Seoul: The city that never sleeps

3 November, 2021|Asia, Destinations|
Seoul: The city that never sleeps The Travel Psychologist

By Dr Jill Dunbar, Clinical Psychologist & Regular Contributor

Before I made the move to South Korea, I came to Seoul on holiday with my husband; a holiday which led to us falling in love with the city and beginning to plan our migration over to this side of the world. It felt right that my first blog post on The Travel Psychologist should be a guide to Seoul, a place that I associate with new beginnings and new adventures.

Let’s start with the nuts and bolts – Seoul is the capital city of South Korea and home to around 10 million people. It is a big city, almost unfathomably big to someone like me who has spent most of their life in small Scottish cities that you can walk across comfortably in a couple of hours. The city is divided into smaller areas, each of which has their own distinct characteristics and highlights, and each of which could easily have their own dedicated travel guide.

Seoul: The city that never sleeps The Travel Psychologist

eoul is perfect if:

• You are a night owl rather than a morning lark

• You love trying new food and experiencing new things

• You are looking for a jam-packed city holiday with limitless options of activities ranging from climbing sky scrapers to climbing mountains.

• You like the combination of modern city conveniences interlaced with rich historical architecture and a culture steeped in tradition

My top recommendations for Seoul, South Korea

Hongdae – for youth culture and excitement

Hongdae is the centre for pure entertainment! Close to many of Seoul’s universities, it is bustling with students and young people out for a good time.

The choice of cafes is endless, whether you want a beautiful aesthetic cafe for that perfect Instagram picture, or something a little bit different. There are cat cafes, dog cafes, racoon cafes, board game cafes, dress up cafes, art cafes… I could go on and on! Thanks Nature cafe is a great place to go for a coffee and to get up close with two very friendly sheep. C Through Cafe does incredible latte art and, although not exactly cheap, is a unique coffee experience.

Seoul: The city that never sleeps The Travel Psychologist

Top tip: keep in mind that Korea is a late night society, so it is not uncommon for cafes to only open at 11am or even midday! Check the opening times before you head out in the morning, it can be difficult to find a nice place for coffee if you are an early bird.

Later in the day, there is yet more choice for restaurants, with likely any cuisine you could imagine, but of course there is a strong presence of Korean barbecue restaurants. So pull up a stool at one of the many barbecues and grill up your own feast!

Seoul: The city that never sleeps The Travel Psychologist

The activities keep going all night so if you fancy shopping for clothes or accessories at midnight, no problem! Fancy a couple of hours in a karaoke room? Hongdae has you covered! A VR experience, or maybe spend some time in an arcade – of course! These will be open until the wee small hours. Some nightclubs in the area don’t even open until 5am! And don’t worry, there are always street food vendors and coffee shops open to keep you fuelled through your late night adventures.

Seoul: The city that never sleeps The Travel Psychologist

Namsan – for great views and a touch of nature

I consider Namsan Tower to be Seoul’s equivalent of the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State building. Located at the top of of a mountain, the views of Seoul from the tower are exceptional. There are various hiking trails you can take to the top if you fancy the walk and want to feel more in touch with nature, or take the cable car if you want a more relaxed journey. There are a selection of activities at the top which you can choose to take part in if you wish. The views of the city might be enough, but if you want more you can head up to the observatory, attach a love lock, play in the VR centre, or go to one of the many cafes and restaurants.

Seoul: The city that never sleeps The Travel Psychologist

After lunch, wander some more until one of the tea houses calls to you. Sit on the floor and order a set of tea and traditional snacks. These snacks will either lighter than air or stickier than pure honey. Be fussed over by an older Korean lady who will make sure you are comfortable and have everything you could possibly want and more. Slowly sip your tea and be amazed at the intricate details around you.

Seoul: The city that never sleeps The Travel Psychologist

From Insadong, it is a pleasant walk to Gwanghwamun where you can visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, visit one of the many museums, and see the statues of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun-shin, both prominent figures in Korean history.

Seoul: The city that never sleeps The Travel Psychologist

Last but not least:

If you’re feeling hedonistic – Have a full on Korean night out and hop between multiple establishments. You may hear people talk about “il-cha, ee-cha, sam-cha” which basically translates to first place, second place, third place. Groups will move to different bars and restaurants throughout the night to sample the different specialities of each place. There will always be a bubbling pot of food on the table for everyone to share and the conversation will flow with the beer and soju!

If you want a sense of accomplishment – climb a mountain! There are so many to choose from and many are easily accessible by public transport. Korea’s hiking game is strong and the majority of mountains have clearly marked paths or staircases so choosing a route is relatively simple. There are options for all fitness levels and abilities. You will be rewarded by the achievement of conquering the mountain and also the incredible views of Seoul you will get from the top.

Reasons to be optimistic – Come in the Spring or Autumn and be amazed by the beauty of nature throughout the city. Seoul’s parks and green spaces have been carefully designed so that there are stunning pops of nature throughout the city. It is easy to find cherry blossoms in the spring or deep red and orange trees in the autumn. Great for mindfulness practice!

Seoul: The city that never sleeps The Travel Psychologist

Please note our destination guides contain personal recommendations and not professional advice

If you liked this article check out Busan, South Korea: A City of Balance