With a sprinkling of history mixed in with modern day living and huge skyscrapers Seoul in South Korea really is a fascinating spot to visit. And with such friendly natives, it is a prime place to take the children and introduce them to some very different cultures. They will mesmerized by the strange, but exotic and sweet tasting food and the enticing sounds and smells in a city which literally doesn’t stop. And if that doesn’t grab them, then the glamorous pop culture will!
Here’s our family friendly guide on what not to miss:
Cooking with Kids
Sword in one hand and a lettuce in the other and before you know it, the vegetable has been shredded and bits of salad are flying all over the theatre. Welcome to The Nanta Cooking Show, which is so successful, it plays to packed audiences three times a day. It first hit the headlines in 1997 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and is a non verbal performance which mixes with Korea’s traditional Samulnori rhythm and is full of energy and fun.
The 90 minute show is based on the story of chefs preparing for a royal wedding. They need to make a cake and fast. But in between the cooking, they like to try out some acrobatics and some very impressive knife skills. It’s a fabulous show to watch and you’ll all be hooked the whole way through.
Top Tip: Audience participation is vital, so if you are shy or don’t want vegetables flying your way, sit in the middle! Visit Nanta for more information
K Pop Culture
In 2012 the Gangnam style song became a worldwide sensation as it became the most ever watched You Tube video with one billion hits and sent Korea’s K Pop Culture global. Centerd on the Gangnam district and its wealthy inhabitants, it really brought K Pop to the world’s attention and now Seoul pays homage to the bands and singers through a museum, where you can dress up and have your photos taken with cardboard cut outs of the stars. There are videos of the top bands and a hand “walk of fame’’.
And if you really love them, you can walk down K Star Road where there are human scale bear dolls bearing famous bands names. Also not to miss in the neighbouring COEX shopping centre (the largest in Asia) is the incredible Starfield library, opened in 2017 and which is literally a work of art with book towers created to look like paintings, including a massive winter scene. Visit Starfield for more information.
Top Tip: Enter from the top staircase to see the library in all its glory.
Korea’s answer to Disney is a floating island in the middle of Seokchon Lake in the Songpa-gu district. Dominated by Seoul’s highest skyscraper, Lotte Tower, where the views of the city are out of this world, especially at night, this is a great place to let off steam. The tower is shaped like a glass needle and there are 123 floors to explore. Out in Lotte World, there are amusement rides for all ages to enjoy including a fast moving jack in the box and a huge swinging boat. Visit Adventure Lotteworld for more information.
Top Tip: Lotte World is open until late and prices and crowds drop off after 4 p.m. giving you plenty of time to have some fun.
Most of the museums (and there are hundreds) are free of charge. If you want to show your children the history of Seoul, then visits to the once regal quarters of Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung are a must. Gyeonbokgung, known as the Palace of Shining Happiness served as the Royal residence until it was burned down by the invading Japanese in 1952. It was rebuilt 300 years later and today the buildings are replicas to give tourists a chance to see how life was. www.royalpalace.go.kr
The most beautiful of Seoul’s four palaces is the World Heritage listed Changdeokgung built in the early 15th century. It’s main attraction is the Secret Garden which can only be visited via a special tour. Once entered, you find yourself in an area of tranquillity with beautiful old fashioned buildings surrounded by a square lily pond. Visit Cog for more information
Bukchon is a wonderful place to see the hanok (wooden homes) which meander round the neighbourhoods and give a taste of Seoul’s past and the upmarket Insa-dong neighbourhood is bursting with traditional art and antique shops and some of the city’s oldest dumpling and noodle restaurants and tea houses. www.bukchon.seoul.go.kr
Top Tip: The changing of the guards at Gyeonbokgung is on the hour daily, weather permitting and is a colourful affair.
Get back to Nature
Each spring marks the Cherry Blossom Festival at venues around the city. One of the best is at Seokchon Lake in the Songpa-gu district. You can compete with all the Koreans as they take selfies under the avenue of spectacular pink, purple and white blossoms. The festival is celebrated with everything connected to the blossom from cherry blossom coke to sweet flavoured pink Pocky sticks. Visit I Visit Korea for more information.
Koreans like to get out and about and the tranquil Seoul Forest is a nice spot to explore. A hunting ground in Joeson times, it’s now a haven for deers, butterflies, trees and also has an impressive line up of sculptures all weird and wonderful, including a skyscraper picnic table. www.seoulforest.or.kr
Top Tip: Seoul Forest is wide and open and the best way of exploring is using a tourist bike, available to hire at the entrance, but you will need ID to buy.
In 1988 Seoul was the venue for the Olympics and the park is still used today for events. Next door to it is Jasmil Baseball Stadium. Koreans go crazy for this sport and you will find a game on nearly every night at the city’s three venues with 10 teams to choose from.
Tickets are on sale just before the game and it’s a real experience, especially at the rowdy Jasmil, even if you don’t understand the rules. Koreans use it as a social event and they really get into the party spirit donning their team’s colours and waving inflatables. It’s a chance to enjoy some fried chicken and a beer or two. eng.koreabaseball.com
Top Tip: Koreans love to join in the cheerleading at games and its incredible to see the passion they have for their teams as they belt out their favourite songs, before, during and after the game.
The Myeong-dong district comes to life at night when the streets become packed with traders selling everything from mobile phone pop sockets to kebabs and bubble tea. It’s so much fun trying out the different dishes on offer with the Tornado potato stacks a particular challenge!
Namdaemun Market is the largest of its type in South Korea and it’s a maze of stalls selling street food, clothing, handicrafts and accessories and if you are not careful, you could end up exploring all day there. And fish lovers will adore the Noryangin Fish Market, which has been going since 1927 and is open 24 hours a day, selling every type of fish you could imagine. www.theseoulguide.com/sights/markets-and-shopping
Top Tip: The markets are so large, it’s easy to get lost. But each market has its own tourist police to help you along.
Seoul has lots of bridges to help ease the traffic problems. Banpo Bridge or Rainbow Bridge as it is affectionately called is a tourist attraction. Every half an hour or so, coloured water shoots out of one side of the bridge to create a rainbow of colour. At the south end of the bridge, there are three floating islands with futuristic buildings housing food malls and arcades. Somesevit
Top Tip: This bridge comes alive at night and is a pretty sight. There is also a night market on for social butterflies.
North and South Korea is split into two and in the middle is a four kilometre wide, 240 km long buffer known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Lined on both sides by tank traps, electrified fences, land mines and soldiers ready to attack, there is a scary air about the place. But it is also a tourist trap and a fascinating half day tour run by VVip travel will see you taking in all the history and getting a glimpse of life in North Korea, abeit a safe distance away using binoculars.
Top Tip: These tours can see thousands of visitors going at the same time, which can be particularly challenging as you run down the underground tunnel leading to North Korea. Take an early morning tour to beat the crowds.
One of the best things to do in Seoul is to try out the food and drink. The Koreans like their sweet foods and the packaging always follows their sense of “being happy’’ resulting in some very cute crisp packets containing some challenging flavours like ice cream and seaweed. Classic drinks include grape soda and milky juice for the young ones and rice wine and of course green tea, which is also a favourite ingredient to put in cakes too. Dishes to try include kimchi (fermented vegetables), bibimbap (rice with an egg usually on top), bulgogi (marinated barbecue meat) and kimbap rolls (basically sushi, which come in handy packaging, so you can eat on the go).
Top Tip: The Hongdae district is where the cool hipster university kids hang out and is full of powder puff cafes and bars.
Getting the best out of your trip
Travelling around Seoul can be a bit of a nightmare at the beginning until you understand the subway system and then you are away. A fast, well organised and always on time service will zoom you round the city. The best place to look for all your accommodation, attractions and places to eat and drink needs is the Korean Tourism Organisation visit Go Korea
Top Tip: The first time you take a subway, listen out for the arrival of the train as it is always accompanied by a trumpet fanfare!