Audrey Bergner was born in Canada, raised in Argentina, and inexplicably found herself living in Seoul. During her time there she mastered the art of singing at a noraebang, reading hangul, and grilling pork belly at the table. Here are a few of Audrey’s favorite things about the South Korean capital. Add your own two cents by leaving a comment.

Catch up with Audrey on the That Backpacker blog and on Twitter at @thatbackpacker.

Seoul is My City

The frenetic scene at Namdaemun Market. (Photograph by Emmanuel Dyan, Flickr)

The frenetic scene at Namdaemun Market. (Photograph by Emmanuel Dyan, Flickr)

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is the Gyeongbokgung Palace. There are five grand palaces in the city, and Gyeongbokgung, which literally means “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven,” is the most impressive of them all.

Late spring is the best time to visit my city because there are plenty of festivals happening and the streets are decorated with paper lanterns in anticipation of Buddha’s birthday.

You can see my city best from Building 63; it’s one of the tallest skyscrapers in Seoul.

Locals know to skip Times Square (one of the biggest malls in the city) and check out Namdaemun Market (the largest and oldest outdoor market in the country) instead. 

Ssamziegil in Insa-dong is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs.

In the past, notable people like Psy have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is the National Museum of Korea because it is the largest museum in the country and tracks the nation’s history from ancient days to modern times.

Visit the Korean Folk Village in the city of Yongin.  (Photograph by Edward N. Johnson, U.S. Army Photos/Flickr)

Visit the Korean Folk Village in the city of Yongin. (Photograph by Edward N. Johnson, U.S. Army Photos/Flickr)

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that the subway system may look intimidating, but it’s easy to navigate since all the stations are labeled in English.

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is along the Han River. You can rent bicycles and cycle the length of the river; there are plenty of food stands for breaks along the way.

My city really knows how to celebrate the Lotus Lantern Festival because it honors Buddha’s birthday. You’ll see monks, drummers, dancers, traditional performers, and rice paper floats parading through the city.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they are wearing matching couple outfits.

For a fancy night out, I go to Gangnam. This is one of the most affluent parts of the city and there are plenty of high-end bars and restaurants to choose from.

Just outside my city, you can visit the Korean Folk Village which showcases life as it was centuries ago. You can admire traditional architecture, attend handicrafts workshops, and watch acrobatic performances.

My city is known for being very clean and organized, but it’s really difficult to find a garbage can. Ironic?

Seoul's signature drink and dish: Soju and kimchi. (Photograph by Hyunwoo Sun, Flickr)

Seoul’s signature drink and dish: Soju and kimchi. (Photograph by Hyunwoo Sun, Flickr)

The best outdoor market in my city is Namdaemun Market. It’s always buzzing with activity no matter the time of day, and it has a long history in the city!

Caffe Bene is my favorite place to grab breakfast (they serve the best walnut waffles with green tea gelato!), and the food stalls in Myeongdong are the spot for late-night eats. I recommend the pajeon (파전), which is best compared to a pancake with lots of green onions.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Chincha.

My city’s biggest sports event is baseball. Watch it at Jamsil Baseball Stadium.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I eat kimchi dumplings for lunch at Kimbap Cheonguk (김밥천국) for $2.

To escape the crowds, I go to Jogyesa Temple. This Buddhist temple is located in the heart of Seoul, but once you set foot inside it’s easy to forget you are in a city.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Psy because it is quirky yet charming — and has the potential to become an overnight sensation.

Gyeongbokgung Palace is one of five "grand palaces" built by the Joseon Dynasty.  (Photograph by Wilson Loo Kok Wee, Flickr)

Gyeongbokgung Palace is one of five “grand palaces” built by the Joseon Dynasty. (Photograph by Wilson Loo Kok Wee, Flickr)

The dish that represents my city best is samgyeopsal (fatty pieces of pork that you cut with scissors and then grill at your table), and soju (a distilled rice beverage) is my city’s signature drink. (These are also very representative of the country in general.)

Gyeongbokgung is my favorite building in town because the palace grounds showcase some of the most beautiful architecture in South Korea.

The most random thing about my city is the number of English teachers it attracts every year.

Club FF is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out any of the clubs in Hongdae on “club day,” where once a month you get full access to 20+ clubs for a mere 15,000 won.

Women hiking Namsan Park in high heels could only happen in my city.

In the spring you should see the cherry blossoms in bloom. Yeouido Park holds a Spring Flower Festival that draws large crowds with cameras in hand.

In the summer you should avoid the monsoon rains and dizzying heat by visiting the COEX Mall. It just so happens to be the largest underground shopping center in Asia, home to restaurants, a movie theater, and an aquarium.

A creative display at the 2009 Yeouido flower festival. (Photograph by Offal Goat, Flickr)

A creative display at the 2009 Yeouido flower festival. (Photograph by Offal Goat, Flickr)

In the fall you should climb Namsan with your sweetheart and admire the changing foliage. Once on top of the mountain you can “lock” your love on the wall, where thousands of other couples have placed “love locks.”

In the winter you should go ice skating in front of Seoul City Hall. The plaza is turned into a giant skating rink and colorful lights illuminate the ice.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss Lotte World. This is a fun theme park with indoor and outdoor rides!

The best book about my city is likely not translated into English, so the next best thing is “Frommer’s Seoul Day by Day.”

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Psy’s “Gangnam Style.”

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because Seoul has surprises around every corner and its quirks will put a smile on your face.

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Comments

  1. Dariece @GoatsOnTheRoad
    China
    June 26, 2013, 11:55 pm

    I love this post!
    Being an expat really gives you a local’s perspective on a place. You are able to find the hidden gems among the usual touristy places.

    I love how you said that you know someone is from your city when they are wearing matching outfits! They do that here in China as well. haha. I also imagine that Gagnam became extremely popular after that song came out!

    Cheers for a great post :)

  2. Maria
    http:www.acceleratedstall.com
    June 27, 2013, 7:27 am

    Wonderful interview turned fantastic resource for anyone planning to visit Seoul. Audrey offers such great tips on must do/see/eat. Love her blog, That Backpacker – always fun posts and photos there to learn, indulge and get your imagination charged.

  3. Phyllis
    USA
    July 17, 2013, 9:13 am

    I love this post! I visited Seoul two times the past year, once in June and in February. I got to visit some of the places you listed and others just made me smile-the matching outfits and women in high heels. Seoul is a beautiful city to visit.

  4. Matt
    reformatt.com
    September 9, 2013, 3:41 pm

    Great article. I enjoyed reading it! I had an absolute blast in Seoul and created a small compilation video: http://www.reformatt.com/blog/seoul