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Gwanghwamun should be the start of any visit or travel itinerary in Seoul. While not as vivid as Time Square in New York City, or as overwhelming as downtown Osaka or Tokyo in Japan, Gwanghwamun maintains its own cultural charm that is both vibrant and uniquely Korean. Gwanghwamun features two statues: King Sejong the Great, who popularized the Korean language; and Lee Sun-Sin, the Korean Naval Admiral whose brilliant strategies against Japan reduce Napoleon’s feats in Europe to mere child’s play.
Gwanghwamun also provides 360-degree visual euphoria at nighttime. By looking in one direction, you will view one of the great and colorful palaces of the Joseon Dynasty, set on the backdrop of ancient mountains, whose faint light trails curve and ascend to the sky. In the opposite direction, you will witness part of the Miracle on The Han, as the modern skyline of Seoul emerges and dominates the horizon.
Apart from being one of Seoul’s most beautiful areas to visit during the day or nighttime, Gwanghwamun is also adjacent to other popular destinations in Korea. Underneath King Sejong, lies a museum about his life and the creation of Hangul, the most scientific language on earth. Behind King Sejong is the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest of the five Great Palaces of Seoul. If an individual walks in the other direction past the Statue of Lee Sun-Sin, he or she will encounter a beautifully, restored, underground stream known as the Cheonggyecheon. Other destinations nearby include Insadong, one of the most popular traditional markets in Seoul; Jogyesa Temple, the highest-ranking Buddhist Temple of the Jogyesa Order; and Samcheongdong, one of the more swankier neighborhoods in Seoul with eccentric coffee shops, eateries, museums, and clothing stores. Other places like the Blue House ( think White House but blue), Gwangjang Market, and the Nakwon Arcade( the world’s largest music store) are close by.
Seoul is not the most aesthetic city in the world, despite the platitudes bestowed by the New York Times. Gwanghwamun is, however, one of the few places in life that make you gasp when you see it for the first time. When you arrive at Gwanghwamun station on line five, make sure you walk out of exit three for the full effect – you won’t be disappointed.
Head to Gwanghwamun Station on line 5 on Seoul’s superb subway system. Hold your breath and walk out of exit three.
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