Uncover Seoul’s Dazzling Contrasts and Off-the-Beaten-Path SightsBy Justin Carmack
As the capital and largest city in South Korea, Seoul ranks as one of the most vibrant and entertaining cities of the world.
It’s unique atmosphere cannot be found anywhere else on Earth, thanks to a mix of ancient castles, palaces and ornate religious structures, along with ultra-modern architecture.
With so many places of note to see in Seoul you could spend many days here and not cover all the must-do’s. Historic sites, national parks, shopping in either open air markets or modern malls – there is something for everyone in the capital city.
While most websites list the most popular places to visit in Seoul, we want to explore things to do that are off the beaten path. Here are our top five choices.
1. Wander Insa-dong Maru
The shopping complex known as Insa-dong Maru encompasses an entire neighborhood, and features an amazing combination of traditional and contemporary culture and architecture.
‘Maru’ refers to open floor areas designed to encourage encounters, self-reflection and public events; they are spatial areas that promote relaxation and relationships. Pathways are integral to the Maru design, as well.
Two buildings comprise this complex, one that is 3 stories tall and another that is six stories with five Maru areas throughout. Continuous paths lead though the entire complex, from the ground floor to the rooftop and between the two buildings.
The view of the city from the rooftop is spectacular. In a central area visitors find a piano, and anyone is welcome to sit down and play for the public.
Shops of all kinds are housed not only in the buildings but outside along the street as well.
The complex is a true art and cultural hub within the city, and many shopkeepers will teach you how to create pottery, make paper or learn many other crafts.
Hungry travelers will find wonderful tea houses, as well as many street food vendors and other restaurants where you can taste local Korean delicacies. Want to spend more time here? Public performances and events are scheduled all year long.
2. Cozy Up to the Bar at Mix & Malt
Mix & Malt is an extremely popular bar in Seoul’s Hyehwa neighborhood. This cozy and homey place is a perfect spot to grab a cocktail with friends. It has two levels plus a deck and terrace area that is ideal on warm evenings.
During the city’s colder months there is a fireplace on the second level to snuggle around. Comfy sofas are scattered throughout, and they even have heaters and blankets for those not seated close to the fire.
Drinks are just the beginning at Mix & Malt. You’ll also find board games, video games and even a shuffleboard table.
The resident mascot, a golden retriever named Louis, greets patrons, who are also encouraged to bring their four-legged friends. This artisanal bar whips up an extensive array of cocktails, malts whiskeys, mojitos and more, often using fresh herbs and spices from their own garden to concoct surprising new varieties of drinks.
The bartenders even infuse many of their signature drinks with flowers and fruits, giving them unique flavors. Be sure to order tasty snacks and meals, including a great lasagna a delicious brunch.
After a hectic day of sightseeing in Seoul, stop by the Mix & Malt to enjoy a great evening with friends.
3. Visit Seoul’s Best-Kept Secret: Korea Furniture Museum
Often declared the most beautiful Museum in Seoul, the Korea Furniture Museum is a sight that few tourists ever get to visit.
That is because they aren’t open to the general public – you have to make reservations to see it. While it takes a bit more effort, it is well worth your time.
The museum covers over 1.5 acres of impeccably landscaped grounds and consists of 10 wooden hanok buildings. Each of these buildings is designed to recreate a different setting, such as the women’s quarters and a kitchen house or a villa from Changdeokgung.
These scenes are decorated as they would have been during the Joseon Dynasty.
The furniture is exquisite, made from different woods such as maple, paulownia and persimmon, and some of the pieces were donated by the museum director’s own family.
Many are inlaid with tortoise shell, mother of pearl or lacquer. Attention to detail here is amazing; even doorposts and windows are designed with beautiful etchings. The grounds are landscaped in the same fashion, and the scenes out of the windows of the hanoks are simply breathtaking.
Visitors get a personal guided tour, where everything on display is explained and described in such a way that you’ll understand Korean culture, nature, philosophy, and humanity in such a way that you feel like you become a part of it.
It is said that this museum is “perhaps the largest best-kept secret in Seoul.”
That is important to the director of the museum and why they want to keep the visitors to a minimum. They do host some events, including traditional weddings, fashion shows featuring traditional Korean dress and dining evnts showing off Korean cuisine. There is also an exquisite French restaurant where parties of 20 or more people can make reservations. This entire experience is perhaps the best attraction in Seoul.
4. Some Sevit
Some Sevit, also known as Hangang Floating Islands or Sebitseom, are three man-made floating islands located at the south end of Banpo Bridge on the Hangang River.
The three islands are each designed with a different flower theme. Gavit is the flower in full bloom, Chavit is the flower bud, and Solvit is the flower seed. The islands are connected by walkways and house futuristic buildings including restaurants, performance venues, conference halls and exhibition space. You’ll also find outdoor gardens and water sports facilities.
The absolute best part of Some Sevit is that the buildings are covered with LED lights that create a spectacular light show at night revolving around the theme “gleaming light in the mist.”
It is so colorful and fantastic, especially as it reflects off the surface of the river. Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain is the world’s longest fountain and is also covered with over 10,000 rainbow colored LED lights.
From the observation deck on the island you can best see the fountain in all its glory. If you don’t go anywhere else while in the city, this is the one must-see in Seoul.
5. The Owl Art & Craft Museum
The Owl Art & Craft Museum is one Seoul attraction that you have to see to believe. As the name implies, it showcases nothing but owl-related items, and over 2,000 of them at that! You will find paintings, clocks, sculptures, stamps, pottery and so much more.
These one-of-a-kind handcrafted items come from all over the world and was collected over a 30 year period by Bae Myeonghui.
He started collecting these when he was 15 years old and was able to turn his hobby into a dream to share with the world. He even conducts guided tours on occasion for some lucky visitors, and explains the origins of each item and where he obtained them.
All visitors that come to the museum are greeted at the door and offered a cup of tea to enjoy while strolling through the extensive exhibits. You can even take a painting class which is, of course, owl themed, as well.
Justin Carmack blogs about his under and above water adventures at True Nomads. Carmack is up to 70 dive sites after his around the world journey with Star Alliance and Marriott TRAVELER, where he crossed the Philippines, Maldives, Malta and Aruba off his list.