Welcome to Seoul, the capital of the Republic of South Korea.
For decades the city known as The Miracleof The Han, kept its head down, barely raising a ripple as the country rebuiltin the decades following the Korean War.
Today, Seoul has re-emerged as an economicpowerhouse and the epicentre of Hallyu, a Korean wave of culturethat is sweeping the world’s smartphones, food halls and dance floors.
But Seoul wasn’t always so outgoing.
In the 14th century, a 12-mile fortress wall encircledKorea’s ancient capital; its gates closed each night to keep maraudingSiberian tigers and invaders at bay.
Since then the city has spilled out far beyondand above its great city gates and Guardian Mountains.
21st century Seoul is a city whereglass and steel towers and the ancient curves of palace roofs coexist.
It’s a city wherethe brushstrokes of the past and contemporary public art tell stories oftradition and inspiration.
Coming to grips with Seoul’s incrediblesize and sweeping narrative can be a little daunting, so start your adventure at the K-Style Hub, a state-of-the-art visitor centre.
Where South Korea’s past, present and future converge, from the latest in K-Popto its timeless national parks, from the cutting edge of K Design to culinarytraditions which have taken centuries to perfect.
And while you’re here, why not slip intothe traditional dress.
Dressing up Hanbok-style doesn’t justput you in touch with Koreas proud past, it also gives you free admission intomany of Seoul’s most revered historic places.
At the head of Gwanghwamun Square sitsthe gleaming statue of Sejong the Great, the 15th century Joseon-dynasty king whosereign oversaw a golden age of literature, science and technology.
The great leader sits beforethe grandest of Seoul’s five royal palaces, Gyeongbokgung, the Palace of Shining Happiness.
A residence of Joseon Dynasty rulersfrom the late 1300s until 1910, the palace has endured fires, invasion, and wars.
Wander through the palace’s ornate gates, pavilions, halls and throne room, which in accordance with Confucian principles, are perfectly balanced by the simplicity ofthe pine-covered mountain backdrop.
Take a short bus or subway ride to the east, to explore the adjoining palaces ofChangdeokgung and Changgyeongung, which are separated by a simple stone wall.
In the tranquil confines ofChangdeokgung’s secret garden, sit for a while by the pond where kings oncepaused from royal duties and dramas to write poetry beneath the ginko, walnut and plum trees.
To the south at Deoksugung Palace, see the changing of the guardwhich takes place three times each day.
Then explore the eclectic mix of palace buildings, such as the pavilion where coffee-lovingKing Gojong enjoyed his daily cup, paving the way for his country’s futurecaffeine obsession.
Just to the west, is the last of Seoul’s great palaces, Gyeonghuigung, a royal refuge in times of unrest.
After exploring Seoul’s vast temple complexes, see how government officialsand ordinary Koreans once lived.
At the Namsangol Hanok Village, ancient buildings and traditionshave been preserved in one of the most scenic and tranquil areasof Seoul.
To see how Seoul’s citizens furnished their homes, visit the Korea Furniture Museum in Seongbuk-gu.
Here, over 2000 exquisite piecesof practical craftsmanship are displayed within ten traditional houses.
The story of Korean craftsmanship continuesat the National Museum of Korea, which houses national treasures such as the Ten Story Pagoda and pricelesswhite porcelain from the Joseon era.
But it’s in Seoul’s busy streets wherethe past and present really rub shoulders, and where the two Korean loves of shoppingand food go hand in hand.
Close to Seoul’s Great South Gate, step into Koreas largest marketplace, Namdaemun Market, where locals have been bargaininghard for over 600 years.
If you’re looking for beauty products, join the one million shoppers who stream intoneighboring Myeong-dong each day to hit the 1000 cosmetic stores.
And when your head starts to spin, take a snack break.
From lobster tails to foot long ice creams, the options here are almost limitless! A few blocks north is Insadong, where you can disappear for days amidthe labyrinth of antique, curio and craft stalls.
While just a short bus ride away at the Dongdaemun Market, you could spend months browsing the fashions on offer in the area’s 26 malls and 30, 000 specialty shops.
Blow the dust off the old waresand vintage bargains at the Gwangjang Traditional Market, then treat yourself to some ofthe best Korean pancakes in the city.
If you’re a seafood lover, cross the river to the futuristicNoryangjin Fish Market, where the skilful vendors at 700 stalls sell, slice and cook every kind ofseafood imaginable! Looking for some Gangnam style? Head just upriver to the Samseong-dong, whose exclusive boutiques and wide boulevardshave made it the Beverly Hills of Seoul.
But it’s not all bling in Gangnam, you’ll find plenty of bliss here too.
Pass through the Gate of Truth and spenda few hours in the wooded surrounds of the Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple, a peaceful antidote to the fierce pace ofSeoul’s shopping.
Seoul is filled with quiet spaces.
Also in Gangnam, stroll past the stadiumsand museums of the 24th Summer Olympics, at Olympic Park.
Across the river, relax with locals amid the leafy glades ofSeoul Forest.
While just downriver, enjoy the ponds andplayful sculptures at Yongsan Park.
Namsan is one of Seoul’s Guardian Mountains, marking the southern limit of the ancient capital.
The city has long since grown around it and today the mountain has become one ofthe city’s favourite green getaways.
At Namsan Botanical Garden, follow the winding paths through fields ofwildflowers and pine forests.
Then hike, or take the cable car to the peak, and take in the sweeping views from the oldcity walls or from Seoul’s iconic tower.
Running right through the busy heart of downtown Seoul, another landmark has also been givena new lease on life.
After centuries of neglect, Cheonggyecheon Stream has been transformedinto a 7-mile corridor of serenity and creativity.
Take time out just a few feet from some ofthe city’s busiest streets, in a space so quiet you can sometimes hearthe sweet sounds of bird song and whispering lovers.
Leave the bright lights and noise of the cityeven further behind, amid granite-studded peaks of Bukhansan National Park.
Take the 45-minute subway ride from central Seoul and spend the day hikingthrough the crisp mountain air, past ancient temples and rushing streams.
Just 55 miles from Seoul is another daytripwhich will give you pause for deep reflection, the truce village of Panmunjom.
After three years of brutal warfare, it was here in 1953, where the armistice was signedbetween North and South Korea.
From the observation post, look out upon the eerie silence of the DMZ, the 2.
5-mile wide buffer zone that separatesthe two Koreas.
Yet despite the tense atmosphere here, there is also a prevailing sense of hope.
On returning to Seoul, spend a little timeat the War Memorial of Korea to truly appreciate the scale and trauma ofthe Korean War, a conflict that tore a country in two, involved 22 nations, and cost millions of lives.
Besides displaying all the usual machineryof war, above all, this is of place of remembrance, longing, and determination.
When the sun gets low and the city lights up, locals gather on the banks of the Han to seethe Banpo Bridge erupt in waves of water and light.
It’s in moments like these that South Koreansreflect on life’s possibilities, and are reminded that they are capable ofanything they put their minds, imaginations and hearts to.
And Seoul, The Miracle on The Han is certainly proofof that.