Seoul (서 울) is the capital of South Korea. With a municipal population of over 10.5 million, and a metropolitan population totaling over 20.5 million, Seoul is by far South Korea's largest city and one of East Asia's financial and cultural centers. A fascinating blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge digital technology, home to endless street food vendors and vast nightlife districts, an extraordinarily high- pressure educational system and serene Buddhist temples, a dynamic trend-setting youth culture and often crushing conformism, extraordinary architecture and endless monotonous rows of grey apartment buildings, Seoul is a city filled with stark contrasts, contradictions, and paradoxes.
Seoul has a long history stretching far back into Korea's dynastic past. There is evidence for settlement in this area as far back as 18 BCE, but Seoul as the capital city of South Korea has a history dating back to the 14th century. Originally named Hanseong (한성; 漢城), the city was the capital of the Joseon Dynasty from 1392 to 1910. The Joseon Dynasty built most of Seoul's most recognisable landmarks, including the Five Grand Palaces and Namdaemun. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the city was renamed to its current name, Seoul. Since the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, Seoul has been the capital of South Korea. Occupied twice during the Korean War by Communist forces from the North, the city was extensively rebuilt and today is one of Asia's primary metropolises. Much of Seoul's infrastructure and facilities, such as the buildings, stadiums and transport systems, are exceptionally modern and clean.
Seoul is the largest city in South Korea and unquestionably the economic, political and cultural hub of the nation. By some measures it is the second largest urban agglomeration on the planet, after Greater Tokyo.
Seoul has become a favourite with tourists from China, Japan and Southeast Asia, following the success of Korean pop culture. Aside from the native Korean, travelers will frequently overhear Japanese, Cantonese or Mandarin as well; many restaurants and stores, especially in the more touristy areas like Myeongdong, will have signs in Japanese and Chinese, as well as Korean and English. However, this travel destination, long popular amongst Asians, is still relatively unknown in the West and frequently passed over by Westerners for nearby Tokyo, Kyoto, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.
However, the traveler who does visit will not be disappointed. This sprawling metropolis is truly vast— though the casual traveler can see most of the main sites in a few days, a dedicated traveler could spend months exploring all the alleyways and far-off neighborhoods. As the capital of a country that has gone through massive development in the past sixty years, Seoul is constantly changing at an incredible pace, matched only by the mainland Chinese cities. This frantic pace of life is reflected everywhere — in Seoul's cutting-edge digital technology, in the millions of commuters rushing to work everyday in the world's third largest subway system, in one of the most vibrant nightlife scenes in the world, and in the thousands of high rises and apartment buildings still under construction.
Administratively, Seoul is divided into 25 districts (구 gu), each with an area and population comparable to a small city. The districts are then further subdivided into 522 sub-districts (동 dong). The Han river splits the city into two halves: Gangbuk (강북), the northern, more historical half, and Gangnam (강남), the southern, wealthier and more modern half. The sheer size of the city means that travelers to Seoul will find it difficult to locate a true "center" of Seoul; instead, Seoul is almost more like a collection of cities that happen to be bunched together, each with their own central business and commercial districts. The two largest core areas are Jongno/Jung in the north, and Gangnam in the south. For travelers with more time, there are many more, smaller centers and districts to be explored, such as the island of Yeoui-do and the college district of Hongdae/Sinchon.