Off to Seoul for business? Here's how to make the most of your time.
Two award-winning urban renewal schemes have quickly become must-sees in Seoul. Cheonggyecheon, a former highway in the city centre, has been transformed into an 11-kilometre-long public space featuring pathways planted with wildflowers, grasses and trees beside a fish-filled stream. Or, if you have as many as three hours to spare, visit (via a bridge) Seonyudo Park on the Han River and see what can be done with an old water-treatment plant.
Get lost in Bukchon, an old neighbourhood where the laneways are lined with hanoks (traditional Korean houses), small shops, galleries, cafés, restaurants and independent museums. It’s best to go early in the morning before it gets busy, particularly on the weekend. A more contemporary attraction in the area is the Arario Museum; the adjoining five-storey complex containing a café, restaurants and a bakery is a wonder in itself.
With historic sites all over Seoul, it’s difficult to choose just one if you’re limited for time. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Changdeokgung Palace would have to be the pick of the bunch, mainly because of its Secret Garden. The 600-year-old palace, made up of a number of pavilions painted in subtly faded shades, is beautiful enough but don’t leave without buying a separate ticket for the 90-minute tour of the 32-hectare forest-like garden.
Visit Dongdaemun Shopping Complex and surrounding markets to experience commerce on a massive and specialised scale, if nothing else. Something like 80 per cent of the textiles traded in South Korea go through the complex. As with many of the markets, the street food around here is excellent. While you’re in the area, check out the striking aluminium-clad Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a building that works better from the outside than in.
One of the oddest parts of the world would have to be the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. The four-kilometre-wide strip of land runs across the peninsula and parts of it are accessible by public transport. However, to see the most interesting section – the Joint Security Area – you’ll need to do a guided tour. They’re run regularly by the United Service Organizations; book at least four days ahead to clear security requirements. ￼