A global metropolitan city. A busy hub of traditional culture and new-age progression. In Seoul there’s a constant flood of awe and excitement, but where to go when you need a breather? If an all-inclusive vacation to Jeju Island isn’t on the cards, why not visit one of the secret healing havens right here in Seoul? Escape the city with the convenience of being…well, in the city!
Let’s start off with a palace – it’s a chance to heal and get a dose of culture at the same time. But you won’t find Gyeongbokgung on this list. Don’t get me wrong, Gyeongbokgung is certainly a must-see, but its not the ideal spot if you’re after some peace and tranquility. Changgyeonggung on the other hand, is a little bit different.
Like Gyeongbokgung, it is a living display of Korea’s history, both ancient and modern. Even if there is a large number of visitors, you’ll have plenty of space to roam the verdant grounds. Past the palace buildings you’ll find beautiful ponds and plant nurseries, both alive with equally colourful creatures. And on the paths you can observe the sole descendant of the fierce Korean Tiger: stray cats who live in paradise!
While you’re there, why not take a tour of the Changgyeonggun Secret Garden?
The most idyllic and satisfying way to catch a bird’s eye view of Seoul. Namhansanseong is a huge national park with routes to suit every hiker’s needs. You can follow the track of the Fortress walls, touching base at each of the ancient gates, or you can go off the beaten track, literally.
Paseé por aquí en un viaje en solitario cuando me apetecía un poco de aire fresco y tiempo lejos de la ciudad y Namhansanseong no me decepcionó. Suba en un día despejado y disfrute de las vistas panorámicas que ha obtenido de su caminata. La pista principal tiene subidas y bajadas, pero nunca demasiado empinada, por lo que es una ruta apta para todos.
At the top, relax with a warm corn on the cob and sweet sikhye (식혜) as you see beyond the Lotte World AND Namsan Towers.
‘Hanok’ (한옥) is the name for a traditional Korean house. You can see Hanok-style architecture in the areas surrounding the palaces, like Anguk and Bukchon. However, like any tourist hotspot, these places have their busy days and the disillusioning background noise of inner city traffic. The Eunpyeong Hanok Village offers a calm, relaxing experience with a fascinating twist…
Following the destruction of many ancient buildings during the Japanese Colonisation and Korean War, Seoulites began to feel nostalgic for Hanok living. Although, in recent years, the Hanok has been somewhat discredited as an uncomfortable abode, with some averse to aspects of the lifestyle, such as sleeping on a heated ‘ondol’ (온돌) floor instead of a bed. The Eunpyeong Hanok Village is a newly built residential complex that combines the Hanok style with modern convenience.
There’s cafés, restaurants and convenience stores, all built in the Hanok style. It is simply beautiful. But, it was the view of the Hanok rooftops against the backdrop of Bukhansan Mountain that did the most healing for me… Are we still in Seoul, Toto?
Note: the Eunpyeong Hanok Village is a residential area. Be mindful of resident’s privacy during your visit.
When the lights go down over the city and the natural attractions of Seoul go to sleep, there are still healing spots to be discovered. At Seoullo 7017, you can explore a botanical highway aglow with purple lights, up above the hum-and-drum of the city below.
The unique sky-garden stretches almost 1km long, featuring 228 species of native Korean plant life. Whether you come with friends or by yourself, it is the perfect spot for a leisurely stroll and some hidden tranquility.
5. Inner City Bike Trails
You’ll find Han River walks and cycling on most tourist recommendation lists, but in my experience a day of good weather will see the routes overcrowded and every riverside bike rental stations completely empty. Why not venture off the beaten track? The inner city trails can take you on a wonderfully unexpected adventure.
A fantastic way to get some exercise and let a fresh breeze whisk away the stress you’ve been carrying. On your journey, you can spot hidden ‘easter-eggs’ such as temples, waterfalls, secret cafés and decorated underpasses. The trails are also an underrated natural observatory for wildlife including cranes and HUGE fish.
My tip is to use Seoul’s own bike rental service, ‘Ddareungi’ (따릉이) — named after the ringing sound of a bicycle bell — as there are stations all over the city with instructions written in English.
Another place to wind down after sunset, a state-of-the-art sauna or — as they’re known in Korea — jjimjilbang (찜질방) and spa. For only 12,000 won you can experience a staple of Korean culture that is still beloved now as it was centuries ago.
The spa has a splendour of rooms for you to choose your own method of healing, including saunas, a snack bar, restaurant, pc room, boardgame and book cafe, cinema room, massage chairs, massage services and sleeping mats — you can spend the night if you like!
Of course, you’ll want to start with a trip to the baths to relax your muscles, improve circulation and melt the stress away. The idea of being naked in a room of strangers may be nerve-wracking at first but I assure you, nobody is looking. Just like you, your fellow bathers are here to relax!
Take a look at this in-depth guide to the Korean Bathhouse!
Seoul Forest is one of Seoul’s most underrated treasures. Perhaps you’ve made a stop here on your way to Apgujeong Rodeo, but there is plenty more to see here than what meets the eye.
Seoul Forest is another natural healing spot I like to explore solo, when I fancy a bit of me-time. Venture into the woodlands and find deer, giant tortoises and a stunning butterfly house, the latter being my own personal highlight.
Not only is Seoul Forest a scenic wonder, but its another opportunity to learn too. Find plenty of fascinating facts about Korean nature dotted here-and-there, in English.
The fresh air and panoramic views of a good hike without the need for long journeys and/or special gear. Nestled in Seongsan-dong, a stones throw from Hongdae Subway Station, is the secret mountain.
Hiking to the summit should take you no more than 15 minutes, but with steps to climb it is still a healthy workout. It’s also a great place to forage in the winter time. My roommate and I collected some fallen pine branches, winter berries and pinecones to make a Christmas centrepiece for our living room. Reward yourself with a hot coffee or cake afterwards.
Note: Don’t get confused with ‘Seongsan Ilchulbong,’ which is found in Jeju!
Grab yourself an ice coffee, plug in the earphones — if you’re not a fan of audio guides — and take a walk through history. The name suggests exhibits of all-things-Korean but like any country, there are cultural overlaps with other nations. See a visual display of how the Korean written language known as ‘Hangeul’ (한글) evolved from traditional Chinese in the form of stunning preserved calligraphy.
Creative outlets are the perfect way to heal. I visited the museum because I’m an art lover, a rather inexpensive hobby to enjoy, assuming you’re not a buyer. In the permanent exhibit, you can wander a maze of art from all over Asia. Furthermore, the special exhibit will often feature renowned Asian artists, styles and mediums.
Be inspired by the trinkets and treasures that underpin the Korea of the past, and spot remnants within the land we know and love today! Moreover, entry to the permanent exhibits is completely free! It’s one of Seoul’s finest cultural attractions.
Last but certainly not least, we have the Korean Folk Village. I’ve placed this one at the bottom of the list, solely because it’s a 40 min bus trip outside of the city, but a perfect healing day trip none-the-less.
Cobble stones, wicker huts, traditional arts and crafts, growing herbs, horse riding in hanboks, all amidst a natural landscape. Gorgeous in any season, but I recommend going in Autumn when the trees are warm in colour and the Chuseok (추석) celebrations are in full swing.
Check out the story of my own visit to the folk village for your healing!