SIDE BY SIDE

From the her­itage-laden north side of the Han River to the more mod­ern south, the two halves of Seoul of­fer a med­ley of at­trac­tions for event del­e­gates with free time, writes Craig Bright

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS -

The Korean cap­i­tal has plenty of at­trac­tions for event del­e­gates with some down time

Seoul’s list of tourist ac­tiv­i­ties and at­trac­tions is long and var­ied, rep­re­sent­ing a deep well of op­por­tu­nity for those in­tent on ex­plor­ing be­yond the con­fer­ence hall. With ex­hi­bi­tion venues and MICE-fo­cused hotels spread through­out the city, Seoul’s ex­ten­sive sub­way net­work en­sures del­e­gates can eas­ily tra­verse the sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis to delve into its di­verse of­fer­ings, from food, her­itage and re­tail to pop cul­ture or nat­u­ral land­scapes.

Di­vided by the in­ter­sect­ing Han River, Seoul has ex­panded in mod­ern times from its old north-side cityscape to now in­clude a mod­ern area south of the river. A plethora of com­mer­cial, fi­nan­cial, re­tail and en­ter­tain­ment de­vel­op­ments can now be found here, while the bulk of the city’s his­tory and her­itage is lo­cated to the north.

“Many of our com­peti­tors are lo­cated in Seoul’s south­ern area, but lo­ca­tion-wise it’s not the same,” says Bruce Lee, gen­eral man­ager and pres­i­dent of the Grand Am­bas­sador Seoul ho­tel in Jangchung-dong on the north side of the river.“We ben­e­fit a lot from our lo­ca­tion, near to Nam­san Park, Myeong­dong, Dong­dae­mun and Itae­won. These are all ar­eas many for­eign­ers are keen to see.”

Whether you’re stay­ing in the north or south of Seoul, how­ever, vis­it­ing its many at­trac­tions is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly easy. For starters, Seoul’s main in­ter­na­tional air­port at In­cheon is un­der­go­ing a ma­jor ex­pan­sion with the open­ing of its new Ter­mi­nal 2 build­ing at the end of this year, along with up­grades to its leisure op­tions in the near fu­ture. These in­clude a new en­ter­tain­ment and re­tail “air­port city”, in­te­grated re­sorts and a sec­ond golf course all lo­cated nearby.

Mean­while in July last year, the Seoul Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion (STO) to­gether with the Seoul Met­ro­pol­i­tan Govern­ment launched the Discover Seoul Pass, a 24-hour pass pro­vid­ing ac­cess to 16 of the city’s most popular sites. While many del­e­gates may be the re­cip­i­ent of an­other of STO’s MICE ini­tia­tives – the Seoul MICE card, which func­tions as a par­tially pre­paid travel card for par­tic­i­pants of qual­i­fy­ing events – the Discover Seoul Pass specif­i­cally of­fers a more leisure and down­time-fo­cused func­tion. Cost­ing 39,900 won (US$36) and con­nected to a down­load­able app with site in­for­ma­tion and a count­down timer, it acts both as a travel card and en­try ticket for tourist sites. (A brand-new 48-hour ver­sion was launched at the start of this month, cost­ing 55,000 won/US$49 and giv­ing ac­cess to more than 20 at­trac­tions, plus dis­counts and coupons for 13 shops and venues.)

“Both MICE and leisure tourists ben­e­fit from the Discover Seoul Pass and One More Trip, an online plat­form al­low­ing lo­cals to sell unique ex­pe­ri­ences and tours while of­fer­ing par­tic­i­pants a mem­o­rable and dif­fer­ent experience,” says Park Jin-Hyeok, di­rec­tor of the Seoul Con­ven­tion Bureau (SCB).“These in­clude Korean brewery tours, tra­di­tional seal mak­ing and Korean bar­be­cue tours, among oth­ers.”

The most no­table at­trac­tions in­cluded in the pass are Seoul’s four ma­jor palaces, all lo­cated on the north side of the river. While Gyeong­bok­gung Palace – the largest – is per­haps the most popular, Changdeok­gung and the di­rectly con­nected Chang­gyeong­gung Palace in Jongno district are also a joy to explore.

Built in 1405, Changdeok­gung was named a Unesco World Her­itage site in 1997. The palace build­ings vary sig­nif­i­cantly in scale and style, with or­nately de­signed in­te­ri­ors and large court­yards con­nected by wind­ing, tree-lined paths. Be­yond the palace build­ings is the Hu­won Se­cret Gar­den, which har­bours bu­colic ponds and streams (cdg.go.kr). Chang­gyeong­gung is a smaller palace built in 1483 as a res­i­dence for wives and con­cu­bines. Here you can also wan­der freely through the smaller-scale build­ings, court­yards and gar­dens with wa­ter­ways and bridges (english.vis­it­seoul.net).

To the south­west is an­other popular his­toric at­trac­tion: Dong­dae­mun Gate. One of the eight gates of the old Seoul City Wall (parts of which still re­main and can be hiked along), Dong­dae­mun now sits some­what in­con­gru­ously in the midst of one of the city’s top shop­ping and en­ter­tain­ment dis­tricts. The re­vi­talised Cheong­gyecheon Stream that bi­sects the old city cen­tre passes close by; mar­kets and 24-hour malls sell all man­ner of goods; and the Dong­dae­mun De­sign Plaza show­cases ex­hi­bi­tions, fo­rums and fash­ion shows.

Still on the north side of the river is one of Seoul’s most popular dis­tricts, Myeong­dong. This lively area is also a shop­per’s paradise, with vast duty-free stores (in­clud­ing the main branch Lotte Duty Free Shop con­nected to the Lotte Ho­tel Seoul in neigh­bour­ing Euljiro district), and cos­met­ics and fash­ion shops.

If re­tail ther­apy isn’t your thing, though, Myeong­dong has an­other of Seoul’s great­est of­fer­ings in spades – street food. Get­ting ac­quainted with the city’s culi­nary scene is at its eas­i­est and most en­joy­able here via the nu­mer­ous street food stalls, with del­i­ca­cies span­ning the spec­trum from twisty potato sticks and spicy tteok­bokki rice cakes to more up­mar­ket fare in­clud­ing grilled scal­lops and lob­ster with gar­lic but­ter. For those seek­ing a more sit-down af­fair, Myeong­dong’s abun­dant Korean bar­be­cue, noo­dle and Korean fried-chicken restau­rants are def­i­nitely worth sam­pling.

Out to­wards the west of the city is Hong­dae, an­other busy street-mar­ket district al­beit with a slightly younger fo­cus ow­ing to its pop­u­lar­ity among stu­dents from the nearby Hongik Univer­sity. Street per­for­mances are com­mon here, with plenty of per­form­ers busking to size­able crowds. Cafés, gal­leries, clubs and the artists’ Free Mar­ket (freemar­ket.or.kr) can be found here, with Hong­dae Mu­ral Street (also known as Pi­casso’s Street) a prime spot to see both graf­fiti and other art­works. Hong­dae is also home to the Trick­eye & Ice Mu­seum, which pro­vides trompe l’oeil art­works that vis­i­tors can step into and take 3D-ef­fect pic­tures (trick­eye.com).

Con­tin­u­ing south, Nam­san Park in Yongsan district is home to both Nam­san Mountain and the N Seoul Tower. A popular hik­ing area in the mid­dle of the city, Nam­san Park of­fers great views par­tic­u­larly from the tower at the sum­mit. Reach­ing 480 me­tres above

sea level at its tip, the 236-me­tre tower is joined by a court­yard fea­tur­ing cul­tural per­for­mances and a num­ber of F&B out­lets (nseoul­tower.com).

A short dis­tance to the west of Nam­san Park is one of Seoul’s new­est de­vel­op­ments, the Seoul Sta­tion 7017 Project, also known as “Seoullo 7017”. The core of the project is the re­ju­ve­na­tion of an al­most onek­ilo­me­tre-long el­e­vated road to cre­ate what has been de­scribed as Seoul’s an­swer to the High Line in New York City, an­tic­i­pated to open this month (May 2017). The 45-year-old road was shut down in 2006 due to its poor safety rating, lead­ing the Seoul Met­ro­pol­i­tan Govern­ment to con­vert it into a pedes­trian-cen­tric “hanging gar­den” walk­way. The aim has been to con­nect the un­der­de­vel­oped area around Seoul Sta­tion to the city cen­tre by turn­ing it into a “cen­tre of ur­ban tourism and con­ven­tions” with space for cul­tural pro­grammes (english.seoul.go.kr).

While many of Seoul’s popular sites are con­cen­trated north of the river, the city’s more mod­ern south is far from de­void of of­fer­ings. For a start, there’s the No­ryangjin Fish­eries Whole­sale Mar­ket in Dong­jak district, just across from Yeouido (which is home to the In­ter­na­tional Fi­nance Cen­tre Seoul, the IFC Mall and Con­rad Seoul ho­tel). First opened in 1927 on the north side of the river, No­ryangjin mar­ket was re­lo­cated in 1971 and is now one of the largest seafood mar­kets in the coun­try. Things get go­ing here very early, typ­i­cally around 1am, and there are a num­ber of in­trigu­ing sights, in­clud­ing a live fish auc­tion at around 3am.

“For smaller groups, we’ve or­gan­ised boat cruises on the Han, tours of the his­tor­i­cal sites, but what’s re­ally popular is the fish mar­ket,” says Mark Meaney, gen­eral man­ager of Con­rad Seoul.“We bring people down to the fish mar­ket dur­ing the day, or­gan­ise a tour and then guests can select their fish. They can have it cooked there, but we of­ten bring it back to the ho­tel and have it as part of the meal.”

Also south of the river is the Fig­ure Mu­seum W in the in­creas­ingly popular Gang­nam district. A haven for fans of sci­ence-fic­tion movies and comics, the mu­seum fea­tures multiple floors filled with ac­tion fig­ures from Marvel and DC comics, films, and Ja­panese and Korean manga comics. A par­tic­u­larly good stop for vis­i­tors trav­el­ling with chil­dren, the mu­seum also in­cludes a shop with ex­perts of­fer­ing ad­vice for en­thu­si­asts and sea­soned col­lec­tors (fig­ure­mu­se­umw.co.kr).

Gang­nam district is also home to the SMTown at the Coex Ar­tium [sic], part of the Coex Cen­ter, which in­cludes a con­ven­tion and ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre as well as a shop­ping mall. Here vis­i­tors can take a tour of stu­dios, train­ing rooms, and video and photo sets used by South Korea’s K-pop stars. Classes led by pro­fes­sional chore­og­ra­phers and voice coaches are also a big hit with MICE groups, with ex­pe­ri­ences such as dress­ing up in K-pop out­fits at Klive – in Euljiro north of the river – reg­u­larly in­cor­po­rated into pre- or post-event itin­er­ar­ies (sm­town­land.com; klive.co.kr).

Fi­nally, to the east of the Coex Cen­ter is the Lotte World Tower, one of the most re­cent de­vel­op­ments in Seoul, which opened at the be­gin­ning of April. Stand­ing at 556 me­tres and cov­er­ing 123 floors (it’s the sixth tallest tower in the world), its sky­walk and ob­ser­va­tion deck pro­vide some of the most ex­pan­sive views avail­able any­where in the city. For those look­ing for an even more ex­trav­a­gant way to experience Seoul from a high alti­tude, the tower’s ul­tra-luxury, 235-room Sig­niel Seoul ho­tel has fine din­ing and event spa­ces on the 76th, 79th and 81st floors. With Euro­pean restau­rant Stay by Yan­nick Al­leno and the Miche­lin-starred Bi­cena Korean fine-din­ing restau­rant both of­fer­ing top-qual­ity cui­sine 342 me­tres above the ground, Sig­niel Seoul is a must for trav­ellers look­ing to en­joy great food ac­com­pa­nied by fan­tas­tic views.

Op­po­site and this page: Changdeok­gung Palace

This page from

top: Dong­dae­mun at night; Seoul Sta­tion 7017 Project; and Fig­ure Mu­seum W

This page above and be­low: N Seoul Tower and street food in Myeong­dong

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