Gwanghwamun at night

I took exit 9 from Gwanghwamun station as said on the maps shown in the subway station. As I climbed the stairs that would lead me to the square facing the statue of King Sejong, my heart clenched and I held my breath.

His golden-lit statue is the first thing you see when you leave the station. The second is the lights installed onto the ground, scattered randomly as if they were stars. Then back at the statue, and then you realize just how grand it really is.

Statue of King Sejong, Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul
Statue of King Sejong, Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul

The atmosphere was completely different from Hongdae. While Hongdae was narrow, crowded, and loud, the Gwanghwamun area was polished and subdued. The buildings were overwhelmingly large, but the sky was wide open. Somewhere in there I realized that I had been holding my breath. It was beautiful and it was grand.

But that wasn’t the end to it.

I walked towards the statue and then continued past it. There is a long stretch of grass behind the statue, lined with flowers as if it were about to lead to something great. People were setting up for an event the night I was there, and a stage covered Gwanghwamun directly. I shielded myself from its view because I didn’t want to spoil it.

When I got to the intersection, I was ready to stay there forever.

Cars whizzed by Gwanghwamun as if it wasn’t a historical monument, brightly lit sitting in the heart of Seoul. The colours of the gate glistened with the incandescent lighting, and the building loomed over me with grandness and poise.

Until that night, I wasn’t sure if I was having fun in Seoul. But starting from the moment I left the station, looking into the eyes of King Sejong’s statue, I knew that I made a good decision to come to this country.

The back side of King Sejong's statue, Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul
The back side of King Sejong’s statue, Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul

Seoul is a city with abundant surprises. Just when you think a neighbourhood only has high-rises, it hits you with Gwanghwamun. Other times exiting the subway, you come in contact with the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, one of the most futuristic architecture you can find in Seoul. Then as you cross the streets on some days, you realize that Cheongyecheon Stream is running beneath you, a prime spot for couples for a date.

As a suburban girl, Seoul is overwhelming and tiring. But I still urge you to make the most out of your stay there and visit the remnants of its ancestors alongside your shopping trips and café stops. A nation’s history makes its culture and its people, and making time for Gwanghwamun square is a great way to honour it. Pssst – Gyeongbokgung is also right behind Gwanghwamun, but that is for another day.

Tip: Download the subway app (Search “Korea subway”). It’s the one that everybody uses, even the locals. It shows the metro map for Seoul and other cities, also available in English. Not only does it give you the fastest/least transfer routes, it gives details on which subway cart you want to be in to make transfers faster, how long transfers take, and the approximate amount you will have to pay for the trip.

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