This article has been written by Once in a Lifetime Journey Content Manager Cal, who is married to a Korean and has lived in Seoul for 4 years.
From the moment you set foot until the time of departure, you will be inundated with things to do in Seoul. Attractions in Seoul cater for all types from the adventurous nature lover to the trendy fashionista to culture geeks and deciding what to do in Seoul is not easy because the city is absolutely packed with unique, cool and interesting things to do.
You can hike a mountain in the morning, visit an ancient temple in the afternoon and dine at a Michelin starred restaurant in the evening. And, of course, you can end the day at any of the ubiquitous 24hr coffee shops before going back to your hotel room.
I have written another article explaining all the neighbourhoods in Seoul as well as the best places to stay in Seoul which you can read here. This will get you your bearings so that you are familiar with the geography of the city, as well as the namings of the different districts and what they are famous for.
This article will give you an insider’s scoop on what to do in Seoul from someone who has lived and worked in the city for 4 years, is married to a Korean and goes back at least once a year to visit the in-laws. So if you are curious about what to see in Seoul this article is full of behind the scenes information, secret tips and tricks only known to the locals, unique things to do in Seoul and other things to see and tourist attractions in Seoul for the most exciting vacation whether you’re a family, a solo traveler, a couple or even a digital nomad.
- Neighbourhoods of Seoul
- Best things to do in Jongno, North Seoul (with map)
- Collect all your cultural souvenirs from Insadong
- See UNESCO-listed Jongmyo Shrine
- Feel the romance with a waffle or patbingsu at Samcheongdong
- Visit the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
- Check out the traditional Hanok houses in Bukchon Village
- Taste authentic traditional food at Socheon
- Feel zen-like at the heart of Korean Buddhism at Jogyesa Temple
- Meditate at Gilsangsa Temple
- Explore Gyeongbokgung Palace and museums
- Walk around Jongno in Hanbok (traditional Korean dress)
- Admire Korea’s history at Gwanghwamun Plaza
- Take a stroll along the man-made river in the middle of the city
- Shop all night long at Dongdaemun
- Admire the Dongdaemun Design Plaza
- Replenish your energy at the Gwangjang Market
- Feel artsy or taste makgeolli and tteokbokki along Daehangno
- Feel calm at a teahouse in Jongno
- Hike Bukhansan, the most famous mountain in Seoul
- Hike Namhansanseong
- Things to do in Seoul north of the river (Gangbuk)
- Things to do in Itaewon
- Things to do in Hongdae and Sinchon
- Best things to do in Myeong-dong, in Central Seoul
- Things to do in Namdaemun
- Best things to do in Gwangjin-gu, North-eastern Seoul
- Things to do in Seoul south of the river (Gangnam, Songpa and Seocho)
- What to see and do in Gangnam
- Find out what Gangnam style is all about at Gangnam Station
- Go book shopping
- Spend the big bucks at Gangnam’s luxury shopping malls
- Get your plastic surgery done at Apgujeong
- Trend it out at Garosugil
- Ride the Hallyu wave at Cheongdam
- Shop at the world’s largest underground mall, Starfield COEX
- Guzzle down BBQ chicken and beer (chimek) at a baseball game
- Take part in a Templestay at Bongeun
- Best things to do in Songpa-gu and Jamsil
- Best things to do in Seocho-gu
- Things to do in southwest Seoul
- Things to do in beyond the Gangnam Greater area
- What to see and do in Gangnam
- Other things to do in Seoul, South Korea
- Best time to visit Seoul
- Where to stay in Seoul
- How to get around Seoul
- Useful Korean phrases
- Other things to know about travel in Seoul
Neighbourhoods of Seoul
Although I have written a complete guide on the neighbourhoods of Seoul, here is a short intro again to get you acquainted with the city.
Seoul is a massive city and is also one of the most densely populated in the world with over 10mil people living in an area of 605km2 (234 square miles). A lot of Seoul is also mountainous, in fact it is a basin surrounded by 26 different mountains. So contrary to popular belief, Seoul is quite green, well, the outskirts at least.
The capital city itself is surrounded by Gyeonggi province. Interesting fact is that Seoul is known as a “special city”, so it is not in any of the provinces of South Korea and when writing an address, you only put “Seoul”. You can see an image of Seoul in gold and Gyeonggi in red below.
While not official, I would say that Seoul can be divided into three major areas (for touring purposes):
1. North of the Han river or Gangbok
2. South of the Han river or Gangnam
3. Central Seoul (north)
“Gang” in Korean is “river”, so buk and nam mean north and south respectively. The Han river runs through Seoul like a giant smile. In fact, lines 4, 5, and 6 are together called the smile line as they encompass the river.
Seoul city is further broken down into district (gu) and neighbourhood or ward (dong). For example, Gangnam (in red below) is a district (gu). Gangnam Station is in Yeoksam-dong (in gold below). The grey areas are the rest of Seoul with the Han river dividing north from south.
If you’d like to know where to stay, you should first see what Seoul activities are most appealing to you. Once you’ve decided what you want to do in Seoul, put them on a map and you’ll have a better idea of where you should base yourself.
If you think you’ll visit Gangnam once and spend most of your days in Central Seoul, for example, then stay somewhere above the river and in the centre. If you’re traveling for a longer period of time, you can move around and stay at the different areas for an extended period.
While staying where it is most convenient for your Seoul itinerary is ideal, the public transportation in Seoul is the best I’ve come across. So it is easy to move around by subway, bus or very cheap taxi. However, traffic and distances can be misleading and even though transport is good, if you don’t think about what to do in Seoul first and choose a convenient location, you may end up spending lots of time getting to and from places. For more on where to base yourself in Seoul, you can read this article.
While there are 25 districts (gu) in Seoul, you will not necessarily need to know their names. The most important thing is to know the area, the subway stop and the activities to do in each Seoul neighbourhood. You will find all this information, including some insider and local tips below. Read on to find out what to do in Seoul.
Best things to do in Jongno, North Seoul (with map)
This is the tourist hotspot in Seoul. If you’re only able to travel Seoul for one day, this should be your one and only stop with the best things to do in Seoul.
Jongno is the cultural, historical and political center of the capital city containing everything from the Blue House (the president’s house), the centre of Seong Buddhism at Jogyesa temple and the internationally renowned palace Gyeongbokgung, apart from a multitude of other sites, museums and Hallyu tourist attractions. Here are the best activities to do in Jongno.
Collect all your cultural souvenirs from Insadong
I always recommend starting your Jongno journey along Insadong street. This is the famous outdoor shopping street in Seoul that is home to a plethora of souvenirs and cultural artefacts to take home for yourself and your loved ones so it is one of the best places to see in Seoul for tourists.
The reason why I suggest you start your journey here is to scope out all the stores along the street. When you’re done exploring Jongno, you can always come back and buy some more trinkets and souvenirs. In this way you won’t have to stress about buying everything at once and it will give you time to understand what’s available. Take pictures of the things you want and the storefronts as shops look pretty much the same.
Apart from the main street that goes from Jongno-3 ga station in the south to Anguk Station in the north, there are also restaurants, tea houses, galleries and a tiered shopping plaza called Ssamzie Market selling locally produced crafts.
If you’re a musician, don’t miss Nagwon Musical Instrument Arcade where you can find just about anything to do with music in this multi-storied shopping complex. Here are extensive directions on how to get there. It is at the south entrance to Insadong.
See UNESCO-listed Jongmyo Shrine
Close by Insadong is one of the UNESCO-listed sites and most popular attraction in Seoul, Jongmyo Shrine. Learn about ancient customs, from memorial services to traditional music at this important site. It is definitely suited more for history and culture buffs than those looking for impressive architectural designs in Seoul.
Note that you can only explore the site by yourself on Saturdays. All other days of the week, you will need to take part in the guided tour. English tours are at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm. It is closed on Tuesdays.
Insadong. Anguk Station (안국역) line 3 (orange), exit 6. After a few 100m take a left OR Jongno 3(sam)-ga (종로3가역) lines 1 (dark blue), 3 (orange), and 5 (purple) exit 1 – after Tapgol Park cross the road and take a right, then take the slip to the left.
Feel the romance with a waffle or patbingsu at Samcheongdong
One of the best things to do in Seoul is to simply take it all in and do as locals do, which usually features food.
When you reach the top of Insadong street, with Anguk Station to your left, cross the busy intersection until you reach the grey stone wall. If you follow this narrow road, passing the school on your left, you’ll reach Samcheongdong.
The walk along the path is especially beautiful in spring as it’s lined with Seoul’s most beautiful cherry blossom trees. But it doesn’t really matter which season you come in, the walls make for a gorgeous Instagrammable backdrop.
Samcheongdong is quite a romantic area if you’re with your partner. There are coffee shops, brickface boutique stores and dessert cafes mostly selling waffles and Korean shaved ice (빙수, bingsu)most popular with red bean paste (팥빙수, patbingsu).
Patbingsu is a really delicious dessert made with shaved ice at the bottom and all kinds of sweet toppings from red bean to matcha to fresh fruit and chewy tteok (rice cake). Some of the cafes have rooftop terraces, which are recommended. Turn left when you reach the top of the path mentioned above for the main area (passing the flagship Kiehl’s store and walking straight).
When you reach the end of this road, you will come to another intersection. If you turn right, you will reach all the waffle cafes, Blue House and Samcheong Park. If you veer to the left, you’ll get to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Gyeongbokgung Palace and Gwanghwamun with the famed statue of King Sejong the Great, the inventor of the Korean alphabet system or Hangeul.
En route to the Blue House, don’t be shy to take an alleyway up the stairs to find some true dining gems. If you climb the steps all the way to the top, there is a gorgeous panoramic view of the Jongno area. There are also several busy waffle houses and coffee shops with rooftop access.
The cafes are constantly changing ownership and being renovated, so I will not state a specific place to stop at. I would, however, suggest that you not go to Starbucks or other chains like The Coffee Bean. Rather traverse through the labyrinthian backstreets to find a diamond in the rough. Parents with baby buggies can also enjoy the more authentic places along the main street (Samcheong-ro).
Visit the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Directly to the east of Gyeongbukgong Palace lies the monolithic National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), one of the best places to see in Seoul. Lying in what was formerly the Defense Security Command, the fairly recent Seoul branch of the MMCA opened its doors in 2013.
The style of the building uses the traditional Korean concept of madang, which is a large communal courtyard where people can come together and socialise so it is an interesting place to visit even if you don’t go in. There are various exhibitions to look at that are constantly changing. Entrance fee is around $4 with free admission between 6-9pm.
Check out the traditional Hanok houses in Bukchon Village
Although Samcheong-dong consists of restored traditional houses, the most popular area to snap a picture of these beautiful houses (Hanok) is in Bukchon Village. You can explore on your own or take a 3-hour walking tour, you can register here. There are even workshops and homestays available, where you can stay the night in Hanok.
Bukcheon. Anguk Station (안국역) line 3 (orange), exit 1 or 2 – Go straight for about 300m to arrive at Bukchon Hanok Village; Bus. Get off at Bukchon Hanok Village Bus Stop – Maeul Bus Jongno 2.
Taste authentic traditional food at Socheon
While Bukchon is absolutely beautiful and an must-see attraction in Seoul, I would also recommend a brief visit to the west side of Gyeongbokgung called Socheon (서촌). Buk is east and so is west, cheon means village – so these are the west and east villages of Gyeongbokgung.
Socheon is similar to Samcheongdong and Bukchon, but caters more to a local audience than tourists. It is therefore grittier and has loads more character so it is a more authentic place to see in Seoul. The street food is fantastic, the dingy restaurants are some of the best in Seoul and the artisanal coffee produced in this area is fabulous.
Foodie tip: If you want authentic traditional Korean food, I would highly recommend visiting Socheon. The entire street is lined with some of the best tasting food in Seoul. My favourite restaurant is Chebudong Janchijip (서촌 체부동잔치집). It is a total dive, with no website or Facebook page and a picture menu (some in English).
I love traditional food from yesteryear and often surprise my Korean friends with these tastes as they are not the average Korean foods. So if you’d like to experience something a little different in Seoul I would suggest the following:
• Perilla seed kalguksu (들깨칼국수 – Deulkeh kalguksu) – handmade, knife-cut wheat flour noodles served in a large bowl with broth
• Sujebi (수제비) – hand-pulled dough soup
• Jeon (파전) – Korean savoury pancakes made with wheat or rice flour and other ingredients. The three most popular are kimchi jeon (김치전), pajeon (파전 – spring onion jeon) and haemul pajeon (해물파전 – seafood spring onion jeon)
• Memil-buchimgae (메밀전병 – mehmil jeonbyeong) – buckwheat pancakes
There are other things on the menu, so come hungry and hopefully with some friends so you can try a little bit of everything. See my map for directions.
Socheon. Gyeongbokgung Station (경복궁역) line 3 (orange) exit 2. Take the first road to the left.
Feel zen-like at the heart of Korean Buddhism at Jogyesa Temple
Within the centre of the bustling metropolis is a peaceful oasis and the heart of Seon (Zen) Buddhism in Korea. While it’s not the quietest temple in Seoul, it most definitely is one of the most accessible and must-see in Seoul.
Jogyesa is the the head temple of Jogye order and is therefore quite a busy one. Not only is it constantly bustling with visitors as it is one of the most popular tourist attractions, but it also holds ceremonies, lectures and other Buddhist events.
The area just outside the temple is a shopping mecca for Buddhists. You can purchase statues of Buddha, monk clothing, Buddhist rosaries and trinkets of all kinds. This is one of the best things to see in Seoul for the spiritual traveler.
Jogyesa – Anguk Station (안국역) line 3 (orange) exit 6. And walk for about 140m. Turn left at Ujeongguk-ro, just past Insadong-gil. Walk another 190m. The temple will be on your right.
OR Jonggak Station (종각역) line 1 (dark blue) exit 2. Walk straight for 350m until you reach the temple on your left. On the way be sure to look up at Jongno Tower, it’s quite a unique building!
Meditate at Gilsangsa Temple
Here is one of my best Seoul tips for those looking for some peace and solace. While Jogyesa Temple is beautiful and important, for those interested in Seon (Zen) who would like have a quieter temple experience, I would also recommend a trip up to Gilsangsa Temple.
It is only a little further north, but seems miles away from the city. The story behind this temple is also quite interesting, as it used to house a high-class restaurant (actually a gisaeng similar to Japanese geisha or courtesan) before being transformed into a working temple.
The owner of the restaurant donated the land and buildings to Venerable Bupjeong, a famous Korean monk. It is so quiet and surrounded by nature and hermitages. There is also a meditation hall, where the public are allowed to meditate at any time of the day. You can walk about 20mins to the temple, but I would highly suggest taking the city bus as the hill is quite steep.
How to get to Gilsang: From Hansung University station (한성대입구역) line 4 (light blue line) take exit 6 and walk about 50m to Dongwon Mart, not the regular bus stop. Then hop on the village bus (maeul bus) called Seongbuk 02 to the temple. You could also take bus 1111 or 2112, get off at the second stop, turn right at the first light and continue walking for around 10 mins.
Explore Gyeongbokgung Palace and museums
This is the star of the show and one of the most visited attractions in Seoul. Gyeongbokgung Palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty and if you ask any local what to do in Seoul they will most likely suggest you not miss the palace and museum, they are beautiful.
Originally built in 1395 and restored again between 1852-1919 after being almost destroyed by fire, the palace is a stunning testament to ancient Korean culture and architecture. There are two museums within the complex, The National Palace Museum of Korea is closer to Socheon and the National Folk Museum is closer to Bukchon.
Other standouts at the complex include the changing of the guards at the main Gwanghwamun entrance, which consist of the tallest soldiers hand-picked from the military, the performance is one of the most authentic and unique things to see in Seoul.
When last we checked the times were 10am and 2pm, and the Gate Guard Duty Performance at 11am and 1pm. Please double check the official times here so that you are not disappointed. There is also audio commentary and a free guided tour at 11am, 1,30pm and 3,30pm.
The complex is the top attraction in Seoul beautiful all year long and you can easily spend half the day exploring the expansive grounds. It is highly Instagrammable, so make sure you bring your portable charger for your phone!
Walk around Jongno in Hanbok (traditional Korean dress)
One of the most unique things to do in Seoul is to dress up in Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and walk through the streets, especially Insadong, Bukchon and Gyeongbokgung.
You can hire Hanbok in many places, including Insadong, but a good place to start is within the palace complex or just outside near exit 3-1 of Gyeongbokgung station. The cost will vary depending on the time used but if you wear it you get free entrance to many of the Korean sights.
There are a total of 5 Grand Palaces in Seoul: Gyeonghuigung (경희궁), Deoksugung (덕수궁), Changgyeonggung (창경궁), Changdeokgung (창덕궁), and Gyeongbokgung (경복궁). Admission to all but Gyeonghuigung is free if you’re wearing Hanbok. They are spaced out quite for apart though, so you may not get to visit them all in one go. The closest to Gyeongbokgung is Deoksugung, near City Hall.
Interested one of the top free things to do in Seoul? Then you can also hire a Hanbok for 90 minutes for free if you have a Discover Seoul Pass through HANBOKNAM. You can also have a 2.5hr personalised photo shoot in Hanbok.
Gyeongbokgung. Gyeongbokgung Station (경복궁역) line 3 (orange) exit 5 – you will end up inside the complex OR Anguk Station (안국역) line 3 (orange), exit 1 and walk for a few 100m until you reach the south or east gates.
Admire Korea’s history at Gwanghwamun Plaza
While there are several entrances to Gyeongbokgung, the most famous is the south gate or Gwanghwamun. It is the largest of the gate, and the sprawling open space at the exterior of the compound makes it the most Instagrammable to this top place to see in Seoul.
The area south of the gate and outside of the Gyeongbokgung complex is called Gwanghwamun Plaza. There are two famous statues in the Plaza, one of King Sejong the Great and another of Admiral Yi Sun-sin. The space is large, clean and aims to be green with fountains and minimal automotive traffic.
You will also find the largest arts and cultural complex in Seoul, Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, and a very large bookstore with an international selection called Kyobo (the same chain mentioned in the Gangnam section) at exit 4 at Gwanghwamun Station. There are also cafes and restaurants around the area.
Gwanghwamun Plaza. Gwanghwamun Station (광화문역) line 5 (purple) exit 9 – exit via Haechi Madang, an underground walkway that connects the station to the Plaza.
Take a stroll along the man-made river in the middle of the city
After visiting Gwanghwamun, you can take a stroll to the Cheonggyecheon (청계천), a 10.9km (6.8mi) stream running through downtown Seoul. It runs from Gwanghwamun Station all the way to Hanyang University Station.
The Seoul Lantern Festival along the Cheonggyecheon
The start, in Gwanghwamun and near City Hall, is the most active and is also where the annual Lantern Festival begins. The festival is one of the most beautiful things to see in Seoul.
If you plan on going to Myeong-dong, you can walk along the stream until you get to Samil-daero and turn left until you reach the shopping complex. The walk is 30mins for travelers with time on their hands.
Foodie tip: If you get out at exit 4 at Jongak station you are in for a foodie treat. This area caters for the multitudes of salary workers in the area and therefore has a variety of communal and fast food (Korean fast food that is) restaurants. It’s a great place to have Korean BBQ and drink some soju. There are also pubs and clubs with beer pong and the like, and great karaoke rooms to keep you entertained with one of the most unique things to do in Seoul and Korea.
Most of the biggest language institutes in Korea are also in this area, so you will find local and international teachers mingling with adult students over a beer. One of my favourite places in Seoul is Donburi, which is an institution in the area and has recently been renovated (2018).
The vibe is of an authentic Izakaya with freeflow side dishes (including miso soup and kimchi). Try the salmon sashimi rice bowl (연어덮밥 – yeono topbab) or the mixed gatsudong for an epic treat. The queue gets really big, really quick, so prepare to wait for your meal.
My favourite coffee is also made in this area at Caffe Themselves, across the road from the eating area and next to the Bibap Theater (if you want to watch a cooking performance similar to the famous Nanta in Myeong-dong). Their much awarded coffee is fantastic. Take a slice of cake and go upstairs to chill after all the walking. It’s also a nice place to work for digital nomads or to people watch. Try avoid lunchtime as you will have to wait in a long queue.
Shop all night long at Dongdaemun
Some of you may be coming to Seoul for one thing: shopping! One of the best places to shop in Korea is Dongdaemun. It is one of Seoul’s top wholesale shopping destinations, which is packed with many wholesale markets which are open all through the night. There are several department stores selling locally designed clothing to fill your Kpop wardrobe. No doubt one of the top things to do in Seoul is to wander around this incredible shopping mecca.
Places to visit in Dongdaemun include Lotte Fitin, Migliore, Doota, U:US or any of the apM franchises. Bring cash to haggle down the prices (say “kkakka juseyo” to ask for a discount). But Doota and Migliore should be your top picks for retail items.
Admire the Dongdaemun Design Plaza
The fairly new Dongdaemun Design Plaza is one of the most eccentric buildings in Seoul, an Instagrammers paradise and a can’t miss place to see in Seoul. The building was designed by Zaha Hadid who designed the Morpheus Hotel in Macau and the Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan.
Apart from being a major urban landmark, it is also one of the best attractions in Seoul. The building can also be visited and has a rooftop park, exhibition spaces, parts of the original Seoul fortress, a design museum, the design lab, the academy hall, media center, seminar room, the designers lounge, the design market and more retail stores. This is a tourist attraction in Seoul you cannot miss and it is different and beautiful day and night.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza is also the place where you will exit if you take the subway through Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station.
Replenish your energy at the Gwangjang Market
For cheap, authentic and delicious street food, head to Gwangjang Market at exit 8 at Jongno-5 ga station. If you like Korean food or are interested in trying it out, this is the place to go.
You can try everything here from the ubiquitous kimbap (김밥, Korean style rice roll (try the mayak kimbap) to delicacies like jokbal (족발, pig’s feet) and soondae (순대, blood sausage made of cow’s intestines) and bindaetteok (빈대떡, mung bean pancake). Bring cash and an empty stomach, this is a must see in Seoul.
See the paragraph below about the best food tour to this market or book it here.
Dongdaemun. Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (동대문역사문화공원역) lines 2 (green), 4 (light blue), 5 (purple) exit 1 for Dongdaemun Design Plaza, exit 14 for all the major retail stores like Migliore.
Feel artsy or taste makgeolli and tteokbokki along Daehangno
When art and creative types asked me what to do in Seoul I always suggest them to head to Daehangno. If you love independent theatre, you should try out this area. Similar to Hanyang and Hongdae, Daehangno is a university area with plenty of hipster cafes, restaurants and a general younger, hipper crowd.
The area around Hyehwa station is filled with amateur theater productions, mostly in Korean of course, but is still a great place to catch a performance. There are also murals everywhere in the area known as Ihwa Mural Village, about a 10min walk from the station so this is one of the best places to see in Seoul even if you don’t watch a performance.
The area around Hyehwa station at exit 2 known as Marronnier Park is a good place to try out some street food like tteokbokki (spicy rice cake), sundae (blood sausage) or huge waffles stuffed with ice cream. Daehangno is also the perfect place to try the thick, sweet Korean rice wine known as makgeolli. A nice, refined cafe to grab a bite and taste some really good makgeolli is Like a Dandelion.
Naksan Park is a nice expansive green space near Daehangno where you can go on a trail walk along the Joseon Dynasty fortress walls. Seniors should take caution as the Park is up a hill.
Daehangno. Hyehwa Station (혜화역) line 4 (light blue) exit 2 for Mariner Park, University Street and Ihwa Mural Village.
Feel calm at a teahouse in Jongno
One of the best things to do in Seoul is to simply enjoy a cup of traditional tea. Korean tea houses are like mini-temples. The interior is often light, calm and rustically beautiful. The tea itself is delicious, the cups and pots are artisanal and the desserts are scrumptious.
Jongno has no shortage of tea houses to pick from for the full experience. Try Ikseondong, Dawon in Kyung-in Museum of Fine Art, Moonbird teahouse, Shin Old Teahouse, or Twinkle Twinkle Ssuktang-cha (no website), all in Jongno.
Hike Bukhansan, the most famous mountain in Seoul
If you are a hiker, this is the part that you’ll need to save. Literally translated as “big mountain in the north”, Bukhansan most definitely lives up to its name. It is 78.45km wide, lies within 6 different districts and even extends into the next province, Gyeonggi-do.
It is a beautiful intermediate hike, although there are multitudes of paths to take, so beginners would also thrive in the nature (even if you don’t make it to the top). Insubong Peak, the magnificent granite rock, is mesmerising and one of the top attractions in Seoul for hikers scaling Bukhansan. Baegundae Peak is another famous summit.
There are several temples scattered around the mountain that are worth a visit for some meditative solace, from Sangunsa Temple near Bibong Peak, Seungasa Temple on the east Bibong Peak, with rock-carved Buddhas Maaeseokgayeoraejwasang, to Munsusa Temple en route to Musubong Peak. The 8,500m Bukhansanseong fortress wall is also not to be missed.
While it is a large and gorgeous mountain, hiking it is also one of the top things to do in Seoul so it is always full. Bukhansan averages 5 million visitors annually entering the Guinness Book of World Records as the national park with the highest number of visitors per square foot. Book a guided hike here or see below for a quieter, yet still close alternative.
Insider tip: There are usually people selling fresh makgeolli and snacks like anchovies and fruit at various intervals on all the popular mountains in Korea. Take some cash with you if you’d like to partake in this cultural activity. But be warned, don’t drink too much, makgeolli is fresh and sweet and can seem like juice, but the alcohol can pack quite a punch. Even though it is about 6-8% alcohol content, people tend to drink it fast and in abundance. So please be moderate. There is also exercise equipment at random intervals which is free to use, that is, if you feel like working out in the middle of a hike.
Bukhansan. For Bukhansan National Park, go to Gireum Station (길음역) line 4 (light blue) exit 3, then take Bus 110B or 143, and get off at the last bus stop.
For Bukhansanseong Fortress, go to Gupabal Station (구파발역) line 3 (orange) exit 1, then take Bus 704 bound for Bukhansanseong Fortress (북한산성). Get off at the Bukhansan Mountain entrance bus stop.
For Dobong Area, go to Mangwolsa Station (망월사역) line 1 (dark blue) exit 3, and walk for 10mins until you reach Dobong Management Office of Bukhansan National Park Dobong Office – address for Google Maps: 229-104, Howon-dong, Uijeongbu Si, Gyeonggi-Do.
While not in Jongno, actually, it’s not even in Seoul but in Gyeonggi province, we highly recommend making a day visit to UNESCO-listed Namhansanseong in Gyeonggi-do for another beautiful attraction in Seoul. We have added it here to follow the hiking theme. It really is a beautiful hike and Namhansanseong village is a wonderful little place to get lost in food and culture. Try the acorn jelly (도토리묵 – Dotorimuk), handmade tofu or soft tofu stew (순두부 찌개, sundubu-jjigae) and a bottle of makgeolli at Namhansanseong village after your hike. Check here for more information on hiking routes.
Things to do in Seoul north of the river (Gangbuk)
The area running along the north of the Han river consists several districts and has a few of the best attractions in Seoul.
North and east of the river you find Yongsan-gu, made of expat shopping and foodie havens Itaewon and Haebongchon. The Eastern part of Seoul above the Han River is for expat living. The US Army is based in this area, so Americans will feel at home in Yongsan district.
Yet US expats and military officers are not the only people who hang around this multi-ethnic hotspot, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Canadians as well as Middle Eastern, African and European expats frequent and even live in this area. There’s even a working mosque and Chabad Centre in Yongsan.
Mapo-gu, running along the Han river and bordering Goyang city in Gyeonggi-do, is well-known for its concentration of famous universities. The most well-known in Hongik University (Hongdae) as well as Sogang and Ewha Women’s Universities. The area is frequented by young, hip and artsy university students looking to express their individuality and is a great place to grab a bite to eat or party the night away. The Trickeye Museum of Seoul is also located in Mapo.
Myeongdong and Namdaemun in the centre are the best places to shop in Seoul and here you can shop to your heart’s content 24h a day.
Lastly, Gwangjin-gu to the east is a more open and residential area which has less of the frenzy and a few places to see.
Below are all the top things to do in Seoul north of the river, in Gangbuk’s main areas.
Things to do in Itaewon
Travelers craving a diverse mix of people and food in Seoul will want to visit the Itaewon and Haebongchon areas. The main road consists mostly of clothing shops (with famous American brands like Nike and Adidas) and coffee shops, with a few fast food chains and coffee shops.
International eating in Itaewon
Take any alley behind the KFC/Hamilton Shopping Centre and you’ll find a foodie’s paradise. While Itaewon is great for foods of all kinds, it’s not suggested to try authentic Korean food here. There are some great Korean restaurants in the area, but it is recommended to get authentic Korean elsewhere.
Recommended institutions include Zelen which is always a hit, serving authentic Bulgarian food. Head chef and owner, Mikhal, often appears on the popular Korean TV show “Please Take Care of My Refrigerator” (냉장고를 부탁해; Naengjanggo-reul Butakhae).
Another string of popular destinations in Seoul include the “My- series” restaurants, which are owned and operated by Hong Seok-cheon. Hong Seok-cheon was the first male celebrity to openly come out as gay back in 2000. After his public revelation, he was fired from his job as a successful TV show host and was publicly ostracized. Yet he managed to fight through the adversity and social stigmas and today owns the successful high-end restaurants in Itaewon. Try any one of these when you’re visiting: My Hong, My Chi chi*s, My Thai, My China, My X, My Chelsea, and My Noodle.
A few years back, Mexican-Korean fusion restaurant, Vatos, was introduced in Itaewon. When it first opened, it was so busy that you had to reserve a month in advance. While the crowds have faded, the restaurant is still as popular as ever with franchises opening up all over the city. The theme is “Urban Tacos”, where you can select Mexican classics with a Korean twist, like their famous kimchi carnitas fries or galbi short rib tacos.
You can even test out authentic South African food like lamb potjie (stew) and biltong (beef jerky) at the ever busy Braai Republic. Halal Korean foods are also on offer in Itaewon, the most well-rated being EID. Halal samgaetang (ginseng chicken broth)? Check! Kervan Turkish restaurant and Petra restaurant are also good Halal options.
Clubbing in Itaewon
Itaewon is also known for its bustling and often debaucherous nightlife, especially on weekends so this is one of the best nightlife areas in Seoul. You’ll find everything from jazz to EDM in Itaewon, definitely some of the best clubs in Seoul. Dress to impress as you’ll feel like an outcast in backpacking clothes in some of the swankier establishments. Try out Soap, Venue/, Made, Boombar or Cakeshop for your fix of party vibes. They’re all pretty much in walking distance from each other, so you can have a fun night of club hopping until the sun comes up.
Those looking for a less party atmosphere should head to All That Jazz. First opening its doors in 1976, this jazz institution offers soothing sounds in a relaxed interior for something a little different. You can also order drinks and a bite to eat while you watch the performance. No bookings needed, check out their performance calendar here.
Indulge in coffee and desserts in Itaewon
Koreans know how to whip up great desserts. From the ubiquitous Paris Baguette to the smaller mom and pop bakeries and delicatessens, the sweet and savoury treats are always delicious. You can also expect some fantastic desserts cafes in Itaewon to please your sweet tooth.
Check out International franchise with roots in Korea, Softtree Ice Cream for a melt in your mouth ice cream sandwich called “Mother Bread” and made with golden toasted bread and soft ice cream (softserve).
Passion 5 Patisserie is more like a dessert emporium than a bakery. Labeled as a “premium dessert café & gallery”, you’ll definitely find something to guzzle down amid the dessert frenzy and gallery atmosphere.
Takeout Drawing is another cafe-cum-gallery to please your palate and your eyes. What sets this cafe apart from its competitors is that sales of the food and beverages go into funding the exhibitions, and the artists design the beverages. So you’ll end up with something you’ve never seen before that also tastes great! Paul’s Meringue Factory is a crowd pleaser.
You’ll probably want a coffee after all that cake, so head to the quaint Ikovox behind the Hamilton Hotel for fresh batch of home-roasted coffee that comes in all the different styles you can imagine. The space is cramped, but the coffee is brilliant with knowledgeable baristas. For a quirky yet tranquil setting, climb up to Ando Cafe on the rooftop complete with courtyard.
Insider tip: Another area close by Itaewon is Hannam-dong (not to be confused with Hanam, a city in Gyeonggi province). This area is where many of the consulates are placed, as well as the residences of many diplomats and celebrities. It has a Parisian feel, if the streets of Paris were on a hill. There are boutique stores, cute cafes and fancy restaurants, if you want to pop in for some brunch.
Itaewon – Itaewon Station (이태원), line 6 (Brown) – take any exit, but you will most likely be taking exit 1 to get to most of the restaurants up on the hill. You’ll come out at the Hamilton Hotel and shopping Centre.
Hannam – Hangangjin (한강진역) exit 1 – to get to the Leeum Samsung Art Center. If you go down the hill it is about a 10-15min walk to the main street in Hannam or a 3min bus ride.
Leeum Art Museum
If you alite at the station before Itaewon, called Hangangjin, you will be in walking distance of the epic Leeum Art Museum in Seoul, run by the Samsung Cultural Foundation. The building itself is a marvel and is comprised of the first museum, designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, the second museum by French architect Jean Nouvel and the Samsung Child Education & Culture Center designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. The museums house contemporary, as well as traditional Korean pieces.
Check out the craft beer scene in Haebongchon
A little way passed Itaewon and around the hill is trendy Haebongchon or HBC. HBC is a continuation of the multi-cultural aspect of the area, yet it is quainter and has more of a residential feel. There are craft beers hubs, cafes and restaurants along the street to cater to all tastes. It has more of a European than US flare about it.
There are two trendy areas to visit in HBC. The first is when walking from Noksapyeong Station, exit 2, on the right hand side of the road. Walk a few 100m and you’ll see a stack of brown kimchi pots. Take street on your left at the kimchi pots and you’ll wind up at a road of cafes and drinking holes for expats. If you cross the road (either taking the underground tunnel or over the bridge a little further down the road) there are numerous hipster hubs to visit.
크래프트 비어와 위스키, 맛있는 맥주가 선사하는 색다른 페어링. _ 더부스와 2017 아시아 베스트 바 Top 50에 선정된 디스틸이 함께 만든 '보일러메이커' 쾰시는 맛있는 술을 사랑하는 모두를 위한 맥주입니다. 그 자체로도 훌륭하지만, 버번 위스키 샷과 만나게 되면 시원하고 향긋한 목넘김에 이어 뜨거운 알콜의 맛까지 느낄 수 있는 매력적인 페어링을 선사합니다. _ 크래프트 비어 펍에서도, 위스키 바에서도 만날 수 있는 잘 만든 맥주. 더부스와 디스틸이 꿈꾼 바로 그 맛입니다. _ #더부스 #thebooth #디스틸 #dstill #보일러메이커 #boilermaker #양맥 #크래프트비어 #수제맥주 #craftbeer #위스키 #whiskey
Trailblazer in the Korean craft beer industry, Craftworks Taphouse, is the first place you should go for a brew. The cozy atmosphere and great ales along with delicious pub food is the perfect start to your journey. Magpie Brewshop and the Booth’s “hipster ale” are two more fantastic options for authentic craft beers. You can even take a brewing or tasting class at Magpie. California Kitchen & Craft Pub has an extensive list of local and international brews in the bottle and on tap if you’re interested in sampling a variety of brews.
Haebongchon – Noksapyeong Station (녹사평역) line 6 (Brown) – exit 2 and continue walking up the hill, veer left at the kimchi pots to get to the main strip at HBC.
Things to do in Hongdae and Sinchon
The north-eastern part of Seoul is home to all things artsy. If you want to make it in the art world in Korea, including architecture, then Hongik University is the top university of choice. The area, an amalgamation of Hongik and the university (daehakyo), is called Hongdae. It’s a place to find graffiti-lined walls, students expressing themselves through arts of all forms and hipster cafes.
Shop at Hongdae Walking Street
A bit of night shopping before the party in Hongdae. Source
Although you can come here at any time, Hongdae Street is best visited at night to get the vibe of the area.
There are two main shopping areas in Hongdae (other than the large department store called Y’Z Park at exit 8 Hongdae Station). Take exits 8 or 9 at Hongdae Station and push through the crowds until you get to the central hub called Hongdae Walking Street (in red below). This area is filled with restaurants, pubs, clothing stores of all kind and frequent performances.
If you cross the road you’ll find the still busy yet more boutique shopping lane called Hongdae Shopping Street. Here you’ll find indie clothing brands selling their wear. It’s an eclectic and electric vibe as you pass all the original stores and unique individuals.
If you’re visiting Seoul between March and November, and happen to be in Hongdae on a Saturday between 1-6pm you should definitely visit the HongDaeAp Freemarket. You will not find any major or international brands here as this market focuses solely on the entrepreneurial spirit of the local artists. You’ll find all sorts of local goodies for yourself or to take as a gift for others at home. The market is located at Hongik University Playground Park.
Noraebang nights (karaoke)
Karaoke is a must-do activity in Seoul – whether it’s with friends, family, or just to practice by yourself you cannot leave without trying the most fun thing to do in Seoul. Unlike the West, where you usually have to stand on a stage in front of a host of strangers, karaoke is a private affair in Korea.
The room is known as a noraebang (노래방) or “singing room” and is hired out for a set amount of time at a set price (i.e. you do not pay per person but rather per room). Noraebang come in all forms from the bare-bones couch and sound system with TV to the full-on deluxe experience with multiple screens, leather sofas and instruments.
A room can range anywhere between US$5-$20 for an hour depending on how luxe it is and in which district it is. If you sing well, you may be rewarded with additional time, you’ll know because the timer will spontaneously increase.
While most of the songs are Korean K-pop or ballads, there are many foreign picks from Japanese and Chinese to Western standards. You can also purchase drinks and sometimes even snacks while you sing the night away.
There are plenty of narebang in Seoul, but the most well-known is Luxury Su Noraebang (수 노래방) where you can sing to your favourite tunes looking out over an open glass window into the crowds of Hongdae. It’s also fairly close to gallery, theater and boutique store Sang Sang Madang. Check their gallery here to see what it’s all about.
Tip: Korean culture is far from stagnant, where the night progresses through several different places. If you spend the night partying with a Korean person you’ll spend the night jumping from pre-drinks to dinner to club to noraebang to a cafe and beyond. You will usually end up at a noraebang when enough soju gives you the confidence to sing in front of strangers.
Eat a waffle with a sheep
Hongdae has lost of hipster cafes but perhaps the most interesting and unique cafe in Seoul features actual sheep! Thanks Nature Cafe is down some stairs just off the road leading to Hongik University. They serve a mean waffle and fairly good coffee. While you wait for your food you can frolic with the fluffy friend, even posing for a selfie.
Look out for graffiti
The old playground in Hongdae covered in graffiti. Source
There is an entire alley dedicated to graffiti art in Hongdae, aptly named Hongdae Mural Street or Alley (홍대벽화거리) and enjoying this type of urban expression is one of the top things to do in Seoul because it tells a lot about the undercurrents and thinking of the local youth.
You will find splurts of graffiti around the area, but this small alley is devoted solely to this artfrom. It’s very close to the entrance to Hongik University. See the map below for directions.
Party in Hongdae
The energy in Hongdae is electric, particularly on weekend nights, when the streets come alive and the clubs get packed to the brim. The park, close to the university becomes an outdoor party, where it’s not uncommon to find boys breakdancing, silent headphone parties or any multitudes of great spontaneous activities. This is not a tourist attraction in Seoul but one of the best ways to experience local life.
As Hongdae is the mecca of nightlife in Seoul, there are a pantheon of clus choices. Rock out at Funky Funky (FF), Convent Pub (Freebird lounge) or GOGOS, have a VIP experience at Club Vera, or show your swag at Hip Hop clubs Cream, Madholic or Lux. There’s even more clubs in Hongdae to dance until the subway opens like Mama Gorilla, Club M2, Cocoon, Aura and MWG. If you’re looking for the best area to party in Seoul, this is it.
Insider tip: While drinking in public is legal in Korea, and you can purchase alcohol from any convenience store, it is frowned upon. So while you can join in the festivities in a place like Hongdae Park, you should not continue the party in the subway.
Families should visit Hongdae/Sinchon area during the day, as it can become quite chaotic at night. There is no shortage of coffee shops, eateries, and boutique stores.
Stroll around Sinchon’s university area
Sinchon is the station directly after Hongdae. There are two famous universities very close to Sinchon. Established by Methodist missionaries in 1886, Ewha Womans University is the largest female education facility in the world. One of the stand out features of a visit is the Ewha Campus College (ECC). This impressive structure, designed by French architect Dominique Perrault, is Korea’s largest environmentally friendly underground campus facility and is absolutely Instagram-ready. The shopping at Ewha Fashion Street, around the entrance to Ewha (the area being called Edae), is also quite abundant.
The second educational institute you can visit is Yonsei University, one of the three top institutions in Korea (the other two being Seoul National University and Korea University, forming the acronym SKY). Established in 1885 and seen as possibly the most prestigious university in Korea, Yonsei also makes for a great tourist attraction in Seoul because of its architectural adventure, based on the ivy league exteriors of Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford.
Hongdae University Area – Hongdae Station (홍대입구역) line 2 (green) – take exit 8 and walk straight up the road toward Hongik University for most of the action.
Sinchon Area – Sinchon Station (신촌역) line 2 (green) exit 7 or 8 to get to Hongdae.
Ewha and Yonsei – Ewha Womans Univ. Station (이대역) line 2 (green) exit 2 to get to Fashion Street or Ewha; Sinchon Station on the Gyeongui Line (which is on a railway and not the metro, therefore different from line 2 mentioned above) to get to either of the universities; Sinchon Station exit 2 or 3 and then a 25 min walk to Yonsei (taking a taxi is recommended).
Best things to do in Myeong-dong, in Central Seoul
Central Seoul is (another) shopping destination in Seoul and is fun for the whole family, if your family likes to walk, shop and embrace crowds that is. Whether it’s snowing or the sun is out, during the day or the night, Myeong-dong will be packed. There are stores from just about any brand, as well as underground arcades and the usual luxury department stores.
Tip: There are people walking around Myeongdong in red jackets and cowboy hats. They speak several languages, including English, and are very friendly and willing to help. Grab a map from them or ask where the nearest toilet is or what the best restaurants are. They’re super helpful. They walk around, but are usually in the main cross section near Myeongdong Theater.
Night shopping at Myeong-dong
Shopping in Seoul is a national sport and lots of visitors come to the city just to shop. But walking around Myeong-dong is one of the top things to do in Seoul, even if you’re not into shopping, as the people watching is fantastic.
You’ll find wide-eyed Japanese tourists dressed in cosplay, ice creams as long as your arm (32cm!), magical street food and just about every person snapping away on their cameras. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a cultural performance or Kpop group singing to the masses.
Most first-time visitors to Seoul will most likely arrive from Myeong-dong Station exit 5 or 6 near the biggest Uniqlo store in Korea. It’s also a good introduction to the seemingly endless shops in the district. If you do end up purchasing too much near the entrance, it’s advisable to go back down into the subway and drop your items in the storage facilities near the ticket vending machines. You will be walking a lot.
Myeong-dong has basically every big international and local brand you can imagine. Pop into any store that catches your attention to browse or buy. Myeongdong is also known to be skincare central, so this is the place to purchase any skincare products you need. Remember that you can try to get a deal in the skincare stores, so try ask for a discount especially if you’re buying in bulk.
Don’t just stick to the main roads, explore the alleyways and even the second, third or basement levels of buildings that seem to have nothing inside. You’ll be surprised at what you may find.
There are also department stores scattered around the area, like high-end Lotte Department Store or hip Noon Square. There are also a host of money changers and tax redemption booths. You can easily spend a full day here, but remember to budget, the sales and abundance of products can be enticing!
Myeong-dong also has coffee shops, eateries and convenience stores spread out throughout the area, so you don’t need to worry about food. Although a bottle of water for hydration is recommended. And comfy shoes.
Taste great street food
What to do in Seoul if you are hungry? Head to Myeongdong. Food is one of the best attractions in Seoul and while there are eateries, cafes and street stalls everywhere some areas have them in higher numbers and allow you to compare and sample in smaller amounts.
There are always a few food street vendors around Myeongdong, but the best time to go is on Friday and Saturday nights where there are many more vendors trying to catch the weekend crowd. Try anything that tickles your taste buds, but be on the lookout for meat skewers, fried tteok (Korean rice cake) and mandu (dumplings) or odeng (fish cake) on a stick.
After a walking lunch, go grab a rose gelato at Milky Bee. There are several location scattered around Myeong-dong to grab a taste of the beautiful and delicious creation.
You should also make your way to LaLa Mart, a Korean snack emporium located one block down from exit 8 Myeongdong station. You can purchase all your favourite Korean treats here and even try some new ones.
See a show at Myeong-dong Theater or watch Nanta
Previously known as the National Theater of Korea (which is now at the base of Namsan in Jung-gu), Myeong-dong Theater was once the cultural and artistic centre of Korea. After a lengthy 3-year renovation, it opened its doors once more in 2009. There are many performances carried out daily in several languages, check the schedule here to see what’s happening when you visit.
One of the most unusual and fun things to see in Seoul is the cultural non-verbal cuisine performance extravaganza Nanta. It is an explosive musical with food at the forefront. It combines traditional samul nori with music and comedy. Because there are no words it caters to a wide audience. It’s fun for everyone, young to old. There is another, lesser known performance that is similar called Bibap in Jongno, but this is the more popular choice for tourists.
A fantastic site in the area is the Myeong-dong Cathedral, a beautiful church for Archdiocese of Seoul and the birthplace of Catholicism in Korea. It is a spacious working church, which you can enter for free in between the scheduled mass.
Ride or hike to the top of Namsan (N Seoul Tower)
Once you are done shopping, head back to Myeong-dong station, go to the opposite side of the road to exit 3 and follow the path to the right of the Pacific Hotel. After about a 10min walk you will reach the cable car that goes up to N Seoul Tower. It is fairly cheap, fast and usually runs all day from 10am to 11pm. A return ticket is around US$8. For the latest pricing you can visit their website here.
There are also free options to walk up Namdaemun market (see next section) to N Seoul Tower including the road that winds up and around the mountain or the steeper, but quicker set of stairs that lead to the top. The flat loop around the mountain is a fun and refreshing walk for families with babies or lovers looking for romance, especially in Spring when the cherry blossoms line the walking path.
Joggers, strollers and groups of locals and tourists love this circular walk as it is a nice escape from the bustle below. Look out for the public outdoor gyms at random intervals around the mountain if you’re a fitness junkie.
There are also eco-friendly public buses that run regularly up and down the mountain. For the full routes visit this website. At the top you will want to ascend N Seoul Tower, which provides a 360 panoramic view of the entire city. It’s a good option to go there at the start of your trip to understand the layout of the city a bit more.
Insider tip: The money changers on the outskirts give more affordable rates. My favourite place to exchange cash is in the map below. It’s basically close to the Avanuel and Lotte Department Stores. If you are across the road from and facing the department stores, you will turn left and take the slipway left into the alleyway. See our map above for more details.
Myeong-dong shopping complex – Myeong-dong station (명동역) line 4 (light blue) – take exit 5 or 6 to get to the main shopping area. Exit 3 to get to the Namsan cable car.
Things to do in Namdaemun
One station after Myeong-dong on the same line (Hoehyeon) is Seoul’s tourist hotspot: Namdaemun market.
This is probably the best place to go souvenir shopping in Seoul, unlike the traditional souvenirs sold at Insadong, Namdaemun has a wider variety at very cheap prices. Especially if you want to make bulk purchases. You can find anything here from jewelry to fashion to fresh produce.
Visit the camera market if you’re looking to purchase electronics and don’t have time to visit Yongsan Electronic Market. They have a wide selection there including new and vintage cameras at good prices. Make sure they can be operated in English. Take exit 5 at Hoehyeon station and walk all the way through the Namdemun Market until you reach the main road.
Taste street food at a pojangmacha
One of the top things to do in Seoul is to visit a pojangmacha (outdoor tented street food market). Navigate through the labyrinth of stalls and waves of tourists to the centre of the market and you’ll find some of the best street food in Korea.
Try the spicy tteokbokki (rice cake in chilli paste) paired with crunchy twigim (deep fried food) as a start. Wash it down with eomuk guk (fish cake soup) and possibly a bottle of soju if you’re feeling up to it.
Namdaemun market – Hoehyeon station (회현역) line 4 (light blue) for Namdaemun – take exit 5 and walk straight until you meet the entrance to Namdaemun market.
Best things to do in Gwangjin-gu, North-eastern Seoul
While the western side of Seoul above the Han river does not have a lot of tourist attractions, there are some fantastic places to visit if you want to experience Seoul like the locals.
Visit Seoul’s premiere green space at Ttukseom
One of the most beautiful green spaces in Seoul is the Ttukseom/Seoul Seup (forest) area. Not by any means a real forest, this man made eco-friendly area is a nice break from the chaos of the city centre. There are trees, bicycle rentals, rollerbladers, a skate park, sculptures and walking paths that lead up to and along the Han River.
Seoul Forest – Ttukseom Station (뚝섬역) line 2 (green), exit 8 or the Seoul Forest Station (서울숲역) on the Bundang line (yellow), exit 3 to get to Seoul Forest.
Taste gopjang near Wangsimni and Hanyang
The area close by is a student area, but unlike Hongdae, it is a bit less artsy as the universities (Gonguk and Hanyang) are known for engineering and architecture. The vibe is still great at both areas and is a fantastic way to experience local college life without the mass amounts of tourists.
Get off at Wangsimni station, near Hanyang to get a taste of gopjang (small intestines) if you’re into this delicious delicacy. Eating some intestines is definitely one of the most unusual things to do in Seoul.
Hunting for sales at Enter 6 Mall
There is a large mall called Enter 6 right above the Wangsimni station and another sister mall right across the road. They often hold events where you can find international brands dirt cheap. There is also a cinema, large golf driving range and a really nice way to experience supermart shopping at E-mart.
Insider tip: I would recommend getting out at Wangsimni station and exploring the area for an hour or so if you have the time, especially at exit 6 and beyond. I may be biased as I used to live here, but it really is a wonderful place to explore the culture out of the tourist belt. It’s a nice stop if you’re coming on the green to from Hongdae to Jamsil. It’s also where the green line emerges from under to over the ground, so the views, especially of the Han River are breathtaking.
Enter 6 and Hanyang University – Wangsimni Station (왕십리역) – Line 2 (green), Line 5 (purple), Gyeongui–Jungang Line (light blue), Bundang Line (yellow) – exit 6 for some culture or exit 12 for Enter 6 shopping mall.
Snap a selfie at Common Ground market
Getting off at Konkuk University Station (Kondae Ipgu) will bring you to a range of different opportunities to explore. There is a large Lotte Department store at exit 5, a sort of mini student Rodeo drive near exit 6 and a throng of bars and hipster eateries near exit 1.
If you walk a few blocks from exit 6 you’ll stumble across Common Ground, a complex made completely from blue shipping containers. It has a flea market atmosphere where you can find locally made boutique treats for the whole family and it is one of the most instagrammable spots in Seoul.
Eat some lamb
Lamb lovers should definitely visit Lamb Skewer Street (양꼬치 거리 – Yang Kkochi Kori). Due to its smell, lamb is not a Korean’s first pick, but it is gaining popularity around Seoul and other bigger cities. Lamb Skewer Street is definitely the place to go for this cut of meat.
Take exit 5 and walk down the road instead of crossing the street to Lotte. Turn right in 2 blocks and start your search out of numerous options.
Konkuk University Area – Konkuk University Station (건대입구역) line 2 (green) and 7 (olive green) – exit 5, Lotte Department store; exit 6 outdoor shopping and cafe area and Common Ground; exit 1 bars, clubs and eateries
Experience Brooklyn in Seoul at gentrified Seongsu
☕️ . 한들한들 둥실둥실 가끔은 서로 다른 방향으로 그리고 또 둥실둥실 한들한들. 늘 같은 풍경을 보지 않아도 좋다. 중요한 것은 각자 본 풍경을 함께 이야기하는 시간. . 마스다미리, 『치에코씨의 소소한 행복 4』, 애니북스, p142 . . 오늘 여러분의 풍경은 어떤 모습인가요? 그리고 여러분의 풍경을 나누고 싶은 그 사람은 누구인가요? 함께 이야기하는 시간 속에 어니언이 함께 하면 좋겠습니다. . 어니언은 오늘도 활짝 열려있습니다. . . . ———————————————————————— • 위치 #어니언성수 : 성수동 아차산로 9길 8 #어니언미아 : 강북구 솔매로 50길 55 • 운영시간 주중 : 오전 8시 – 오후 10시 주말&휴일 : 오전 10시 – 오후10시 ———————————————————————— #onion #cafeonion #onion_mia #카페어니언 #어니언
The final stop you should look at exploring before crossing the Han River onto Jamsil and COEX is Seongsu. This is a bit off the generic tourist attraction path in Seoul and onto one of the hippest hotspots in the city.
The area itself is nothing to write home about, but if you know where to go you will find some of the best gentrified warehouse-turned-cafes. Think industrial grunge meets hipster Brooklyn-esque. The specific coffee shops can be a bit difficult to find as the giant doors look like they guide you into a factory and are easy to miss, but check out my map at the end of the article for some of the best selections and explore one of the least touristy parts of Seoul.
Get handmade shoes
Seongsu is also the place in Korea to get handmade shoes. You can choose from over 200 different stores to get a one-of-a-kind pair of shoes made to fit. Just take exit 1 to start your bespoke shoe extravaganza journey. Read more here.
Insider tip: If you’re traveling on the green line, the train may suddenly stop at Seongsu station and all the passengers will get off. Don’t worry, it’s not an evacuation, it just means that the train tracks are splitting. The green line either continues onto Jamsil or goes to Sinseol-dong station. Just hop off with everyone else and take the next Jamsil-bound train if you’re heading in that direction. Listen for the announcement of Circular Line or (Neh Sonsoon Hwan or 내선순환).
Seongsu Shoe Market – Seongsu Station (성수동역) line 2 (green) – exit 1 for Shoe Market; see the map for other areas of interest.
Things to do in Seoul south of the river (Gangnam, Songpa and Seocho)
Upon entering the area south of the river, especially if you’re walking across the Han River, you’ll instantly notice the flash and extravagance. The most affluent area is to the east with Gangnam, Songpa and Seocho making up the most prime real estate in Seoul.
You will most likely not be traveling to the central or west of southern Seoul unless you are on business in Yeouido (financial centre of Seoul), visiting the National Assembly or traveling back to the airport (both Gimpo in Seoul or Incheon). Hikers will also venture out to the southern tips of Seoul to scale Gwanaksan mountain or visit historic Gwaneumsa Temple.
What to see and do in Gangnam
Gangnam was made famous to the world by Psy’s song and is filled with chichi and pretentious boutique cafes, beautiful people dressed to impress and one of Korea’s most beloved theme parks, Lotte World. The area is great for sightseeing, whether you’re a hipster or a family on vacation. Buildings are newer, streets are wider and the area is generally cleaner.
Find out what Gangnam style is all about at Gangnam Station
Skyscrapers in Gangnam. Source
Gangnam is one of the most popular things to see in Seoul. The area is a major tourist attraction after the popular song and is filled with plenty a tourist. But knowing where to go exactly beyond the main road is not so so obvious so let me guide you to the best things to see in Gangnam.
Your experience of the infamous Gangnam should start in the centre of the business hub. The road between Gangnam and Sinnonhyeon stations is the perfect start to your Gangnam journey. The road itself is only about 5 blocks in length, but will keep you busy for hours. If you’re traveling on the green, get out at Gangnam station and take either exit 10 or 11.
Taking either of these exits will get you to the main road with shopping galore and cafes to satisfy your coffee cravings. The major difference between the left and right side of the road is what lies beyond the main stretch.
You should start your evening on the north side at Exit 11. This area on the hill is packed with swanky eateries and cafes to match. You’ll find more artisanal coffee shops and restaurants on the hill, a break from the chains on the main road. The food is international with options ranging from craft burgers to delicious Korean options.
At exit 10, on the south side, will get you to the party side of Gangnam. There are bars and “hofs” (beer houses) like Brauhaus or Woodstock and clubs like Club Mass. Dress up and feel like a celebrity while partying it up with the beautiful people portrayed in the Gangnam style music video.
Warning: While it is not the standard, some bars in Gangnam do scam unsuspecting foreigners. Please beware of “scams” in some of these bars, where scalpers offer you cheap alcohol at a “premium table”. Yet you end up being forced to pay excessive amounts, i.e. a table is equal to a bottle of premium alcohol plus food. You will not be able to leave until the bill is settled. A good idea is to follow the Westerners to the more popular pubs or go with a Korean friend who knows what he or she is doing.
Main Gangnam Area – Gangnam Station (강남역) line 2 (green) and Shinbundang line (red) exits 10 for the south side or 11 for the north side OR Sinnonhyeon Station (신논현역) line 9 (gold) exit 6 for the south side, 7 for Kyobo and 5 for the north side.
Go book shopping
Book lovers will need to take exit 7 at Sinnonhyeon station to visit the massive Kyobo bookstore in the basement of the Kyobo tower. The store has a wide range of international language books, it’s Korea’s own version of Japanese book mecca Kinokuniya. But the best part is that there is a long table to sit at and read to your heart’s content. If you want to start cooking Korean at home, this is the place to get the best Korean cookbooks!
Spend the big bucks at Gangnam’s luxury shopping malls
As I mentioned several times before, eating and shopping are some of the best things to do in Seoul and Gangnam epitomises that for the luxury and glamorous crowd.
Gangnam is all about the flashy malls and the shopping centers with all the international brands, bright lights, spacious department stores and plenty of opportunities to max out your credit card. Check out the home-grown glamorous Galleria department store, top-notch Hyundai Department store or Apgujeong Rodeo street for some serious shopping.
Get your plastic surgery done at Apgujeong
Apgujeong is the next stop on your Gangnam itinerary. It’s the capital surgery mecca of Seoul, so expect to see many faces covered in masks, heavy sunglasses and baseball caps. Try to spot the “before and after” posters advertising plastic surgery in the subway. If you ever wanted to get some plastic surgery done Seoul is one of the best places in the world.
Plastic surgery in Korea is not the great taboo that Westerners see it as. It’s not uncommon to get your child breast enhancement, nose jobs or double eyelid surgery (known as blepharoplasty) after passing the SATs. South Korea has the highest per capita rate of cosmetic surgery in the world where one in three South Korean women between the 19 and 29 have undergone surgery.
This phenomenon for the love of plastic surgery is probably best described by Daniel Tudor in his book “Korea: The Impossible Country” (definitely recommended by us if you really want to learn about Korea):
“Usually, when foreign commentators give their opinion on this phenomenon, they express disdain for the apparent superficiality of the women who have nose jobs, breast enlargements, or the painful and dangerous procedure of jaw-line reshaping – but this is to miss the point. A winning combination of physical appearance and background – in career, education, or family – puts a woman ahead of her peers in the search for the best jobs and the most eligible men, who themselves are expected to have money, a superior education, and good looks. […] When applying for a job in Korea, it is customary to affix a passport-type photograph to the application form. […] Plastic surgery is so common now that […] even those who do not want to resort to it feel they have to.”
But it’s not only Koreans who undergo the knife. Plastic surgery tourism has become so big from other Asian countries like China and Japan that Incheon International Airport even considered opening a cosmetic surgery wing, but was very quickly shut down.
Even if you are not coming to Seoul to get any plastic surgery done, cosmetic and beauty treatments, spas or facials are also very much on offer here and another great thing to do in Seoul. Look out for the spas and beauty salons of great Korean cosmetic brands like Innisfree, Sulwhasoo and Missha which have become tourist attractions in themselves or check out Shangpree. These days, girl’s weekend getaways to Seoul very much feature food, pampering and shopping.
But, if you are coming to Seoul for other reasons you should still visit Apgujeong to get a taste of the good life. With properties easily going for $10,000 per square meter, you can really feel the wealth of the area.
Trend it out at Garosugil
Beyond the flash malls there is trendy Garosugil in Sinsa-dong. There are art cafes, amazing restaurants and a mix of boutique, local and international fashion brands. Don’t stick to the main road and have fun exploring the boutique stores and cafes by taking the back roads on either side. Remember your way as you can easily lose direction in this labyrinth of coolness.
Garosugil – Sinsa station (신사역) line 3 (orange) exit 8 – walk for about 3 blocks and turn left before the mostly glass building, J Tower.
Ride the Hallyu wave at Cheongdam
Hallyu (Korean Wave) is the term used to describe the sudden interest in Korean culture throughout the globe. It encompasses K-pop, K-drama, and general fashion trends stemming from the country.
Those riding the Korean Wave will need to pop into the Cheongdam area, which is locally portrayed in the media as “luxury town”. K-pop fans can visit of some of the biggest names in Hallyu management like S.M. Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, Cube Entertainment, and J. Tune Entertainment. You never know, you may bump into the members of Twice, Miss A or 2PM.
Cheongdam – This will vary depending on where you wish to visit as there are several stations in the Cheongdam area.
Shop at the world’s largest underground mall, Starfield COEX
Travel further south in Gangnam district and you’ll end up at the biggest underground shopping mall in the world, Starfield COEX.
There is a lot to do here other than shopping and you can explore the mall for hours. The Hyundai Department Store’s food court is large and has so many delicious choices to snack on. There is also a fantastic aquarium to keep the kids busy. COEX is also an international business hub with many conferences and exhibitions being held frequently.
Top Tip: Digital nomads need to get to Starfield COEX as the main library area doubles as a giant work space. Log onto the free internet and sit at one of the desks with charging point for a full on working space of your own. Get there early as spaces can fill up quite quickly. There are two convenience stores and bathrooms on the top level as well.
Insider Travel Tip: As this area is an international business hub, you should make use of the Airport Terminal (CALT) if you’re staying near COEX. The great thing about CALT is that you can check in your luggage and get your plane seat assigned before actually going to the airport. You can also catch the airport bus limousine from here. Airlines are limited so it’s best to check on their website to see if your airline is valid.
Guzzle down BBQ chicken and beer (chimek) at a baseball game
Another great thing that you need to do in Seoul is to see a baseball game. Root for the Doosan Bears, LG Twins or Nexus Heroes while you admire the acrobatic cheerleaders and brilliant baseball players.
If you’re lucky enough to see the Busan Seagulls play, you will be in for a treat. The fans are diehard. A baseball game is also the place to try your first chimek (a mix of chicken and mekju, which is beer in Korean). You can savour the famed BBQ chicken while not only watching the game, but also the people.
The best time and place to watch is after a visit to COEX at the very next station Sports Complex Subway Station (line 2, exit 7) at Jamsil Baseball Stadium. Tickets will set you back anywhere between US$4-$70 depending on the seat, day, age and teams playing. If you can’t get help purchasing a ticket online, get to the stadium about an hour before and purchase directly, often at reduced prices.
Take part in a Templestay at Bongeun
Temple stays are a unique cultural experience to be had by the spiritual traveler. If you are interested in Zen (Seon in Korean) or Buddhist life in general, you can take a day or three to live life as a Buddhist practitioner in one of the oldest temples in Korea.
Bongeun Temple, right next to COEX is one of the handful of temples in Seoul that allows this extraordinary adventure. You will learn to meditate in the Seon style, bow 108 times, chant mantras and eat a purely vegan diet as look deep inside yourself.
Bongeun Temple is also a fantastic cultural stop if you’re in the COEX area and are tired of shopping and looking for something more meaningful to round off your journey. The temple can be seen from above from the rooms at the Intercontinental Hotel COEX.
To organise a templestay or to find out more information, visit this site. There are over 30 temples to choose from throughout Korea. So if you would like a quieter experience in a more rural temple, you can opt for that.
Starfield COEX Mall and Bongeun Temple – Samseong Station (삼성역) line 2 (green) exit 5 or 6 (near the Grand Intercontinental Hotel and Trade Tower) OR Bongeunsa station (봉은사역) line 9 (gold) exit 7 (near the Intercontinental Hotel and the COEX Aquarium); Take exit 1 at Bongeunsa station to get to Bongeun Temple.
Best things to do in Songpa-gu and Jamsil
If you are wondering what to do in Seoul with kids Jamsil is every traveling family’s dream and has all the family-friendly things to do in Seoul. There are two famous landmarks here that everyone should stop at on their first visit to Seoul; Lotte World and Olympic Park.
Take a ride at Lotte World amusement park
The Lotte World Complex includes Lotte Department Store, Lotte World, Lotte World Mall and Seokcheon Lake (in blue) and is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Seoul.
Lotte World is Korea’s very own Disney World, with racoons replacing mice and some of the funnest rides you will ever go on. There are indoor roller coasters, giant swings that turn while being flung over the lake and the dreaded Gyro Drop, a 70 meter fall at 100kms/h. You will scream with joy.
Glide on the ice rink
There is also an ice rink within the Lotte World complex, but can be entered separately without purchasing a ticket to the theme park. You can get in and hire skates for around US$16.
Lotte Department Store
Before entering Lotte World there is a large Lotte Department store which start at the subway, goes underground and then rises to several storeys high. It was the main shopping centre for those visiting Lotte World before Lotte World Mall was constructed. While you can shop duty free here and find some great deals, you’ll probably just pass through on your way to Lotte World.
Lotte World Mall is probably a better option to stroll around in as its more aesthetically pleasing and trendy, but you may find some great deals here, particularly in the event halls on the floor 9 and 7. Take the escalator up if you have some time and see if anything catches your eye. Here’s the floor guide.
There is also a Kidzania branch in Lotte Department Store, which can be a good stop over for traveling parents. If you’re a parent and never heard of Kidzania before, check out their website to see what they’re all about. It’s a place to keep your kids happy for hours on end.
Take a romantic stroll around Seokcheon Lake (Seokcheon Hosoo – 석촌호수)
Just outside Lotte World is a wonderful Lake to take a stroll around. This is one of the most romantic things to do in Seoul in my opinion. It’s quite a nice green space for couples to take a walk or to people watch. Listen to and watch Gyro Swing riders fly over Seokcheon lake or check out the joggers doing their rounds and working out at the public gym.
Scrape the sky at Lotte World Tower & Mall on the 5th tallest building in the world
Across Lotte World there is the recent construction of Lotte World Tower & Mall. Making the already large Lotte World Department Store look jaded and small, this 123 floor structure, standing at 555m is Lotte’s symbol of wealth and prosperity. It’s actually the fifth largest building in the world and one of the most impressive tourist attractions in Seoul.
You can take a trip up to the observation deck and skywalk or visit the galleries, cafés, and luxury Lotte Hotel World. The mall is also massive in its own right and divided into a duty free luxury brand wing and the main mall with themed restaurants on the fourth floor and other international brands throughout the mall.
The theme is high-end and luxury, although the prices will be generally the same as Lotte Department store across the road. There is a luxury brand wing though, where items have the usual sky high price tag. There is also an aquarium to entertain the kids.
Lotte World Area – Jamsil station (잠실역) line 2 (green) and line 8 (pink) exit 3 or 4 to Lotte World and Lotte Department Store; exit 1 or 2 to Lotte World Tower & Mall; exit 2 or 3 to Seokcheon Lake.
Ride a tandem bike around Olympic Park
More unique things to do in Seoul include exploring the Olympic Park complex. Near the very end of the pink line (Mongchontoseong Station near the World Peace Gate), and one stop from Jamsil station is the sprawling Olympic Park or as the locals call it Olpark. It is a fantastic green space that is well maintained and spacious.
There are walking paths that loop around the large lawn where you can see families having picnics and lovers gazing at the city scape. The Soma (Seoul Olympic Museum of Art) is a fun museum for any art enthusiast with outdoor artwork on display for the public as well. The towering sports domes is a great reminder of the 1988 Olympic Games. Concerts are also held all year round in these arenas.
The Peace Gate area is filled with rollerbladers and bike riders of all ages. And you can even hire a tandem bike and cycle your way around the park while sitting next to your better half. You can hire different bike sizes near Mongchongtoseong Station next to the northern part of Peace Gate (평화문). Hire either 2 or 4 wheeled bikes that seat 2 to 6 people. A 4-wheel bike will cost you about $10 for 30 minutes and $15 for an hour. A normal bike is cheaper at around $4.
While Olympic Park is nice enough to visit at any time of the year, I would highly recommend visiting in the warmer months. As it is in an open area, the winter winds can make the visit unpleasant, especially after dark. The foliage at the Flower Garden is also better in Spring of course.
Olympic Park World Peace Gate entrance – Mongchontoseong Station (몽촌토성역) line 8 (pink) exit 1
Olympic Park Sports Centre – Olympic Park Station (올림픽공원역) line 5 (purple) exit 3
Best things to do in Seocho-gu
The central and west areas below the Han River are usually not frequented by first-time tourists but they home to a lot of the best things to do in Seoul.
This is also the financial heart of the city, so if you’re in finance, you’ll most likely be making a stop here. While there are better sites to explore if your time is limited, this area of Seoul is beautiful with activities for the entire family.
Explore Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty
History buffs will want to visit the UNESCO site the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, also known as Seonjeongneung. It’s a beautiful ode to Korea’s ancestors with large green spaces that make up the domed burial grounds and a tranquil setting for travelers to do some deep pondering. This attraction is a must see in Seoul and one that visitors usually skip so you are usually going to see far less visitors than in other parts of Seoul.
The tombs were built over five centuries between 1408 and 1966 and honour the memory and achievements of the ancestors. The area itself is a collection of 40 tombs spread out over 18 locations. Among the mounds and royal tombs their are also a shrine, shed, royal kitchen and guards’ house. It is a perfect display of the 5,000 year royal tomb architecture in Korea.
Seonjeongneung – Seolleung Station (선릉역) line 2 (green) and the Bundang line (yellow) exit 8 OR Seonjeongneung Station (선정릉역) line 9 (gold) and Bundang line (yellow) exit 3.
Wander through Seoul Arts Center
Seoul Arts Center is a large, multilevel exhibition space that houses everything from contemporary to calligraphy and is one of Seoul’s top attractions for art lovers.
You can explore any one of the five main buildings, where there is an Opera House with three auditoriums, a Music Hall with two concert halls, the Hangaram Art Museum, the Hangaram Design Museum and the Seoul Calligraphy Art Museum. It is home to the Korea National Ballet and National Opera among others.
There’s also a fun hiking trail behind the Seoul Arts Center up Mt. Umyeonsan (우면산) where you can find a small temple called Daeseungsa (대승사) that also offers templestay.
Seoul Arts Centre – Nambu Bus Terminal station (남부터미널역) line 3 (orange) exit 5, then first left and walk for about 10 minutes
Things to do in southwest Seoul
There are a few places to see in the southwest to visit. As the financial centre of Seoul, it’s mostly for those visiting on business. So this section is more for people who will be visiting the area for business and would like to pass an hour or two before their meeting.
Visit the Wall Street of Korea and frolic at Yeouido Hangang Park
One of the most interesting things to do in Seoul for those in Finance is visiting The Wall Street of Seoul, located in Yeouido, a tiny island on the west side of southern Seoul.
Apart from being the financial centre, there is a very nice park (Yeouido Park) to check out along the banks of the Han River and the previously largest building in Seoul, the 63 Building with an exhibition area and cafe on the top floor called 63 Sky Art (US$13 for adults). Aqua Planet 63 is also a fun day excursion for the entire family, admission fees here.
This video that went viral a few years back is shot in Yeouido Hangang Park, where you’ll notice the 63 building in the background.
63 building – There are many options to get there, but the quickest is most likely from Saetgang Station (샛강역) line 9 (gold) with a free shuttle bus at exit 1 or buses 5633 and 5534 from exit 3. Or take a 1km stroll. After taking exit 3, make a u-turn and walk down Yeouidong-ro (여의동로) until you reach a split in the road, take 63-ro (63로) and you’ll finally arrive at the building.
Yeouido Park – Yeouinaru Station (여의나루역) line 5 (purple) exit 1 – Walk 10 minutes towards SBS TV Station OR Yeouido Station (여의도역) line 5 (purple) and line 9 (gold) Exit 3 – Walk 5 minutes towards the National Assembly building. Walk toward the Han River to find the ferry. Or look at our map.
Cruise the Han River
The final thing to do in Seoul’s Greater Gangnam area is to take a cruise along the Han River. While there are several docking points, the main ones are at Yeouido and Jamsil. Take the quicker Story Cruise (40mins) or Moonlight Cruise if you’re in a hurry or the longer Hangang River Tour Cruise/Music Cruise (90mins) for the full experience. You can hop off at any of the stops on the longer cruise, but for the shorter ones, the ferry will return to the point of departure. Book in advance to avoid disappointment. More information on timings and prices of all tours are here.
Things to do in beyond the Gangnam Greater area
While there is little to do tourist-wise south of Gangnam, as it is mainly residential or mountainous, there is one hike that you can consider doing, the beautiful Gwanak Mountain.
Hike Gwanaksan and visit Gwaneumsa Temple
Apart from traversing Bukhansan or Namhansanseong in nearby Gyeonggi Province, you may want to scale Gwanaksan and visit Gwaneumsa Temple, a lesser known path for tourists. The rocky peaks of the 629m mountain will provide with a dose of Asian splendour. This is one of the prettiest things to see in Seoul during Spring and you’ll get the most extraordinary cherry blossom surprise. See how to get there below.
Gwanaksan – Gwacheon Station (과천역) line 2 (light blue) exit 2. After ascending the escalator and exiting go straight to the second crosswalk on the left and cross the street. Walk to the next intersection where you will see a brown saying Gwanaksan 1km. Follow the signs (or the numerous Koreans in hiking attire) until you reach the entrance.
Other things to do in Seoul, South Korea
You can’t leave Seoul without exploring some of the rich cultural aspects that makes Korea such a distinctive place. Try one of the following experiences in Seoul to complete your Korean journey.
Spend the day at a jjimjilbang (bathhouse) or have a 3am massage
There are a few very Korean activities that you should not miss before heading home and one of them is to hit the bathhouse, a must-see attraction in Seoul. Yet this is no ordinary Finnish sauna or Japanese onsen, the Koreans do things a bit differently.
Bathhouses in Korean are called jjimjilbang (찜질방) translated as heated room, and are places to cleanse the body and invigorate the mind.
They range from minimalist onsen style hot springs to the more elaborate versions like the completely crazy Dragon Hill Spa, filled with a variety of “spa zones” from the traditional charcoal kiln to the more opulent crystal sun salt room. There is even a sport complex, bodycare, a cinema and games room and even an ice room.
The place is open 24h and is filled to the brim in the middle of the night with local young couples laying in the common resting rooms hugging each other, friends playing in the arcade or eating. It is one of the weirdest things you can do in Seoul and an attraction in itself. And why not, have a massage at 3am after all the shopping! You will be given a pajama-looking uniform to wear for the duration of your stay there.
There are usually noraebang (karaoke) rooms and unisex resting areas with TVs where couples and families, after the men and women have separated for their baths, return to have some relaxing family time.
All jjimjilbang have lockers with a key or keypad system so you can store your valuables with peace of mind. Expect people walk around fully naked in the changing rooms.
Noryangjin Fish Market
Noryangjin Fish Market, like the name suggests sells fish and seafood of all kinds. Even though restaurateurs and the public come here to purchase fresh seafood in bulk, you can also sit down and have a bite to eat. Top of the picks is Korean style sashimi, known as hwe or sliced raw fish. It is not the usual salmon or tuna varieties found in western sushi restaurants. It comes in large quantities with side dishes and usually a broth made with the leftovers. You can even have live octopus “sashimi” (산낙지, san nakji) if that’s your poison.
The process you will follow is to select your food from any one of the vendors. Choose what you want to eat and negotiate a price after the item has been weighed. Then head over to one of the restaurants on the second and basement floors to have the fish prepared for you. You will have to pay separately for preparation.
The market is open all day long with an auction being held at 3am for the best catches of the day.
Garak Wholesale Food Market
Garak Wholesale Food Market is like Noryangjin, except that it sells much more than just fish. It is a sort of wholesale farmer’s market where you can find fresh produce of all kinds. For fresh fish, it is the less touristy option with prices usually being lower than Noryangjin. You can also find some good meat at great prices here. As it is more for locals, it’s bring to bring a Korean friend along to haggle down the prices.
Noryangjin station (노량진역) lines 1 (dark blue) and 9 (gold) exit 1.
Garak Market Station (가락시장역) lines 3 (orange) and 8 (pink) exit 1 or 2 – walk for a few hundred meters behind the large building and gigantic statue of the man planting seeds.
Take a stroll along the Han River
If you have a few hours to pass, I would highly recommend taking a stroll along the Han River. Whether you are with kids, solo or with your better half, walking along the river conjures up a feeling of romance and calm as you peer into the vast space that is a nice break from the towering buildings and mountains.
You can start anywhere and walk to anywhere to pass the time and people watch. Apart from Seoul Forest and Yeouido park mentioned above, there are plenty of places to stop at, both north and south of the river, including Sebit floating island, the parks in the Sangam area near World Cup Stadium in Mapo (like Hanuel (Sky) Park) and the outdoor activity areas at Ttukseom station (including water sports, swimming pools in summer, rubber tubing in winter and skate parks).
If you do decide to go and are on a schedule, have an escape plan and understand where your nearest subway stations will be, as you may end up very far from one (although there are taxis everywhere if you do get lost). If you don’t have a plan, go get lost a bit, stroll into Gyeonggi-do, make a new friend. There are buses everywhere, it is extremely safe and there are convenience stores even along the river.
Food tours in Seoul
You can stay in Seoul your entire life and never come close to eating at all the restaurants. It seems at times that there are as many eateries as there are people and eating is one of the most popular attractions in Seoul. Eating is therefore not really about going to a specific restaurant, but rather about trying all the different food options there are.
While there are internationally famous restaurants, they are not necessarily the best options. I have found that the tastiest food often comes from following the crowds. If the restaurant is busy or there is a long queue, the food is most likely good because Koreans are foodies.
Restaurants in Seoul are also often clustered together over the space of a few blocks. Find these areas and take a look around. If there’s something that looks interesting and busy, pop in.
Korean cooking class
If you’d like to take the taste of Korea home with you, I would highly recommend taking a Korean cooking class, or even just a kimchi making class. Try Ome Cooking Lab, Ongo Food Communications, Food and Culture Academy or Kimchikan for a fun, active and authentic experience. Then wow your friends back home with self-made kimchi!
Context Travel food tour
Context travel is a great way to explore any city and Seoul is no different. The tours are more intellectually stimulating that the average sightseeing drop-in-and-out tour buses. The food tour is a guided walk through Kwangjang Market, where local experts (either a chef or a food writer) chaperone you through the chaotic and electric atmosphere. You will explore tastes beyond kimchi and bibimbap and get to taste local delicacies like raw beef and live squid. The tour lasts for 3 hours and of course ends with some rice wine!
Best time to visit Seoul
Seoul has four very distinct seasons. Fall and Spring come and go in a flash, but are definitely the best times to visit due to the milder temperatures.
In Spring you’ll get the cherry blossoms along with the blooming flowers and greenery all over the city. Spring is officially between March and May. One of the most beautiful things to see in Seoul during Autumn is to watch the changing of the leaves on the mountains, it’s also the perfect time for travelers expecting to hike. While Autumn is officially between September and November, the temperature does change quickly and drastically. You could be wearing shorts in the beginning of October and a goose down jacket by the end of the month.
Although these are the best times to visit, they can be more crowded with prices for hotels increasing.
Summer and winter temperatures visit extremes between 35 above and as low as 20 below 0 (celsius). Summer is also known to be the rainy season with harsh downpours amid humid temperatures. It is recommended to make a trip to Jeju, Busan or one of the many different islands in summer. Winter is great for skiing and snowboarding, but you will have to venture out of Seoul for this. Christmas in Seoul is quite magical though, with a feeling of romance, love and, well, sales.
Insider tip: Avoid the Harvest Festival Chuseok (in September/October) and Lunar New Year Seollal (January/February) as the entire country is on holiday and trains/buses to different cities become almost impossible to find and business close.
Where to stay in Seoul
We have written an extensive article on the best places to stay in Seoul. Check it out here and get all the information on the most luxurious places to stay in Seoul including a more in depth description of how the city is laid out.
Check out this list of our top luxury hotels in Seoul first:
Hotel District Price More photos and availability
The Shilla Jung-gu US$240 Agoda | Hotelscombined
Lotte Hotel Seoul Jung-gu US$180 Agoda | Hotelscombined
Intercontinental COEX Gangnam-gu US$164 Agoda | Hotelscombined
Park Hyatt Gangnam-gu US$345 Agoda | Hotelscombined
JW Marriott Hotel Seoul Seocho-gu US$285 Agoda | Hotelscombined
Lotte World Hotel Songpa-gu US$140 Agoda | Hotelscombined
W Seoul - Walkerhill Gwangjin-gu US$180 Agoda | Hotelscombined
GLAD Hotel Yeongdeungpo-gu (Yeouido) US$90 Agoda | Hotelscombined
The Conrad Yeongdeungpo-gu (Yeouido) US$190 Agoda | Hotelscombined
Four Seasons Jongno-gu US$290 Agoda | Hotelscombined
JW Marriott Dongdaemun Seoul Square Jongno-gu US$225 Agoda | Hotelscombined
Grand Hyatt Yongsan-gu US$225 Agoda | Hotelscombined
How to get around Seoul
The public transportation system in Seoul is one of the top in the world. Transportation is efficient, cost-effective, clean and runs regularly. For convenience, the Seoul Metro is your best option. While it may take quicker by bus, some of the buses (especially the city or Maeul bus) only have information in Korean, so it is a bit easier to get lost.
That being said, the bus is very efficient, displaying arrival times of the next bus in several different languages. Just make sure you know where to get off. If you want to ask the bus driver if the bus will be stopping at a particular station/stop just say the stop and “kayo” at the end, i.e. Gangnam kayo? This just means “to go”. They will either invite you or make a large X with their hands, shooing you away like a pesky fly. When you want to get off the bus, push the red buzzer before your stop to signal to the driver, or he/she will just continue driving.
While you can get a deposit card each time you ride the subway, it is suggested that you purchase a T-Money card from just about any convenience store. You can then top it up at any subway or convenience store. It works for any form of public transportation, even taxis! (some of the older taxis may not have the T-Money system, so cash is advisable). The T-Money also offers cheaper rates.
Taxi is also a great way to travel Seoul as they are super cheap, clean, and occasionally very friendly. They used to scam foreign customers by taking longer routes, but the Korean government has clamped down on this, making it illegal. If you think you have been scammed, you can report the driver.
Seoul Subway App: Download the Seoul subway app on iTunes or Google Play which is constantly being updated and times your trip. Pick your departure and destination stations and it will tell you exactly how long your ride will take, the best route, how many stops and transfers, and which cart and door you should stand at to transfer quickest. Keep in mind that the transfer carts will be the fullest as everyone is rushing in Seoul. So anything to save a minute, even if that means crowding around a door when other carts are unoccupied. The app also has the Busan Subway map on it. A map of the Seoul subway system can be found here.
i Tour Seoul App: We have not officially tested this new app thoroughly, but it seems to be quite helpful for tourists with top ten lists, integrated TripAdvisor ratings, maps and other info like transportation. Get it on iTunes or Google Play.
Useful Korean phrases
Hello (to someone older than you or in business – formal): Annyeong haseyo | 안녕하세요
Hello (same age or younger – informal): Annyeong | 안녕
Thank you: Kamsahamnida | 감사합니다
Yes: Ne | 네, although you may here the more informal Ye | 예
No: Aniyo | 아니요
Goodbye (to person leaving): Annyeonghi gaseyo | 안녕히 가세요 – literally “go in peace”
Goodbye (to person staying): Annyeonghi gyeseyo | 안녕히 계세요 – literally “stay in peace”
Goodbye (informal): Annyeong | 안녕
Excuse me (getting attention): Sillyehamnida | 실례합니다
I’m sorry (i.e. bumping into someone): Chwesonghamnida | 죄송합니다
Is there someone here who speaks English?: Yeogi-e yeong-eoreul hasineun bun gyesimnikka? | 여기에 영어를 하시는 분 계십니까?
Where is…?: … Eodiyeyo? | 어디예요?
Toilet/bathroom: Hwajangshil | 화장실
Is there a bathroom: Hwajangshil isseoyo? | 화장실 있어요?
Left/Right: Whenchog/Oluenchog 왼쪽/오른쪽
Help!: Dowajullaeyo! | 도와줄래요
Cheers!: Geonbae! | 건배 or Jan | 잔 (literally “glass”)
Welcome: Eoseo oseyo | 어서 오세요 – when coming into a store
Give me: Juseyo | 주세요, which can be combined with anything, i.e. Give me beer is mekju juseyo, give me 1,000 won is cheon won juseyo.
More please: Doh juseyo | 더주세요
Discount: Kaka juseyo | 카카 주세요
1,000 Won: Cheon won
10,000 Won: Man won
100,000 Won: Ship man won
1,000,000 Won: Baek man won
In a restaurant: If you go to a restaurant and want the waiter’s attention, just shout “chogiyo!” | 저기요. It is not considered rude, but rather a way of getting the person’s attention. It means something like “over here!”. There is also usually a little button that you can press to call a server.
Subway and station: The subway in general is known as jihachul (지하철) and a specific station is yeok (역). So Gangnam Station is Gangnam Yeok (강남역).
Other things to know about travel in Seoul
Here are few more things that will help with your trip to to Seoul.
Getting from the airport into the city
Landing in a new place where locals don’t speak your language can be daunting. And many people might think that taking a taxi is the most convenient and stress-free of getting from the airport to the hotel. While this may be true in some countries, Seoul is quite different and the taxi from the airport can cost upwards of $200 each way.
Taxis are great when moving around the city, but when the preferred transport from the airport is to take a bus, known as an airport limousine. The name is suited as it is a comfortable ride in large business class reclining airplane seating.
The bus also has its own lane occasionally, so it can drive right through the traffic, another major issue with any trip from Seoul to the airport and once which you should not underestimate. Even if you have the money to pay for a taxi, the bus will ensure you do not miss the plane, trust us on this one.
Also, most buses have wifi, but you will need a local sim card to log on as you will need to fill in a username and password. If you do need wifi on the ride, talk to a sales clerk or someone at information before the ride. Rides are usually between $15-$30 depending on where your final stop will be.
The bus also stops at or near all the major hotels. So you can always combine the bus ride with the metro or a taxi. Chat to the friendly, albeit shy information clerks to find out exactly which bus to catch. And don’t worry, when you arrive at your destination, the bus driver will announce it (in Korean) on the microphone, so you can sleep in peace.
You could also choose to take the train/subway all the way to your destination, but this is not advised if you are carrying heavy luggage, as transfers between some subway lines can be very long and confusing. Rush hour anywhere in the centre of Seoul and Gangnam is to be avoided if you are carrying luggage.
Many countries can enter South Korea without having to first obtain a visa. Depending on your country, the visa can be anywhere between 30 and 90 days. Canadian citizens can stay for a total of 180 days. Please check this updated list before going.
Here is one thing you should know about extending your visa from 30 to 90 days. I found out the hard way that while this is true, it cannot be done within the country after arrival unless it is a dire situation, like sickness in the family. Even then it is a long process that requires much documentation. I was denied even though my wife’s grandmother was in hospital for an operation and we had all the supporting documents. I hopped over to Taiwan and entered again on a 30 day visa.
If you think you will need additional time in South Korea, visit the embassy in your home country to apply for an extension with supporting documentation.
South Korea, and in extension Seoul, has the fastest internet in the world. Not only is it the fastest, it is omnipresent throughout the city and even in the subways. The Wifi on the public transportation usually requires that you are part of a network like Olleh, SK, or KT. You will need sign-in credentials in order to connect.
While you can always pop into a coffee shop for free internet, it is recommended that you purchase a SIM card or pocket Wifi if you will need constant internet. If not, you will survive without the expensive Sim Card that you can purchase at Incheon International airport.
Currency and money exchange in Seoul
The currency of South Korea is the Won (KRW / ₩) where ₩1,000 is equal to about US$1. While cash is always a good idea to have, especially in markets, most places take credit card. The best place to exchange money is in Myeong-dong. See the section above on Myeong-dong or the map for directions to the money changers with the best rates. Exchange rates at the airport are very high. Banks are another place to exchange money in Seoul that offer competitive rates.
There are also ATMs throughout the city, but only select ATMs take international credit cards. You will have to look out for the “Global Services” sign and the Visa/Mastercard logos. The major banks like KEB Hanabank, Shinhan and Citibank will usually have services in English and Chinese with touch screen technology. Like any international, make sure to let your bank know your travel dates and destination so that they do not freeze your card.
Discover Seoul Pass
To get the best out of Seoul as a tourist, you should consider purchasing a Discover Seoul Pass. They now have both a physical card version and a mobile app option. Register online for the pass, select a pickup location and 24h, 48h and 72h options and then pick it up either from Incheon International Airport or Myeongdong’s Tourist Information Center. Credit card and Paypal is accepted. Purchase your pass here.
The app offers free entry to many tourist hotspots, up to 75% off on select destinations and has a built in T-Money function. Prices are 24h (₩39,900), 48h (₩55,000) and 72h (₩70,000).