Planning a trip to Seoul? More people than ever are adding the city to their travel bucket list, whether it’s to sample South Korea’s rich history, culture and cuisine, or to ride the Korean wave of music, drama and beauty that’s sweeping the globe. But while the futuristic city is becoming an ever more popular destination, Seoul still has plenty of hidden wonders waiting to be discovered. Before your trip, check out this local guide with 12 facts about Seoul you may not have known…
1. ‘Gangnam style’ is a pretty new concept
Of course, you’ve already heard of Gangnam thanks to Psy’s 2012 hit. But did you know that Seoul’s most affluent district wasn’t always a part of the city? Literally meaning ‘south of the river’, Gangnam was once simply farmland providing for those living in the north of the city. However, since 1963 it has transformed into South Korea’s cultural hub, home to the K-beauty industry, music labels and fashion designers alike. While there, explore the district’s shops and boutiques and stroll down K-star road, its answer to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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2. There’s a Karaoke bar for every 333 people in the city
Ready to sing your heart out? Seoul boasts an astounding number of Noraebangs (karaoke rooms), with an estimated 30,000 across the city. A daily part of Korean culture, locals love to visit them to celebrate and unwind with their close friends, family and colleagues. There will usually be drinks and snacks on offer as you belt out your favourite tunes. And don’t worry, each group will have a private room so you can sing – and dance – like nobody’s watching!
3. You’ll find the real ‘Rainbow Road’ – the longest bridge fountain in the world
Flowing through the heart of Seoul, the Han river boasts 32 bridges connecting the city’s north and south banks. None are more impressive than Banpo Bridge. Over a kilometre in length, it hosts a moonlight rainbow fountain every evening (April-October) complete with synchronised music and a mesmerising light show. If you get close enough, the fountain might just cool you off as you continue your walk down to the nearby night street food market.
4. The city is less than an hour’s drive from North Korea
Seoul is closer to the border with North Korea than you might have thought. In fact, it would be less than an hour’s drive to its neighbouring country, with the DPRK’s most southern city, Kaesong, just 58 km (36 miles) away. Ironically, only South Koreans are not allowed to travel to North Korea due to alive conflict. While you can’t travel directly between the two countries, you can get as close as Panmunjeom, where you can observe North Korean life through binoculars, explore underground tunnels and learn about the history of the Korean War.
5. It’s surrounded by 44 breathtaking mountains
If you look up in Seoul, the chances are that you’ll either see a skyscraper or a mountain. The city is surrounded by 44 peaks, providing a stunning backdrop wherever you go. The highest of them all is Bukhansan, standing at 837m above sea level. If you’re feeling adventurous, the short course takes around 1.5 hours to reach the summit, offering panoramic views of the city. Closer to the centre, Namsan is home to Seoul N Tower and Hanok folk village. At ‘just’ 265m, it’s a leisurely hike to the top – but there’s also a cable car if you want to save some energy!
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6. It’s home to three top-flight baseball teams
If you visit the Lotte Tower at night, you might just hear the roar of a crowd… Baseball is the most popular professional sport in Korea and Seoul is home to three of the country’s ten pro teams: LG Twins, Doosan Bears, and Kiwoom Heroes. During the season, you’ll be able to watch a game almost every day of the week. Even if you’re not familiar with the rules, you’ll soon feel part of the team, with chants, cheerleaders and tasty Korean snacks delivered to your seat.
7. There’s a huge indoor theme park in the middle of the city
Situated next to South Korea’s tallest building, Lotte World Adventure is the largest indoor theme park in the country. It is connected to Jamsil station, which is only 10 minutes away from Gangnam station. The complex doesn’t just include rides, but also a museum, ice rink and hotel. Outside, rides snake through an artificial island on the picturesque Seokchon lake, allowing thrill-seekers to soar past the cherry blossom trees. A family-friendly destination, everyone wearing a school uniform will receive discounted entry – including if you rent one on your way in!
8. It has been the Korean capital since 18 BC, partly thanks to Feng Shui
Seoul’s history spans over a thousand years, serving as the capital city for various Korean dynasties. Its strategic location, nestled between mountains and the river, aligns perfectly with the principles of Feng Shui. Seoul was capital under the Bakjae kingdom from 18 BC until 475 AD, before reclaiming the title in 1392 when King Taejo established the Joseon dynasty. You’ll find historical signs of the Baekje and Joseon kingdoms around the city, including royal palaces like Gyungbokgung and Changdeokgung, which offers special night walks and free admission for anyone wearing a Hanbok, the Korean national dress.
9. It is truly a city that never sleeps
Want to take advantage of every minute of your stay? Well, you won’t need to take any early nights while in Seoul, as the city is famous for being full of life around the clock. From bars and nightclubs to restaurants and cafes, you can find whatever you want at any hour at night. If you just want to have a peaceful evening alone or with friends, you can easily pop out to a 24 hour cafe, game cafe, or even a jimjilbang (bathhouse) where you can bathe, eat, drink and spend the entire night.
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10. You can deliver everything, everywhere, all at once
Seoul’s food delivery services have a long history, predating Uber Eats or Deliveroo! Whether you’re at home or on the move, you can always order food at any time of day or night. One of the most popular spots in the city to do just that is on the banks of the Han river. Locals gather for picnics at the riverside park and order from their favourite restaurants – from local specialities to Korean fried chicken and pizza!
11. Cafe culture has taken over the city, and there is always a theme
The last king of Joseon was well known for his caffeine addiction. Since the first introduction of coffee to the country, it has dominated Koreans’ taste ever since. Seoul is home to more than 25,000 cafés, where you’ll likely hear Koreans ordering an ‘AA’, or ‘A-ice Americano’. Get your fix at a five-story Harry Potter-themed café, a Starbucks with old theatre screens, or even a raccoon café!
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12. It has the world’s longest metro
Servicing a population of over 10 million residents, Seoul has developed an extensive metro system spanning 940 km in combined length – a world record. This means you can get almost everywhere, quickly and on time. It’s a convenient and efficient way to explore the city, with Wi-Fi connectivity, English-friendly signage and air conditioned carriages and stations – a lifesaver on a hot summer’s day!