Natalie Faye and Megan Odell originally wrote this article for National Geographic. Since they mentioned Chincha in it (thanks!) they also sent the article to us so that we could feature it. Since both girls have great phoneography skills, we turned the piece into a photoessay starring their Instagram shots. Follow Natalie and Megan on the social networking app on and . Don’t forget to follow us too at .
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is Seoul Plaza at City Hall. Seoul Plaza encapsulates Korea, old and new. The thriving business epicenter of Seoul towers proudly over street vendors and Seoulites. The huge modern architectural designs juxtapose beautifully against the serene neighboring Gyeongbokgung Palace. The Palace grounds and temples date back to the Joseon Dynasty, but are young in comparison to the mountainous backdrop.
Autumn is the best time to visit my city because the changing colours are breathtaking. The vibrant reds, oranges and ochre yellows have to be seen to be believed. Autumn provides a welcoming break from the sweltering summer before the intensity of the icy winter. Seoulites and expats alike venture out across the city to Seoul’s surrounding mountainous terrain. It is here that the true autumn colours can be appreciated from a peaceful viewpoint suspended above the city. Before heading back on the jihachul (subway) to the hustle and bustle of city life, be sure to celebrate your hiking feat with a glass of makgeolli, Korean rice wine.
You can see my city best from Namsan Tower. It offers a spectacular 360 degree view of the entire city. Make sure to go at dusk to catch Seoul as the sun sets and the bright lights of the evening illuminate the city. Namsan Tower also houses a gourmet restaurant with a price tag to match.
Locals know to skip Itaewon and check out Sinsa-dong instead. Like Itaewon, Sinsa provides a vast array of international cuisine, a huge collection of cafes and a variety of clothing shops. However, all this is obtained away from the tourist trap that is Itaewon. In Sinsa there are restaurants that appeal to every budget: the majority of cafes are independently run and the clothes shops have a boutique-feel with affordable prices.
Insadong is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs. Even though they are slightly more expensive than in the mass markets of Dongdaemun, the souvenirs here are hand-crafted by some of Korea’s finest artists.
In the past, notable people like Park Chan Wook, director of Oldboy, Yuna Kim, Olympic Gold Medal figure skater and Psy, YouTube extraordinaire have called my city home.
My city’s best museum is The War Memorial of Korea. Tourists can learn about the Korean War (1950 – 1953) and Korea’s battle for independence. Outside the museum, the vast array of war equipment and artifacts stand alongside the poignant and deeply moving statues of troubled soldiers. This demonstrates that despite Korea’s economic boom the effects of war are still raw.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s to download the Subway Korea app. It has everything you need to know about travel times, destinations, journey routes and more.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is Children’s Grand Park and Zoo. While spring offers the best cherry blossoms in Seoul, summer invites young and old to soak up the long summer days. Autumn welcomes couples to stroll beneath the changing leaves before winter dusts the park with a blanket of snow.
My city really knows how to celebrate love because not only are there two Valentine’s days, Christmas is predominantly a lovers day too. Then there are the notorious Love Motels scattered across the city. Chivalry is very much alive in Seoul as can be seen on Friday nights where men, adorned with bouquets, hurry to meet their girlfriends.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they have an undying love for kimchi – the less said about this questionable side dish the better. Seoulites also have no shame in taking pictures of themselves with their latest smartphone handset, no matter where they are or who might be watching.
Just outside my city, you can visit Chuncheon, the city of beautiful lakes (which is where the much-recommended Namiseom Island is situated). Even the journey provides picturesque views of Korea’s natural beauty, and it’s just an hour’s ride on the jihachul.
For a fancy night out, I head to Gangnam, recently made popular by Psy’s portrayal of the classy Seoul jaunt.
My city is known for being homogeneous but it’s really very inclusive and intrigued by waygookin (foreign visitors). Once you get past the occasional staring and the personal questions you will undoubtedly find Korean people warm, friendly and wholly generous.
The best outdoor market in my city is Seoul Folk Flea Market, providing an insight into Seoul’s past present and future. Antiques, furs, and electronics can be found for those who are prepared to rummage. To people-watch alone it’s well worth a visit.
‘The Flying Pan’ is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and Hongdae’s many food options are a perfect way to commence a long night out.
COEX Shopping Mall is my favorite building in town because not only is it the biggest underground shopping facility in Asia, it offers a kimchi museum, a cinema complex, an aquarium, an airport, a wedding hall and endless shops and restaurants open 7 days a week.
To escape the crowds, I cycle at Hangang Park. With bicycle rent available all along the Han River it is easy to feel free and removed from the city buzz.
If my city were a celebrity it’d be Stephen Fry because it is rich and awash with culture but once the surface is scratched there is a poignant and prolific tale to be told.
The dish that represents my city best is bibimbap (rice and mixed vegetables), and makgeolli (rice wine) is my city’s signature drink.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I grab a kimbap (sushi rice roll) for under $2, a bottle of soju for a $1 and head to Cheonggye Stream. As part of the Urban Renewal Project the stream was uncovered for people to escape the sounds of the traffic only meters away. With impressive light shows and events including the Seoul Lantern Festival, the stream offers the chance to enjoy nature while deep inside the urban lands.
Hongdae Park is the best place to see live music, traditional and contemporary, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Exit just next door where DJ’s crank out cutting-edge tunes!
The most random thing about my city is the pre-election dances that happen both outside and inside subway stations, luring passers-by to vote for their respective parties.
Being told of an important deadline on the day of an important deadline could only happen in my city.
In the spring you should visit Gyeongbokgung’s Palace Garden for the changing of the guards and for a piece of paradise you’d swear couldn’t exist in Seoul.
In the summer you should take a dip in one of the many outdoor pools that run along the Han River for some much-needed respite from the sweltering heat.
In the winter you should go ice-skating in Seoul Plaza for a magical winter wonderland.
In the fall you should visit Olympic Park to admire the autumnal colours, outdoor sculptures, museums and galleries.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss Lotte World.
The best book about my city is Your Republic is Calling You by Young Ha Kim which captures a fictional insight into a non-fictional city.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Psy’s Gangnam Style, which recently took over the world of YouTube.
In 140 characters or less: the world should heart my city because Seoul never sleeps, you can never do or see everything and while youth culture soars the traditions remain, young and old, side-by-side.
Written and photographed by Natalie Faye and Megan Odell