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Explore East Asia in Seoul, South Korea

South Korea is a unique country that many Americans associate with its complicated past and difficult neighbor to the north. If you’re considering a trip to Asia, visit Seoul to experience the country beyond the headlines and immerse yourself in its history, vibrant pop culture and delicious food.

Seoul South KoreaWhat to do

When you’re in Seoul, you can choose to see the city’s modern features or its more historic attractions. No matter which you opt for, you should definitely take advantage of the large shopping markets in the city. Namdaemun Market houses over 10,000 stores carrying products from modern essentials to more traditional goods, like traditional medicine and Korean snack foods. If you’re not afraid to get a bit smelly, Culture Trip recommends heading to the Noryangjin Fish Wholesale Market early in the morning for the seafood auction and see the delicacies sold by more than 700 vendors.

To learn more about South Korea’s past, add the Bukchon Hanok Village to your list of things to see. This northern neighborhood is home to hundreds of traditional hanok houses, which date back to the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty in the late 14th century. While many remain private homes, several of them are now cultural centers, craft workshops, restaurants, teahouses or accommodations for travelers. After you walk the village, head over to the nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace. The palace site also dates back to the early Joseon period, and has weathered several foreign occupations and changing dynasties. The Republic of Korea has been restoring the palace site since the 1990s, and several travel experts revere it as one of the finest examples of Korean architecture in the area.

If history isn’t your favorite thing, or you’re traveling with children, Seoul has a lot to offer. U.S. News and World Report recommends Lotte World, a cute indoor amusement park. It has roller coasters for thrill seekers alongside more kid-friendly rides. Like America’s Disney World, Lotte World can get crowded at peak times, so do your research before you head into the park to save yourself time waiting in lines. Reviewers on TripAdvisor also recommend Myeongdong NANTA Show for families. The longest-running show in Seoul follows a catering crew as they prepare for a wedding, with kitchen tools becoming musical instruments and a lot of dancing.

Where to eat

There are many great restaurants in Seoul with menus and budgets for all of your dietary needs. If you’re looking for traditional Korean fare, consider Byeokjae Galbi. According to AFAR’s local Seoul expert Leslie Patrick, this is an excellent restaurant for Korean beef grilled on the bone, called galbi. Byeokjae Galbi is very picky when it comes to its meat, only buying Hanu beef from cows that live their lives surrounded by classical music. The chef also has his own secret sauce that takes an already delicious dish and makes it something you’ll dream about for years to come.

For something a bit more upscale, consider Woonsan in the basement of the Seoul Finance Center. It might be in a basement, but this restaurant has a 30-year legacy of serving some of the richest visitors to Korea, including royalty. Its menu focuses on Gaeseong cuisine, including Korean jeon pancakes, mung bean jelly and stir-fried abalone.

Seoul is truly a unique destination in Asia, full of great flavors and a culture all about the future without forgetting its roots. Think about visiting it the next time you cross the Pacific Ocean.

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