Seoul’s Historic Walks – Part 1 – Seoul Station to Gwanghwamun (Samsung Complex, Sungnyemun, Lina’s Paris and Deoksugung Palace)

Hello gentle reader!
It has been a busy couple of weeks. I’ve been sick, and I started graduate school this semester so my time has been limited for exploring my fair city. However, a couple of weeks ago, I discovered an old book that had been loathing on the bookshelf in our study. The book is entitled, “Seoul’s Historic Walks” by Robert Koehler and Cho In-Souk.

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Since the beautiful fall days are beginning to descend on the city, I took the afternoon to explore Tour 1: The Heart of Old Seoul. This beast of a journey takes us from Seoul Station (Line 1) to Gyungbukgung (Line 3). So, I packed up the old camera and decided to head out on a beautiful first day of September.

Overview:

Time restrictions allowed me to complete half of the walk. Including lunch, this took about 2.5 – 3.0 hours of walking, picture taking and an occasional beer to “soak in the atmosphere”. If I wanted to do the whole walk, I would give myself the day, especially if you wanted to explore Gyungbukgung and Deoksugung palaces. In my case, I felt it would be more economical and rewarding to split the walk into two parts. So today, I will be doing part one, and hopefully this week, I’ll finish the walk (Horray for Chuseok!).

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My fat fingers tried to press the book down as best as I could. As you can see, the first attraction they suggest you see is Sungnyemun Gate followed by the Samsung Complex, and then you need to backtrack to head to the Bank of Korea Museum, Shinsegae Department Store and City Hall. I thought that was too much backtracking, so I decided to “stay to the left” essentially and follow the path passed the Samsung Complex, Deoksugung Palace, the Sejong Center for Performing Arts and finally to Gyungbokgung.

1) Sungnyemun (Namdaemun) Gate

How to get there: Once you arrive at Seoul Station, head to exit 6. From there you are going to walk about 300 – 500 meters, staying on your right hand side. You will see the gate straight ahead, and will have to cross a small street to get to it. One word of caution, once you are across the street, it does not connect to any other major streets, so you have to work your way back.

History: Sungnyemun burned down in 2008 due to arson. However the fire of the Korean spirit was on full display right after the arson and the  Cultural Heritage Association began a restoration project immediately after costing approximately 13-million USD. Finally, after five years of painstaking restoration, in May 2013, Sungnyemun was once again open to the public. Sungnyemun is one of Seoul’s oldest landmarks. Originally built in 1398AD, the gate acted as protection to the great Gyungbokgung during the Joseon Dynasty. Ironically, the gate was originally designed to protect Gyungbokgung from a fire, and the name “Sungnyemun” means in “fire” in Chinese script.

Why Should you go there: Sungnyemun is a beautiful display of architecture, and is now located on an open-spaced, grassy field in the heart of the city. It is a nice starting point for our walk, and in my opinion, its a cultural landmark that shouldn’t be missed. Sungnyemun is one of Seoul’s oldest landmarks, and is a perfect entrance into the heart of the city. Although I went during the day, at night the gate lights up acting as a calming ambience in the heart of a busy city.

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Lunch Break: Lina’s Paris

I’m hungry. I started out this journey on an empty stomach, which is never a good idea when you are getting ready for a long day of walking the mean streets of Seoul. However, I found a nice little sandwich deli right across the street from Sungnyemun.

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How to get there:

1) From the Seoul Station, depart from exit 6 and stay on your right for about 300 meters. You will see Sungnyemun up ahead. However, you will need to cross the street and walk about 25 meters and make a left. Lina’s will be on your left, looking directly at the gate.

2) From Sungnyemun, turn around and walk about 50 meters to the intersection. It is a pain in the ass because there is no direct access from the gate. It’s on its own little island. Cross the intersection and walk up the street about 25 meters and make a left. Lina’s will be on your left, looking directly at the gate.

Food and Drink:

Lina’s is basically a typical Korean-Western sandwich restaurant. Think of a Subway restaurant, with a little European flair. The menus are set, and the prices range from about 7000KRW – 17000KRW. They have a variety of sandwiches, salads, and desserts. If you have been to one Korean sandwich place, you have been to them all, but what separates Lina’s is the view. You have a perfect view of Sungnyemun, which is worth the price of admission, and to be honest, it wasn’t that expensive.

I ordered a turkey club sandwich and a Coke, which came to approximately 12000KRW. The sandwich came with a little side salad, and the staff customized the order for me (no tomatoes). Now surprisingly, it wasn’t that busy, so I might have lucked out. I normally would assume the menu is set, and customizing your order is frowned upon.

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Value: For the price I paid (12000KRW) and the view, I would go back again. It was a filling lunch, but not overwhelming. The size was appropriate for the value, and the atmosphere was quiet and relaxing. For a quick bite to eat before heading out for the walk, I would recommend this little lunch deli in a heartbeat.

2) The Samsung Complex 

How to get there: After leaving Lina’s Paris, you will see a small intersection. Cross the street and keep the left. On your left you will see the iconic large, maroon Samsung Building. The building will standout like a sore thumb. In the clear glass jungle of downtown Seoul, this is the bruised thumb that sticks out. It has a hazy maroonish-red color that doesn’t seem as though it should belong in the area, but at the same time, makes it unique.

History:

Samsung is synonymous with Korea. The pride of the Korean people, and the arch nemesis of the Apple Corporation, the Samsung Complex is one of those places you need to visit, just to get a feel of modern day Korea. The maroon building is the Samsung Insurance Building, and if you want to head inside to take a tour, it will cost around 3000KRW.

Why you should go there:

I choose not to go into the building, because frankly, there is nothing that truly interests me there. However, there is a Takashi Murakami art exhibit called “Takashi in Superflat Wonderland” if you want to check out anime-looking chicks in skimpy outfits! The exhibit runs until December 2013.

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3) Deoksugung Palace

How to get there: I took a little break after the Samsung building and looked across the street at City Hall. There was a festival going on over there, what it was, I don’t really know. I was tempted to cross the street, but my ambitions outweighed my stamina, and I decided to stay on the left and head down to Deoksugung Palace. Keep heading down the street towards Gwanghwamun, you should now start to see the statues of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun Shin. Deoksugung Palace will be on the left, after about 100 meters, you really can’t miss it.

History: I’m only going to give a brief history because I plan to actually take the tour at a later date and want to write a full report. The palace originally belonged to Wolsandaegun, the older brother of King Seongjong of the Joseon Dynasty around the 14th century. It became the official “palace” in 1592, when all the other royal palaces were burned down after the Imjin War. The palace is truly a unique structure, with its stone wall outlining the downtown portion of the city. It is a rare crossover from modern Seoul to historic Seoul.

Why Should I go there: It truly is a beautiful piece of architecture, with an interesting history. If you get the chance, please take the tour. However, just watching the changing of the guards outside of the palace is worth the trip itself. Also, it is a great precursor to the big palace (Gyungbokgung). My advice is to take a little break around here and absorb the excitement and atmosphere. The guards are on full display, with ancient weaponry. Follow the path of the stonewall, and it will lead you around the entire area of the palace, and you will see some interesting modern buildings as well.

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Happy guard is happy.

Final Thoughts: I’m running out of steam. It’s late and I have to work tomorrow. This part of the walk took a solid hour including breaks and pictures. I would estimate it is about 1km long. The next part of the walk will include the Seoul Anglican Cathedral, King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun Shin statues and finally Gyungbokgung and Dongsipgajak. On a nice day, this is a real treat. However, during the hot summer months, I would recommend planning the day into two parts. My biggest mistake was not going early enough, and by late afternoon, I had had enough walking for one day. There are a ton of restaurants, fitting all budgets in that area, so food and drinks shouldn’t be a problem. It is an exciting walk, but one that is not overwhelming. A great look at the heart of the city.

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