Seoul in November
September 16, 2015 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Going to Seoul the second week in November. Looking for input on places to stay, places to go, places to avoid, all that.

My girlfriend has a business trip to Seoul in November, and I'll be joining her once she's done with the business part. I've not done much international travel, and haven't been to Asia at all, while my girlfriend is a world traveler whose been to Seoul for work 4 or 5 times.

I'll be there a week. I have no particular ambitions except to eat, and possibly cook, good food. Neither of us is athletic, and I don't want to spend much time travelling internally, unless there's something we simply MUST see.

We want to find a decent AirBnB, settle into the neighborhood, do some shopping, stuff like that. I'm not too worried about money--I expect this to be a big, fairly expensive trip, and I don't want to cut corners. That said, I'm not a rich man, so money-saving tips would be appreciated.

Our plan WAS to look for a place in Itaewon, but a previous AskMe on the subject said not to. Any neighborhoods (or specific places to stay) to recommend? Any other general hints and tips?

For full context, I'm a 6'5" ponytailed white guy, age 50, while my girlfriend is average-sized and black. I do expect we'll be somewhat noticeable as we walk around...
posted by MrMoonPie to Travel & Transportation around Seoul, South Korea (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've never lived in Korea, so I don't have recommendations on what neighborhoods to stay in (I stayed with a friend in Seoul) but here are my suggestions on what to do/eat:

Go to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main and largest royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. Join the free English tour if you can. It's well worth it. Check the website for times.

In the area of Gyeongbokgung, go eat at Tosokchon (토속촌). It's a restaurant known for samgyetang, a chicken ginseng soup. It's yummy and the place is famous, so if you go during peak lunch hours (esp. during the weekend) it will be packed.

I also really enjoyed Changdeokgung Palace. It's famous for Huwon, the Secret Garden. It's particularly beautiful in autumn.

Insa-dong is an artsy, kinda touristy district near the big palaces. You can check it out for some crafts and souvenir shopping. You should visit Ssamzie-gil, it's this gigantic mall for handicrafts. It's not like a typical American mall; it has a lot of individual artists. Stop by O'Sulloc Tea House too, it's a famous green tea chain in Korea.

North of Insa-dong is Samcheong-dong, which I love. It's a super scenic neighborhood, romantic, and is less touristy than Insa-dong. Cute boutiques and cafes abound here. One of my favorite coffee shops is here but I don't know the name of it. Lots of street food to try.

Don't forget to check out Cheonggyecheon stream, a 7-mile long urban renewal project. It runs east to west and walking along it is one of my favorite things to do in Seoul. Plus if you start from the beginning where Cheonggye Plaza is there are a ton of street food vendors so you can load up on snacks and then walk and eat along the stream. Some classics are Tteokbokki (떡볶이) and Odeng (오뎅).

If you go into Seoul's City Hall, it has one of the largest indoor vertical green walls in the world.

No trip to Seoul is complete without Korean BBQ. My favorite place to go is the Majang Meat Market. It's the beef wholesale market that's a bit far from the city center but it's worth it. The meat is more fresh and a bit cheaper.

Also you have to eat Patbingsu (팥빙수). It's a Korean shaved ice dessert. You can get it anywhere.

Hapjeong is a neighborhood that I highly recommend for strolling. Lots of artsy cafes (Koreans have caught onto the coffee craze) and interesting boutique stores. Many themed animal cafes (dog cafes, cat cafes, sheep cafes) are in this area and in Hongdae, the adjacent neighborhood that caters to a younger crowd.

I did the DMZ tour (I think it was almost $100 per person). It was interesting.

Well, that was a lot of information! There's more I could say but I'll stop here. I love Korea and I miss the food so much. I hope you and your girlfriend have a great time!
posted by bluelight at 3:00 PM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

bluelight above has some great recommendations. Tosokchon (토속촌) is great, don't be afraid of long lines because the lines move fast.

The recommendations above are all for north of the river, by the way. Think of the Han River as splitting Seoul into north of the Han River and South of the Han River. Gangnam is the term used to refer to south of the Han River, as well as a particular area and neighborhood south of the river. South of the river, there's Sinsadong / Garosu-gil area, which is artsy and trendy and rather like Hapjeong. Apgujeong and Cheongdam can be interesting for the people-watching.

I get the impression that for touristy activities, staying somewhere north of the river (Gangbuk) will be more convenient. (No specific recommendations, I stay with family in Gangnam area when I'm in Seoul, and grew up in Gangnam area, so I'm a tourist, too, when I cross the Han River :) )
posted by needled at 4:17 PM on September 18, 2015

Best answer: Hi! I lived in rural South Korea for three years and trips to cosmopolitan Seoul were a welcome respite. I haven't lived there since late 2008 so my info may be a little outdated but here goes:

The two answers above hit on a lot of the tourity highlights. Seoul is pretty spread out, so if you want to spend a day diong the truly touristy stuff I HIGHLY recommend one of the hop-on/hop-off busses. They have recorded information in English and can get you to all the highlights cheaply and quickly, where you can soend as much time as you want before hopping on another bus.

You probably aleady have a hotel through your partner's work, but if you need a place to stay, we enjoyed staying in either Myeongdong, which is a neighborhood filled with lot of clothing stores and college kids hanging out in the streets, or Bukchon-do, where you can stay in a traditional Korean guest house and sleep on the ondol floor, which will be quite nice in November, as Korea gets pretty cold in the winters.

Insadong is touristy in a different way — it's a bit more traditional Seoul with galleries and great restaurants. I'd stay away from Itaewan at all costs unless you want to have with US military and hookers at the Hard Rock Cafe. The neighborhood Bukchon-do is also traditional (like Insadog) but a little more off-the radar. No skyscrapers here, cobblestone streets, you might been golden ginko leaves falling from the trees. Husband and I had an amazing dinner here once at a cooking school and also once found ourselves in an underground jazz club. Good times. Hongdae is a fun university neighborhood to wander around, especially at night, as there are some great bars.

Having said that, Korean food is soooooo amazing. Since it'll be cold look for a place that serves stews, which the Koreans excel at. I am partial to kamjatang, pork back stew, which is spicy and warm and so rich and tasty. You can get Korea barbeque almost anywhere but really all Korean food is amazing. Don't be afraid to try some street food too!

Koreans love to hike, and in Seoul there is an interesting moutain called Inwangsan. Shamanism in Korea is the oldest religion, and is considered by many to be a practice that only ancestors followed (especially since so mnay Koreas have converted to Christianity). Also, most Shaman priests are women, and woman typically don't hold positions of power in modern Confuscian culture. But there are pleanty of poeple who still practice Shamanism under the radar, and Inwangsan is a scared moutain for the Shamanists. As you hike up the mountain you'll see dozens of altars carved into the soft stone. The hike isn't hard and it'll give you good views of the rest of Seoul and give you some relief from the densly-populated streets below. This is something not many foreigners know about, and it's such a magical place. Highly recommended.

The public transport system in Seoul is super easy to use, and almost everyone speaks English. I'm sure youll have an amazing time. Honestly, a solid plan is just to pick a neghbor and wander it — there will be great people watching and you're sure to find amazing food anywhere. Let me know if you have any other questions.
posted by Brittanie at 3:07 PM on September 19, 2015

It's been years since I traveled to Korea, so I don't have recommendations on where to stay or eat. But the day trip to the DMZ was one of the most memorable things I've ever done on a trip.
posted by jeri at 9:49 PM on September 21, 2015

Response by poster: We’re back! We did just about everything you folks suggested and had a great time. I made a google map of your suggestions and found an AirBnB right in the center, a nice studio apartment over the Anguk subway station, less than a block from Insadong and within easy walking distance from the palaces, Tosokchon, and the cooking school. This was during the Lantern Festival, also walking distance, with lots of great street food. Thanks, everyone!
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:24 AM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

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