Seoul’s Springtime Magic
Springtime in Seoul is an explosion of colour and activity, befitting of one of Asia’s most vibrant capitals.
Issue: Mar 2009
Merry band of drummers at Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival. Photo Credit: Jon Allen
As Seoul shakes off its coat of white to herald the advent of Spring, a palette of vibrant colours is revealed as nature awakes from its winter slumber and comes to life. The place to be this season is outdoors, whether to enjoy the breathtaking scenery or to participate in the numerous festivals that seem to sprout from the ground.
Springtime in Seoul is a celebration of rebirth and renewal. One of the most anticipated festivals in this ancient capital city is the annual Hi! Seoul Festival, a cultural extravaganza held over a few days in and around the city’s central point – Seoul Plaza, near City Hall. Easily accessible, it boasts something for everyone, from children, teenagers to adults. Visitors curious about traditional Korean music will be thrilled with performances that incorporate the use of Korean percussions and other traditional Korean musical instruments, while others might find themselves drawn to the dance contest and performances, dragon boat races, fashion shows, and art and book exhibitions within the festival grounds.
A Symphony of Sights
Performance at Hi! Seoul Festival
And as flowers burst into bloom, seemingly overnight, Seoul becomes awash with the lavender, pink and white of fragile cherry blossoms and azaleas, as well as blazing yellow forsythias. One of the best places to see the beautiful blooms in their full glory is at Yunjungno Road, an avenue just behind the National Assembly building lined with over 1,400 cherry trees. The street is cleared of traffic when the trees are in bloom, so that visitors can walk amongst the trees, some of which are between 30 to 40 years old. The street lamps at Yunjungno Road illuminate from 6:30pm every evening, so you can enjoy the romantic experience till as late as you like.
As many as 2.5 million visitors flock to see these blossoms each year, and the excitement culminates in the Yeouido Spring Flower Festival, which brings about an eclectic mix of rock concerts, magic shows, acrobatics and traditional folk music called pungmullori.
If nature is what you enjoy, Seoul’s surrounding mountains are also definitely worth a visit. Not only are they great for a relaxing hike, but they also offer a fantastic venue to revel in the awakening colours of nature. Mount Namsan, the hill that rises up in the middle of downtown Seoul is the most accessible, and if a hike sounds daunting, a cable car can take you to the top, where the N Seoul Tower offers unrivalled views of the city of Seoul.
Traditional Yet Cutting-edge
Jogyesa Temple, perhaps the largest Buddhist temple within city limits, is also must-visit. The trees in the temple’s compound are around 500 years old, and the temple itself dates back to the 1300s. The temple is famous for its Lotus Lantern Festival held every Spring to commemorate Buddha’s birthday, which sees it decorated spectacularly with thousands of handmade lanterns. When the sun goes down, the lanterns are lit, making for a most magical ambience that can only be experienced.
The lively daytime Spring buzz in Seoul culminates into a most amazing night scene as the weather permits longer stays outdoors. While the temperature may get a little chilly sometimes, citizens and visitors don light jackets to wander the city centre to take in the sights or for leisurely strolls along the Cheong Gye Cheon stream, which is brought to life with street fairs, and where sculptures line the path.
Korea’s street fare is unbelievably tasty so do be adventurous and experiment. Coming in all shapes, sizes and colours, skewers are great companions for a stroll to keep hunger pangs away. Chicken, beef and skewers of every kind are sold inexpensively at almost every street. If you crave a heavier meal, or if the weather is a little slow to warm up, try a Korean-style barbecue which fills you up pretty well. Korean style ice-cream which comes in unique flavours is extremely popular among Seoul’s locals, so be sure to have a taste!
A Home Away from Home in Seoul
Somerset Palace, Seoul
For long-term visitors to Seoul, the Somerset Palace Seoul is an attractive accommodation option. Strategically located in the heart of the business and financial district, the elegant serviced apartments with breathtaking city views offer the security and comfort of a private apartment, but with the services and amenities you would expect from a luxury hotel. Located conveniently in the Gangbuk district in downtown Seoul, it is a stone’s throw from several embassies, and is well connected to other parts of Seoul via the subway.
A leisurely stroll will also reveal the many historical landmarks nearby, such as the Gyeongbok Palace, built as the primary palace of the Chosun Kingdom by King Taejo in 1395. The fascinating Bongeunsa Temple, built in 794 and features 3,479 plates containing 13 different sutras, is also nearby. For the culturally-inclined, the Jogyesa Temple and the Sejong Center for Performing Arts are located conveniently close by.