Seoul’s four seasons are extreme to say the least. Winter kicks off the year in a blustery, long freeze that coats the city in ice and snow. The air is dry, and temperatures are unforgiving, so if you book flights to Seoul during the cold spell between December and February, be sure to pack layers – and lots of them. Spring warms up a bit, happily welcoming the sun and leaving behind the frigid marathon. Summer sun scorches the sidewalks (and skin, so bring SPF!) and temperatures can rise up over 35 degrees Celsius. Autumn boasts bright fall foliage and more tolerable temperatures, and has long been known as the prettiest time to travel to Seoul.
Getting around Korea
Taxis are pretty much the way to go when you travel to Seoul, even though some drivers seem to be roller coaster operators. Regular taxis are easy for short trips around the city, especially because they are cheaper than the bus, and if you’re travelling with a few other people, it makes sense. Deluxe taxis (mobeom) are black with a yellow stripe. Very few drivers speak English, but there are easy-to-use interpretations services that help you communicate with them. The system works by speaking to an interpreter through a phone in English, who then talks to the driver in Korean.
Subways are fast and cheap as well, as are buses. Most of them run from very early in the morning to midnight, and some even later. Route maps are available in English, although drivers mostly speak Korean.
Korea insider information
Bosingak: This part of town on Jongno (Bell Street) is famous because it was the city’s main hub during the Joseon period. Here, a modern version of the city bell is rung every New Year, fulfilling the same tradition since 1468. If you were to travel to Seoul back then, you’d hear the bell often during the day. It used to ring 28 times at night to signal the city-wide curfew, and 33 times in the day (starting at 4 a.m.) to represent the 33 heavens of Buddhism. Fortunately, it now just rings once a year, and people all over the city can sleep a little longer.
Children’s Grand Park: If you’re visiting Seoul with the kids, then there’s no better place to take them than the Children’s Grand Park. Grab a free map at the entrance, and stroll all along the beautiful paths lined with flower beds and fountains. As you enter the zoo part of the park, you and your kids will be able to get close to lions, tigers, elephants and bears. A glass house with a botanical garden inside is filled with bold colours, rare breeds, and delicate flowers that make perfect photos. On one end, cacti reach almost to the ceiling, and throughout the rest, a tropical jungle and bonsai trees give way to the small folk museum upstairs.
Pucca Funny Love: Within minutes of stepping off your Seoul flight, you’ll see her. She’s been called the “biggest success story in the Korean character industry.” Donned in a red dress and spiked black pig tails, the young cartoon character, 10-year-old Pucca Funny Love, seems to be plastered all over the country, selling fast food, boosting promotions on billboards, and finding a home on bumper stickers. Books, DVDs, and episodes of her “funny love story” with 12-year old cartoon ninja, Garu, seem to sell like hotcakes. She’s even making her way into fashion by bridging with United Colors of Benetton to make a line for tweens. Her fame is said to be mounting like that of Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse, and with her foot in the door all over Asia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, she is destined for fame.
National Museum of Korea: History tells the tale of a place, so when you travel to Seoul, make sure that you spend some quality time in the National Museum of Korea. The modern building, splashed everywhere with gleaming marble, uses natural light to show off some of Korea’s most treasured ancient artefacts. It took almost eight years to construct, but the building stands as a beautiful tribute to the country’s foundation. Art from Korea, Japan, China, and Southeast Asia are displayed within context of each other, so you can absorb the magnitude of how art exists within the continent. The reflecting pool at its entrance, the 800-seat Yong Dragon theatre, and the incredible Buddhist pagodas are all part of the glamorous serenity that you experience here.