I was a typical tourist when I first went to Korea in the spring of 2015. I was armed with a printed color-coded excel itinerary complete with directions, budget, and photos. Pocket wifis were not a thing back then and looking back, I’m quite amazed that I survived by relying on Seoul’s free public internet.
At the time, my itinerary was a blueprint of what to do for first-timers in Korea. I went to all the palaces mentioned by travel websites, devoured the must-eat food I read in blogs, made sure to go to Nami Island, and visited Everland. I knew that there was still so much to see in this beautiful country so I told myself that I would go back one day, I just didn’t know when.
Travel is a way for me to reset. I used to go out of the country every year, but the COVID-19 pandemic ruined my travel funds. All my booked flights got cancelled and I accumulated a hefty amount of travel funds because of that. International travel was not in my plans, but an email that said that P12,000 of the fund will expire in three months pressured me into booking a flight.
Long story short, I impulsively booked a flight to Seoul.
Thankfully, I had friends who were also dying to travel then. And since it wasn't our first time, there really was no pressure to strictly follow an itinerary so long as we got to shop and eat.
If you're planning to go to Seoul soon and like us, you’ve already done all the touristy stuff during your first trip, check out this roundup of things to do as a non-first-timer in this picturesque destination.
Visit green spaces and simply admire the autumn foliage
One of the things I love about Seoul is the number of gardens and green spaces within the city—it's something that I wish we had more of in Metro Manila. We went during autumn and the trees were all in lovely shades of yellows, oranges, and reds.
We visited two places that were accessible by the subway. Seoul Forest is a 1200-hectare nature park located in Seongsu-dong, which is popular for cherry blossoms in spring and ginkgo trees in autumn. It consists of five parks and is comparable to London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park.
Another park we went to was Haneul Park, which is famous for a myriad of things during the season. If you are an Instagram freak, then this park is perfect for you. It has rolling hills of pampas grass and if you go there in October, you would be just in time to catch the Pink Muhly Grass and Kochia Broom Cypress at their peak. Sadly, we missed the peak season by a few weeks. Nevertheless, the park was still very pretty.
We didn’t want to go to the places that we went to on our prior trips to Seoul but we made an exception for Nami Island because that place is just beautiful.
Explore less mainstream, underrated gems
A friend of mine asked me if there were a lot of tourists because it seemed like there were not a lot of people based on my Instagram posts. It just so happened that we took the less touristy path.
Seongsu is a trendy neighborhood with hip cafes, one-of-a-kind stores, and alleys with mural art. Ikseondong is popular for cafes and restaurants and is a stone’s throw away from the more touristy Bukchon Hanok Village. Ihwa Mural Village is quite a challenge as it would require you to go up a hill before you can reach it. At the end of the village is Naksan Park, which has a stunning view of Seoul during sunset.
Drink your coffee like a local
One thing I noticed the moment we stepped out of our hotel was how everyone seemed to be holding a cup of iced coffee. Cafes just seemed to be everywhere and we went to a few that were very unique. Get your latte fix at a Hanok-themed café or sip some Americano inside what seemed like a dilapidated building. Seoul is definitely a place for coffee lovers.
Seoul is a mecca of skincare products and one does not visit this city without bringing home a tube of sunscreen or a pack of face masks. I was just supposed to stock up on serums and creams that I currently use, but I ended up with a massive haul. Sorry, not sorry.
Eat. A lot.
My friends and I were not sure of what we wanted to do in Seoul except for one thing: eat. I’ve always believed in that cliché statement of getting to know a country’s culture through food. If you're the type to do a food trip, Myeongdong is the perfect spot as it has a lot of cafes, restaurants, pubs, and night markets. From chicken and beer, to grilled meat, to dak galbi, to pajeon, you will never run out of things to try in this area.
I could go on and on about how wonderful Seoul is but one must really go there and fully experience it. But I can assure you, Seoul is one city that is definitely worth a second, third, or maybe even a fourth visit.