Seoul is filled with cultural gems. Places that reflect a rich sense of Korea's traditional and modern identity. Insadong is located north of the Han River and it has a lot to offer anyone seeking insight into Korea's culture history and artist sensibilities. Reflecting both the past and present it contains a multitude of attractions for both locals and foreigners alike.
Insadong was originally a place for painters to study during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and this artist heritage has moulded the 700m long street into one of Korea's many cultural must-sees. The streets are lined with artistic showings of both traditional and modern Korea. Paintings, sculptures, antiques, hanboks (traditional Korea dress ware), hanji (Korea paper), souvenirs and decorative ornaments are a plenty in this busy cultural hub. Insadong is worth the trip to anyone wishing to experience Korea through the arts.
Ssamzie gil is a small corridor off the main street that is definitely worth a look. This three level centre contains a number of stores and stalls showcasing a wide variety of works from local artists. There are clothes, bags, accessories, artworks and a few food vendors that always seem to have large following. Ssamzie gil is a busy little centre and I always find myself wondering in to explore it's many exciting offerings.
Tea is also honoured there though the many different tea cafes, tea stores and the memorable Tea Museum. There you can expose yourself to an assortment of traditional and more modern teas in a relaxing café-style setting. Green tea is particularly popular in Korea and you can explore the many different takes on it from the traditional tea itself to a green tea shake. The Tea Museum is the perfect place to take time to relax and have a taste of Korea's appreciation for teas.
Although places like the Tea Museum in Insadong are easily visible on any map you may come across, don't be afraid to venture down one of the many small alleys on the strip. There you will find a variety of restaurants, smaller galleries and stores that might have otherwise be missed. Insadong has a lot to offer and your exploration will be rewarded.
Insadong is a foreigner friendly area with information stations scattered around, as well as roaming guides who will happily point you in the right direction if you find yourself lost or in need of assistance. The streets of Insadong are also filled with Korean stalls where you can taste and watch traditional Korean snacks being prepared for your enjoyment. These welcoming venders encourage you to try their makings with chants, songs and friendly chatter. It's hard not to be drawn in with their excitement and enthusiasm.
It is best to visit Insadong on the weekend, as cars are not permitted down the main street at this time. If you do decide to go on a weekday, don't be discouraged as it is still relatively car-free and people cross the streets freely. If anything you will most likely see more carts and bicycles going past than actual cars, a pleasant experience given that Seoul is otherwise a bustling city filled with cars and scooters.
Insadong is a small but concentrated burst of artistic and cultural Korea. It has all the ingredients for a good day out in the country's capital with a balance of tradition and the modern to ensure you get a taste for what Korea is all about!
Directions: The easy way to get to Insadong is by taxi. A large number of taxis in Korea offer a free service that puts you in contact with an English speaker to ensure that you get to where you're going. However, depending on where in Seoul you are coming from this may not be the most economical choice. Instead find the nearest subway station and head towards Jonggak Station (line 1), Jongno 3-ga Station (line 1,3 and 5), or Anguk Station (line 3). The subway system in Korea is relatively cheap and easy to navigate. There are also a number of maps in each station that indicate what's in the surrounding area, very useful when trying to determine which station exit one must take.
To find out more about Insadong visit Korea's official tourism website at http://www.visitkorea.or.kr.
-Christopher J. Wheeler
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