Exploring Seoul, South Korea: Our Top Picks

Exploring Seoul, South Korea: Our Top Picks

Seoul, South Korea is a huge, vibrant city that is home to more than ten million people. With a population that size, it’s no surprise that there are endless things you can do while vacationing there. From its historic palaces, serene gardens, vibrant shops, incredible food, and some of Asia’s coolest night spots, Seoul has pretty much everything you could want and much more you never knew about.

In no particular order, here is a selection of some attractions you should check out if you’re visiting South Korea’s largest city!

Namsan Park

Once the site of a protective city wall, Namsan Park is famous for its incredible city views of Seoul. Palgakjeong viewing pavilion is a free spot to appreciate the view, but it’s definitely worth it to buy a ticket to the viewing platform of N Seoul Tower. At 1,500 feet in the air, the views are breathtaking, and lovestruck couples can attach padlocks to the fence to celebrate their love. On Saturdays, you can stay on the observation deck until midnight, and the night views are incredible. Bring a jacket, it can get windy at the top! If you feel like a treat, there’s also a restaurant in the rotating platform at the very top of the tower.  

Exploring Seoul, South Korea Our Top Picks

Changdeokgung Palace

Though this palace isn’t the largest one in Seoul, it’s my personal favourite for its incredible landscaping and architecture. As Korea’s longest, continually inhabited palace, and its most intact royal residence, Changdeokgung has well earned its UNESCO World Heritage Status.

Aside from the stunning, colourful architecture, the real treat at this palace is the incredible “Secret Garden” that takes up about 2/3 of the property. Traditionally reserved exclusively for the monarch, visitors can now take guided tours of the garden, which features a model nobleman’s home, some incredible scenery, fountains, and even a lotus pool!

The Secret Garden tour and the palace tour require two separate tickets, but they’re inexpensive and well worth the price. English tours run Tuesday through Saturday, and the palace is closed on Mondays.

Exploring Seoul, South Korea Our Top Picks

Hongdae

If you want a taste of Korean youth culture, Hongdae is the neighbourhood for you. Located around Hongik University, this area is a great place for tourists to stay because of its incredible night life, street food, and art. If you’re a night owl, Hongdae is one of the best places to go! Hongdae’s “Club Day” on the last Friday of each month gets you access to the hottest area clubs and music venues for around $14 USD, and you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to restaurants.

But if you’re looking for something a little less festive, don’t miss the weekend markets near the university on Sunday. Hongdae’s student-heavy population means shops here are a bit cheaper than the rest of Seoul on average.

Exploring Seoul, South Korea Our Top Picks (3)

Insa-Dong

This neighbourhood is the place to be if you’re hunting for traditional Korean goods. Tea, ceramics, calligraphy, and wooden carvings are all popular wares, making this area a perfect place to hunt for souvenirs and local art. Plus, the whole neighbourhood is picture-perfect and full of windy, adorable alleys lined with street merchants, musicians, and street performers adding a lively energy. Come on weekends to experience the area without any vehicle traffic, and you can almost imagine you’re back in the Joseon Dynasty! Weekends do tend to be a bit more crowded, so for a more laid-back experience, come on a weekday.

Exploring Seoul, South Korea Our Top Picks (4)

Bukchon Hanok Village

To get a glimpse at the traditional style of a Korean home (called a hanok), Bukchon is a beautiful neighbourhood to check out. Located in the hilly north-central area of Seoul, Bukchon Village is comprised of around nine hundred privately-owned hanoks that date back to the Joseon Dynasty. Visiting here is free, though you can stop into some of the hanoks that have been converted into coffee shops or art galleries to take a look inside! Additionally, you can rent a hanok as your home base while you travel.

The area is very hilly, so wear walking shoes and expect to be on your feet for a while. Since it is also a neighbourhood where people actually live, remember to obey noise rules and be respectful of the people who live there.

Exploring Seoul, South Korea Our Top Picks

Cat Cafes

Korea started the cat cafe trend, so you definitely shouldn’t miss visiting one! Visitors to cat cafes can hang out with a small herd of beautiful, friendly cats while drinking coffee or tea. For sanitary purposes, you sanitize your hands upon entering and you usually take your shoes off and replace them with slippers. Then you order your drink or food and take it into the cat section!

You can hang out with the cats as long as you like, and the owners and workers are usually characters who have a lot of passion for their feline friends, so it’s a great place to people-watch. And cat-watch.

Cat cafes are a great place to rest on a busy trip. Who wouldn’t feel relaxed with a cat on their lap and a hot drink?

There are a ton in Seoul, but here are a few recommendations:

  • Y Cat Café: 3F, 358-125, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, Korea
  • Café Café MyeongDong : 8-5 Myeongdong 8-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Exploring Seoul, South Korea Our Top Picks

Jongmyo Shrine

Built in the 14th century, this incredibly well-preserved Confucian royal shrine was once the worship place for the Joseon Dynasty rulers. The original temple was destroyed during the 16th century Japanese invasion, but the 17th century rebuilt temple still stands today. The main shrine and the Hall of Eternal Peace are the notable buildings on the site, and every year the Jongmyo Jerye ritual attracts huge crowds to honour rulers of the Joseon dynasty.

Except on Saturdays, you can only visit the site through a guided tour, so remember to think ahead. A tour is really the way to experience this place; the peaceful atmosphere and restrained decorations might make wandering around here without any context a little dull.

Still, the shrine is incredibly beautiful and relaxing in and of itself, so it’s worth a visit for the peaceful atmosphere alone.

Exploring Seoul, South Korea Our Top Picks

Travel Preferences: Which Vacation Styles Are Your Favorites?

Travel Preferences: Which Vacation Styles Are Your Favorites?

Here at the Loftus Guides, we don’t like to generalize. From our experience, one size rarely fits all. Really, one size doesn’t even fit most. Everyone’s different, and whether we’re talking about your choice of dinner or your vacation destination, you shouldn’t put yourself in a box. And the same goes for travel preferences: everyone has their very own. This is the beauty of travel – to expand your horizons and experience a trip that you will remember for a lifetime.  

Choose a travel style that suits your preferences, passions and habits, and you’ll find your experience to be more relaxed, personal, and experiential. Here are some different travel styles you should consider! Which one suits you the best?

Small Group Travel

For some, touring around the world on a guided tour is the ideal way to travel. With built in structure and a whole new set of like-minded fellow travellers to get to know, small group tours are intimate but still highly social.

Great for: People who enjoy structure but aren’t afraid to make new friends!

Outdoor Travel

If you love getting lost in the majesty of nature (but hopefully not on the trail), you may be an environment-oriented traveller! This type of touring will take you to some of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights and remind you of your place in the ecosystem of our planet. These trips range from the rustic hiking tours across mountains and plains, to more easygoing trips that bring you to more easily accessible destinations.

Great for: People who love nature and own decent hiking boots.

outdoor travel

Thrill Hunter

If you love a good adventure, you may be among those who choose to approach their vacations as experimentation in the extraordinary. Why have an ordinary vacation when you can have a once in a lifetime experience? Sky diving, cliff jumping, zip lining, you name it, travelling for adventure is a surefire way to make memories you’ll never forget.

Great for: People who will try anything once and have an open mind!

cliff diving

City Stays

Urban environments are home to some of the best food, the coolest art, and the most diverse culture. You can have access to a huge range of activities without having to move hotels all the time. Galleries one day, flea markets the next; city touring is a great way to get an energetic sampling of everything.  

Great for: People who have a good grasp of public transport, a love of culture, and a thick skin.

Faith Based Exploration

For the modern pilgrim, visiting sites of religious importance can be an experience that touches every part of their life. Touring temples, churches, and religious historical sites can bring your faith to life and make your spirituality even richer and more personal.

Great for: People whwant to experience a religion with every sense they have!

faith-based travel

Volunteer-based

If you have a civic-minded heart, travelling to a destination and supporting a local community with sustainable volunteer work can combine a love of people with a love of seeing the world! Trips that focus on community development and assisting underserved communities can change you forever.

Great for: People who aren’t afraid to put their back into helping others.

Share with us which type (or types) or traveller you are!

5 Mystery Novels To Get You in the Mood to Travel

5 Mystery Novels To Get You in the Mood to Travel

Mystery novels make wonderful travel companions.

Compact and efficient, mysteries are often incredibly atmospheric and fun, while featuring a cast of intelligent and well-spoken characters who really bring a particular place or setting to life.

Besides giving you a taste of intrigue and suspense, mysteries often feature exotic locations, and the hi-jinks and intrigue of the story open your imagination to some of the world’s most fantastic settings.

If you’re going on a trip, we recommend picking up some of these fantastic books to take along, especially because some of them highlight Loftus Guide trip destinations! Without further ado, here are 5 of our favorite travel mystery novels: stories that are sure to give you the urge to wander…

For the Wine-Country Enthusiast

Pinot Envy (A Woody Robins Wine Mystery)

The protagonist of this story is a wine-enthusiast with a love of adventure hired by a Napa Valley winery owner to hunt down a missing bottle of red burgundy. The case quickly turns into more than just a tale of missing wine as the cast of characters delves into the beautiful Napa countryside to hunt down the wine before it’s too late.

This story is full of details about wine, the Napa area, and the wine making process. If you want to learn about wine, mystery solving, and the history of vineyards, this book is for you. You’ll be itching to get out to California for a winery tour!

For the French Gourmand

A Taste for Vengeance (A Bruno, Chief of Police novel)

Starring the Police Chief of the Dordogne village of St. Denis, this story opens with a missing British tourist and Chief Bruno’s quest to find her. The search leads readers through the beautiful Dordogne region of France in quest of the culprit, and there’s plenty of description of the setting and, importantly, the food!

If you’ve got an urge to explore the idyllic French countryside with a smooth-talking Frenchman as your guide, A Taste For Vengeance is your best bet! Fine wine, international mystery, a pregnant Rugby player, this story has something for any reader.

 

For the Wine AND Food Enthusiast:

Treachery in Bordeaux (The Winemaker Detective Series Book 1)

In this blend of gastronomy and mystery, Benjamin Cooker and his sidekick Virgile investigate potential sabotage at the prestigious grand cru Moniales Haut-Brion wine estate. In the course of the mystery, readers get acquainted with the city and France’s wine region as the heroes tap into the underworld of a global luxury industry.

Perfect for wine enthusiasts who want a romp through France’s Bordeaux region, this story is a narrative treat that blends mystery, wine, and food in one dark and fun tale.

 

For the History Buff

The Templars’ Last Secret (A Bruno, Chief of Police novel)

St. Denis’ Chief of Police returns for a second and just as thrilling mystery, this time looking into a connection between the body of a woman found at the base of the ruins of the Château de Commarque, a stronghold of the Knights Templar, and the underground labyrinth beneath it.

If you like ancient treasures, international mysteries, and historical connections to mysteries of the past, you can’t go wrong with this Police Chief Bruno tale. The town of St. Denis is a treasure trove of historical detail, and these books do the area justice.

For the Politically Minded:

Commissario Montalbano Series

This series is set in Sicily, and over the course of ten adventures you’ll be familiarized with the wonders of Italy’s largest Mediterranean island through the eyes of Italy’s finest police inspector. This series is inexpensive but expansive, and reading the whole series will give you entrance to some of Italy’s finest sights and sounds. Gritty and intense, these books make fantastic plane reading.

 

Next time you set out on a trip, don’t leave home without a good read! As a bonus tip, we suggest getting digital versions on your e-reader to save space and time. Need some help choosing one of those? Head on over to our blog to learn which Kindle is right for your needs as a traveller.

The International Agatha Christie Festival: A Must For Fans of the Legendary Writer

The International Agatha Christie Festival: A Must For Fans of the Legendary Writer

Are you a fan of the “whodunnit” genre — or of Dame Agatha’s books, in particular? It was  at the tender age of 12 that I began reading them; at the time, I think there was an appeal for just about everyone. My voracious reading routine included many of her books, which were hugely popular in the England of the early ’70’s. My French godmother used them as her primary resource for learning English when she took up residence in London as a young woman around 1950.

Read related: 5 Mystery Novels to Get You in the Mood to Travel 

If you’re a devotee of Dame Agatha and her work, you may be interested in attending the annual International Agatha Christie Festival in South Devon, England. Scroll down for more details and dates. Before you do, though, let’s review some of the classic titles– and iconic chraracters– that gained Christie her legions of fans in the first place.

Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple:

Enduring and endearing, these much-loved characters have been portrayed over time in several incarnations for television and film. Most recently, one of the most popular works – Murder On The Orient Express, with a star-studded cast and an enormous budget – is on film once again. Deeply anchored in the life and style of western culture of the early and middle twentieth century, Agatha Christie’s enormous legacy sails into the twenty-first century with nary a ripple.

British authors Sarah Phelps and Sophie Hannah were interviewed recently on the BBC’s Front Row. Sarah Phelps had the following to say when asked about Christie’s enduring popularity:

We enjoy watching people lie! – Sarah Phelps, BBC’s Front Row

Sophie Hannah, acclaimed crime writer in her own right, has given us new Poirot plots to enjoy with all the blessing of the Christie heirs. Heavily plot-focused inside narrow confines with two dimensional characters – or brilliant study in human nature and the nature of evil? For Phelps and Hannah – it’s the latter, all the way. With opinions like – “Best crime writer – ever, one can’t help but be intrigued!

FUN FACT

Agatha Christie was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1971.

FUN FACT

Poirot is the only fictional character to date to be given an obituary in the New York Times!

FUN FACT

British author Sophie Hannah will follow up her two successful Poirot books, with two more books

FUN FACT

Christie never put them both in the same story- quoting the possibility of a strong dislike from Miss Marple!

FUN FACT

Agatha Christie was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1971.

FUN FACT

According to the Guinness Book of World Records – Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, second only to Shakespeare’s works, and the Bible.

Did You Know?

Every year, thousands of people flock to the lovely coastal town of Torquay in South Devon, in the beautiful and sunny area known as the English Riviera – for the International Agatha Christie Festival, as well as for the regular tours of her favourite haunts and settings from her childhood and married life.

Many of these have been featured in her novels, offering a wonderful blend of fiction and reality. Take a tour to find out which ones are drawn directly from Christie’s true-to-life experiences.

Even if you can’t make it for the festival itself, you can take a self-guided or guided tour of the Agatha Christie Mile along the Torquay seafront: there are seven information plaques along the way to illuminate the places that held particular importance in the author’s life.

Festival Details:

Visit the Official Agatha Christie Festival website to learn more about being involved, current projects, and up-to-date festival information The next annual festival event will be a one-day celebration of Agatha Christie’s birthday in Torquay on Saturday, 15th September 2018. The next 5Day Festival will take place 11th -15th September 2019.   This may seem far away now, but I’m going to guess that attendance will be very high! Be sure to let us know if it’s on your radar!

For more information on the Agatha Christie Literary Trail

To receive a FREE print destination guide for the English Riviera