South Korea Hidden Gems: A Student’s Historic Treasure Hunt in Seoul

By: Miriam Bribiesca

There’s traveling like a tourist, then there’s traveling like an adventurous college student. And because we know you are the latter, let us help you dive deep into the rich and historical treasures of Seoul, South Korea! 

This journey is curated for the ardent, adventure-seeking traveler that wants more than just a sightseeing trip. Prepare for a treasure hunt that will take you through the captivating streets of Seoul to explore five unusual, history-rich landmarks. Ready to embark on a time-travel expedition? Let’s begin!

1. Ihwa Mural Village

Start off your journey by navigating your way to the Ihwa Mural Village, located on the hills of Naksan. This village, once a slum, has been transformed into an artistic hub full of vibrant murals. In fact, around 70 artists were commissioned to create the murals and art installations throughout the neighborhood, transforming the area into a vibrant, outdoor art gallery.

The project, titled “Naksan Project,” aimed to breathe new life into the area and, at the same time, preserve its history. As you will see, the murals often tell a unique story of Korea’s cultural past and present. As a side quest, we invite you to search for the mural called “Flower Fish,” which signifies hope for a brighter future.

Travel Tips: Now thanks to Seoul’s efficient public transportation system, be prepared to take the Subway everywhere you go. To get to Ihwa, the closest subway station will be Hyehwa (Line 4). So make sure to wear comfortable shoes as you’ll need to climb steep roads. And of course, keep your camera ready!

2. Jongmyo Shrine

Time to visit Jongmyo Shrine to find your next piece of history. This shrine is home to memorial tablets of deceased kings and queens from the Joseon Dynasty, serving as a profound testament to the Confucian traditions and rituals. 

Depending on what time you visit, watch out for the “Jongmyo Jerye,” known as the oldest complete ceremony in the world and performed annually on the first Sunday of May! This ceremony involves a complex sequence of music, song, dance, and offerings, following rules dictated by the “Jerye-ak,” an ancient court music believed to be played in the kingdom of heaven. Can you hear it already?!

Clearly, this destination is what we call a spiritual link between the present and the past, a treasure unlike any other and one that you get to experience first-hand! Time to call yourself Indiana Jones.

Travel Tips: To get here take subway Line 1 or 5 to Jongno 3-ga Station. ALSO guided tours are mandatory to enter the main building so make sure to book one beforehand!

3. Seoul City Wall

For your third clue, ascend to the Seoul City Wall, also known as Hanyangdoseong, a fortress that encircles the heart of Seoul and a physical depiction of what resilience can look like in the face of change. 

The wall was first constructed in 1396 during the reign of King Taejo of Joseon to protect Hanyang, the capital city, now known as Seoul, from potential invasions. The wall stretches approximately 18.6 kilometers or 11.5 miles and follows the ridges of Seoul’s four inner mountains –Baegaksan, Naksan, Namsan, and Inwangsan.

The Seoul City Wall offers panoramic views of Seoul and acts as a historical timeline, telling the tale of the city’s evolution from a fortified capital to a bustling metropolis. Today, sections of the wall have been turned into hiking trails, giving visitors a unique way to explore the city’s history while enjoying some of Seoul’s best views. As a side quest, find ‘Heunginjimun Gate,’ one of the original eight gates of Seoul, to transport back in time and experience what life could’ve been like in the 14th century. 

Travel Tips: To get here take Line 4 to Hyehwa Station. The hiking trails can be a bit steep, so stay hydrated and take breaks as needed. Temple run here we come.

4. Bukchon Hanok Village

Now it’s time to wander into the tranquil labyrinth of the Bukchon Hanok Village. The village, whose name translates to “Northern Village,” is a living relic of the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), a key period in Korean history. Nestled between two palaces, this village has a 600-year-old urban environment and was historically used to serve as residential quarters for nobles and high-ranking government officials. Today, around 900 Hanoks remain in Bukchon, some of which have been converted into cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants and more. 

While this is a beautiful and popular location in itself, the hidden gems lie in its lesser-known alleys, teahouses, and craft workshops. As a side quest, we recommend “Donglim Knot Workshop” to learn about the ancient Korean art of decorative knot-making, known as “norigae.” Or Toast Alley, packed with small cafes that serve popular Korean sandwiches. Or if you want seek out “House 11” for a deeper understanding of the intricate Hanok architecture.

Travel Tips: To get here, Anguk Station (Line 3) is your stop. Remember that this is still a residential area and it’s important to respect the privacy of residents.

5. Gyeongbokgung Palace

Finally, bring to a close your exciting journey and wander to your prime destination, Gyeongbokgung Palace. It is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty and embodies a significant part of Korea’s rich history.

Located in Jongno-gu, the palace is a labyrinth in itself. Each gate, hall, pavilion, and garden has a story to tell. The expansive grounds are also home to the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea, which hold historical and cultural relics from across the Korean Peninsula. Sounds like you’ll have full day’s worth of activities here!

Additionally, Gyeongbokgung also offers a “Guard Changing Ceremony,” a unique event that recreates royal ceremonies from the past. If you’re looking for a magical experience we recommend visiting during during autumn when leaves turn vibrant shades of yellow and red. Plus if you wear a Hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) which you can often rent, your entry to the palace will be free! Now that’s what we call dedication to truly immerse yourself in the spirit of this historic treasure hunt.

Travel Tip: If you’re planning to visit several palaces, consider purchasing the Integrated Palace Ticket. It provides admission to four palaces (Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace) and the Jongmyo Shrine. The good news is that the ticket is valid for a month, offering flexibility and saving costs. Look at you!

Have you been transported back in time yet? Because we have! We hope this guide has provided an immersive experience for those of you who are yearning to dive deep into the roots of Korean history. An unlike hunting for new experiences, you won’t have to go on a hunt to find the best flight deals for your next international adventure. We got you. Check out our offers HERE. Happy exploring, travelers!

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