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As the nation's capital for 600 years, Seoul has preserved its tradition and ancient history: the five major royal palaces of the Joseon Dynasty, which are Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Gyeonghuigung, as well as 266 cultural assets.
Downtown Seoul is home to numerous museums, art galleries, performance facilities, and theme parks, together with tourist sites like N Seoul Tower, 63 City and its observatory, and the Hangang River cruise for night views of the city.
Visitors can also immerse themselves in the nightlife: the clubs and restaurants of Hongdae and Itaewon and the shopping at Dongdaemun Market. Or they can enjoy Seoul’s more staid culture of Insa-dong, where tradition meets modernity.
Seoul has a remarkable performance record of hosting successful large-scale international conferences including the Asia-Europe Summit Meeting in 2000 and the FIFA World Cup soccer games in 2002.
Things to do & visit in Seoul
Changdeokgung and Gyeongbok Palace
These former seat of power is probably Korea's most famous royal palaces.
Gyeongbok: It's tough to miss given its location at the northern end of Seoul's main boulevard, Sejong. Gyeongbok Palace (closed Tuesday) was built in the late 1300s, and has been destroyed and reconstructed numerous times. English tours are available about three times daily for visitors to learn more about Korea's architectural traditions and court customs.
Changdeokgung: The palace was burnt to the ground during the Japanese invasion in 1592 and reconstructed in 1609 by King Seonjo and King Gwanghaegun. The next arson was in 1623 because of King Injo Political Revolt against Gwanghaegun. The palace was also attacked by the Manchu Qing but throughout its history of reconstruction and repair has remained faithful to its original design. Changdeokgung was the site of the royal court and the seat of government until 1872, when the neighboring Gyeongbokgung was rebuilt. Korea's last Emperor,Sunjong lived here until his death in 1926.
It's not hard to imagine the days of yore when you stroll through this utterly picturesque neighborhood. Flanked by two palaces — Gyeongbok Palace to the west and Changdeok Palace to the east — this village has the largest cluster of privately owned traditional Korean wooden homes or hanok in Seoul. Keep an eye out for the half-dozen or so alleys that have beautifully restored architectural features like small courtyards, decorative outer walls and dark tiled roofs. The neighborhood is also peppered with quaint cafés, art galleries and restaurants.
Bugaksan National park
Mountains ring Seoul and one of the best to climb is Bugaksan, the peak behind the President's pad, Cheongwadae or Blue House. Several trailheads take hikers through reconstructed 15th-century gates and along Seoul's ancient fortress wall. From the top of the 342-m (112-ft.) ascent, you'll get a commanding view of the capital. You'll also get to follow in the footsteps of North Korean commandos who climbed the mountain some 40 years ago in an unsuccessful bid to assassinate the president; the Seoul Fortress, which had been closed for security purposes, was re-opened to visitors in 2006 (make a tour reservation a week in advance).
Namdaemun Market & Gwangjang Market
The Namdaemun market: is seemingly open round-the-clock (though a few retailers close on Sunday) and is a fantastic place to pick up inexpensive clothing, housewares, fabrics, jewelry, accessories, toys, food, flowers, stationery and appliances. But it's easy to get turned around here, as there are thousands of shops located in the 30 or so multistory buildings, not to mention an endless sprawl of street-vendor stalls.
The Gwangjang Market: is an authentic cultural experience. First established in 1905, Gwangjang is Korea's oldest remaing daily market, found east of downtonw Seoul (close to Dongdaemun market). This market is most famous for its food selection and the very warm people.
A walk along this 5.8-km (3.6-mile) stream is almost as good as a spa for clearing one's mind or rethinking a deal. While it's just off Sejongro, one of the busiest boulevards in Seoul, Cheonggyecheon is remarkably quiet because the stream is more than 15 ft. (4.6 m) below street level and feels a little like a dugout. You can take an organized walking tour (register online in advance) or stroll alone. It's very serene with small waterfalls, and nearly two dozen overhead bridges.
National Museum of Korea
The National Museum of Korea is the flagship museum of Korean history and art in South Korea and is the cultural organization that represents Korea. Since its establishment in 1945, the museum has been committed to various studies and research activities in the fields of archaeology, history, and art, continuously developing a variety of exhibitions and education programs. The museum has attracted over 20 million visitors.