Seoul, Korea: A Second Trip
After my first trip to Seoul in late 2018, I knew I had to come back. Less than a year later in 2019, that happened.
This time around, I ventured to explore areas for the first time to add to my experiences in the city.
If you’re visiting for the first time, you can see what I did on my first trip, or maybe these sights are more your style.
THINGS TO KNOW
Google Maps isn’t as useful - locations are scarce, often don’t translate from Korean, and don’t contain detailed information
There’s a lot of walking - With limited escalators in train stations and trains being long themselves, there’s more walking to the exits
Many restaurants close early on weekends, like fully closed at 8PM on a Saturday night early
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed in a convenient location near the City Hall subway station on our first trip, so we decided to make our base at the hotel right next door. The Hotel Gracery is a newer hotel owned by a Japanese company, and is between City Hall and Hoehyeon subway stations, and also near the popular Namdaemun Market.
The room was a bit small, but everything was nicely kept and clean. Service is good, the toilet and shower are separate, there’s coin laundry in the lobby and a convenience store downstairs.
Here’s where we explored on my second time in the city.
BANPO HANGANG PARK
On the south side of the Han River is Banpo Hangang Park [MAP]. We visited in the evening where they have a festival during the warmer months featuring a bunch of food trucks and artists selling homemade crafts.
The Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain show is also put on, where streams of water shoot out from the bridge’s sides, illuminated by about 200 LEDs. At 570 meters long, it’s the world’s longest bridge fountain and it’s free. The shows happen every half an hour between 7:30PM-9PM.
The Somesevit (Sebitseom) buildings are illuminated with people sitting around it, enjoying drinks and each other’s company over some open mic karaoke.
One of the popular shopping areas in the Gangnam area, Apgujeong had stores from Prada to Club Monaco, along with a lot of cafes and plastic surgery clinics. To me, it had a similar feel to Tokyo’s Aoyama area or Los Angeles’ Abbott Kinney or Melrose. It’s definitely on the upscale side.
We visited the area after stopping at the nearby Cheongdam area of Gangnam for some delicious bibimbap at Yeongcheon Younghoe.
After some window shopping, we stopped at the local Tom N Toms coffee chain for some refreshment before heading to Seongsu.
It may not seem like it, but Seongsu is a pretty trendy area for young Koreans. I learned about it while researching for client work, so I decided to check it out.
The neighborhood used to be the location of a lot of handmade shoe factories and warehouses, and those old industrial buildings are slowly being converted into artistic cafes, coffee shops and restaurants. We went to a great one called Cafe Onion (more info below).
Seongsu, while a hot spot for locals, still seems relatively unknown to tourists. I only wish we had more time and space in our stomachs so we could stay here longer.
This is somewhat of an international area of Seoul, and a lot of the restaurants and bars are geared to expats and tourists. There was even a restaurant claiming to serve “authentic Chinese-American cuisine.”
While teens and those in their early twenties may enjoy areas like Myeongdong or Samseong more, Itaewon seemed great for adults looking to grab a bite and a few drinks and have a good time.
We visited this area for dinner. Up until this point, most of the places we ate at were based off of Japanese information, so we decided to try The Maple House, a highly rated Korean BBQ spot that appeared in several English guides. It was alright but not great. I realized English information on Seoul may be lacking, so I wrote some food recommendations based on places I’ve eaten at.
In any case, if you’re looking for a night out with friends at an international-type of spot, this area is lively and might be decent to check out.
While these were some of the main spots that we visited on this trip, there were many others as well.
I wrote about some of them in my blog about my first trip to Seoul, like Myeongdong, Bukchon Hanok, Namdaemun and COEX.
Others like Samseong, a Harajuku-esque area where aspiring K-pop dancers perform on the streets, didn’t work out for us because we went to late or there was bad weather.
Other areas like Seongbuk and Gwangheungchan were simply stops for the food.
Let’s face it, even on my second visit to the city, a trip to Seoul is all about the food.
Possibly the hippest cafe chain in the city with locations that are converted old buildings. Their spot in Seongsu, the “Brooklyn of Seoul,” is in a gutted 1970s building that served as a former factory.
Cafe Onion Seongsu manages to balance old and new perfectly, and in doing this, makes for an extremely photogenic hang out. There are multiple seating areas, nooks and a rooftop as well. Their coffees and artisanal, homemade pastries and baked goods are tasty.
Great place to stop by when exploring the area and to take pictures.
dong myeonok house
Legit Korean kalbi. You know it has to be when the only other non-Koreans there were American students… with their Korean host family.
Dong Myeonok House is located up a hill in the seemingly upscale residential area of Seongbuk. There’s no major businesses or subway stations around it, so we took a taxi and went for lunch.
We ordered a small order of kalbi and 6-pieces of colorful mandu. The kalbi was melt-off-the-bone tender, tasty with a little hint of sweet, and I couldn’t get enough of the mandu. Thanks to my friend Daniel for the rec, I definitely recommend this place as well.
CHA TEUL TEAHOUSE
A relaxing cafe set in a traditional Korean hanok house on top a hill in the Bukchon Hanok Village area.
Cha Teul, which means “tea-drinking garden,” is an indoor tea house built around its Korean garden. You take off your shoes before you enter, sit on the floor and enjoy some tea over relaxing views. Making the experience even better, service was very friendly.
We had patibingsu (Korean shaved ice with red beans and mochi rice cakes on top), Ssangwha tea (made of Korean medical herbs brewed for 14-15 hours), and lotus tea.
Perfect place to have a sit down and relax in the afternoon.
YAETMAT SEOUL BULGOLGI
It’s hard to beat self-serve, all-you-can-eat sides and some tasty bulgolgi cooking in front of you. That’s why Yaetmat Seoul Bulgolgi was so good.
Located a couple blocks from Gwangheungchang metro station (광흥창역) on Line 6, Yaetmat Seoul Bulgolgi is a casual restaurant that only had locals - so you know it’s legit.
You sit on stools around a BBQ table and the staff comes by and makes sure everything is cooked properly. There’s a bar of assorted kim chee, greens, onions, garlic and more that’s free for the taking. A very casual, authentic experience and of course, tasty.