Seoul has five palaces located at the heart of the city, built during the last dynasty, Joseon. Starting with Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1395 and serving as the main royal palace for most of the dynasty, Gyeonghuigung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace and the one designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Changdeokgung Palace, are all in the neighborhood. Deoksugung Palace, located across from Seoul City Hall, is a famous place for visitors to watch the popular Gate Guard Changing Ceremony. There are many places where you can rent hanbok, or traditional Korean clothes, which will add essence to your visit and allow you to enter the palace at no charge at the same time.
Hanok is a unique, Korean-style house with maru (a wide wooden floor area for cooling) and ondol (an underfloor heating system). In the heart of downtown, surrounded by high-rises, Bukchon Hanok Village has survived more than 600 years. The name “Bukchon,” which literally translates as “northern village,” came about as the neighborhood lies north of Cheonggyecheon Stream and Jongno. A walk through the village alleyways will awaken your senses to the traditional beauty of this unique architectural style. Although the village is an actual neighborhood where people still live, many of the hanok homes operate as cultural centers for visitors to experience a variety of programs, such as making flower tea; playing gayageum, a traditional Korean string instrument; and muninhwa (Korean portrait painting) classes. Guided walking tours are also available. Be sure to visit the Seoul Hanok website prior to your visit.
For more traditional shopping, come see Insa-dong Street. Near Tapgol Park in Jongno, Insa-dong is a neighborhood chock full of artisan craft stores, antique shops and traditional eateries. Get an eyeful of traditional Korean art at some of the many galleries, or discover strange, yet inspiring items such as munbangsau (brush, solid ink, traditional paper and ink stone), the four essential literary tools used by Confucian scholars (seonbi) during the Joseon Dynasty, and bojagi, a traditional Korean wrapping cloth, often made in a patchwork style. A spoon and chopstick set in a beautiful case, a jewelry box decorated in traditional patterns, modernized or traditional hanbok — each of these things make for excellent souvenirs or gifts. If you tire from walking, relax at a nearby traditional tea house for a taste treat of omija, ginseng, jujube and other traditional teas.
Now it is time to bring you back to the metropolitan city of Seoul. Present Seoul is like learning dancing, quick, quick, slow and slow. It is the place to find humongous cultural complexes and relaxing spots where you can recharge the energy by detoxing your body or being connected to simple nature.