Places to See with the Kids: Parks
Namsan Mountain and Seoul Tower are both pleasant breaks from a noisy city. The Tower is open all days and most evenings and, for a small admission charge, gives you a way-cool view of the whole city. There is also a bland restaurant up there.
An aside: why are restaurants on the top of towers world-wide uniformly uninspired places to eat?
For the tower itself, a taxi is probably the easiest way up. If you just want to run around in the park however, there is a better way. By bus or taxi, find your way to the Hyatt Hotel (the drive up hill takes you through a fairly typical neighborhood, interesting in itself). The hotel offers some nice views, and they have an ice skating rink with rental skates in the winter. Our quest now is for the park, so we'll not delay at the hotel. As you would exit from the hotel, walk right (East), across a bridge and you are in the park itself.
Near where you enter is an interesting foot path, made up of different kinds of rocks. Many people in Asia believe key organs in our body have terminal points on the soles of the feet, so walking on these rough surfaces bare foot is held to have health benefits.
Far be it for me to question the science afoot here, but it is fun for the kids (and you) to take off your shoes and see how far you can go, and try out the different textures to see which feels better. The park itself has plenty of improved trails to wander on, and places to picnic.
No food is available in the park, so bring your own. We'd suggest stopping at the “Paris Baguette” store at the base of the hill leading up to the Hyatt. The chain store has branches all over Seoul, and can offer up some pretty yummy donuts and pastries, though you'll probably not be fooled into thinking you are on the Left Bank.
The Han River divides Seoul into neat North and South halves. There are places to stroll all along the river, but if you aim for “Riverside Park” (Blue Line subway to Ichon), you can find boat rentals, excellent kite flying (vendors on the weekends sell kites in nice weather if you forgot to pack your kite), a replica of Korea's famous turtle ships and more.
If you have some time and are up for a bit of adventure, wander northward towards the really tall apartment buildings to find a moderately busy shopping street. There are a couple of interesting stores, some good Japanese food restaurants, and a spa where for a few dollars you can enjoy a public bath and a legitimate massage.
The spa is segregated male-female. We've brought the kids along with us and, with a little caution because the water is very, very hot (think Jacuzzi, now think Jacuzzi in the microwave), they had a great time splashing and soaking.
Yongsan Family Park (again, Blue Line subway to Ichon, with about a 10-15 minute walk) boasts a duck pond and some grassy places for the kids to run around. No playground equipment. The park is also the future site of a massive Korean history museum (under construction as of fall 2000. You can see the work ongoing, a bonus if you have kids into construction machinery. However, as of May 2001, most of the park is a large mud hole due to the ongoing building work).
The park also overlooks the sprawling U.S. Army Yongsan base, so you can look over the fence to see your tax dollars at work. You can't get on the base itself, and unfortunately for those kids who are into it, there is very little to see in terms of cool military hardware on the ground. The Army's helicopter landing area is very close to the park however, so you can see big green helicopters taking off and landing pretty much up close.