Seoul (서울) is the capital of South Korea. A fascinating blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge digital technology, home to endless street food vendors and vast nightlife districts, an extraordinarily high-pressure educational system and serene Buddhist temples, a trend-setting youth culture and often crushing conformism, extraordinary architecture and endless monotonous rows of grey apartment buildings, Seoul is a city filled with stark contrasts.
Seoul is the center of business and culture of South Korea. Here the skyscrapers stand side by side with the Buddhist temple. See the entire city from N Seoul Tower, built on top of Namsan Park. Taste the taste of Korea at the tea shop and shop in Insadong, then continue by visiting the courtyard and Gyeongbokgung museum. Changdeokgung Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a perfect example of authentic ancient architecture.
Administratively, Seoul is divided into 25 districts, each with an area and population comparable to a small city. The districts are then further subdivided into 522 sub-districts (동 dong). The Han river bisects the city, splitting it into two halves: Gangbuk (강북), the northern, more historical half, and Gangnam (강남), the southern, wealthier and more modern half. The sheer size of the city means that travelers to Seoul will find it difficult to locate a true “center” of Seoul; instead, Seoul is almost more like a collection of cities that happen to be bunched together, each with their own central business and commercial districts. The two largest core areas are Jongno/Jung in the north, and Gangnam in the south. For travelers with more time, there are many more, smaller centers and districts to be explored, such as the island of Yeoui-do and the college district of Hongdae/Sinchon. For the typical traveler, it would be useful to divide the city into the following areas:
North of the River (강북 Gangbuk)
- Jongno – The Joseon-era historical core of the city, containing most palaces and government offices. This district, along with Jung (중) district immediately to the south of it, makes up one of the main centers of the city. Here you can find the most famous of the Five Grand Joseon Palaces, Gyeongbokgung, with a long avenue attracting many tourists leading up to the main gate. To the east of Gyeongbokgung are clustered Changdeokgung and Changyeonggung, two more of the Five, and Jongmyo Shrine, the main Confucian shrine in the dynastic era designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Sandwiched between these two areas is Bukchon, a quaint housing area filled with ‘hanok’, beautiful traditional Korean houses that also date back to the dynastic era. South of Bukchon is Insa-dong which is the largest antiques market street in Seoul and the cultural heart of the city, and further south is Cheongyecheon, a renovated stream and park that runs through the heart of the downtown area.
- Jung – This district makes up the other half of the historic core, with Cheongyecheon stream as its northern border. It holds some of the few remaining European-style government buildings left over from the Japanese imperial colonialism era – the City Hall and the Bank of Korea, both in the west, centered around a large plaza often serves as a rallying point for protests and soccer games. Immediately to the southwest of the City Hall is Myeongdong, an large upscale shopping district that gets extremely busy at night and on weekends, and one of the top ten most expensive shopping districts in the world by rent. To the south of the City Hall is Namdaemun Market, another large shopping district that is decidedly cheaper than neighboring Myeongdong. Further south of Namdaemun is Seoul Station and Namsan Mountain, with the Seoul Tower at its summit. Finally, the eastern part holds Dongdaemun, an enormous fashion district with dozens of clothing malls, complexes, wholesalers, and department stores.
- Seodaemun/Mapo – These two districts lie immediately west of Jongro and Jung, and contain dozens of universities and colleges. As such, this area is home to some of Seoul’s most active nightlife districts: Hongdae and Sinchon. Sinchon is close to Yonsei University, one of the most prestigious in Korea, and has hundreds of restaurants, bars, clubs, and stores that are open well into early morning, packed with throngs of students during the weekend. Hongdae is famous for being the center of Seoul’s indie and underground arts scene – expect to see street performers, indie rock bands, graffiti, and independent stores. During the night, Hongdae really comes alive, even more crowded than Sinchon and absolutely enormous – it’s easy to get lost inside this huge nightlife district, and has the second highest concentration of foreigners, after Itaewon.
- Yongsan – Yongsan is home to the US Army Military Base as well as one of the largest electronics markets in the world, Yongsan Electronics Market. On the top floor of this market is a Starcraft Arena – and yes, computer-obsessed Korea does, in fact, regularly broadcast Starcraft matches on national television. This is also where you’ll find Itaewon (이태원), perhaps the most culturally diverse area on the entire peninsula and home to dozens of restaurants featuring cuisine from the world over, numerous shops selling everything from custom-tailored suits to antiques, and several Western pubs and bars. Itaewon also has the only mosque in Korea, and as such there are a growing number of Middle Eastern and Pakistani immigrants. Talks are also finalizing on Yongsan International Business District, a $28.8 billion dollar project that when completed, will have a 665m centerpiece tower, the second tallest in the world.
South of the River (강남 Gangnam)
- Gangnam – Gangnam is the glitzy center of modern Seoul, home to hundreds of glass and steel skyscrapers, neon billboards, and some of the most expensive real estate in the country. The core business district runs along Tehran-ro from Samseong Station to Gangnam Station. Gangnam station is the true center of Gangnam – with dozens of high rises, hundreds of restaurants and bars, and thousands upon thousands of neon signs lining Gangnam street, this area is not only a major commercial and nightlife center for young adults, it is Korea at its futuristic, digital, high-tech best. Samseong station at the other end of Tehran-ro is connected to COEX, a huge underground shopping mall with a movie theater, aquarium, hotels, food courts, and a Hyundai Department Store. To the north of this business district (but still in Gangnam) is Apgujeongdong and Cheomdangdong, some of the most affluent areas in Seoul, and home to hundreds of upscale luxury brands and department stores.
- Songpa – a primarily residential district east of Gangnam where you’ll find Lotte World, Olympic Park, Seoul (Jamsil) Sports Complex, and the Sincheon nightlife district. Lotte World is an unusual place – just a few bus stops away from COEX, it is yet another enormous shopping and entertainment complex, but with a twist: It holds one of the largest ice-skating rinks in Korea, and the largest indoor theme park in the world. Good for families with children, but be warned: on a rainy day, the shortest lines may be an hour or longer. Sincheon (not to be confused with Sinchon, is a large, crowded nightlife area, mainly populated by an older, local business crowd due to its location near Gangnam.
- Yeoui-do – An island in the Han River in Yeongdeungpo-gu (영등포-구) and the closest Seoul gets to Manhattan with skyscrapers, the National Assembly and the Seoul Stock Exchange. Though it may seem attractive for tourists, in reality there isn’t too much to do here, and the island gets pretty desolate during the weekends.
- Yangcheon – a district of western Seoul with the Mok-dong area at its centre, home to some of the tallest residential buildings in Seoul, a large Hyundae department store and an ice rink.
The climate of Seoul features a humid continental with dry winter, called “Dwa” in the Köppen climate classification. Seoul is classed as having a temperate climate with four distinct seasons, but temperature differences between the hottest part of summer and the depths of winter are extreme. In summer the influence of the North Pacific high-pressure system brings hot, humid weather with temperatures soaring as high as 35 °C (95 °F) on occasion. In winter the city is topographically influenced by expanding Siberian High-pressure zones and prevailing west winds, temperatures dropping almost as low as -20 °C (-4 °F) in severe cold waves. The bitterly cold days tend to come in three-day cycles regulated by rising and falling pressure systems, during winter snowfall can cause frosty weather in the city. The most pleasant seasons, for most people in the city are spring and autumn, when azure blue skies and comfortable temperatures are regular. Most of Seoul’s precipitation falls in the summer monsoon period between June and September, as a part of East Asian monsoon season.
- Government : Capital of South Korea and South Korea Special City
- Currency : Won (₩)
- Area : 605.21 km2
- Population : 10,140,000(2013 est.)
- Language Official : Korean(with Seoul dialect)
- Religion : n/a
- Time Zone : UTC+9
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