Much of Seoul bears the distinct stamp of the 21st century: Multilane highways carry a constant stream of traffic among steel-and-glass skyscrapers. But look closer and you'll find ancient temples miraculously spared destruction in the Korean War, as well as painstakingly restored historic palaces whose designs date back centuries. Great effort has gone into preserving Korean history and culture despite a headlong rush into the future. Mere steps away from the bustle of commerce, you can find the serenity of a traditional garden or an open marketplace overflowing with ginseng, jade and dried squid.

Seoul is the center of South Korea, despite its location in the country's northwest corner. It is the hub of the nation's government, economy, education and culture, and it's where everyone wants to be. Seoul's growth has helped it become a major player in the world economy, but its rapid expansion has come with a price. Transportation, housing, utility and recreation resources have been severely strained.

To ease the congestion, the Korean government has relocated several government offices to Sejong City, 75 mi/120 km south of Seoul, while the President's office and defense ministry, as well as the center of tourism, business and finance, remain in Seoul.

Travelers will find that Seoul has luxurious modern hotels, excellent public transportation and an array of colorful cultural experiences. The city is also an attractive and convenient stopover hub in the heart of east Asia—thanks to the futuristic Incheon International Airport—with convenient connections to Japan and China.

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