Why Visit Seoul? It's Got Soul and is Full of Surprises!

Sunrise over Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul South Korea
Seoul was the last stop on our extended 6-week trip in Asia (#DrJSabbatical) and South Korea was arguably the place we knew the least about before visiting. When we scheduled the visit, we looked at Seoul as a convenient airport with Star Alliance flights back to Europe with Lufthansa. Are you considering a trip to Seoul but you aren't sure what to expect? Read on to find out why Seoul totally exceeded our expectations during our 4-day visit. Seoul is simply full of fun surprises and for this reason is a top city break destination in Asia in our view.

Buildings Bathed in Golden Light

Seoul skyscraper bathed in golden hour light
We arrived in Seoul from Xi'an China in the early evening. I knew that Seoul was a modern city with amazing skyscrapers. I wasn't prepared for the beauty of those buildings in the light of the golden hour. There was one skyscraper across the Han River that simply lit up in the dusky light.

Korean Street Food is Delicious

Fried vegetables, spam, and kimchee in Seoul
By the time we arrived in Seoul and got settled into our hotel (Lotte City Hotel Myeongdong), it was time to find some dinner. We spotted bright lights just across the Cheonggyecheon Stream and headed in that direction. We found ourselves in a neighborhood full of bars, restaurants, and street food stalls. We picked a place that didn't look too intimidating with fresh food cooking in the window. The no-nonsense lady running the place, I like to think of her as the matriarch of a family restaurant, ushered us to a small table at the back. We don't speak Korean and they didn't speak English but we were able to order with a mix of mime and pointing. We ended up with a plate of deep fried vegetables, tofu, and even spam! The meal was served with a variety of small dishes of spicy kimchee for flavor. We were loving Seoul already!

Eat All the Things on an O'ngo Street Food Tour

O'ngo Street Food Tour in Seoul South Korea
We knew that street food would definitely be a highlight of our visit to South Korea and we wanted to make sure we sampled all the best treats. We booked ourselves into an O'ngo Street Food Tour through the historic Insadong neighborhood of Seoul. Our guide, JS, an aspiring filmmaker, led us and a couple from London on our adventure. We stopped at seven places in the course of about 3 hours. 

We also opted in for a real Korean BBQ at the end. It's a good thing O'ngo makes visitors decide if they want barbecue in advance of starting the food tour. We said "yes" when our stomachs were empty but eating more food seemed impossible after sampling all the savory and sweet treats earlier in the afternoon. We somehow found room for small morsels of meat wrapped in a variety of greens. The O'ngo street food and barbecue tour was one of the top culinary highlights of our visit to Seoul.

Seoul is Poop Obsessed!

Poop waffle storefront sign in Seoul South Korea
Strolling around Insadong, we wandered into a boutique-y crafts market (Ssamziegil Mall). That's when I saw something a bit strange: a cartoon character with his pants down and an arrow pointing to simultaneously delicious looking and horrifying waffles...poop waffles! I was still full from the street food tour and was thus able to resist the allure of the poop waffle. Realizing that not trying a South Korean poop waffle would be one of my life's greatest regrets, we returned the next day with our appetites. It turns out that the waffles are chocolate-filled for that extra bit of realism. 
Poop shaped waffles in Seoul South Korea
As an added bonus, we discovered a poo cafe on the top floor of Ssamziegil Mall. The poop cafe served us well-crafted lattes served in porcelain bowl shaped like a toilet.
Latte served in a toilet bowl mug in Seoul South Korea
The top thing that I learned in Seoul is that South Koreans are poop-obsessed.

Seoul City Hall Doubles as an Art Exhibit

Artwork in Seoul City Hall
If poop waffles aren't your thing, trust me, Seoul is full of more cultured surprises too. We visited Seoul City Hall and discovered a giant wall of greenery and a column of festive balloons. A basement art exhibit and citizens meeting area were fascinating to wander around and all the attractions were free.
Seoul City Hall from the outside
Architecturally, City Hall is a hybrid. A modern glass dome erupts off the back of the historic facade, a convenient and artistic way to make more space.

History Comes to Life at the Changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace

Changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul South Korea
Gyeongbokgung Palace is famous for the changing of the royal guard ceremony which takes place at 10 am every day. We awoke early and took the subway across town to witness the spectacle. Guards dressed in colorful uniforms and toting swords and shields marched into the palace courtyard to the beat of drums and other instruments.
Changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul South Korea
At 11 am there is another ceremony outside the gates where the on-duty guards change up their positions. The artistry in the ceremony is simply fascinating to watch.
Changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul South Korea
We were also amazed by the number of visitors dressed up in costume to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace. We attribute this to the popularity of Korean soap operas at the time we visited. The outfits really looked uncomfortable especially given how hot it was when we visited Seoul in late May 2017 but the young ladies seemed perfectly content to prance about the palace.
Visitors in period costume outside Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul South Korea

Visit Seoullo, Seoul's Answer to New York City's High Line

Seoullo Park created from a disused highway overpass in Seoul South Korea
We visited Seoul in May 2017 and our trip coincided with the launch of Seoullo, South Korea's answer to New York City's High Line Park. Seoul converted a disused overpass that was no longer safe for cars into a pedestrianized park.
Wall of shoes near Seoullo in Seoul South Korea
To celebrate the grand opening, a huge exhibit of shoes was erected near the Central Station as a symbol of the rebirth of the area and commitment to walking instead of cars.

Modern Art Prevails at Seoul's Citizen's Station

Plexiglas forest at Seoul's Citizen's Station
After walking on Seoullo, we were looking for the train to take us back to our hotel. We wandered into Seoul's old central station and discovered the coolest surprise of our trip, a modern art exhibit had taken over the halls of the station. A plexiglas forest and old-school CRT TVs greeted us.
CRT TV art exhibit at Citizen's Station in Seoul South Korea
Delving further, we discovered an art installation where we were able to insert ourselves into various scenes.
Modern Art Exhibit at Seoul's Citizen's Station
Signs in the hallway pointed out that TIME is Killer sending the not so subtle message that life is short and we should make the most of it...exactly what we were trying to do on #DrJSabbatical!
Time is Killer - art exhibit at Seoul's Citizen's Station
I also got to ride a stationary unicycle through a virtual world and even make some origami.
Riding a unicycle at Seoul's Citizen's Station
Seoul's Citizen's Station was a fantastic stop and really fueled our imaginations and appreciation for modern, interactive art.

You Can Buy Anything at Namdaenum Market

World flags over Namdaenum Market in Seoul South Korea
Seoul is known for food and shopping markets. Namdaenum Market is probably the most impressive of them all. If you're looking for a bite to eat, housewares, beauty products, clothing, or pretty much anything else, Namdaenum Market is the place to go. We even discovered an, ahem, cheeky, bit of street art.
Dog biting a man's butt street art at Namdaenum Market in Seoul South Korea

Experience Traditional Korean Life in Hanok Village

Hanok Village rooftops in Seoul South Korea
Seoul may be a sprawling metropolis but the city still harbors remnants of traditional Korean life. Hanok Village near Insadong features traditional houses with ornate tiled roofs. Narrow passageways connect homes, shops, and more. Taking a couple hours to stroll through Hanok Village is time well spent and helps visitors get in touch with a different side of South Korea.

Seoul has Great Craft Beer and Fried Chicken at CornerBe

Fried chicken and craft beer in beakers at CornerBe in Seoul South Korea
We discovered that Seoul has a great craft beer scene. At CornerBe, we sampled top-notch brews served in small beakers. Fried chicken is the perfect accompaniment to a round of beer in South Korea.

South Korean Snow Dessert is Best Dessert

Mango snow dessert in Seoul South Korea
We were surprised and delighted by the wide array of frozen desserts available in Seoul. Snow dessert was my absolute favorite. Ice shaved thin to create the consistency of snow is covered with flavored syrup and fruit. You can get these frozen concoctions at various places around town. Make sure you bring your appetite though since the desserts can be huge!

K-Pop is No Joke in Seoul

K-Pop merchandise for sale in Seoul South Korea
Simply turn on the television in Seoul and you'll soon learn that K-Pop is no joke, it's big business. We watched at least two singing/talent competitions during our short stay. Shopping around town, we saw countless products being promoted by K-Pop favorites. If you're looking for a phone cover, calendar, or pretty much anything else stamped with your favorite cutie, Seoul is the place to look. We found the pop culture to be truly fascinating. 
K-Pop merchandise for sale in Seoul South Korea

Get to Know Seoul's Line Friends

Brown, one of the Line Friends, in Seoul South Korea
Who doesn't love a giant bear? Seoul's Line Friends are led by Brown, a big brown bear. The Line Friends store in Seoul lures you in with a giant huggable Brown just begging for a selfie. Inside, tons of other cute characters call-out to be picked up off the shelf. Popular with adults, with Line Friends, who says cuteness is just for kids.

Meet Seoul's Fat Cats

Cat with a blue bandana at a cat cafe in Seoul South Korea
We couldn't spend 6 weeks in Asia without stopping at a cat cafe! In Seoul, we grabbed a flyer from a human in a cat suit. For a fixed price, we were able to visit the cafe, have a coffee, and stay as long as we wanted. This fat cat in the blue bandana may look no-nonsense but he took a real liking to Scott and sidled up next to him for a nap.
Cat in the window at a cat cafe in Seoul South Korea
Visit a cat cafe in Seoul. It's good for the soul.

Jump in Where Martial Arts Meet Comedy Theatre

Jump! Martial Arts Comedy Theatre in Seoul South Korea
Seoul is known for a form of physical comedy theatre centered around martial arts. We went to see Jump, a performance featuring a slightly dysfunctional family with characters such as 'Drunken Uncle'. The characters performed a series of short vignettes showcasing mad physical ability in the process. Definitely take time to see one of the martial arts comedies in South Korea.

Escape the Fast-pace of Seoul with a Walk Along Cheonggyecheon Stream

Sunrise over Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul South Korea
Cheonggyecheon Stream runs for 15 km through the center of Seoul and is an idyllic spot for an early morning walk. The path is below street level and is super-effective at getting people away from the frenetic pace of the city.
Flower boxes along Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul South Korea
Vegetation, flower boxes, and waterfalls line the path.
Waterfall along Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul South Korea

You May Even Meet a Robot!

Robot above Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul South Korea
You may even meet at robot along Cheonggyecheon Stream. We looked up from the path and saw a character that could have been out of a Marvel Comics movie. We climbed up to street level to investigate and discovered Seoul's robot super-hero on watch. Awesome!
Robot above Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul South Korea
Before visiting, we looked at Seoul simply as the gateway for our long-haul flight back to Europe. What we discovered was so much more. Seoul really is full of awesome surprises and deserves attention as an Asian city break destination in its own right. I'd love to go back and spend even more time exploring the city and steeping in Seoul's unique atmosphere.

Have you visited Seoul? What did you think about it?

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Why Visit Seoul? It's Got Soul and is Full of Surprises!

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Sidewalk Safari: Why Visit Seoul? It's Got Soul and is Full of Surprises!
Why Visit Seoul? It's Got Soul and is Full of Surprises!
Find out about cool things to do in Seoul, South Korea. A photo-rich post by travel blogger, Jennifer (aka Dr. J) from Sidewalk Safari.
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Sidewalk Safari
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