What to do on a weekend in Gangnam (other than shop)

I’ve visited Seoul a few times in recent years, but most of my sightseeing has usually been contained to the old Jongno district, north of the Han River. Filled with charming old Hanok villages and the ancient palaces as well as amazing districts like Myeongdong, Hongdae and, there was hardly any time to explore further.

Seoul Big Johns Place Garden
Winter is here, but autumn hasn’t quite left! The lovely garden path in Big John’s Place is super picturesque

So when I was invited by Big John’s Place invite me to check out their hostel in the midst of Gangnam, I was pretty stoked that I would get to see a different side of Seoul. Gangnam was most famously popularised in that Kpop song heard around the world Gangnam Style, and most know it as a rather affluent district with high-end shopping. But if you’re an indie traveller like me and want to see a side of Gangnam beyond shopping malls, here’s what you can check out:

 

 

Visit a UNESCO Heritage site – Seonjeongneung royal tombs

Seoul Jeongneong Shrine Gate
The shrine has 2 paths – the raised Incense road on the left is for the deceased, while the lower King’s road on the right is for people to walk on

Jongno has the bulk of ancient Korean heritage sites, but this particular UNESCO heritage site can be found a short distance from Gangnam. Seonjeongneung is really made up of 2 royal tombs – Seolleung (for the 9th King Seongjong and Queen Jeonghyeon) and Jeongneung (for the 11th King Jungjong) – the area is also known as Samneung Park.

Seoul Samneung Park Trees
Lovely forest to stroll in

It’s less a graveyard and more of a very large forested park, very pleasant for a quick escape from the skyscrapers and bustle of downtown Gangnam. The tombs are large grassy mounds covered with stone statues and each mound has a shrine at its base. Stroll around and admire the intricacies of olden Korean architecture and learn a little about the history of how they honoured their royals and death rituals.

Getting there: I took a slow leisurely walk from Big John’s Place in Gangnam (more on that below) but the closest subway stop is Seolleung. It only costs 1,000 won to enter the park and you can pick up an English brochure which gives you more information. More here.

 

See one of Seoul’s most important temples – Bongeunsa

Seoul Bongeunsa Temple Skyline
COEX is right next door!

Bongeunsa temple is over 1,200 years old and located right opposite the north end of COEX shopping mall, so it’s really convenient to pop into. It’s one of the largest and most important temples in Seoul and sees a lot of visitors everyday. You can even do a temple stay here where you live, eat and follow the way of life of the monks. Not quite for me but it would make an interesting cultural experience.

Seoul Bongeunsa Lanterns
Love the colourful lanterns!

Getting there: Bongeunsa station is the closest subway stop. The temple is free to enter though there is a cost if you want to do a temple stay of course. More about Bongeunsa here.

 

Uncover a graffiti tunnel – Apgujeong

Seoul Apgujeong Seolleung Entrance
Where does the tunnel lead?

One of my favourite secret finds in upscale Apgujeong from my last trip to Seoul was this uber cool tunnel leading to the parks by the Han River. It’s a short tunnel completely covered in graffiti which has been featured in several Kpop MTVs and it leads from the residential area to the bank of the Han River where you can jog or cycle.

Seoul Apgujeong Jamwon Hangang River View
View of the Han River

Getting there: Apjugeong-Rodeo is the closest subway station – you’ll need to walk a little bit to get to the tunnel- I have full instructions in this post on where you can find street art in Seoul.

 

Eat Ginseng Chicken Soup at any time of day – Nonhyeon Samgyetang

Seoul Nonhyeon Samgyetang
I’m getting hungry just looking at that picture

My number 1 favourite Korean food to eat whether it’s summer or winter is Samgyetang aka Ginseng chicken soup. Something about this hot meaty broth really strikes a chord with me, and all the glutinous rice really fills you up as well! Most people know about Tosokchon, but the best part about Nonhyeon is not only that it’s conveniently located in Gangnam, but that this particular shop is open 24/7!

The standard Samgyetang costs 15,000 KRW but they do have some other food as well.

Getting There: The shop is located on the road right between Sinnonhyeon and Nonhyeon stations. Me and my travel buddy walked up and down the street 3 times before someone who spoke English finally took pity on us and helped us find it. Worth it though! Look for the logo with the black stylised chicken because the sign is only in Korean words.

Seoul Nonhyeon Samgyetang Sign
The sign below with the chicken belongs to the Samgyetang restaurant!

 

 

Where to stay in Gangnam

Big John’s Place is really centrally located in Gangnam if you want to make this area your base – it’s tucked up a slope on a side street so the restaurants and bars are right on your doorstep but it is surprisingly quiet considering it’s right smack in the middle of the action. Just 10mins walk from the Sinnonhyeon subway and with a direct airport bus to either Incheon or Gimpo.

Seoul Big Johns Place Gate
Welcome!
Seoul Big Johns Place Building
Big John’s Place is a cute little house

It’s a quaint little house, so very cosy indeed. There are dorms with single beds (no bunk beds!) – price wise you are looking at 40,000 KRW per night for a bed – not the cheapest hostel but I found the rooms very comfortable and clean. Twin rooms are going at 80,000 – 90,000 KRW so pretty good for couples who want a private room. (I don’t have a decent room picture because the lighting was a bit dim and my photos came out crappy!)

 

Seoul Big Johns Place Swing
I love the wooden swing outside
Seoul Big Johns Place Hot Tub
There’s even a hot tub! Empty when I was there though…

There’s even a mini hot tub outside though it was just way too cold when I was there… I did love the warm floors, which is a pretty typical Korean heating system during winter!

Seoul Big Johns Place Kitchen
You can cook or help yourself to food from the kitchen. I was eating those instant noodles every day 😛
Seoul Big Johns Place Living Room
Living room – my room was just to the right, so a tad more noisy but very convenient

 

Big John’s Place sponsored my accommodation in the time that I was in Seoul, but the exploration of Gangnam and its surroundings was all on my own!

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