It may come as a surprise to the first-time visitor to discover that super-modern Seoul possesses an admirable history of legal rule, as evidenced by the three delectable palaces that line its northern flank. The sumptuously painted wooden buildings of Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung were home to the royals from the kingdom of Joseon until as recently as 1910 and provide glimpses into a dynastic past almost eradicated in other areas of the city. Their delicatety curved slate roofs make a harmonious fit with Bukhansan, a highly picturesque mountain rising immediately to the north.
The palaces sit almost hand-in-hand within walking distance of the city center. Nestling in between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung are the neighborhoods of Samcheongdong and Bukchondong, two areas whose proximity to the palaces ensured that they escaped the worst ravages of the wrecking balls that swung through the newly affluent capital during the 1970s and 80s.
Samcheongdong is one of Seoul's best kept secrets, a little visited district whose bars and restaurants provided a quiet sancturary to those in the know. This gem has been well and truly unearthed - sunny weekends see Samcheongdong's narrow lanes bustling with visitors - but the area remains well worth a visit, with trendy cafes, Europeanized restaurants and chic boutiques.
Also notable is the glut of modern art galleries, with works by local artists that tend to walk the high-wire between traditional and contemporary. The major galleries ever-increasing international connections are helping Korean art to find an ever greater audience overseas.
Samcheongdong merges almost seamlessly into Bukchondong, a district famed for its 'Hanok' houses. These wooden domiciles were, until the advent of high-rise buildings in the 1970's, the regular form of accommodation all across the land. As such, even though many of its buildings are modern recreations, Bukchondong represents something of a step back in time.
There's much more to the district than the visual pleasures offered by the Hanok buildings, since its winding lanes are studded with such surprises as tiny museums, quaint tearooms and yet more art galleries,. Curving around Bukhansan Mountain to the west will bring you to the secluded district of Buamdong. This is almost laughably, described as "rural" by many Seoulites, but although wildlife and sputtering tractors remain many miles away, its low buildings and almost traffic-free roads make a refreshing break from the city bustle. Heading east instead will bring you to Seongbukdong, another pleasingly quiet area, whose mansions are home to many of Seoul's richer set.
Check out our Samcheongdong video here below:
'Samcheongdong' by My Guide Seoul.