Seoul At First Glance - What To Expect & Top Things To Do
I have just returned from South Korea’s capital city and I can honestly say I miss it already. There are so many things I loved about Seoul and in this blog post I’m going to let you know my top 14 observations I have made about this city.
Harry Potter themed cafe, cafe/cocktail bar with a pool, black and white cafe, cafe where you can pet raccoons, sheep, or meerkats, cat cafes, dog cafes, cafes inside the wending machine, cafes owned by idols… name it and Seoul has it. Some of them are so new that they don't even have geotags yet! So you have to rely on social media posts to find the locations.
Seoul has more coffee shops per capita than Seattle (home of Starbucks) or San Francisco! It is completely normal for a shop that sells apparel or beauty products to also have a cafe located inside - no matter how big is the shop!
A look into the famous Zapangi vending machine cafe.
Top 10 Seoul cafes you should visit.
The only things open in Seoul before 11AM are tourist attractions. Everything else opens after that - cafes, restaurants and (not grocery and convenience) shops will usually open around midday.
Not only do the shops open late, they also close late. It is completely normal to still find shops open at 2AM no matter what day of the week it is.
For a true shopping experience one must visit Myeongdong. Skin care shops, apparel shops, department stores, street food vendors, ... They are all gathered there. You can buy everything that you need there, re energize with a coffee and treat yourself to a delicious meal after you have bought everything that you do and do not need.
Nation’s favourite sons who are (among other things) also official Seoul and Lotte Duty Free ambassadors can be heard playing everywhere whilst their cartoon creations BT21 are official mascots of Incheon airport. They are smiling from bakery windows, beauty stores, souvenir shops and stands, billboards and underpass walls.
You can meet BTS in an interactive experience for free at the Star Avenue located between LOTTE Department Store and LOTTE Hotel in Myeongdong.
If you are after a pair of Koya socks, RJ cheese cake, Mang post it notes, Tata luggage tag, Shooky ice cream, Chimmy reheatable hand warmers, Cooky tumblr or a coke can with one of the member’s faces on it - read this blog where to buy official BT21 and BTS march. I also have a blog post dedicated to dining at Jin's restaurant.
BTS can also be heard blasting from the speakers of many young dancers performing on the streets of Hongdae. If you walk down one of the main Hongdae roads in the evening you will see groups of people watching dancers and singers perform on the streets. Some of them have followers on Instagram and YouTube in thousands and when you see them perform you can see why. What is really fascinating to me is how every performer has a crew with them who film their performance. You feel like you are on a set of a music video sometimes. :D Some of them also have fans that follow them and support their performances wherever they go!
Busking is so popular in Seoul that Seoul Metropolitan Government launched a project to improve and expand Hongdae Street. The project was completed in 2017 and it helped improve the busking environment so that it can now naturally coexist with pedestrians, shoppers and other visitors of the area. On our last Sunday in Seoul, around 500 m of the street were closed off for traffic due to performers and the crowd enjoying the performances on the street.
Once the sun goes down so do the temperatures. When I was telling people that I’m going to Seoul they were telling me it was going to be cold. And they were right! So if you are visiting Seoul in late autumn / winter, be sure to stock up on your layers and thermos. Maybe even get yourself one of these handy hand warmers (they sell them everywhere in Korea so no need to worry about bringing them with you) to keep yourself warm.
Also, everyone wears long winter coats that go all the way down to their ankles. They look so cool and I would love to get my hands on the National Geographic one that seems to be only available in Korea. :(
You could dress whole Korea in fake Supreme merch and there would still be some leftover. :D Hoodies, T-Shirts, bags, hats, dog outfits, baby coats, and many more can be found EVERYWHERE. They come in various arrays of quality and prices, some of them looking like a real deal whilst others look like they were sewn together by a blind person.
If you love the brand but don't have the money or resources to spend them on the real deal - boy do I have good news for you.
Koreans LOVE their grilled meats. There are BBQ restaurants literally EVERYWHERE. Koreans seem to love to socialize over food so most of the menus are put together in mind that there will be multiple people eating together. This can be slightly tricky if you are a solo traveler as the portions are quite large (and of course meant for sharing).
Of course you always get served obligatory side dishes which are ALWAYS including Kimchi - South Korea's most famous traditional dish.
A bottle of Soju, Korea's most popular alcoholic drink, goes from 1 200 KRW (£0.83/ 1USD) and can be found in every convenience store and it is available in multiple flavours. I hate the taste of classic Soju. I could best describe it as a taste of nail polish remover. But I do love the grape and blueberry flavoured ones!
Apparently Korean piping system is quite old thus the pipes are small and unable to handle toilet paper. So if you do not want to have an accident in the toilet - do not throw your toilet paper into the toilet. (:
Koreans (and everyone visiting Korea) seem to be obsessed with skin care. It is sold everywhere, from your corner 7/11 to the fancy flagship stores.
It is completely normal to find the same brand store just a few meters or a corner away from the previous one.
Collagen, hydraulic acid, snail essence,... you can find them all. They cater to all needs and pockets so that literally anyone can find something for themselves no matter the budget they have.
How to spend a day in Hanbok.
Hanbok is traditional Korean clothing which can be rented for wear. You will see most of the tourists (especially girls) dressed up in Hanbok when visiting Seoul's royal palaces. Not only are they pretty, but they also grant you free access to all the palaces and museums!
Personally, I think this is a great move from the tourist board as it does encourage people to dress up which in turn creates great atmosphere around the palaces.
Renting a hanbok was so much fun for us as it did make us feel like princesses and we also got free entry to the places where other people were queuing for the tickets. It was like skipping rope at a popular club. :D
You can find karaoke rooms all over the city. We rented a room for an hour and extended it three times! :D A bottle or two or three of Soju and you will sing as if you are the next Idol. :D
It is very easy to get your hands on street food in Seoul. Most of shopping streets are lined with food stalls and you can choose between wide variety of foods. Chicken kebabs, hot dogs in dough, octopus on a stick, fish cakes, rice cakes, baked potatoes, chocolate covered strawberries, hotteok,... there's something for everyone!
When in Seoul/South Korea - do not rely on Google Maps. They are useless in most of the cases. Naver, KakaoMetro, KakaoBus, KakaoMaps are your to go apps and instead of Uber they have KakaoT.
You can use Tmoney card to pay for all the transportation and you can even use it to pay with it in the stores. It comes in a shape of a card with various motives but apparently you can also get it in a shape of a keyring which also makes for a nice souvenir.
Leave a comment on here or write to me on my Instagram if you have found this information useful or if you would like to share your impression of Seoul!