Seoul is a sprawling megapolis with a population of 22.5 million people. It's situated on the Han river. The area includes the neighbouring Incheon and the province of Gyeonggi making it the third largest metropolitan area in the world. Seoul boasts of history that goes back more than two thousand years. It has many historic sites, four of those protected by UNESCO.
Despite its ancient history, Seoul is a modern city. It has the largest indoor theme park, the world's longest bridge fountain and the world's largest cinema screen. K-pop music and korean drama are taking over the world. A booming economy, high tech developments and shopping make Seoul a highly coveted destination. The country is attracting more and more tourists from all over the world. Incheon airport was voted number one airport in the last couple of years. It's modern and light. You can go through customs, get your baggage and be out of the airport in less than 10 minutes. Incheon airport has an indoor skating rink, arts and crafts activities, and "world's best duty free" named by Business Traveller.
It's easy to navigate your way around the city despite the formidable looking subway system. Technical advances have permeated every area of Korean life. Wi-fi is everywhere. Even on the subway. Subway is another high tech wonder. It is clean, cheap, fast. There are toilets on every station adorned with paintings and classical music playing in the background.
There are famous hotel chains, guesthouses (yeogwan) and hostels in Seoul for any budget. You can also stay the night in the ubiquitous love motels that cost about $50-65. They offer a funky, high tech experience that not many hotel rooms can brag about. Quality is comparable but for the fraction of the cost. Rooms definitely have a lot more character than bland hotel rooms. In other areas of the country it is possible to negotiate a discount in a down season.
love motel in Busan
Seoul is roughly divided into south-west (Gangnam) and north-east (Gangbuk) areas. "Gang" means river, "nam" means south, "buk" means north. Gangnam is a modern, fairly affluent, touristy area. It offers shopping, entertainment and nightlife options. Gangbuk is more about Korean history, culture, palaces, museums and temples. Both areas have fashion and shopping but Gangnam is newer so the historical stuff is concentrated on the north bank.
You can start your tour with the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Gangbuk. This palace was the main hangout place for the Joseon Dynasty rulers. Palace was constructed in 1395. It was burned down and left to disintegrate for three centuries. It was reconstructed in the late 19th century but destroyed once again in the early 20th century by the Japanese invasion. Gyeongbokgung was reconstructed back to its former glory in the recent years. There are five palaces in Seoul but Gyeongbokgung is the most central. Don't miss a chance to see the changing of the guards and a meditation pond. The ticket is 3000 won ($3).
In the same area you will find a pretty amazing public space called Cheonggyecheon stream. Eco-friendly urban revival project was started in 2005. A highway used to run through the area covering the stream underneath with concrete prior to 2005. Now the stream flows through downtown like hundreds of years ago. It's a serene haven in the large metropolis. If you are travelling in November, you might be able to catch Seoul Lantern Festival. It was started in 2009 and proved to be very popular with tourists and citizens.
Hongdae at night
For clubbing and shopping you can head to Gangnam. "Gangnam style" is "nouveau riche". It has upscale nightlife, designer shops and high end restaurants. Gangnam is SUPER crowded. The rich from cheobol families do not live in Gangnam preferring Cheongdong area. It's also a nice shopping area with many traditional tea houses.
If you are interested in a more laid back environment and a youthful vibe, head to Hongdae (Hongik university). Hongdae and Itaewon are party zones favoured by students. Many clubs don't have an entrance fee. Here you can often find street musicians playing good music, plenty of concert halls and clubs for your entertainment. Walking through brightly lit streets of Hongae is an entertainment in itself. Other college neighbourhoods in Seoul that have scenic campuses are located in Sinchon. Ehwa Women's University has very beautiful grounds. The area around the campus is full of little shops and cafes.
There are plenty of things to see in Seoul. We've barely scratched a surface here. A lot can be said about Seoul: art and cultural life, food (try street vendors' yummy food), jazz clubs, quiant coffee shops, palaces, temples, museums, shopping. If you have a chance, do go! You won't regret it.