour but we choose to explore on our own and at our own speed, the complimentary guide book is very detailed.
There is also a tour of the Secret (or Forbidden) garden, which used to be exclusively for the royal family, however at an hour and a half, it was just too long for my little ones. In the adjacent palace, Changgyeongung, there is a large park area, as well as the oldest surviving main hall of all the palaces.
For two weeks every November, the Cheonggyecheon Stream, in the business district, is transformed by the Seoul Lantern Festival, with over three thousand paper lanterns, ranging from traditional scenes, to a giant pineapple and Korea’s favourite cartoon character Pororo. It is a very popular attraction for families and young courting couples, the atmosphere is very friendly and considerate.
For our final day in Seoul my children choose to go to Lotte World, which is a large indoor theme park, and as it is on the subway system it is also very easy to get to. The park has been very cleverly organised, with a good selection of rides and shows; from halloween onwards they have a Christmas parade, complete with indoor fireworks and bubble snow. There is an outside island as well, with larger rides, but there was enough inside to keep us busy.
As ever with a short city break, you can never see it all and our list of things we want to do in Seoul has actually got longer, we will defiantly be back to explore this vibrant city some more.