I have visited so many different places in the short amount of time I have been in Seoul it is hard to keep track of, but my top three attractions so far are the Seoul Grand Park Zoo, Gyeongbokgung Palace, and the city of Paju.
1. Seoul Grand Park Zoo
I really enjoyed my trip to the zoo because it is located inside Seoul Grand Park, making your walk to the zoo entrance scenic and serene. In the United States, I am used to zoos being located in the middle of big cities, so it was a welcomed change to visit a zoo away from the city and surrounded by nature. The zoo itself is massive, with over 3,400 animals and 360 different species. They have everyone’s favorites such as lions, zebras, elephants, etc., as well as species indigenous to South Korea such as gray wolves and Eurasian river otters, both of which I have never seen in person. In addition to traditional and indigenous animals, the zoo also boasts a wide range of exotic animals such as yellow-throated martens, Malayan sun bears, South American tapirs, two-toed sloths, and Przewalski’s wild horses.
It felt surreal being able to see these animals in person and I am really glad I got the chance! Another aspect of the zoo that sets it apart from zoos in the United States is the number of animals. For example, there were three different tiger habitats and six separate seal tanks. Also, most habitats were large enough to house multiple animals of the same species. Back home, I am only used to seeing one habitat per species that houses only one or two animals. Overall, the Seoul Grand Park Zoo has a lot to offer, and I highly recommend setting aside an afternoon to go visit the animals and park itself.
2. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Another of my favorite places I have visited is Gyeongbokgung Palace. Seoul has five grand palaces, but this specific palace is the most impressive in my opinion. Also, Gyeongbokgung contains a lot of history as it was built in 1395 and was the Joseon dynasty’s main royal palace. While walking around the palace grounds, I got to learn about its history and the purposes of the buildings within its walls, which helped me learn more about Korea’s culture. Additionally, I was amazed by the uniformity of the architecture and the amount of detail that went into all of the painted decorations within the palace, which made it even more impressive.
However, the most special aspect of Gyeongbokgung in my opinion is that it is located in City Hall, the heart of Seoul. Seeing the modern buildings surrounding the palace walls created an interesting juxtaposition of old and new, depicting how important preserving history and culture is in Korea.
3. City of Paju
My final favorite place I have visited is the city of Paju, which is located just south of the 38th parallel and full of character and charm. Within Paju, I visited Provence Village and Heyri Art Village. Provence Village was a square filled with brightly painted boutiques, bakeries, and cafes while Heyri Art Village was comprised of urban and modern buildings that housed restaurants, flea markets, and galleries. I really enjoyed walking around both of these villages because I had not seen anything like this in Seoul and it was nice to take a break from fast-paced city life for a day. Another aspect of Paju that makes it special is its location in relation to the 38th parallel. While traveling to the city, I passed the barbed-wire lined Imjingang River, and on the river’s opposite side was North Korea. I found it surreal that North Korea was just across the river and while taking pictures of the painted buildings of Provence Village, I could see its ominous mountains looming in the background.