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Dispatch from Seoul: 5 Spots to See Off the Beaten Path

South Korea has become ground zero for beauty innovation in the last few years (BB creams, anyone?). Lucky for us, former Birchbox copywriter Mai is teaching English in Seoul this summer—and sending us weekly updates about her finds in beauty, food, and beyond. This week, she’s rounded up the best activities for those seeking refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life.

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This view from the N Seoul Tower might seem like mostly urban sprawl, but there are plenty of green spaces and quiet retreats within the city limits. 

When I first arrived in Seoul, I felt like I had time-traveled into the future. Riding the eerily quiet subway, I saw schoolchildren watching TV shows on their antenna-equipped smartphones. Outside, giant LCD screens filled every corner, and the streets were litter-free. I was in awe: New York seemed downright medieval in comparison (the city is only now getting wi-fi installed on select subway platforms). Yet after a few weeks, I started craving a change of scene away from all the hustle and bustle. It turns out that I didn’t have to travel far—beneath Seoul’s high-tech exterior, there’s plenty of historical charm and hidden greenery. If you’re planning to visit the metropolis, here are five things you should try to unwind:image

1. After a day of walking around the crowded city center, head to the hilly streets of Bukchon Village, where you can visit one of many traditional teahouses. Order a cup of iced citron tea, and fan yourself as you pretend to be a Joseon-era aristocrat (the neighborhood was once reserved for gentility). 

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2. Judging from the eager tour groups snapping pictures here, the Biwon Secret Garden isn’t exactly Seoul’s best-kept secret, but it’s still a remarkably well-preserved former royal enclave. Located at the rear of Changdeokgung Palace, it’s full of indigenous plants and striking architecture.

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3. See Korean-style Buddhism up close by visiting one of the mountainside temples in Buamdong, a village-like neighborhood in the northern outskirts of Seoul. Open to the public, they’re well worth a visit for those craving a dose of peace and quiet—just make sure to take off your shoes before entering the main worship hall. 

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4. The Cheonggyecheon is a restored waterway that passes through several busy neighborhoods in central Seoul, but stick to its tree-lined paths for a leisurely walk and it’s easy to forget that you’re surrounded by skyscrapers. 

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5. An ancient fortress wall once surrounded Seoul, but as the city developed most of it disappeared. You can still see an intact, restored section (and catch sweeping views) by hiking up several trails that surround the city. One of the easiest access points is from the Daehang-no neighborhood, which also has plenty of live theaters and restaurants for when you’re ready to rejoin the action. 

Is South Korea on your travel bucket list? 

—Mai

See what Birchbox staffers are bringing with them on their summer weekend getaways.

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