Seoul Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Seoul

The capital of South Korea, Seoul, is a bustling metropolis. Located along the banks of the Han River, the city boasts more than 2,000 years of history. Back in the ancient times, three kingdoms – Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla – fought over the possession of this strategic location. After the Joseon Dynasty came to power in 1392, Seoul was named their capital.

Most of the historic landmarks found here now date back to the Joseon period. Over the years the city has weathered many destructive wars and transitions that left behind numerous sights and artifacts. Today, Seoul's long history and traditional ways are peaking out at every corner.

To discover some of the hidden treasures, you will have to explore the back alleys of Insa-dong. Prepare to take your shoes off to enjoy traditional tea drinking at a Korean teahouse or treat yourself to an unforgettable 16-course vegan meal cooked by a former Buddhist monk. Also, you would certainly want to see the changing of the Royal Guards' ceremony at the Gwanghwamun Gate and set aside time to explore both the Gyeongbokgung and Deoksugung Palaces.

In recent years, the city's vibrant economy has brought new additions to the landscape, resulting in a fascinating juxtaposition. Acquaintance with modern Seoul is best started at Myeongdong Street where high-end fashion, skyscrapers, electronics stores and street food stalls are in abundance, delighting those eager to shop and eat till they drop.

To appreciate contemporary Seoul's vibrant culture in its entirety and to see the city's top attractions, both ancient and new, take this self-guided walking tour!
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from iTunes App Store or Google Play to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Seoul Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Seoul Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: South Korea » Seoul (See other walking tours in Seoul)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Gwanghwamun Gate
  • Gyeongbokgung Palace
  • Insadong Shopping Street
  • Bosingak Pavilion
  • Cheonggye Plaza and Stream
  • Deoksugung Palace
  • Myong-dong Shopping Street
1
Gwanghwamun Gate

1) Gwanghwamun Gate

Gwanghwamun Gate is main entrance into Gyeongbokgung Palace, and so it is also the largest and most imposing of the four gates. It features three grand arched gates--the center gate was reserved for use by the king, while the crown prince and royal officials used the other two smaller arches.

The tall granite structure of the gate supports the ornately decorated wooden gate tower, which watches over the city. The pavilon housed a bell that announced the time of the day to the city. Two majestic Haetae sculptures guard the gate. These mythical lion-like beasts were stationed there to protect the palace against fire.

Gwanghwamun Gate was one of only four gates constructed in the palace walls. They were originally constructed in 1395 during the reign of King Taejo of the Joseon Dynasty. But the gates and walls have been through many cycles of destruction and reconstruction.

It was destroyed by fire during the Imjin Wars in 1592 and laid in ruins until it was rebuilt in 1867. In 1926, the Japanese government moved Gwanghwamun Gate. The double-roofed wooden pavilion on the gate was destroyed during the Korean War. The gate was moved again in 1968.

Gwanghwamun Gate was moved back to its original location in 2006, and the restoration was completed in 2010. The restoration included recreating the base with traditional materials, recreating the original wooden pavilion structure with Korean pine, and recreating the wooden nameplate.

The area in front of Gwanghwamun Gate is known as Gwanghwamun Plaza. Here, visitors can watch the impressive royal changing of the guard ceremony. This ceremony is held daily, every hour, on the hour, from 10:00 to 15:00.

Tip:
The square housing the gate contains fountains, statues and sculptures that are also definitely worth seeing, plus an underground museum dedicated to Sejong the Great, the 4th king of the Joseon Dynasty.
2
Gyeongbokgung Palace

2) Gyeongbokgung Palace (must see)

Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 by the Joseon Dynasty. This impressive complex served as the Joseon Dynasty's main palace and is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces.

It was destroyed by fire during the Imjin War in 1592 and sat abandoned for over two centuries. In 1867, the palace was reconstructed with 330 buildings and 5,792 rooms. In 1895, Japanese agents assassinated Empress Myeongseong. Emperor Gojong, her husband, left the palace and never returned.

In the early 20th century, Japan's colonial government destroyed palace buildings and constructed the enormous Japanese General Government Building outside the throne hall.

Only a few 19th-century buildings survived the Japanese government and the Korean War. These buildings include Geunjeongjeon (the Imperial Throne Hall), Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, Sujeongjeon Hall, Jagyeongjeon Hall, Sajeongjeon Hall, and Jibokjae Hall.

In 1989, reconstruction began to restore the palace to its former glory. About 40 percent of the building have since been reconstructed or restored.

Geunjeongjeon, the Imperial Throne Hall, is truly impressive. Its constructed mainly of wood and sits in a courtyard lined with stones. Known as rank stones, they indicated where officials of different ranks could stand during ceremonies. The entire courtyard is cloistered.

Gyeongbokgung Palace features dozens of architecturally interesting buildings. Hyangwonjeong, a beautiful hexagonal pavilion, sits attractively on an island.

Why You Should Visit

Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest and grandest of the Five Grand Palaces. Visit the National Folk Museum of Korea on the palace grounds to learn about the history of the Korean people. The National Palace Museum of Korea is also located on the palace grounds and houses priceless 14th century Joseon dynasty treasures.

Tips

You can rent traditional costumes to immerse yourself in 14th-century royal Korea.

For a memorable experience, sign up for a night tour and see the palace lit up. Gyeonghoeru looks spectacular as its warm lights are reflected in the pond.

For a once in a lifetime experience, take part in a Gyeongbokgung Royal Dining event. Sample royal food and watch a traditional performance.
3
Insadong Shopping Street

3) Insadong Shopping Street (must see)

The abundance of wooden tea houses (nearly 40), boutique galleries and street vendors offering traditional Korean snacks makes Insa-dong street in Seoul a true magnet for visitors of the Korean capital. Alongside the free entertainment the area is famous for, Insa-dong is also one of the key destinations in the city for buying traditional Korean art, products and souvenirs, such as hanbok (traditional clothing), hanji (traditional paper), traditional teas, pottery, and folk crafts.

There is a plethora of antique shops (more than 50), art galleries (80+), traditional stationery shops, handicraft shops, pottery and porcelain shops, bookstores, and art supply stores. On top of that, there are almost 100 restaurants specialized in traditional Korean cuisine. With such a variety on offer, one is really bound to be spoilt for choice here.

On Sundays the street turns pedestrian-only and is flooded with street performers, buskers and the lively crowds of young and old rushing to enjoy one of Seoul’s most exiting and creative neighborhoods. The tastefully decorated traditional teashops invite passers-by to relax in a calm zen-like atmosphere. For those interested in Korean traditional culture and crafts, Insa-dong is undoubtedly a must-see attraction which will leave imprint of Seoul in one's memory for the years to come.
4
Bosingak Pavilion

4) Bosingak Pavilion

Bosingak Pavilion was originally built in 1396 during the Joseon Dynasty. It has been destroyed by fire or war many times throughout its long history.

During ancient times, the bell was the center of town. Historically, the bell was struck 33 times at 4:00 am to open the gates and 28 times at 10:00 pm to close the gates. The bell was also used to warn neighbors of fire or danger.

In 1979, the Bosingak Pavillion was completely renovated.

In 1985, the Old Bronze Bell of Bosingak was moved to the National Museum of Korea. The Old Bronze Bell was cast in 1468 and is over three meters tall and weighs almost 20 tons. The Bosingak Pavillion now has a replica bell.

Today, the bell is only rung once a year, on New Year's Eve. This celebration is the most popular place to ring in the New Year in Seoul.
5
Cheonggye Plaza and Stream

5) Cheonggye Plaza and Stream (must see)

Cheonggyecheon Stream flows through downtown Seoul. The stream was covered up with concrete for many decades. In 2003, work to remove the elevated highway and restore the stream began. The stream was officially re-opened in 2005.

The stream runs under 22 bridges and flows into the Hangang River. Gwangtonggyo Bridge was one of the busiest and most important bridges of the Joseon Dynasty. It was also buried for 100 years during Seoul's economic boom. Now restored, it's one of the most scenic places on the Cheonggyecheon Stream.

Cheonggye Plaza is located at the head of Cheonggyecheon Stream. The plaza celebrates the re-opening of the stream. The vibrant red and blue Spring Sculpture dominates the plaza. The sculpture's design is reminiscent of a shell rising like a pagoda. The colorful ribbons represent traditional Korean wrapping cloth known as a bojagi.

The Candlelight Fountain at the plaza is a stunning two-tiered, four-meter (13-foot) tall waterfall. It's stunning at night when the lights of Seoul are reflected in the water.
6
Deoksugung Palace

6) Deoksugung Palace

Deoksugung Palace is the smallest of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. This residence became a royal palace after the other palaces burned in 1592. King Gwanghaegun and King Injo were crowned in Jeukjodang Hall in the 1600s.

Deoksugung Palace was heavily damaged during colonial rule. The palace is now only about one-third of its original size. Hamnyeongjeon Hall was the sleeping residence for King Gojong after he moved to the palace in 1897.

Deoksugung Palace has many interesting architectural features. It includes buildings made from stucco, stone, and wood with architectural style blend eastern and western designs. Visitors will also find a beautiful western-style garden and fountain.

The neoclassical Seokjojeon Hall was built in 1910. With its triangular roof and tall collonades, this building is a striking departure from traditional Korean architecture. The Daehan Empire History Museum is located inside Seokjojeon Hall.

Jeonggwanheon, built around 1910, combines eastern and western styles. Kings in the Joseon Dynasty had their portraits enshrined here.

Don't miss the colorful changing of the guard outside Daehanmun Gate.

Why You Should Visit:
This is the only palace in Seoul where you can take photos with the Royal Guards after the changing ceremony. Unlike other palaces, you can also enter the grounds at night to enjoy a moonlit stroll. Beyond the palace, you can explore the historic neighborhood and the famous Stonewall Walkway along the palace walls.

Tip:
Going inside the castle, you'll need to pay a fee, unless you're wearing a 'hanbik' – then it's free!
Make sure you check out the Jeongdong Observatory, located next door to the palace. From the observation deck (18th floor) you can capture panoramic views of the Deoksugung Palace grounds, CBD skyline, City Hall grounds and other landmarks – and its free! You'll get some amazing photos as a souvenir.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9am-9pm (last admission: 8pm)
7
Myong-dong Shopping Street

7) Myong-dong Shopping Street (must see)

Myeongdong is Korea's best-known shopping district. You will find mid-priced malls, high-end flagship stores, Korean brands, and international designer brands. Add in a smorgasbord of street food, cafes, restaurants, and night-life, and you have an exciting destination that will leave you dazzled.

During the Joseon Dynasty, this was a residential area. It became more commercial during the Japanese era. As the economy boomed after the Korean War, this area became the extensive shopping center that it is today. It's consistently named as one of the most expensive shopping districts in the world.

Myeongdong Shopping Street has every brand and item you could want. Shop international brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton. Popular Korean cosmetic brands include Missha and The Face Shop. There are hotels, restaurants, cinemas, and theaters to keep you entertained.

Lotte Department Store, a Korean brand, is an impressive 14 stories tall. It features western styles as well as traditional Korean goods and has a food court.

If the weather is getting you down, keep going down to the Myeongdong Underground Shopping Center. The prices go down too--you'll find discount brands, cosmetics, and salons.

The Myeongdong Festival is held twice a year, in spring and autumn. Parades, live music, dance performances, and fashion shows are sure to impress.

Myeongdong Cathedral is a Catholic church that was dedicated in 1898. This beautiful church features a 45-meter steeple and ornate stained-glass windows.

Why You Should Visit

Myeongdong is the shopping mecca of Seoul. Come during the day for retail therapy. At night, enjoy the city night-life and street food.

Tips

Visit in the evening and try as much street food as you can devour. You'll find savory chicken, spicy options, and an array of desserts.

Walking Tours in Seoul, South Korea

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Once an old market area, today Insa-dong is a buzzing shopping and dining district where the past meets the present. It started off 500 years ago as a residential quarter for government officials. During the Japanese occupation in the 1940s, wealthy Koreans were forced to move out and sell their belongings, at which point the district became a center of antique trading.

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles

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