Gwanghwamun / Jongno
If Gwanghwamun is the unofficial living room of Seoul, Jongno is the main hallway connecting some of Seoul’s most important historic sites and neighborhoods. Being one of Seoul’s oldest neighborhoods, the area is rich with history and culture in its palaces, shrines, and temples. Stand in the center of Gwanghwamun Square with Gyeongbokgung Palace and Mt. Bugak in front of you, King Sejong the Great statue behind you, and modern office buildings encircling you—it’s one of the best ways to experience both past and present Seoul in one spot. The main street of Jongno is mostly dotted with restaurants and cafes, but explore deeper within its intricate alleys to pass decades-old restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and pojangmachas (tents that open at night for quick bites and drinks) and life seems to run just as it did a decade or two ago. Don’t forget to stop at Gwangjang Market, Korea’s oldest traditional market, where it’s just as fun to explore as it is to eat the affordable market dishes that locals have been enjoying since the market first opened in 1905. For a break from urban life, walk along the restored Cheonggyecheon Stream that runs parallel to Jongno for a moment of natural refuge in metropolitan Seoul.