Visitor’s Guide to a Traditional South Korean City Seoul

Visitors to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, often want to learn more about the history and traditions of this ancient culture. Luckily, Seoul provides many places and opportunities to get in touch with its past, from elaborate palaces to tiny museums of traditional crafts.

seoul, south korea

Visit the Ancient Royal Castles of South Korea

There are five major palaces in Seoul, capital of South Korea, and a few smaller ones. Gyeongbok-gung, Changdeok-gung, Gyeonghui-gung , Deoksu-gung, and Changgyeong-gung are the five major palaces, each with unique individual characteristics that make them must-see sites of Seoul.

In addition to the palaces, other royal sites in the city include tombs such as Yeonsangun tomb, Seolleung and Jeongneung, burial grounds set in peaceful natural areas where kings and queens were laid to rest.

Visiting Sites of Traditional Daily Life in Ancient Seoul

Most residents of historic Seoul were not royalty, and there are still many ways to experience how these average citizens lived their lives.

Namsangol Hanok village, found next to Namsan Park in the central area of the city, is a collection of restored Korean homes showcasing a range of social classes from the Joseon Dynasty. The village also hosts traditional games and occasional wedding ceremonies for visitors to watch.

The Bukchon Hanok Village, an area between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace near Insadong, is eminently walkable and full of traditional hanok homes and museums. The Bukchon Traditional culture Center should be a visitor’s first stop. It was once a government official’s home and is now a museum and resource center offering lectures on classical culture and information about the many attractions in the area.

Powerful families lived in the Bukchon area when the palaces were occupied and it is now home to many folk craftsmen who operate small museums showing off the history of their trade. Han Sang-Soo Embroidery Museum and Dong-Lim Korean Maedup (traditional knots) Museum are two of the museums worth a visit, but walkers are sure to stumble upon more as they wander the district.

Staying in an Ancient Korean Hanok Home

Instead of hotels in Seoul, why not try one of the old-style hanok homes now open to the public as guesthouses exist throughout the city. The Anguk Hanok Guesthouse, in the Bukchon Village area, is a popular accommodation option that is not a hotel. Seoul’s Anguk House has historic features like paper-lined doors but also provides modern amenities, such as air conditioners and computer access.

The Tea Hanok Guesthouse, also in Bukchon, offers traditional style rooms and cultural programs on Korean tea.

Other old-style accommodations and hotels in Seoul include the Seoul Guesthouse, RakKoJae Guesthouse, Sophia House and the Big Gate Guesthouse, located downtown. Most traditional guesthouses cost between 50,000 and 100,000 won per night (approximately $40-100 US a night)

Historic Places to Visit in Seoul

There are plenty of places throughout Seoul that highlight different aspects of ancient Korean culture. One example is the Bosingak Belfry, where men in traditional costumes perform a bell-ringing ceremony each morning. Other sites worth a visit are the old city gates,such as Dongdaemun and Sungnyemun.

To catch a glimpse of Korean Buddhism, The Jogyesa Temple offers free tours and occasional cultural programs. Bongeunsa Temple and the Great Statue of Maitreya Buddha are also important places of Buddhist history in the city.

The many cultural sites of Seoul have endured brutal wars and destruction throughout history, but the South Korean government has embarked on an ambitious program of restoration and protection in the last few decades. Many of these national treasures have been restored to help tourists understand the 5000 year history of this fascinating country better.

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