The City of Infinite Discoveries
Seoul is a dynamic metropolis in which past and present intertwine—and it is fast becoming one of the world’s hottest tourist spots. Here, visitors can explore both the modern and the traditional, from today’s glittering skyscrapers to centuries-old architecture, priceless antiques and untouched natural beauty that flaunt the city’s illustrious history and culture.
A Tribute to Royalty and Tradition
Numerous palaces and shrines attest to Seoul’s 600 years as the capital of Korea, with the five most-visited palaces—Gyeongbokgung,
Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung and Gyeonghuigung—as well as the royal shrine, Jongmyo, dating back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Time has passed, yet this architecture thrives within its surrounding environment, serving as an important reminder of bygone eras.
Changdeokgung gained international recognition with its inclusion on UNESCO’s list of World Cultural Heritage sites in 1997. Constructed in the early 15th century, the palace was an exceptional example of Far Eastern palace design, renowned for its attractive asymmetrical architecture. Jongmyo is a national treasure in historical, architectural, cultural and social contexts, bonding modern Korea and its roots. The Jongmyo and Jongmyo Daeje shrines, where the Korean Confucian ritual is staged, have also been recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage List, with two vital parts of Jongmyo Daeje, Jerye and Jeryeak, selected as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001.
In June 2009, 40 royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty were added to the World Cultural Heritage sites list. While the luxurious palaces recount the glamour of royalty, the tombs honor the memory of ancestors and their achievements.
Watch History Come Alive
Korean traditional houses, called hanok, offer a glimpse into long-ago lifestyles. Borrowing from the topographical features of the land on which they are built, hanok are usually found embracing the beauty of wide fields, high mountains and the endless sky. These houses, with their understated style of construction, furnishings and décor, bear the aesthetics and wisdom of the Korean tradition of utilizing nature rather than conquering it.
The Bukchon Hanok Village—hidden away in downtown Seoul and home to some 920 hanok, a museum and various craft shops—lets visitors traverse the 600-year history of Seoul in just a few hours. Namsangol Hanok Village, once inhabited by the powerful literati of the Joseon period, is a colorful hub where visitors can experience traditional cultural fare such as plays, dance performances and folk games. Over the last few years, many hanok have been restored or built to house discerning travelers, attracting international visitors seeking an authentic Korean experience.
The antique district of Insa-dong is a cultural crowd-puller. In addition to hanok and traditional Korean restaurants and shops selling customary clothes and paper, Insa-dong is now home to an array of modern art galleries. The district is a potpourri of art and culture, offering books, pictures, pottery and calligraphy dating back to the Silla era (668-935), as well as sculptures, ceramics and installation artwork crafted by some of the country’s most celebrated and promising artists.
The Capital's Natural Splendor
In addition to its many historical and cultural wonders, Seoul boasts a wealth of natural assets. Some of the most reputed are the Hangang River and the majestic mountains of Bukhansan and Namsan. Under the Hangang Renaissance project, Hangang’s waterfront will be restored into a unique ecological, cultural and leisure area, while the Namsan Renaissance master plan will turn the Mount Namsan area into a world-class signature park. These revitalization projects are giving Seoul the potential to become the ultimate destination for visitors who wish to indulge in nature.