Officially called Seoul Special City, Seoul is the capital and the biggest city of South Korea. Considered a megacity, it has a recorded population of more than 10 million. The Seoul National Capital Area, the world’s second largest metropolitan area reported with more than 25 million residents, comprises the Gyenonggi province and the surrounding Incheon metropolis. It is estimated that one in every four South Koreans lives in Seoul, half of which living in the metropolitan area, and with more than 270,000 international inhabitants.
Founded in 18 BCE and gracefully nestled on the Han River, Seoul has played significant national roles for more than 2,000 years. Today, the city belongs to the list of leading cities worldwide, having been ranked the seventh in the 2011 Global Power City Index and the eighth in the 2012 Global Cities Index. Forbes named the city as the world’s sixth most economically influential metropolis. It is also among the world’s top 10 commercial and financial centers, where many major multinational companies including Hyundai-Kia, LG, and Samsung are headquartered. And in 2011, Japanese, Thai, and Chinese tourists voted the city as their top travel destination.
Probing the City’s Economy
Through the years Seoul has been considered as one of the country’s major business hubs as it serves as home to multinational conglomerates including Hyundai, Samsung, and LG. And despite the city only accounting for a mere 0.6 of South Korea’s total land area, it generates more than a fourth of the country’s GDP. Finance wise, Seoul serves home to many international companies and bank, which includes HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, ING Bank, Citigroup, as well as the Korea Exchange Bank. The city likewise provides free wifi access in most of the outdoor spaces, a $44 million project that promises Internet access to both locals and visitors alike by the year 2015.
Architecture wise, Joseon Dynasty city or the downtown area is the traditional heart of the city. Here, one will find corporate centers, government offices, hotels and palaces, as well as markets. Modern architectural landmarks in the city include the Tower Palace, the World Trade Center, the N Seoul Tower, and the Korea Finance Building. And because of the notable new buildings and the vast array of skyscrapers that the city boasts of, Seoul was named the World Design Capital in 2010.
Reviewing the City’s Culture
Getting in and around the city is no daunting task with the vast transportation options that it has to offer. One can get in Seoul by plane, by bus, by train, and by car and get around the city by bus, by subway, by cab, by bicycle, and even on foot.
There’s so much to do in the city to experience its culture. The city is home to hundreds of palaces, museums, amusement parks, and temples and shrines that no tourist should miss visiting. Housing more than 150,000 artifacts, the National Museum of Korea is the most symbolic of all South Korean museums. The War Memorial offers visitors an emotional as well as educational experience on the various wars in which Korea was part of. Gyeongbok-gung, Joseon Dynasty’s first palace, was the grandest and served as the throne of power for many centuries before it was destroyed by the 1592 and 1910 Japanese invasions. A museum, some statues, and a mausoleum can be seen within the 4.19 Memorial Cemetery, where 224 people killed during the April 19 movement are buried, and which eventually became the country’s national cemetery. Parks around the city include the Namsan Park, Boramae Park, Olympic Park, and the Yangjae Citizen's Forest.
Tourists and locals alike love to visit the Lotte World, which is the world’s biggest indoor amusement park, and the Everland, which is Korea’s version of Disneyland. For those who wish to test their luck and gamble, there is the Seven Luck Casino as well as the Seoul Racetrack for the horse racing fanatics.
Shopaholics will be delighted to make great buys at Namdaemun, the country’s largest traditional street market; Yongsan Electronics Market, for electronic finds; Ewha Women's University, for goods geared towards the modern young women; and the Techno Mart, for a great selection of high-tech products. And of course, for one’s fashion shopping needs, Myeongdong is the best and largest fashion shopping area.
Seoul cuisine is popular for its variety and unparalleled elegance. Exquisite cuisine can be delightfully experienced in Seoul, Jeonju, and Gaeseong. And since the city served as the capital of the early Joseon dynasty for more than 500 years, Seoul cuisine still strongly reflects the dynasty’s cooking style. Among the most popular restaurants and food places in the city that serves great options of American, Japanese, Italian, and local cuisine are Everest, Pattaya, Smokey Saloon, Richard Copycat’s All-American Diner, Pizza Hill, Jacoby’s, Sadongmyenok, Ala-Too Café, and The Frypan, just to name a few.