Japanese sign boards began to appear in the streets of the downtown shopping center Myeongdong from several years ago. The artsy tourist area of Insadong is packed with foreigners on the weekend. Meanwhile, many vendors at the Dongdaemoon Market are fluent in English because of dealings with foreign customers.
The Korea Tourism Organization says the place most visited by foreign tourists last year was Myeongdong, followed by Namdaemoon and Dongdaemoon markets, palaces, museums and the Insadong shopping district.
Myeongdong is particularly popular with Japanese tourists. There's no specific reason for this, but it's said that Japanese do not fail to visit it as they believe Myeondong equals the central place of Korea. As most Japanese tourists do not stay in Korea for long, they usually get a hotel in the area north of the Han River where palaces, the City Hall and other major tourist spots are concentrated.
An official at the organization says that Japanese visitors clearly prefer the upper Seoul area despite the promotion of southern tourist venues like the COEX Mall.
Chinese tourists like to visit palaces, the presidential office, Dongdaemoon Market and Insadong. More than 90% of them come in a group tour program that includes visits to palaces and the presidential residence Cheong Wa Dae.
To Hong Kong and Taiwanese tourists, many of whom are individual travelers, shopping districts are the most popular. There's been a surge in female tourists from the two countries who visit Korea after thoroughly studying about Korean shopping through magazines and TV shows at home. Their increased interest is due to the Hallyu Korean pop culture boom.
The Mt. Namsan tower, recently renovated and renamed as the N Seoul Tower, has also seen a rise in the number of foreign visitors. Also, 12.7% of all foreign tourists to Korea have visited Cheonggye Stream, which now ranks as the 10th most popular tourist destination.