The deep history and ornate sites in these slices of the world will impart an immortal impression on your soul.
Shanghai is not just any tech city, it is in possession of some of the record-breaking feats of modern engineering in the world. It is also a city that does not forget its ancient roots—they are well-incorporated sights to behold as you cruise the river’s length or explore the city’s hidden secrets.
Seoul, on the other hand, is one of the most talked-about and implicitly advertised cities in the world with all its media presence. It has a ton of reasons for you to be raring to go there.
If after all this intro and you still can’t your wrap head around which will be your top pick, read on to discover which of them appeals to you the most.
One of the most celebrated capitals in the world, Seoul has no lack of world-renowned appeal. It has reached a vast audience with its ever-increasing influence in the performance scene. Seoul is the epicenter of Korean dramas, celebrities, movies, and music—there are even tours of that here if you’re a fan. But, Seoul is more than just all the glitz and glamor of show business…
With its spectacular settings, colorful culture, and finger-licking food, it’s a wonderland for holidaymakers. But if you’re searching for good motivation to drop in, nevertheless, you may find that in the read below.
What Makes Seoul Unique
Street Food With ‘Seoul’
Street food is a ubiquitous treat in almost any Asian destination, and it can be argued that East Asians tout the best of them. If you avoid sampling street food in Seoul, you would be missing out on a big facet of Korean culture. Check out the most scintillating of them below and where you can get them.
Eating raw seafood is standard in the Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market. There are food tours that cater to those who want a guided exploration of the arrays of stalls, especially when interacting with the locals and selecting the right main ingredient for your market dinner.
If you want an appetizer along with your dinner, try sannakji, a raw baby octopus [maybe not so appetizing for some]. Have it served with sesame oil to complement the sea-brine-infused meat.
Koreans love their chicken. Koreans love their beer. Pair these together and you get the perfect recipe for a great time chilling and chatting it up with friends and family. Chicken-maekju is a South Korean favorite for this particular purpose. Each bistro will provide its own special blend of seasoning for that enhanced crackly crunch.
You haven’t had an authentic street meal in Seoul until you’ve had the spicy stuff. Chow on some Dakgalbi. It’s chicken marinated in gochujang, that unmistakably Korean chili pepper paste guaranteed to put your mouth on fire if you’re not careful. With its sideshow of vegetables and rice cakes, this makes for a filling meal.
Head on over to Gwangjang market for some of the representative foods in Korea, the bibimbap. You might find yourself feasting on a special version containing barley. Or try the giant mung-bean pancakes (some the size of your head).
How about dessert, then? Injeolmi Toast’s grilled rice cake sandwiched between toasted bread powdered with select spices and drizzled with honey. Some iterations of this look kind of plain, but boy, looks can be deceiving! If you want something sweet and cold, patbingsu has a variety of sweet toppings over shaved ice made from frozen milk.
Of course, there are other Korean favorites like their BBQ, aka samgyupsal, for those after some red meat over hot coals. But all in all, you don’t have to go to fancy restaurants to enjoy a complete course in Seoul. All you need is to brave the markets and specialty streets for some good street food finds; it’s one of the ways to a filling experience.
Unique History and Heritage
Even though Seoul is filled with an ultramodern atmosphere, it maintains its history and heritage very well. Palaces, temples, and even an entire village, among others, are available for you. View them in their original pristine conditions. It’s as if time has stopped in these locations for you and future generations to enjoy indefinitely.
You can’t say you have seen everything there is in Seoul until you have entered the Korean emperor’s traditional abode—the hallowed halls of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. Its signature East Asian architecture of resting-hill roofs, stone fences, massive courtyards, pavilions, and the like, are arranged meticulously on this sprawling estate.
Check out the National Folk Museum within the palace grounds to understand the history and cultural underpinnings behind the place. From the place’s exterior, ascend stone steps under the watchful eye of a towering pagoda in the distance.
A preserved traditional Korean village awaits you in Bukchon Hanok Village. These houses serve many purposes—cultural hubs, lodging, restaurants, or tea houses, but most of them are actually humble abodes. They’re the perfect setting for experiencing a slow-paced day in the life of a local in the golden days. The traditions and culture are laid bare here, so take your time to soak it all in.
If you can’t get enough of them temples, visit the main Korean Buddhist temple, Jogyesa Temple. This is the venue for the annual lantern festival. Head here from the end of April to the first half of May to witness the illuminating event.
There are a ton more of these historical spots that await you in Seoul, like the Cheonggyecheon Stream and Insadong, but listing them all out spoils the fun, so get to exploring!
Not Your Ordinary Outdoor Activities
As if outdoor activities weren’t enough, in Seoul, historical elements have been converted into tourist draws that combine sightseeing with physical exertion. Below are some of those offered.
A Walled Fortress Within the City
Four imposing mountains punctuate the Seoul skyline. And along these bulges of earth staunchly stand stone walls that had protected Seoul from invaders for centuries. Not only are the walls quite the attraction, its gates, water gates, and signal-fire mounds are equally as impressive, if not more so.
Try and hike this lengthy stretch while taking the occasional break at gates and signal fires for that coveted photo op. Unfortunately, you cannot run the whole circumference of the wall on foot due to the developments needed for the latest infrastructure to cross. But the available hikes are worthwhile, nonetheless.
Hiking paths you can try like the Naksan Mountain Trail and the Baegak Mountain Trail. During the hike, you’ll get to climb up the slopes of the lowest or highest members in the mountain quartet, Naksan or Bugaksan mountain, respectively.
A “Guinness Book of World Records” Park
The record for “Most Visited National Park per Unit Area” stands at five million visitors annually. Seoul has the distinction of having said park, or more specifically, the Bukhansan National Park.
It has a ton of trails that boasts vistas of gorges, granite peaks, and streams of mountain water. You’re always a step away from extraordinary hikes and stunning scenes. And there are varying difficulty levels befitting your fitness level.
On top of the wonderful landscape, flora and fauna species numbering in the thousands will greet you (some stats peg these at 3100 species). There are even remnants of history like ornate gates and temples of Buddhists.
Your ultimate goal is to reach any of the peaks within the park. Ascend the bouldered peaks via the rows of guide rails, and you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Seoul from high ground whilst the chilly mountain wind blows your face.
Reach the end of your arduous trek to savor the shops, cafes, and restaurants designed to fill your tank after your tiring workout.
The 1988 Olympic Games was conducted in Seoul, and the park that served as the venue for such a herculean event still stands today. It empowers both citizens and tourists to enjoy many activities, not just sports.
Enter through the World Peace Gate, an impressive landmark gate with what was architectured to be wings. It is quite a colorful gate with meaningful murals splashed beneath the ‘wings.’
Cultural, sports, and leisure opportunities abound in the place, appropriately placed in their respective zones—
The Arts and Culture Zone provides a more laid-back experience. Find the museum and outdoor sculpture park if you want to experience the park at a slower pace. It’s one of the top sculpture parks in the world, mind you.
The Environment and History Zone are there for the outdoor enthusiast in you. Rent a bike or power walk along the trail along the ancient fortress.
You’ll find famous sites and quirky draws, plus there’s no shortage of photo-worthy locations. The Flag Plaza, Rose Park, and Music Fountain, among others, are there to satisfy your need for that craved photo op.
Asian Artistry Extravaganza
The world of art is not limited to European geniuses, East Asians have their share of talent in that department. Seoul proudly demonstrates its artistic flair with its dozens of art-based museums and other forms of artistic expression. Its awe-inspiring art scene also has been influencing the city’s culture, even today.
Contemporary art lovers rejoice! The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art will give you a taste of the exclusive Korean realization of the inspirational whispers of the ‘art muse.’ Check out this museum that only exhibits Korean works. See clearly how they stack up against the rest of the contemporary art scene.
Another modern art museum is the Kumho Museum of Art. This place houses the works of Korean artists who spearheaded the globalization of contemporary Korean art. Peruse its collection of experimental pieces that set the Korean art scene ablaze.
How about a collection of artworks in Space… the Space Office building, that is. Arario Museum in Space is another one of Seoul’s hard-hitting modern-day art collections featuring domestic and overseas art. You may find the art themes represented quite charming, while others pieces, though, border on weird.
Want a combination of past and present? Leeum Samsung Museum of Art has this, and then some. Inspect the 36 national treasures within its doors, from paintings to porcelain to sculptures, and so much more. It also has its modern exhibit, indoor and outdoor, with a plethora of quirkiness. Feel fear from the massive spiders with spindly and gnarled-vine legs in the Sculpture Garden.
If you brought your kids along, go to Seoul Children’s Museum. Introduce your youngins to the world of art in a fun way. Have you and your children’s minds boggled by the exhibits that twist the very fabric of reality. This place sounds like day care, you say? The interior design was developed by imaginative artist Ahn, Kyuchul, so it’s quite the level up.
Some people, especially art purists, don’t consider theme parks artsy but there is careful thought involved in the artistic design process. Seoul has a Media Theme Park Museum called Alive Museum. Get lost in its illusionistic art, large object art, and hands-on exhibits.
With an amazing assortment of experiences that is unlike any other, you know that Shanghai is going to get colorful and compelling.
The architecture of its old buildings by itself is enough to spellbind you into a state of suspension. The colorful lanterns of the Old Town will hypnotize you with their kaleidoscope of colors. The noise and nuttiness of the markets and the sampling of potentially exotic food will overload your senses.
Its city development boasts several of the world’s tallest towers and observation decks for your fill of extreme experiences with quite the reduction of risk. The river cruises are remarkable in their own right, most especially at night.
But those are just pieces, of the many, that Shanghai offers. So, what more can you anticipate when in Shanghai? Are there juicier details?
There are loads to list but too much to cover here. Nevertheless, whatever it is you decide to do in Shanghai, you are guaranteed to make memories that you’ll cherish forever.
What Makes Shanghai Unique
Look up at the city’s skyline and you will get to see unmissable breaks in it. These breaks are skyscraping structures attempting to pierce the very heavens in an impressive display of Chinese architectural and engineering prowess. Get on top of them to obtain some of the legendary and most memorable experiences you’ll come across.
Standing 492 meters (1614 ft) high, the Shanghai World Financial Center’s observatory is advertised as the highest observation deck in the world, which is a prestigious title held for only so long. With that kind of superlative in their pocket, you forgetting it on your itinerary is a no-no. Step on its transparent floors and tremble in excitement as the prospect of overcoming your fear of heights is imminent.
Want to ride one of the world’s fastest elevators (Shanghai claims to be on the top spot) as it climbs the Top of Shanghai Observatory at break-neck speeds [exaggeration, of course]? Check out its commanding view of the city along the river and amongst the clouds.
Another symbolic stairway to heaven is the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower. Hop aboard its glass sightseeing elevator to really get your adrenaline pumping all the way to the space-capsule-shaped top deck. When you’ve had your fill of the stunning views on the viewing deck, you may dine in the revolving restaurant just for the heck of it as the food is average at best (you have travel forums to thank for the tip).
Another superlative in the world of skyscrapers is the world’s tallest skyscraper with a fully transparent and guardrail-free outdoor air trail. Now that’s a mouthful! Wander in and on the clouds on JIN MAO Observatory 88’s glass skywalk, well, it’s more like teeter on the edge of the skywalk. It’s considered one of the most extreme sightseeing opportunities given that the safety mechanisms are quite minimal—a steel-edged glass ledge, a helmet, harness, and short rope.
As you can see, there are many unique ways you can take to the skies in Shanghai without riding an airplane. Choose your preferred tower and get climbing to bag that ultimate jump shot pic.
Parks and Theme Parks
While it may be true that some big names in the park and theme park space are not unique and are even household names and favorites, every brand name instance has its own flavor that is further heightened by the local culture, thereby creating a differentiating aspect worth visiting. Check out the most resounding of them below.
The happiest place on earth is also in Shanghai, why not. Shanghai Disneyland stays true to the brand with its classic collection of characters, storytelling, rides, and attractions within the magical land, which is tailored for the Chinese audience. Be captivated at the park’s centerpiece—the iconic Enchanted Storybook Castle, the interactive home of all the Disney Princesses [emphasis on the plural].
Looking for someplace to get yourself wet? You’ll have a blast at Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park. Explore its animal exhibitions representing different biomes of the natural world. On top of that, ride its theme park rides like its roller coaster, volcano raft, cable car, and other wacky attractions.
If you want a more laid-back time, perhaps visit the Shanghai Wild Animal Park. Feed the animals here in their interactive feeding stations. It has free-range areas as well so you can be in safari-like settings as the animals get to surround you, or you can observe them from a safe distance. Don’t miss out on their animal performances if you are into that.
Another venue for just simple sightseeing and enjoying classic Chinese architecture, water features, and landscaping is found at Yu Garden. It is a serene garden, just don’t mind the hordes of people though; some reviews advise going in the early part of the week to cut the crowds. Tip: go at nighttime, you’re in for a real treat; the place lights up with lovely traditional lanterns and lantern figures.
If you are more artistically inclined, Jing’an Sculpture Park’s modern outdoor sculptures interspersed over the park grounds make for some sick selfies while maintaining the outdoorsy feel.
And of course, if you want more of the basic park configurations, stop by Century Park, Fuxing Park, and Gongqing Forest Park, to name a few.
Shanghai’s main artery is the Huangpu river. From it flows the lifeblood of the city, the driving force behind the city’s economic position. Do note that at the southern end of the river, it branches off recursively into smaller rivers with their very own attractions. And what better way to experience the city than traveling on them.
The Huangpu has several curious establishments and services on and along its banks that are uniquely born of the river. Explore a sampling of the most fascinating of them below.
First things first. You need to be able to travel on the river to get a phenomenal perspective of the city from the water. Solve this conundrum with the Huangpu River Cruise. Take in the city from the panoramic vistas from the liner’s port or starboard. Take your selfies as you come across bridges and several of the iconic skyscrapers in the city.
How about having the ultimate perspective of Shanghai beside the water’s edge? The waterfront area of The Bund in central Shanghai will spoil you with its sights, especially at night. Expect to see a multitude of architectural styles, the Garden Bridge, a public park, the Chen Yi Square, the Waterfall Clock, and a flower-clad wall, among others, lined along the riverside.
The modern-day cityscape of Shanghai is great and all, but there is something more magical than that…
Ancient towns also grace the smaller rivers. Time travel to those special spots, like the Fengjing Water Town. This town has 52 bridges strewn across its waterways. Escape from the hustle and bustle of city life as you observe the slow-moving boats and the ebb and flow of the water.
Another ancient town Shanghai is proud of is the Zhujiajiao Ancient Water Town. It’s Shanghai’s answer to Italy’s Venice, or so some say. Take a boat ride on its canals lined with traditional houses. Together with the boatman donning a straw hat, it makes for a heck of a photo shoot.
Shanghai’s architecture is definitely worth snapping photos of, and the river is filled with structures from various periods, creating a cityscape where the old meets the new for that unique photo op.
Experiences Hiding in Plain Sight
Like almost every city in the world, there is an undercurrent of activities that are not readily available to travelers who don’t specifically seek them out. Your best bet going about this is to explore Shanghai’s Old Town. If you don’t have the patience to figure things out for yourself together with the omniscient Internet of Things, there are walking tours tailored for this very endeavor.
Access the various private gardens and private houses with a guide, of course. Enter a 500-year-old abode. Or pay your respects in the Confucian temple and feel the serenity and wisdom from the temple air flow within you.
The Old Town also has a market worth getting lost in. Have your curiosity run wild in the mahjong market as the pieces clack here and there. Waft in the steam and smoke of savory food stalls serving curious comestibles. And search for that exotic thing you can brag about in your pic.
Shanghai’s hidden landmarks are an endangered species with all the break-neck pace of the city’s development, so act fast and go hard.
Which Is Better – Seoul or Shanghai?
It goes without saying that both are delightful destinations that merit visitation. They are both East Asian destinations with strong cultural and traditional roots that have spanned centuries or millennia, with much overlap between the two. The better question you should ask is: what’s your particular preference for activities?
If you are into nature and hiking without straying too far from the creature comforts of the city, Seoul’s natural environment nestled within and surrounding the city walls provides your fix of natural high. Climb its staunched sentinels, the four mountains, looming over the city.
If you are satisfied with a jaunt within a city, Shanghai and its river provide enough entertainment to extract you from the drone of the city. If you travel further along the river, you can conveniently travel through time to get a glimpse of the olden days for that greater escape.
But if you can’t decide on your own, some travel forums clearly say that Shanghai is not as much of a heritage site as Seoul is. Shanghai is more of a city that is seeing heavy development, hence the world-topping skyscrapers. So if you are more into modern wonders and theme parks, go to Shanghai, else go to Seoul for its voluminous heritage sites, nature excursions, and modern attractions.