Seeking suggestions: short sojourn in Seoul
July 16, 2014 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be in Seoul for a long weekend next month - what should I do? Where should I stay? What should I eat?

Will be there from a Friday through a Tuesday. I don't know any Korean, I'm a woman traveling on her own.

Food: I don't have any allergies and I'm not terribly picky. Open to new things.
Hotel: No hostels, please, I want my own room and bathroom. In a good, fun neighborhood.
Activities: I'm up for pretty much anything as long as it's safe. I am very excited about the possibility of visiting a cat cafe.

I realize this is vague, but the opportunity to take this trip came up pretty suddenly. I don't know much about Seoul, so any reading you can recommend (books or blogs) is also very much welcomed.
posted by troika to Travel & Transportation around Seoul, South Korea (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I cannot recommend the Museum of Natural History enough. I would have spent more time there! It's adjacent to Gyeongbokgung the royal palace, so it's easy to make a day of it.

I stayed on base, if you know anyone in the armed forces and can get a base pass, the Dragon Hill Lodge at Yongsan is pretty great. Also, you can get a lot of the tours through the base with English speaking guides.

Itaewon is the neighborhood around the base and it's full of shops and restaurants, and everyone speaks English.

G Itaewon Guest House gets good reviews on Trip Advisor, and I'm down with anyone who's calling themselves Shrek and Fiona. Here's more info, they have singles with ensuite bathrooms. Good prices and the place is brand new.

Tom's Cat Cafe.

Korea is AWESOME! Have a good time!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:35 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want a different sleeping experience, I would think about staying in a traditional hanok. Some (like this one I stayed at for a couple nights Moon), have their own bathrooms. Korean Tourism has a lot more suggestions and is a good place to go to get maps and information. Insadong is the (tourist) arts district close to most of the palaces, Blue House, and oldest remaining sections of Seoul - plenty of people speak English there and is a comfortable place to stay if you want to be central. Hongdae is where all the kids play and is probably the best place in town to hear music, check out bookstores/shops/late night eats.
posted by ch3ch2oh at 6:19 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've lived in Seoul since 2002. PM me if you have specific questions!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:07 AM on July 17, 2014

I've lived in Greater Seoul for the last year and half. Here are some things that I've enjoyed:

Gyeong-bok-gung: the central Seoul palace that has lots of historical buildings around it
N Seoul Tower: an icon of Seoul's skyline offering nice views of the city
The Cheong-gyeh-cheon: a recreational stream in the heart of the city; a relaxing urban oasis
Namdaemun Market: a great traditional market with many food and souvenir opportunities, plus a historic city gate nearby
Nor-yang-jin Fish Market: a smelly adventure; try the sannakji!
Hong-dae: a bohemian / nightlife district abutting the major Seoul university, it's home to cool theme cafes (dog, cat, Hello Kitty, etc) and tons of interest bars and restaurants
Gangnam: trendy area worth checking out if you have to see what all the fuss is about
Seoul Olympic Park: a relaxing way to spend an afternoon and enjoy memories of the 1988 Olympics

I hate to disagree with Ruthless Bunny -- seriously, I'm a huge fan -- but I would most definitely skip Itaewon. Itaewon is foreigner-central in Korea: it's home to country's square pegs and where the off-duty American soldiers go to do the awful things that off-duty soldiers sometimes do. It's not very Korean-feeling, has a sleazy vibe to it and it's the only place in Korea that I (a late twenties white dude) don't feel completely safe.

I don't have much to offer about hotels, unfortunately. But if money is no object, I'd recommend the Park Hyatt. I had a delightful free stay there about a year ago and really enjoyed myself. Love Motels, where young people who still live with their parents go to rendez-vous, can be a nice inexpensive option.

Don't know any Korean, you say? Well, luckily many Koreans know a bit of English. But here are your survival Korean basics for those that don't:

Hello: "ahn-yong-ha-say-oh"

Please give me this (as you point): E-go ju-say-oh
Of course, you can substitute the actual item for "this":
E.g., Please give me a Cass (a brand of beer): Kah-seu ju-say-oh
Or Please give me an Americano (the espresso drink): Americano ju-say-oh
Or Please give me an order of bibimbap (a mixed rice dice): Bee-beem-bop ju-say-oh

Kam-sa-hahm-ni-dah: Thank you.

Also, don't be afraid to speak English, as even people who don't speak English will know English words thanks to strong presence of Konglish: Korean words that have their origins in English. That wiki article has a few great examples.

I've lived in Greater Seoul for a good decade less than Joseph Gurl, but I'd also be happy to answer any questions you have.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by charlemangy at 6:19 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like Insadong. I was meh about Itaewon and usually only went to go to What the Book to shop for used books. Actually, I liked Daejeon and Busan a lot more than Seoul, but then again, I'm not a fan of huge cities.

I enjoyed the Korean War Memorial Cemetery. The aquarium in Coex was fun.

Food, oh how I miss Korean food. Bulgogi was my favorite. Basically Korean BBQ. Try kimchi. Try kimchi on the grill. It gets spicier. Any of the little "orange" restaurants (they typically have an orange awning) are a good place for a snack. Gimbap (almost like a California roll type thing) is tasty. I personally like chom-chi gimbap the best. It has tuna fish in it. It reminds me of tuna salad in the end. Many of these types of places have pictures on the walls, so you could just point to something. I highly recommend most of the street food.

I picked up a used copy of Lonely Planet (either Korea or Seoul or maybe both, I can't remember) and browsed through it to find things that looked interesting. I also had a Lonely Planet phrase book that came in handy occasionally.

Korean kids like to practice their 3 words of English on foreigners. Konglish is everywhere. If you have to go to the grocery store for some reason, shopping shouldn't be too bad. Pictures and/or English descriptions are on most everything.

Realistically, you could take a day trip to another city. You can take the KTX south to Busan in about 3 hours.
posted by kathrynm at 9:09 AM on July 17, 2014

I lived in rural Korea for three years and would go to Seoul for weekends about once a month to maintain my sanity. So I have the experience of a frequent tourist, not a citizen of Seoul

I highly recommend staying in a traditional guest house in Insadong. Bukchon is a nice one. AVOID Itaewon unless you love American military men, American/Canadian English teachers and lots of hookers.

You can get a room in a guest house with your own bathroom, either traditional where you sleep on the floor or one with a western bed. Insadog is a taste of old Seoul with some cool art galleries and cafes thrown in.

If you're looking for a more modern view of Seoul, I also liked staying in Myeongdong, right by the underground station. There are tons of shops, boutiques and little restaurants (as well as western places like TGI Fridays) and it's where a lot of hip young kids hang out on the weekends.

One place in Seoul that seems a bit off the radar but that I LOVED is Inwangsan. Amazing that a mountain like that exists in a city of 10 million people.

When we first moved there we also had good experiences with those hop-on-hop-off bus tours, which allow you to see a lot in a little time.
posted by Brittanie at 12:20 PM on July 17, 2014

Response by poster: Bummer, plans have changed, so I'm no longer tagging Seoul on to the end of the work trip. These suggestions are wonderful, though! I hope they can help someone else.
posted by troika at 8:54 AM on July 24, 2014

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