After deliberating for ages whether or not I was really ready to go on a trip with my boyfriend for the first time (eep!), I finally took the plunge and booked my tickets to Seoul. After a bit of chaos including losing my passport the day before, having a bit of a hysterical breakdown about leaving work and flying Ethiopian Airlines for the first and last time, the trip definitely paid off. Sure, it’s a bit of a long flight, but it’s absolutely worth it and unlike anything you can see in the desert city. Here’s 16 reasons why I fell in love with Seoul.
1. The Food
Oh. My. Gosh. The food. I could write ballads and musicals about the food in Seoul. Obviously, you have to go for Korean BBQ/galbi and there’s literally a restaurant every block, kiddos will love the whole cook-it-yourself aspect. Nearly everything comes with kimchi on the side (even soju, which was fine by me) and you have to try Korean Fried Chicken, which beats out actual KFC in terms of finger lickin’ goodness. And if you’re in Myeongdong, the littles can get ice cream cones about as big as they are.
2. The Indoor Theme Park
Yeah, you read that right. Lotte (who seem to own everything) set up their own indoor theme park with over 45 attractions for people of all ages and it’s currently the biggest in the world. With everything from the usual fare to the exciting and bizarre, you at least don’t have to worry about the weather with this one.
My other half firmly put his foot down on going to too many temples, but they are absolutely worth going to for a cultural outing. Gyeongbokgong is easily the most impressive of them all and has a couple of impressive museums and a cafe attached if you want to grab a bite. The best thing? They do free tours in English throughout the day.
4. The Shows
If you’re a theatre buff or just want to see something a little different, there’s a couple of awesome theatres in Myeongdong to check out. It seems like there’s always a musical on and for a really unique family friendly experience, you should go and check out Nanta, a live cooking performance much like Stomp.
5. The Cherry Blossoms
We were lucky enough to head over during cherry blossom season (around April time) and the entire city blooms with delicate pink flowers, lining the streets and filling the parks. I’d totally recommend heading over to the cosy Yeouido Park or the larger riverside Yeouido Hangang Park, where you can rent everything from tandem bicycles to skateboards pretty cheaply and explore the city. Make sure to check the calendar for the dates of the cherry blossom festival, as Yeouido blossoms with performances, street food and lights alongside the flowers. If you’re willing to commit to a couple of days out of Seoul, Jinhae in the south is hands down the most beautiful place in Korea to see it all happen.
6. The Pampering
Pampering’s so amazing in Seoul that you actually have the option to stay overnight at a lot of the spas. When I say spa, I don’t mean a little corner set aside in a hotel – I’m talking spas that take up entire buildings and are hotels in and of themselves. Kiddos are even encouraged to come along, just remember everyone’s showered down before slipping into one of the baths or else you’ll get dirty looks. Dragon Hill Spa’s the most tourist-friendly.
7. The Make-Up
I may or may not have blown half of my paycheck just on beauty products. Asian beauty’s about skincare first though they have some pretty amazing make-up as well – it’s also dirt cheap because they’ve planned ahead for tourists who come over and buy everything in bulk. Plus if you wander into a store, they’ll throw free samples at you. Some of it’s a little out there (no joke, there’s placenta face cream), but you must pick up at least a few face masks. Innisfree does this amazing volcanic pore clay skincare line and The Face Shop does the funniest animal face masks.
8. The Shopping
Aaand, I blew the other half of my paycheck on clothes. There’s amazing boutique shopping to be done in Myeongdong at the Lotte malls, but if you’re looking for a massive bargain, I’d actually recommend heading a little further out to Dongdaemun where there’s a whole strip of outlet mall after outlet mall. (There’s not much for little kids and it’s not designer at Dongdaemun unfortunately, but still amazing stuff for mama.)
9. The Ice Cream
Am I cheating by mentioning food twice? I don’t really care, the ice cream deserves its own little paragraph. There’s a big trend of amazing soft serve ice cream in Seoul for some reason and it’s literally like biting into a creamy, perfectly balanced cloud. If you’re about, you have to go to Softree, Honey Com or Honey Tree – the salted chocolate sundae and honeycomb cup at Softree were my go-tos.
10. The Hotels
We stayed at the IP Boutique Hotel for a couple of nights and this place is nuts. There’s a set of green swings in the lobby, a statue of a robot on a horse guarding the entrance and bold art to spare scattered around the hotel. There’s also family favourites like Banyan Tree, so go get on that.
11. The Theme Cafes
For some reason, there’s hundreds of little theme cafes scattered across Seoul. Case in point: the sheep organic cafe we went to or the Thai dog cafe above. Sometimes, there’s even mascots dressed up as dogs or cats trying to tourist trap you into one. Keep an eye out for the Hello Kitty cafes for the littles and if you’re feeling up to it, we spotted a foot spa cafe in Myeongdong…
12. The Markets
Seoul’s not struggling for markets and their biggest one, Namdaemun, is a crazy network of side streets, underground stalls and staircases. In fact, it’s so big that there’s tourist police wandering around every couple of stretches in case you get lost. You can get knock-offs, kids clothes and Korean goods, though I’d recommend you stay away from any of the beauty products or alcohol because there’s no way any of that is legit. Noryangjin fish market is also a pretty insane place to be if you’re feeling adventurous, full of people bartering massive fish – both dead and alive.
For culture vultures, there’s amazing stuff to be seen at the Korean Folk Museum and, if you’re willing to make the trip, at the Korea National Museum as well. (That said, after the second or third floor my boyfriend screamed every time we entered yet another jade or pottery exhibit.) I saw one of the most moving exhibitions of my entire life at the Seoul Museum of Art as well, so I’d definitely recommend that. There’s also a few other bizarre museums like this toy bear one we spotted in Myeongdong, head to one of the Trick Eye Museums (above) for some truly hilarious snaps.
14. The Booze
If you’re a mama who doesn’t partake, then you might want to skip this one. There’s a pretty big drinking culture in Seoul and as such, the alcohol’s pretty great. While soju’s obviously a given (it tastes a bit like vodka), there’s a number of craft beer houses scattered across Myeongdong including a fantastic bear themed one that serves up pretty great kid-friendly food. Whatever you do, you have to try some of their flavoured makgeoli – it’s dangerously delicious.
15. The Transport
Seoul has one of the easiest subway systems to navigate and thankfully, they put English pronunciations of all the stations under the Hangeul characters. We stuck mainly to the subway because it was so easy and if you grab a nifty tourist guide available at every tourist office and the airport, it has a map in the back for you to sort out your journeys. You can also grab an M-Pass at the airport designed just for tourists, which allows you to ride the train 20 times a day and scores you discounts on everything from main attractions to beauty stores.
16. The Experience
One of the best nights of my life was spent walking around Hongdae after dinner when it comes alive, listening to university students busk in the street and letting the lights and people wash me gently forwards. Another unforgettable moment was cycling through a park all lit up with cherry blossoms, racing through a pale pink tunnel of florals to emerge suddenly at a hidden pond. They’re just experiences you and your family just can’t get here in Dubai and Seoul’s an incredible introduction to Northern Asia. (Now, onto booking a trip to Jeju Island…)