When you think of top destinations in Asia, you might conjure up images of Japan’s mountains, Thailand’s Tuk Tuks, and Bali’s rice paddies. You wouldn’t be wrong. Japan, Thailand, and Indonesia are among Australia’s favourite Asian cities to visit, but a new underrated city is climbing its way to the top of travellers’ bucket lists. We’re almost certain you can guess which one it is.
Yes, it’s Seoul. Boasting a history spanning over 5,000 years and a contemporary culture epitomised by K-culture, Korea has firmly established itself as one of the most fashionable and sought-after tourist havens on the global map. Here’s why.
A City of Contrasts
In Seoul, it’s as if modernity coexists harmoniously with tradition. The gleaming skyscrapers of Gangnam contrast with the serene serenity of ancient Buddhist temples. Amid the vibrant shopping districts of Myeongdong and Dongdaemun, where the latest fashion trends are showcased, you’ll discover hidden pockets of hanbok-clad locals embracing tradition.
The Gyeongbokgung Palace, a symbol of the Joseon Dynasty, stands as a testament to the nation’s rich history. As you stroll through its grand gates and tranquil courtyards, you’ll be transported back to a time of emperors and court rituals. Don’t miss the royal changing of the guard ceremony, a vivid reenactment bringing history to life.
As the sun sets, Seoul transforms into a city of neon lights and buzzing energy. Venture into the streets of Itaewon for international cuisine and eclectic nightlife, or wander through the stylish district of Gangnam, where glitzy nightclubs beckon partygoers. For a quieter evening, embrace the intimacy of a traditional tea house in the historic Insadong neighbourhood.
Seoul’s Sizzling Street Food
Food is usually one of the top reasons we choose a destination. In Japan, we scour the back alleys for ramen bars; in Thailand, we eat bowls of noodles from floating boats. In Seoul, prepare your tastebuds for a rollercoaster of flavours. From the sizzle of sizzling hotteok (sweet pancakes) to the umami explosion of tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), the city’s street vendors are some of the best restaurants in town. Don’t shy away from the pungent aromas of kimchi — this iconic Korean dish is a staple that adds a punch of flavour to every meal.
Although, that’s not to say the restaurants aren’t worth your time. For those seeking haute cuisine and a refined dining experience, Seoul boasts an impressive selection of upscale restaurants. Acclaimed chefs showcase their creativity through innovative tasting menus that blend tradition and innovation with a side of skyline views.
Similarly to the city that never sleeps, you can find 24-hour joints, slinging everything from hearty soups to sizzling barbecue, catering to night owls and revellers alike.
In the end, no exploration of Seoul’s dining scene is complete without indulging in the iconic Korean barbecue. Choose from succulent cuts of beef, pork, or even seafood, which you’ll grill right at your table. Wrap the grilled morsels in lettuce leaves, garlic, ssamjang (spicy dipping sauce), and various condiments for a personalised culinary experience.
K-Pop and Beyond
You have no doubt seen, heard, or even experienced K-culture in some way or form. One look at Spotify will reveal K-Pop stars like BTS and Blackpink are trending, topping charts globally. Then there are Netflix dramas, such as Squid Game, which shone a light on South Korean entertainment. The comedy-drama series XO, Kitty, a spin-off from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, gave viewers a taste of life in Seoul, highlighting the city’s buzzing nightlife and private school life.
Although, this is just one facet of Seoul’s dynamic arts scene. Dive into the bustling streets of Hongdae, where indie music reverberates from live music venues and street art bursts with creativity. Explore the vibrant world of K-dramas at Starfield Library, where towering bookshelves create a setting worthy of a romantic scene straight out of a TV show.