Popular Seoul (Incheon) Shore Excursions
Seoul has several ancient palaces. Gyeongbokgung, the oldest and grandest, was once the center of the important Joseon Dynasty and incorporates old Chinese and royal court architecture. First established in 1394, the present building was constructed in the 1860's, the original having being destroyed during Japanese occupation. (Jongno-gu Sejong-ro 1, closed Tuesdays) Nearby is UNESCO-listed Changdeokgung, which dates back to 1405 and once housed the royal family. It's built on Confucian principles and features a pretty "secret" garden designed for scholarly reflection. (110-360 Yulgok-ro 99 Jongro-gu, closed Mondays)
A favorite hangout with locals and visitors alike, Insa-Dong (or Insadong) street (nearest subway stop Anguk, line 3) and its surrounds are known for antique and ceramics shops, art galleries, traditional tea shops and street stalls where sweet sellers and the like ply their trade, some dressed in national costume.
The National Museum of Korea includes some beautiful artifacts like Buddha statues, calligraphy and an intricate 5th-century gold and jade crown. Admission is free. (Yongsan-dong 6-ga 168-6, Seobinggo-ro 137, Yongsan-gu, nearest subway stop Ichon, line 4; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed Mondays)
Full- and half-day tours to the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ outside Seoul are popular. This is the weapon-free no-mans-land that has separated North and South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953. You can descend into the "Third Tunnel," which North Korea is believed to have dug in an attempt to breach the border and peer across to the neighbors through telescopes. Some full-day tours will also take in Panmunjom, the site of the armistice signing, where, under the gaze of soldiers, you can walk around a conference table into North Korean territory. You will need an advance booking and a passport with you.
If you are interested in the Korean War, take a stroll in Jayu (Freedom) Park in Incheon, which features a monument to General MacArthur, who organized the pivotal U.N.-led Incheon landings. There's more information in the Incheon Landing Operation Memorial Hall (Yeonsu-gu Ongnyeon-dong 525, closed Mondays). In Seoul, you can visit the War Memorial of Korea (Yongsan-gu Yongsandong 1-ga 8, closed Mondays), which includes a Korean War exhibition. Admission to both is free.
Buddhist Jogyesa Temple in Seoul gives tours and offers visitor activities like lotus lantern-making. (45 Kyunji-Dong, Chongno-gu)
N Seoul tower is a landmark on a forested hill with fine views over Seoul. At the top is a restaurant and an observation deck decorated with thousands of padlocks left by lovers, inscribed with their initials.
Seoul's Bukchon heritage district showcases traditional Hanok houses. You can wander the streets, popping into cafes and museums.
Experience one of Seoul's traditional bathhouses, where you can alternate between hot and cold water and steam, relax or get a massage. Those called Jjimjilbangs offer more comfortable facilities -- even places to lounge watching TV in your pajamas. Among the most famous is Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan, which includes a rooftop cinema, computer rooms and an indoor golf range.
Once covered by a highway, Seoul's Cheonggyechon Stream is now an urban park lined with walkways and crossed by 22 bridges. At night, waterfalls and fountains are illuminated at several points. For a respite from hot weather, join it at Insa-dong, and follow the locals strolling or even paddling.
The Carved tablets at UNESCO-listed Jongmo Shrine are thought to house the spirits of dead kings and queens. Each May, the ghosts are honored with food offerings, mass ritual bowing and dancing. (Seoul-si Jongno-gu Jongno1-ga 155)
Despite being majorly reconstructed in the 1970s, the Suwon Fortress is UNESCO-listed for its faithful recreation from 18th-century records. It is found 48 km south of Seoul and runs for 5.7 km.