If you haven’t got much time (or not so much into traditional stuff), here’s the minimum traditional sights to see.
We targeted all these sights in the first day of our 5 day trip. Be prepared to do a lot of walking!!!
Traveller’s tip: The palace and Buckon village are definitely not pram friendly (lots of cobbles stones and steps)! If you’re tight for time, all these places can be done together in a day and a maximum of 25 minutes walk apart. And there’s plenty of cafes and places to rest your feet in between!
After our overnight flight, we arrived at our apartment late morning. After having a bite to eat, we were off! Assisted by the wifi “egg” provided by our Airbnb host and trusty Google Maps, Gyeongbokgung Palace was only a 15 minute walk. We picked Gyeongbokgung Palace because many reviews said it was more impressive than Changdeokgung Palace (and both palaces are similar). If you’ve been to the palaces in China, the layout is relatively similar with outer, middle and inner courtyards. Although not as impressive, it still has a lovely quaint feel about it. The palace is not very big and can be expressed in 30 minutes or an hour if you leisurely stroll through. Entry fee is cheap – a couple of dollars.
The highlight was definitely the gardens out the back. Beautiful photo moments.
We made our way back to the palace entrance then explored the streets in Bukchon-ro area while heading towards Bukchon Village. We found the streets were pleasantly filled with cafes, side alleys and funky shops! Definitely an upmarket hang-out for both tourists and locals!
Bukchon Hanok Village
A mini neighbourhood filled with traditional style houses. These houses were also shops and showcased traditional arts and crafts like knotting, painting, etc. Some houses were also restaurants and cafes. As we went rather late in the afternoon, many of these shops were closed. It was still a nice little walk and had a good view of the surrounding Seoul neighbourhoods. We took about 30 minutes or so to walk around. But if you’re into traditional art and crafts definitely worth a whole morning to explore.
Insadong and Ssamzie-gil
Another 20-25 mins walk from Bukchon Hanok Village brought us to Insadong as we partially followed the crowds and Google Maps. By the time we got there, it was evening time. It’s a large and happening street full of pedestrians, lined with shops, restaurants and cafes. The highlight being the unique and funky Ssamzie-gil courtyard mall (best description I could think of) filled with knick knacks, snacks, handicraft stores, souvenir shops, etc. Don’t forget to get to the top where there’s an awesome view!! We stumbled upon a delicious Japanese-fusion restaurant in the basement.
After pit-stopping back at the apartment, we headed out again in search of food. Gwangjang market was supposedly full of traditional food but by the time we got there around 10pm, we realised most of the market was shutting down. It’s a pretty large market selling everything from clothes, shoes to food. Eventually we did find the food alley still open, where we tried some sort of Korean greasy pancake. A little disappointed but looking for more substantial food, we followed a few locals across the road for some alley-side hot pot.