Where the Action Is
Global Traveler|March 2021
Seoul sizzles with food, fashion, palaces and pageantry.
GREGORY D. MCCLUNEY

Like the frenetic kitchen of a sold-out Korean restaurant, Seoul is hot, sizzling, a 24/7 mass of energy. Yet few travelers have the bustling South Korean capital of 25 million people at the top of their bucket list of destinations.

Seoul may not possess the panache of Paris, the royal history of London or the flair of New York City. What it does offer is thousands of years of history, mega-shopping for the latest fashions, a vibrant food scene particular to Korean customs and tastes, five palaces, pageantry, casinos, clubs and exciting attractions to please business visitors or entice families. Add to this a favorable exchange rate ($1 equals 1,103 won) and lots of English-speaking young people you won’t find in most other Asian countries.

When you’ve settled in your hotel (there’s one to fit every budget) and rested from the major time change, you’ll find subways and taxis provide the best way to see the city. Purchase a T-money card for the subway and enjoy the good maps and English signage at most stops. Taxi drivers rarely speak English but can translate using smartphones (keep the business cards provided by your hotel). Taxis are reasonable, clean and abundant. Unless you read or speak Korean, the bus system will prove an unnecessary challenge.

The Han River divides Seoul into two major sections: north (Gangbuk) and south (Gangnam). The northerly, older section houses many tourist sites while the south, the new Seoul, is more affluent and the place to be seen with the latest fashions and technology.

Each section further divides into many distinct neighborhoods. You’ll most likely navigate to a destination by finding these neighborhoods, such as the popular tourist area of Insa-dong or the palace area of Gyeongbokgung. Shopping exists in almost every neighborhood, with many retailers specializing in crafts, high fashion, sports clothing and electronics. You’ll find only two actual enclosed malls, with multiple levels and international brands.

Get your bearings with a visit to the N Seoul Tower, the highest point in the city. Take a cable car and then a fast elevator to the top for a 360-degree view of the city. At sunset you get a different view on a Han River cruise, no advance reservations necessary.

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