Summer in Seoul means several things: bright sunny days punctuated by sudden showers; heat that has you sweating the minute you step out your door, along with grassy river hillsides that tempt you out anyway; monster mosquitoes (I swear they’re bigger than the ones we have in the States, and so are their bites!) offset by balmy starlit nights that make the danger worth it; crowded city streets, balanced by the natural backdrop of the mountains that surround this busy center, Innwangsan, Bukhansan, and Namsan.
In some ways, Seoul is a bundle of contrasts: stand outside, you will be melting in the heat; enter the metro, you will wish for the down coat you packed last month with your winter things. In other ways, it’s a carefully orchestrated balance: cherry blossom season gives way to azalea season, which is followed by the roses, each in turn. All the same, whether you need an efficient plan to make the most of a short trip or are already living here and are looking for the best way to make some summer 추억’s (“chu-eok,” that would be memories), it takes a little experience to know the in’s and out’s.
One of the nicest things about summer in Seoul is the chance to spend time outdoors alongside the Han River. If you go during the day, you can hold a proper picnic, but it’s at night that the place’s real charms appear. As the sun sets, the river gives a panoramic view of the city lights, offering the original above and an artful reinterpretation in the reflection below. Depending on which part of the river you choose, there may be live street music (Yeoinaru), outdoor art galleries and a rainbow light show (Banpo), or secluded riverside overlooks were you can appreciate the night atmosphere in a more private way (Jamwon). All of these places also have public exercise and sports equipment nearby, and people can be seen jogging and biking at all hours. The traditional thing to do is 치맥 (“chi-maek,” chicken + beer, given that the word for beer is “maek-ju” ^^), but a range of activities are possible against this backdrop. Of course, there are also special summer events.
Another foolproof way to enjoy the summer in Seoul is to find yourself some bingsu—a Korean dessert that’s prettier than a sundae and lighter than a slushie. Bingsu is made from frozen, shaved milk, which might sound uncertain but tastes subtly sweet, the way you would imagine pristine snow should taste as a child. ^^; On top of this base you often find fruit, sweet red bean cake, or chocolate. The quintessential model has strawberries and cheesecake, with an oh-so-slightly tart yogurt drip to add interest to the “snow” after you’ve brought the berries under control. Flavors like this are seasonal, though, so you have to catch them when you can. They often feature melon versions (made from a whole half a melon!) in the later summertime. Sulbing is a trustworthy option when it comes to picking a bingsu café to visit.
Another feature unique to summer is the chance to visit Gyeongbokgung after dark. There are often cultural events in the summer that open its gates to the public for evening exploration, giving you the chance to see a lesser-known face of this famous landmark. As the royal palace, Gyeongbokgung is a spacious series of rooms and halls, with Gyeonghoeru as a notable spectacle. This building was a grand two-story pavilion for banquets or parties, built right out over the lake. Though it is striking in any season, at night it has a particular charm. The historical aura of the place, which can set you in a reflective mood, is offset by traditional performances of song and dance. Check the details here.
Whichever way you turn, Seoul is full of opportunities. Even if you simply walk along the Cheonggye Stream, which runs across the center of the northern half of the city, you will be sure to encounter art, a multitude of marketplaces (on the streets alongside), and plenty of leisurely couples setting a relaxed tone that contrasts with the otherwise pervasive 빨리빨리 lifestyle (“balli balli,” fast fast!).
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