Seoul is a city of opposites: traditional and modern, old and new, cheap and expensive. Whatever your tastes are, you'll be able to find something to satisfy your desires. When visiting Seoul, it's important to remember that straying a little from the beaten path is essential — many fascinating, less-famous sights surround each “must-see” attraction:

Taste Seoul in InsadongWhile Insadong’s stores selling traditional Korean crafts, jewelry, antiques and pottery get the most attention, the area also has many teahouses and twigims — vendors selling inexpensive food from carts. To get a taste of down-home Korean food, stop at a twigim and try everything from dukbbok—i (spicy rice cake and soybean paste) to hot fish-shaped pastries filled with sweet red-bean paste. Insadong teahouses sell a variety of Korean teas and offer free samples. Many of the shopkeepers speak a little English, so it may be possible to get help finding a tea to cure what ails you — there are special teas for sinus or digestive problems and just about everything else.

Directions: Take line 1 to Jonggak Station. Exit 3. Walk east for about five minutes, following the subway line. When you come to an intersection with a walled-in park (Tapgol Park), turn left. You will be at the entrance to Insadong.

Jogyesa TempleJogyesa Temple is tucked between tall office buildings in the heart of downtown. As you walk along the street leading to the temple, you’ll notice many fascinating shops selling Buddhist clothing, lanterns and beads.

To experience Korean Buddhism, participate in the Temple Life Experience Program. The basic program includes meditation, a tea ceremony and a Jogyesa Temple tour. Other programs are available. Reservations must be made 10 days in advance and parties must have six or more people. To learn more, visit Phone: 02-732-5292.

Tip: If you can’t participate in a program, visit the Information Center for Foreigners (open 10 a.m.-5 p.m.) and take advantage of the free tours. Take subway line 1 to Jonggak Station. Leave at exit 2 and walk north for about five minutes.

Clubs in HongdaeHongdae, the area surrounding Hongik University, is where Korea’s youth go to dance, sing and talk until the early hours of the morning. Popular among Koreans and expatriates, Hongdae is loaded with bars, dance clubs, restaurants, shops and noraebangs (karaoke rooms). One of the best nights to visit Hongdae is Club Night, the last Friday of every month. A 15,000 won (about $15) ticket gets you into 11 clubs and one free drink. A list of participating clubs and a map with their locations can be found here.

Directions: Line 2 to Hongik University station, exit 6.

Marvel at the city from N Seoul TowerVisible from all areas of Seoul, the newly renovated tower, a landmark since 1969, stands more than 1,180 feet above sea level on Mount Namsan. It offers breathtaking views day or night in clear weather and contains restaurants, coffee shops, snack bars and an observatory. The restaurants tend to be a bit pricey, but you can get a decent sandwich and a drink from a coffee shop or snack bar.

Getting to the tower is half the fun. There are three options: bus, cable car or walking. I recommend taking the subway to Dongguk University Station (line 3) and leave from exit 3. Take the Namsan Circular Line bus to Seoul Tower. To return home, either take the cable cars (which are hard to find) or hop on a bus. Another option is to hike a path up the mountain. Cost is 7,000 won (about $7) for adults, 5,000 (about $5) for ages 13-18 and seniors and 3,000 (about $3) for ages 4-12.

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Gyeongbok PalaceBuilt in 1392, the 5.4-million-square-foot Gyeongbok Palace is a great place to spend a day with its beautifully restored buildings and grounds. One building is easily recognizable as it appears on the back of the 10,000 won bill. For 15,000 won (about $15), you can dress up as Korean royalty and get an 8x10 print made. Directions: Take line 3 to Gyeongbokgung station. Exit 5. Closed Tuesdays. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, to 7 p.m. on weekends. Cost is 3,000 won (about $3) for adults and 1,500 won (about $1.50) for ages 7 to 18. Younger than 7 is free.

Namdaemun MarketNamdaemun is like an eight-course meal for the eyes. A visitor can see a variety of clothes, food, accessories, electronics and household goods within a small area of the city. What makes Namdaemun fascinating is its stores that specialize in only one item, such as umbrellas, belts, ginseng or towels. Like most places in Seoul, it’s advisable to wander from the main market streets to the smaller alleyways, where even better bargains can be found. There are some malls in the market, but it’s more fun to bargain and buy from vendors and small stores.

Another great aspect of Namdaemun is its restaurants. Realistic plastic models of the food are shown outside the restaurants with tags identifying the food in Korean and English.

Directions: Take line 4 to Hoehyeon Station. Exit 6.

Shop at DongdaemunKoreans are passionate about many things, and shopping is one of them. Dongdaemun has around 30,000 stores. Modern stores can be found in the large shopping malls: Doosan Tower, Migliore and Freya Town. There are also traditional markets: Jeil Pyeonghwa Market and Hongin Market. The best — and worst — aspect of Dongdaemun is the huge selection: It can be overwhelming. To do serious shopping, it’s best to go during a weekday, when the stores are less crowded. At night, the area is lit by neon lights, music fills the air and and people crowd the area.

Directions: Take line 1 to Dongdaemun Station and leave at exit 6. Walk toward the tall buildings (shopping malls).

The War Memorial of KoreaThe War Memorial of Korea helps visitors more fully realize the Korean War’s impact on the country and the world. The building is surrounded by beautifully landscaped grounds, which include reflecting pools, sculptures and relics. Inside, the history of the Korean War is presented in many rooms.

Tip: Don’t miss the Honor Guard ceremony every Friday at 2 p.m. (April, May, June, Oct., Nov.) in front of the museum. Soldiers perform many tricks and demonstrations.

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (entrance closes at 5 p.m.); closed Mondays.

Getting there: Take line 4 or 6 to Samgakji Station. Exit 1 and walk north for about 5 minutes. Admission: 3,000 won (about $3) for adults, 2,000 won (about $2) for students and 1,000 won (about $1) for elementary students.

More or phone 02-709-3139.

Lotte WorldThis large, family-friendly complex has an amusement park (with indoor and outdoor facilities), folk village, sports center, hotel and department store. Between going on rides and buying souvenirs, watch a parade or a laser show. Many of the rides have unusual themes — like the French Revolution or Adventure of Sinbad. To enter the facility, guests walk through a Disney-esque castle and are greeted by Lotte World’s characters.

Directions: Take Line 2 or Line 8 to Jamsil Station. Exit 4. Lotte World is connected to the subway station. Price: 16,000 (about $16) won to 30,000 (about $30) depending on age and package. Open year-round.


Chongdong TheaterChongdong Theater offers a variety of performances including fan dancing, traditional music and singing, with English, Japanese and Chinese subtitles. The theater is sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The theater offers guests the chance to dance and take photographs with the performers.

Performances are given every day except Monday. From April to November, the 70-minute show starts at 8 p.m. and from December to March at 4 p.m. Tickets cost between 20,000 won (about $20)and 30,000 won (about $30) — there’s a 10 percent discount if you book online.

More, or call 02-751-1500.

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