Insadong, in central Seoul is the place to go if you’re in search of a cultural hit.
There’s Tapgol Park, of course: the home of the ancient Tapgol Pagoda. Although enshrined in a protective casing, it is nevertheless quite a site. Truly incredible to see something so intricate having lasted so long.
Then there is the beautiful temple, Jogyesa, home to a thriving Buddhist community. And a haven amid the buzzing, frantic streets of Seoul. It is especially fantastic to see be-decked with lanterns at times of celebration, such as Buddha’s birthday.
There are the art galleries: so many of them, and so close together you should visit at least one during your trip. Insa Art Gallery is a good starting point, featuring a good range of work throughout several floors. In the past it has shown the work of artists such as the fantastic Kim Cheol-Kyu, and his 2008 ‘Body’ exhibition.
The beautiful little craft shops that line the streets, and the stalls outside them, can be the source of hours of entertainment, whatever you’re after. There are lovingly handcrafted gifts ranging from traditional Korean tea sets, silks, and paper, to modern pieces of jewellery and stationary. This all comes with a scattering of quaint and friendly antique shops, with baskets outside that are a delight to rummage through in search of treasures.
And if all that shopping makes you hungry, head for one of the restaurants. Many different types of cuisine are on offer, but in Insadong it would seem a shame not to take advantage of the attractive Korean establishments, serving up delicious food including galbi, kimchi jigae, and even vegetarian Buddhist fayre.
And definitely don’t forget to pick up a steaming ho-tteock (pancake) from one of the street stalls. There might be a queue, but that is for a reason: they taste amazing! On a chilly winters day especially, nothing can beat one of these thick, sweet pancakes, filled with a delightful mixture of nuts and brown sugar.
But the main attraction for me, has to be simply wondering the streets of Insadong. The main street is renowned for good reason, but venture off to the side streets and you are sure to stumble upon some other little treat. Strolling around the lanterned alleyways is also the best way to find one of the famous teashops. Gorgeous little places, full of character, charm and a large selection of traditional teas and rice cakes for you to try.
Busy or not, this part of Seoul offers something that I could never grow tired of. It displays some of Korea’s finest traditions: be it culinary; religious; or craft. But its thriving nature, and evident popularity, are also a sign that these things are still appreciated, and indeed still practiced, in this modern city today.
Written by Hannah Stuart-Leach