Gangnam combines three things I absolutely hate: a business district, a shopping haven, and a party scene.
Well ok, two things I hate, but I'm more of a bar person than a clubber, so that's still an element of Gangnam I'm not fond of. Anyway, it is a very busy and noisy place, with shopping crowds and lots of traffic. If I can't avoid being in Gangnam all together, I at least try to escape the noise and the crowds for an hour or so. In contrast of what you might think, you don't need to leave Gangnam to find some peace and quiet. So if you find yourself in Gangnam with an hour or two to waste and hate crowds with a passion, I've got you covered.
Bongeunsa is my favorite temple in Seoul. Not only is it the closest to my house, it's also the most beautiful one. It has a large marble Buddha that towers over visitors that pray on the marble slab before it.
Also, the location of the temple makes it quite unique. The temple itself is an oasis of calm in the busy Gangnam district. Just across the road from the temple is one of the busiest malls of Seoul; COEX Mall. The surrounding area is littered with modern high rises, which conflict with the traditional look of the temple. Therefore, it's very photogenic.
There are times that the temple is less peaceful than usual. On Buddha's Birthday for instance, it is very crowded. The many lanterns make up for it though. It's a totally different atmosphere than usually and I highly recommend experiencing it.
Bongeunsa also has a temple stay program where you can live the life of a monk for a while (for a fee). Head to their official website for details (only in Korean, sadly) The temple is open year round.
How to get there
Go to Bongeunsa Station (봉은사역) on line 9 and go out at exit 1. After that, just walk straight until you see the entrance of the temple on your right. Click here to see a video with directions.
2. Seonjeongneung Royal Tombs
Tombs look all the same in Korea. There are the wooden sacrificial buildings, the statues of people and animals, the Spirit and King's road, and the obligatory burial mount. If you visit one, you have visited them all. However, the Seonjeongneung Royal Tombs are one of the most easily accessible tombs in Seoul, because they are right in the middle of Gangnam and close to a subway station.
Visiting a tomb is not so much about the tomb itself; it is much more about the surrounding area. The tombs are situated in quiet parks, and Seonjeongneung is no exception. Although you still hear the buzzing of the busy Gangnam district in the background, it is never disturbing. Also, because it is right in the middle of the city, there is a surreal contrast between modernity and tradition.
In the middle of the park there are some quiet spots where you can forget that you're in the middle of a city. You can take a stroll, enjoy the scenery, or just read a book.
The park is open until 9 PM, which gives you the opportunity to visit in the evening when the light is best for photographs. Keep in mind that the ticket booth closes at 8 PM, so you need to be there an hour before closing time. For really early birds (not me) the park opens at 6 AM in Summer (Mar-Oct) and 6.30 in Winter (Nov-Feb). Entrance fee is a 1000 won and the park is closed on Mondays.
How to get there
Go to Seolleung Station (선릉역) on line 2 and get out at exit 8. From there go straight, cross one zebra and go right at the first opportunity. Cross the road and go right. You'll see the entrance on your left. Click here to see a video with directions.