THE LOCAL: Emma
WHY YOU SHOULD TRUST HER: Emma lives in Seoul and works as a kinder-middle school teacher. She’s also a tutor on the side, and freelances for various travel magazines part time. Emma spent her first few months as an expat in Korea getting aimlessly lost around Seoul; discovering hidden gems, witnessing the dreamy views and soaking in every bit of culture shock the city threw her way.
1. Favorite Place to walk in the city?
The best place to walk around in Seoul is Myeong-dong Market! Especially at night. It’s a complete shopping, street food and sensory stimulation mecca. The entertainment and neon lights are endless. The prices are relatively affordable compared to other shopping havens like Gangnam. Even if you’re not up for browsing, you need to go just for the experience.
A notable tip from Visit Korea: “All kinds of shops and restaurants are densely located on the main street with lanes which resemble the shape of a chess board, so it’s advisable to divide Myeongdong into a few sections in your mind and explore each section separately.”
2. Best Happy Hour Spot?
Well the thing about Korea is, every hour is happy hour. If you truly want to drink like a local in Seoul, head to the nearest convenient store and pick up a bottle of rice liquor (soju) for $1USD. It doesn’t get any cheaper or happier than that. Trust me.
Looking for something other than soju? Lonely Planet published an article in August 2015 with some tips for how to drink well in Seoul. Traditional liquors like soju can have upwards of 20% alcohol, so these spirits are notorious for hangovers. Many locals drink cheap soju, but finding quality soju can tough. However, as demand rises, more and more department stores are carrying reputable spirit brands. And because of loosening regulations toward small-scale producers, craft beer has been on the rise in Seoul as well.
3. Best Brunch?
Seoul’s best brunch is at MADE, an American bistro in Sinsa that serves brunch food all day long. You heard right. ALL DAY LONG!
4. Your Recommended Sunny Day Agenda?
I would recommend a hike to any of the nearby mountains. You truly feel like you’re in authentic Korea as soon as you hit the trails. It’s quite an experience to see monks, temples and Buddhist statues on your trek up and then, upon reaching the summit, see a concrete jungle before your eyes. It’s the absolute best of both worlds.
5. Best Way to Get Around the City?
I use the subway. It can be tricky to figure out at first, but like most things, they have an app for that. Seoul is a sprawling city and traffic floods the even the most unpopular, touristy parts of the city daily. Taxis can be a headache and drivers often refuse foreigners. Your solution: the subway! It’s insanely cheap (about $1-2USD per ride) and insanely convenient. The Poor Traveler blog has some great tips about the app and understanding how Seoul’s subway system works.
TripAdvisor’s Top Five Seoul Attractions
1. The War Memorial of Korea– THUMBS UP! The history of Korea is so raw and complex. This is the best place to get a grasp of it all.
2. Gyeongbokgung Palace – Thumbs Up! Snap your pictures with the goofiest looking gate guards you ever did see.
3. Bukhansan National Park – THUMBS UP! The view at the top and the temples throughout the mountain are magical. This National Park stretches through Seoul and the province of Gyeonggi-do and experiences around five million visitors each year. In fact, it’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Visited National Park per Unit Area”.*
4. Changdeokgung Palace – Thumbs Down. I wasn’t too impressed.
5. Myeongdong Shopping Street – THUMBS UP! But prepare for the crowds.
Were any top Seoul attractions missed?
I would add the N Seoul Tower, located up in Namsan mountain where you can take in views of the entire city.
Emma’s Favorite Food in Seoul
1. Vatos Urban Tacos – Because decent Mexican food is hard to come by in Korea and this is the best.
2. Any Korean BBQ restaurant – They’re almost on every block and truly an authentic experience. The waiters grill the meat in front of you and bring you endless amounts of side dishes. Top it off with a bottle of soju and you’re practically a local. I recommend Maple Tree House in Itaewon.
3. Cat/Dog Cafes – No, they’re not what they sound like! Your house pet won’t be served with your coffee. Rather, these cafes offer a chance to lounge on some bean bags, listen to K-pop music, drink tea and snuggle with adorable cats and dogs that roam around the cafe. Kinda bizarre, but also kinda incredible.
4. Collection Cafe & Lounge – The place has it all. Hipster artwork, DJ’s spinning on weekends in the basement, cozy nooks to curl up with a book. Even if you don’t drink coffee, get there just for the good vibes.
5. The Downtowner– In Itaewon, this place has the most euphoric burgers ever! Which is saying a lot for a big Asian city (the second largest metropolitan area in the world, to be exact!)
Want to tag along with Emma on her adventures through Seoul? Check out her Instagram profile, foremmayoung_, and follow her blog, foremmayoung.com. And don’t forget to comment below with your questions or thoughts!