When thinking about what to expect in Seoul, all I had to go off of were those gorgeous cityscape scenes from Sense8 on Netflix. While I didn't come across anybody who seemed to be in constant telepathic connection with 7 other people around the world, the city ended up being incredibly vibrant, exciting, and full of endless things to do.
The bae and I took a crazy 14-hour direct flight from JFK to Incheon, which is actually about an hour bus ride outside of the main part of the city. We stayed in Myeongdong, which based on everywhere we went around Seoul, felt like a great central location with tons to do on its own. The trip was basically a nonstop medley of stuffing our faces, catching up with old friends who live in Seoul (#blessed), and taking in the sights.
First things first - the foooooood.
Honestly, the biggest highlight of the trip was probably just the sheer amount of amazing food I ate. We mostly stuck with Korean - which was cool considering it's a major city and I usually end up eating different types of food, but Korean was the most common/best looking - and tried everything from good ol' bibimbap (especially at this place in Myeongdong), dak-galbi, kimbap sushi with mozzarella (that was wild), and of course, lots of KBBQ. One exception was this place called Ashley, which was an international-style buffet with endless wine for $3 - I mean, who doesn't love that?
All the Korean staples came with at a base level of spiciness (pretty much no matter what) and you'll find a lot of dishes have cheese incorporated, which was both unexpected and delightful. Oh, and always try the street food.
Then, of course, there's the city itself. Seoul is a sprawling city, divided in half by the Han river but connected by its super clean and efficient subway system - NYC, take some notes. It's super easy to buy and reload a T-money card to take the trains and while Apple maps turned out to be pretty useless, a combo of Google Maps and good old fashioned paper maps were able to help us take the right trains. We took the trains to hit most of the major sites, and these were my personal top 3:
- Lotte World + Lotte World Tower - this is sorta cheating considering they're two different places but they are right next to each other and owned by the same crazy conglomerate, so I'm lumping them together. Lotte World is not only the world's largest indoor theme park but also what I affectionately call Disney's Korean cousin. It's structured in the same way as Disneyland, with themed characters and parades, rollercoasters, Small World-esq rides, and overpriced food and drinks - and it's so fun. It's surreal to see so much of a theme park inside, plus they have an entire outdoor section as well. It was a day well spent and the late afternoon came to be more amazing with a trip to Lotte World Tower. The fifth largest building in the world (and the third highest observatory), this fairly newly opened building has 360 views of Seoul with huge glass walls and floors (yikes). It's a photographers dream and I was in heaven.
- Gyeongbokgung - we had a fair share of palaces to choose from but my friend Jin suggested we go to her favorite, Gyeongbokgung. We ended up in traditional Korean dress, hanbok, since if we wore that into the palace, we got in for free! The palace was huge, beautiful, and full of history. There was a lot of other tourists wandering around in hanbok, which gave the whole visit a surreal feel.
- N Seoul Tower - quite possibly the most iconic part of Seoul, the N Seoul Tower sits on top of a hill which you can see from almost anywhere in the city. While the views aren't quite that of Lotte World Tower, it's still an incredible sight. You can choose to take a cable car up to the top or walk it and there's plenty to do and see at the top - a lot of it is outdoors so definitely plan to go on a nice day.
Other unique and super fun experiences were the raccoon cafe where tame and adorable raccoons literally just hang out with you and a few dogs after you've had a cup of coffee, Ihwa Mural Village which is every Instagramer's dream come true, and the Trick Eye Museum, which is filled with insane, interactive optical illusions (and if you want the same sort of thing but an R rated version, check out the Love Musuem downstairs).
If you're anything like me, you'll want to leave space in your suitcase for the crap ton of face masks and snacks you'll pick up - they're super cheap and leave you feeling fresh af (the masks that is... the snacks will just make put you in a food coma). Myeongdong, where we stayed, is basically an endless maze of stores, restaurants, and cafes, and was the perfect place to pick up anything you might want to bring home. They had trendy local Korean shops as well as the bigger chains and luxury brands. Nearby is Namdaemun Market if you're looking for a less expensive and more traditional shopping experience.
I could probably rant about Seoul forever, but it was a truly unique and surreal trip that I'd happily do again. Hit me up if you wanna know more!