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Seoul Cruises

About Seoul, South Korea

About Seoul, South Korea

Huddled along the scenic Han River, the South Korean capital of Seoul boasts a history stretching back two millennia. It was founded in 18 BC by Baekje, one of the original Three Kingdoms of Korea. The city was surrounded by a wall to protect its residents from wild animals, thievery and foreign armies. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that Seoul opened its gates to the world and started to modernize. It was the first city in Asia to use electricity to light a building (the Royal Palace) and illuminate its streets, an early sign that Seoul would be a forward-thinking city.

Its progress stalled during World War II, when Japan occupied Korea, and during the Korean War, when the Americans supported South Korea and Russians and Chinese backed North Korea. The city was largely devastated during the conflict. Today, Seoul is part modern metropolis and part ancient walled citadel, a blend of futuristic trends and sacred traditions. The city’s numerous high-rises comprise an ambitious urban beautification movement that is transforming it into an international design destination. The economic and technological rise of this UNESCO City of Design has been called the “Miracle on the Han River.”

Seoul Lifestyle and Culture

Seoul has been called the most wired city in the world. Electronics giants Samsung and LG have fueled an economic boom that is unrivaled in Asia. The city shows all the signs of prosperity in its bustling cafés, restaurants and bars, where locals dine on kimchi and sip soju, a drink similar to vodka. Though residents might spend much of their time in their offices in the glass and steel high-rises, they have embraced Seoul’s revived outdoor spaces, too. Walking, jogging and cycling paths thread through the cityscape, passing the ultramodern Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park and following the manmade Cheong-gye stream and the timeless Han River.

For all its focus on the future, Seoul strikes the perfect balance with its traditions. More than 100 museums celebrate and commemorate South Korea’s recent and ancient past, arts, culture and more, in sleek new buildings and in pagoda-like, centuries-old structures. Seoul’s cuisine, too, walks a delicious line between old and new. You might indulge in a hanjeongsik, a multicourse extravagance, or the more refined dishes of neo-Korean chefs. To contemplate it all in a tranquil atmosphere, stop by one of the many teahouses, where myriad types of leaves are steeped to perfection.

Seoul Sights and Landmarks

The Seoul area boasts four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, each one recalling the city’s former dynastic glory. Changdeokgung Palace, the most favored of the Five Grand Palaces among the Joseon princes, is treasured for the way it blends in with its surroundings. Outside the city, the Hwaseong Fortress was built to entomb the remains of a prince. Jongmyo is the oldest Confucian shrine and still holds ceremonies conducted since the 14th century. The vast Namhansanseong Fortress was built on a mountain ridge in the 17th century for maximum defense.

But the city’s most impressive sights are not all historic. Renowned as one of the most technologically advanced cities in Asia, its modern buildings embody an embrace of the future. The N Seoul Tower with its revolving restaurant and observatory is the city’s highest point at 774 feet. The 63 Building, so named despite that only 60 of its floors are above ground, is the tallest gold-clad building in the world. The curving, elongated structures of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, or DDP, evoke a city of the future. And the city’s Banpo Bridge over the Han River is home to the world’s longest bridge fountain, the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain.

Seoul Entertainment and Activities

South Korea’s Five Grand Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty are adorned with vast plazas and meticulously kept gardens, testaments to a feudal past. Each one also embodies the ancients’ embrace of pungsu, or feng shui, as they are all backed by dramatic mountains and fronted by small streams. The 15th-century Changgyeonggung Palace is especially stunning, a splendid royal property of perfect harmony. But they all are treasured as outstanding examples of Joseon architecture.

To witness how everyday people once lived in Seoul, visit the Bukchon Hanok Village. Here, you can browse some 900 hanok, traditional Korean homes whose intricately patterned walls and tiled roofs stand in stark contrast to the skyscrapers of downtown. Another contrast to Seoul’s business district is the hushed atmosphere of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the unoccupied ribbon of land that separates North and South Korea. It is well worth a visit to learn about daily life keeping watch over the nation’s controversial neighbor.

Seoul Restaurants and Shopping

The true flavor of Seoul lives in its traditional cuisine, based largely on rice, vegetables and meats. The typical meal is served with many vegetable side dishes, or kimchi, and steamed rice.

The most authentic places to experience Korean cuisine in its simplest form are the city’s markets. At the Noryangjin Fish Market, 700 stalls and several restaurants offer the best and freshest catch of the day. You can purchase your desired fish from the aproned vendors and one of the restaurants will prepare it for you for a charge. Or head to the Gwangjang Market, renowned as Seoul’s largest food alley, or meokjagolmok. The 200 stalls serve up mung bean pancakes and bibimbap, or rice and barley topped with vegetables. Or enjoy a more formal experience at a local restaurant.

Any city undergoing such an economic boom boasts ample shopping opportunities, and Seoul is no exception. The “Harrods of Seoul,” Shinsegae is spread over two buildings and sells all manner of merchandise, from designer fashions to high-end groceries. Relax over a meal in the rooftop garden. Also inspired by a European complex (Milan’s famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II), 10 Corso Como Seoul hosts numerous fashion and lifestyle shops. For locally crafted items, visit KCDF Gallery, the Korean Craft and Design Foundation, where artisans offer up their woodwork, pottery and jewelry.