Hanang River, Seoul
Hanang River, Seoul © Korean National Tourist Office

Seoul is a thriving metropolis encircled by mountains with skyscrapers rising towards the heavens. The city is busting yet organised, with modern marvels growing side by side with centuries-old palaces and shrines.

A great deal of the credit for the well-ordered urban planning of Seoul can be given to the ancient Joseon Dynasty, which used great foresight when crafting the city into a capital way back in the 14th century.

The old Joseon Dynasty city, with its central main palace, is now the traditional downtown heart of Seoul where many of the most popular sights, hotels, and markets are to be found. One of the most interesting areas for visitors to explore is Insa-dong, filled with antique shops, art galleries, traditional teahouses, restaurants, and bookshops.

Across the Han River, the modern city is dominated by Korea's World Trade Centre and the Coex Mall, a shopper's delight. Even the island of Yeouido, in the middle of the Han River, is densely packed with high-rise buildings; this is also the base for the Korean National Assembly and the world's biggest Presbyterian Church.

Interspersed through the urban landscape are several lush, green parks, the most central being Namsan Park which encompasses the mountain of the same name just to the south of downtown Seoul. It's also home to the iconic Seoul Tower, which offers spectacular 360 degree views of the city and surrounding countryside.

Nightlife in Seoul has something to suit all tastes, from pub hopping to sedate sit-downs at traditional teahouses. Eating out is a feast for the senses in Seoul, with an enormous international variety to choose from, whether it is succulent steak, perfect pizza, multicourse gourmet, tasty tandoori, or, of course, classic Korean.