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The capital of South Korea has no shortage of cultural landmarks, but most clients don't have the luxury of visiting every single one. Here are five distinctive sites in Seoul that each provide insight into a different facet of the country's extensive history, from the late 14th century to present day.
Bukchon Hanok VillageThis residential neighborhood dates back nearly 600 years to the founding of Seoul itself. Originally, Bukchon Hanok Village — which translates to "northern village" — was home to aristocrats and royalty. Many of the wooden homes have been refurbished, but there's still a palpable authenticity to the place, making it one of the most photographed neighborhoods in Seoul. Narrow alleyways meet stone stairways, which lead to stunning views from above. Visitors can learn more about the neighborhood's history at Bukchon Cultural Center and further explore the area by visiting its many stores, galleries, restaurants and traditional guesthouses. hanok.seoul.go.kr
Changdeokgung Palace Not far from Bukchon Hanok Village is Changdeokgung Palace. Originally built in 1405, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of Korea during the late 16th century. It was quickly rebuilt and continued to function for the next 270 years. Changdeokgung Palace is famous for a stunning huwon (secret garden), which takes up about 60 percent of the grounds. Royalty would enjoy the area's serene creeks and ponds, and they'd also use the garden to host banquets and competitions. The wide variety of trees showcase an array of stunning colors in both spring and fall. www.cdg.go.kr
Deoksugung PalaceSurrounded by theaters and galleries, this 15th-century royal residence located across the street from Seoul City Hall is one of the royal palaces of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Its name means "Palace of Virtuous Longevity," so called by the last king who lived there, in honor of his father. It features several buildings, including Seokjojeon Hall, the only Western-style building that remains in the palace. Junghwajeon houses the throne hall, while Daehanmun, the main gate, hosts a daily reenactment of the Joseon Dynasty Royal Guard Changing Ceremony, which takes place daily (except Mondays).
Seoul City WallAlthough the Seoul City Wall was constructed in the 1390s, it has been refurbished continuously throughout the centuries. The eras of restoration are visible in the variety of stones that comprise the wall: Some portions have several visible layers, each symbolizing a different epoch in the country's history. What's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site was originally built with the city's natural topography in mind, along a series of mountains that have served as a natural border of the city since its beginning. The wall is more than 10 miles long and served as an official city wall for some 500 years. Not only is the Seoul City Wall a living reminder of Korea's rich cultural heritage, but it also provides an ideal hiking trail for those who want to take in some history while they exercise.
The War Memorial of KoreaKorean history dates back at least 5,000 years, which makes the Korean War a fairly recent conflict — one that continues to affect much of the country today. The War Memorial of Korea was established in 1994 to educate the public on the country's military history, so it's not just a war memorial; it's also a museum. And it's not all about the Korean War, either. The War Memorial of Korea provides a sweeping survey of Korea's military history: from prehistoric times up to the Korean War. Thousands of items are on display across the indoor-outdoor space, including donated relics, large-scale weapons and other pieces of war memorabilia.