Seoul (서울) is the capital of South Korea. With a municipal population of over 11.8 million, and a metropolitan population totaling over 25.6 million, Seoul is by far South Korea’s largest city and one of East Asia’s financial and cultural epicenters. A fascinating blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge digital technology, home to endless street food vendors and vast nightlife districts, an extraordinarily high-pressure educational system and serene Buddhist temples, a trend-setting youth culture and often crushing conformism, extraordinary architecture and endless monotonous rows of grey apartment buildings, Seoul is a city filled with stark contrasts.
Beyond your expectations
Seoul is the largest city in South Korea as well as the political and economic capital. The city houses 11.8 million people, and the metropolitan area has 25.6 million, which is just over half of the population of South Korea. By some measures it is the world’s second largest urban agglomeration, after Tokyo.
Seoul has a long history stretching far back into Korea’s dynastic past. There is evidence for settlement in this area as far as 18 BC but Seoul as the capital city of Korea has a history back to the 14th century. Originally named Hanseong (한성; 漢城), the city was the capital of the Joseon Dynasty from 1392 to 1910, and remained the capital of Korea during the period of Japanese colonial rule which followed under the name Gyeongseong (경성; 京城), or Keijo in Japanese. The Joseon Dynasty built most of Seoul’s most recognisable landmarks, including the Five Grand Palaces and Namdaemun. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the city was re-named to its current name, Seoul. Since the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, Seoul has been the capital of South Korea. Occupied twice during the Korean War by Communist forces, the city was extensively rebuilt and today is one of Asia’s primary metropolises.
While few historical points of interest remain (most of the temples and palaces are reconstructions), much of Seoul’s infrastructure is exceptionally modern and clean. Skyscrapers and high rises abound. The subway system is the third-largest in the world and perhaps one of the finest. Seoul is truly vast – though the casual traveler can see most of the main sites in a few days, a dedicated traveler could spend weeks exploring all the alleyways and far-off neighborhoods. As the capital of a country that has gone through massive development in the past sixty years, it is constantly changing at an incredible pace, matched only by the mainland Chinese cities. This frantic pace of life is reflected everywhere – in Seoul’s cutting-edge digital technology, in the millions of commuters rushing to work everyday, in one of the vibrant nightlife scene, and in the thousands of buildings still under construction.