Seoul is a haven for all assortments of shopping, but there is a whole other aspect of the city where you’re acquiring beautiful memories and experiences rather than items to take up space in your bag. We were only in Seoul for 4 days, but we spent most of our time outside exploring. Here are a few of the best outdoor experiences we had in Seoul.
When arriving at Seoul Tower, I had not expected it to be such an energetic and romantic spot. It was akin to the Eiffel tower except much more inviting and vibrant. We opted to take a cable car up to the base of the tower. Once at the summit of the mountain, there were breathtaking views of the city from every angle.
You could see how the mountains are “guardians” to the city and appreciate the clusters of skyscrapers littered throughout the city. From up there you can really get a sense of how huge Seoul is and how each neighborhood has its own unique character.
Almost as good as the scenic landscape was the people watching. From where the cable car let off to the base of the tower, there were multiple levels of platforms and paths to take. Couples would purchase neon locks to write assorted love notes on and latch to the various metal objects around the base. You could see lovers attaching their locks to the metal trees, various locals doing push-ups just because, families walking around and enjoying the cooler air, and of course people taking pictures with their selfie sticks.
Up at the base of the tower my heart felt full. There was so much joy and excitement from everyone up there that it made me feel so at peace with everything.
The Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace
Arriving at the Secret Garden of Changdeokgung Palace was like stepping into a time machine. It felt like everything you’d imagine after reading and watching movies that featured ancient Asian culture.
Although the palace itself lies right in the heart of metropolitan Seoul, the 74 acres of Secret Garden behind the palace offers quiet, peaceful relaxation. Our guide was exceptionally kind and she dressed in traditional Korean garments.
This stop was definitely well worth the entrance fee to be able to escape the modern, high-tech city and get lost in the past.
Bukhansan National Park
Many of the travel blogs I had read discussed how the locals would gear up to the maximum in order to hike the mountain trails at Bukhansan National Park. They weren’t kidding! From the minute we hopped on the subway up to the park, nearly every local we saw was dressed in bright neon hiking gear and had more stuff packed in their day pack than we had for our whole 5 month trip. It was quite the spectacle, but it made it pretty easy to find the park because all we had to do was follow all the people wearing bright knock off camping clothes. Per local custom, you’re supposed to grab a roll of Babimbap and a bottle of Soju and eat lunch at some scenic part of the mountains. We had initially intended to summit the highest peak, but we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up at a smaller peak.
This was good for me, because I had never climbed a mountain before and I was struggling for life as I made my way to the top.
I had my trusty trekking sandals on, but a local made sure to give me a hard time that I was insufficiently dressed for the hike due to my lack of hiking boots and bright gear. We had a good laugh about how my gander mountain camping clothes were clearly ridiculous, and then I continued making my way up the mountain.
I met another set of locals once I reached the top. They wanted to take a picture with me (probably to laugh at my clothes later on) and I found out that they were all 60 years old. Pretty impressive since they peaked that mountain much easier than my youthful self.
Along the way we saw a beautiful mountain village and temple. It was very peaceful to be able to look down on the energized city from atop a quiet mountain.
The climb and the mountain villages were like nothing I’d ever seen before. I felt so at peace while looking out over the city. I can definitely see why it’s a spiritual place for the locals.
Bike Riding in Gagnam
Although taking the subway is ultra-slick and easy in Seoul, it was nice to explore the city by bike as well.
There is an excellent bike path that goes along the Han River in the Gagnam neighborhood and we rode that all the way to the Olympic Stadium from the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
Some of the trail was surrounded by trees or took you under bridges which was a nice relief from the heat. You’d see locals pulled over and snoozing on benches under the bridge. There were also a lot of various workout equipment centers in the parks which were fun to see locals exercising on. The fixed gear bikes made for a pretty intense ride, but it was well worth it….even though I got a little lost at the end and had to take the scenic route back.
It was a fun way to explore the city while getting some good exercise. The cool breeze from the river didn’t hurt either.
The coolest thing about the markets in Seoul is that each neighborhood has its own personality.
In Hongdae, the hip college town, the streets are full of young people break dancing and showcasing their musical talent.They beatbox and moon walk in front of taxis. From every corner you can hear the bass from the clubs blasting music until 5am. The party doesn’t start until midnight. We walked into a club at around 9:30 and it was basically empty.
In Gagnam, the streets were full of swanky restaurants and high fashion stores.
In Myeongdong, the Namdaemon market was filled with cheap goods and hawker food. The streets are lit up so bright at night that it feels like day time.
In Dongdaemon, there was a talent show going and it looked like a karaoke competition was being aired on TV. The city is filled with so much energy at night, it’s surprising that there’s even stuff going on during the day. Half the restaurants don’t even open until the sun goes down. I thought Vegas didn’t sleep, but Seoul is pretty awake as well.
One of the best things about all of the outdoor activities was the people watching. We were able to observe local past-times firsthand. It was very energizing to see such happy people taking advantage of all that the city has to offer. The locals in Seoul are so full of energy and positive vibes. It makes it very enjoyable spending time in a city that is so safe and clean. Although I wish I had budgeted more time to spend in Seoul, I definitely felt I got a good sense of the city and look forward to when I can return.
Onward and Upward,