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
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 pre-paid travel card for participants of qualifying events the Discover Seoul Pass specifically offers a more leisure and downtime-focused function. Costing 39,900 won/`2,277 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 May, costing 55,000 won/`8,858 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.