Things to do in Seoul main

This article was written by Once in a Lifetime Journey Content Manager Cal, who is married to a Korean and has lived in Seoul for 5 years. This article contains affiliates. This article was first published in August 2018 and updated in May 2019

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.

We’ve 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.

SEOUL DISCOUNTED ONLINE PROMOS
Top Tip: There are so many amazing promotions and discounts on various different popular activities in Seoul on Klook. We recommend taking a look online before your visit, you never know what you can find on this site. Check out all ongoing the promotions here. We have also added some activities throughout the article that we think you may enjoy.

Contents

Neighbourhoods of Seoul

Lovers sharing a moment along the Han River

Lovers sharing a moment along the Han River. Pixabay ojirab14 CC0

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, which makes hiking and visiting green spaces some of the top things to in Seoul.

As for geography, the capital city itself is surrounded by Gyeonggi province. An interesting fact is that Seoul is known as a “special city” (서울특별시- Seoul tukbyeol si), 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.


Map of Korea

Map of Korea


While not official, places to visit in 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), mainly conisting of Jeongno and also above the river

“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.

 

Yeoksam

Yeoksam

If you’d like to know where to stay in Seoul, you should first see what tourist attractions in Seoul are most appealing to you. Best advice – create a list of all your best things to do in Seoul and put them on a map. Then you’ll have a better idea of where you should base yourself.

If you think there aren’t many things to do in Gangnam for you, but prefer to spend more time 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.

It should be stated though public transportation in Seoul is some of the best in the world. 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, choosing 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 subway stops for each of the Seoul tourist attractions you choose. You will find all this information, including some insider and local tips below. Read on to find out what to do in Seoul.

 

 

Lotte World

Lotte World at night in Spring. Flickr Hwan Hyeok Kim (CC BY 2.0)



10 Top things to do in Seoul for first time visitors

Before continuing with our extensive list of the best things to do in Seoul, here is a quicklist of our top ten picks. If you have limited time in the capital and want to visit only the best tourist attractions, then make sure these are on your list. If you have more time or want to visit some more off-the-beaten places and are loo

king for more unique things to do in Seoul then read on, there is so much to do!

1. Explore cultural Insadong and Bukchon village

Insadong is along road that is blocked off to traffic and lined with boutique stores. It’s the best place to visit to grab a souvenir for a friend back home. Nearby is Bukchon village where you can visit the old Hanok houses. Hire traditional Korean clothing hanbok and you’ll have the perfect combo for Insta. Click here for to skip to our section on Insdong.

2. Admire Gyeongbokgung

Possibly the most visited Seoul attraction, Gyeongbokgung was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. You can also stroll around the premises in hanbok, and entrance is even free if you are wearing the traditional clothing. There is also a museum, and the surrounding compound is beautiful no matter what season. After viewing the changing of the guards, take a stroll to Samcheongdong for a waffle, gelato and coffee. Click here for to skip to our section on Gyeongbokgung.

3. Shop at Dongdaemun and Myeongdong.

Shopping is basically a national pastime in Korea and if you find the right store at the right time you will get some amazing products at largely discounted prices. Two of the most famous shopping areas in Seoul or Dongdaemun for fashion and bulk purchases and Myeongdong for international brands and local skincare products.  Click here for to skip to our section on Dongdaemun and here for Myeongdong.

4. Visit a food market – Gwangjang or Namdaemun

There’s no better way to learn about Korean culture than through the food. While there seem to be more restaurants than people in the capital, one of the top things to do in Seoul for foodies is to rather visit a food market. Gwangjang and Namdaemun are very popular with both locals and tourists with particular focus on street food. There are also food tours that you can book. For more information on how to get to these places and tours skip to our section on Gwangjang here or Namdaemun here.

5. Climb Bukhansan National Park

Bukhansan is the largest mountain in Seoul and is spread through several districts and even goes into the next province. There are a multitude of routes to take from circular to escalating, so it is possible to wander the beautiful mountain no matter your fitness level. The best times to go are in Spring and Fall as the leaves change color and the views are shockingly beautiful. More information on how to climb Bukhansan here.

6. Go up Namsan Tower

Namsan N Seoul Tower is a tower above a smallish mountain right in the centre of the city. There is a cable car that goes up to the top as well as hiking routes if you have time and are relatively fit. You can also take the electric bus to the top. When you reach the summit, you can visit the tower for a panoramic view of the sprawling city below. Skip to our section on Namsan Tower here.

7. Stroll around Hanging Park and take a cruise

The Han River or Hangang in Korean is actually a conglomerate of 12 parks that lie at different locations on the river. They are all beautiful green spaces where you can have a picnic in Summer, take a stroll in Fall, go camping in Spring or ride a bicycle in Winter. The views are great no matter whether you’re on the north or south side and the vibe is calm yet energetic. You can also take a cruise along the river to see Seoul from a different angle. Skip to our section on the Yeouido Hangang Park here.

8. Visit Lotte World and Lotte World mall

Traveling families will need to make a stop at Jamsil station where they will find Lotte Department Store, the Lotte World theme park and the newly constructive Lotte World Mall and Tower. The theme park is so exciting for people of all ages, the shopping is spectacular and the 123 floor tower is breathtaking. There is much more information about how to get there and what to do below. Click here if you want to skip to this section.

9. Check out Gangnam style

Thanks to the musical hit by Psy, Gangnam is probably the most famous area in Seoul and one that people from all over the world want to flock to. It is flashy, materialistic and outright fun. Visit the many international restaurants, hipster cafes or various shopping outlets as you rub shoulders with the super wealthy. There is a lot to do in Gangnam which is actually separated into Gangnam, Seocho and Songpa districts, so read more on things to do in Gangnam here.

10. Have fun in vibey Hongdae

The final stop on our must-visit list of top things to do in Seoul is the area surrounding Hongik University, affectionately known as Hongdae. As it is the premier art university in Seoul the area is vibrant, hedonistic, hipster and artsy. Some of the best clubs, pubs and boutique stores are located here. And just because it’s a student area, doesn’t mean families can’t visit. Day or night its super fun and always electric. Skip to our section on Hongdae here to find out all the insider information.


Best things to do in Jongno, North Seoul (with map)

Changdeokgung

Changdeokgung. Pixabay CC0

This is the tourist hotspot and Seoul sightseeing centre. If you’re only able to travel Seoul for one day, this should be your one and only stop to witness the highest concentration of 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 Seon (Korean Zen) 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


Starbucks at Anguk Station near Insadong

Starbucks at Anguk Station near Insadong

Whenever my friends ask me about the top Seoul places to visit, I always recommend the Jongno area. It’s a bustling business district where skyscrapers meet ancient temples. Start 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.


Insadong shopping with boutique stores

Insadong shopping with boutique stores. PXHERE CC0

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. For more info on Insadong click here

There are also street food carts selling some great snacks. The most popular snack in Insadong is Ta-Rae (Dragon Beard Candy), a simple candy that is similar to taffy. The stalls here are known for the lively, and usually very good looking, vendors. You can also try the rock hard yeot candy or the sweet flour-based and deep fried hoddukk. Other things to eat in Insadong include kimbap (the Korean version of sushi, minus the raw fish and filled with tuna, meat and veg), mandu (dumplings), twigim (tempura battered vegetables), ddukkbokki (spicy rice cake), or skewered meats.

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.


Ssamzie Market in the middle of Insadong

Ssamzie Market in the middle of Insadong. Flickr Gaël Chardon (CC BY-SA 2.0)


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.

One of the newest additions and winner of the weirdest things to do in Seoul is to visit Poo Poo land. Yes, you read correct, there is a theme park where you can learn all about your bowel movements. In fact there are three stories to explore! Take a picture with your face in a urinal or dress up like a piece of poop and slide down the intestine slide into “poopoo paradise”. Super strange, but actually quite fun. Book your discounted ticket online here.

Foodie tip: Another very trendy foodie destination near Insadong is Ikseondong where popular eateries, bars and cafes can be found among ancient Hanok houses. There are also various boutique clothing stores and a general bohemian vibe. Go during the day for shopping and a coffee or at night for dinner, bar hopping and a hip atmosphere. This is one of Seoul’s hidden gems but is gaining in popularity.

See UNESCO-listed Jongmyo Shrine

Close by Insadong is one of the UNESCO-listed sites and most popular Seoul attractions for history buffs, Jongmyo Shrine. Learn about ancient customs, from memorial services to traditional music at this important site. It is definitely suited more for culture vultures than those looking for impressive architectural Seoul tourist attractions.

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.

How to get to 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

Patbingsu or shaved ice with red bean is a popular summer dessert

Patbingsu or shaved ice with red bean is a popular summer dessert. Pixabay CC0

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 right, 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 stone wall path leading to Samcheongdong

The stone wall path leading to Samcheongdong. Pixabay CC0


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.


Riding a bike around Samcheongdong for that extra romance

Riding a bike around Samcheongdong for that extra romance. Pixabay CC0

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).


The Blue House or Cheongwadae

The Blue House or Cheongwadae. Flickr Republic of Korea (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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.

While the cafes are constantly changing ownership and being renovated, it’s difficult to mention one. A favorite at the time of publication is Cafe Breezin just after the Boy London store. They serve good coffee, amazing waffles and have a rooftop terrace as well as indoor seating, although they have been known to lack in service.

Don’t go to the usual chainstores like Starbucks or The Coffee Bean if you want an authentic experience. 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 Gyeongbokgung 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 Defence 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 in Seoul 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. See more info about MMCA here

Check out the traditional Hanok houses in Bukchon Village


Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok Village


Although Samcheong-dong consists of restored traditional houses, the most popular place in Seoul to snap a picture of these beautiful houses (Hanok) is in Bukchon Village. You can explore on your own or take while wearing Hanbok which is the best way to experience this part of Seoul. You can hire Hanbok for either 4 or 24hrs here. There are even workshops and homestays available, where you can stay the night in Hanok.

How to get to 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 a 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 visit 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 only a picture menu (some in English).


Traditional Korean food Perilla seed kalguksu

Traditional Korean food Perilla seed kalguksu


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.

How to get to 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 Seoul attractions.

Jogyesa is the head temple of the 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 Seoul 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. Find out more about Jogyesa Temple here

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If you are a history buff and want a knowledgable guided tour of Seoul, we would recommend this full day tour from Klook. An extremely knowledgable guide will take you to several places from the Blue House and Gyeongbokgung to Jogyesa and the National Folk Museum. There is no better way to learn the intricacies of such a rich culture.

How to get to 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


Gilsangsa Temple

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 Beopjeong, a famous Korean monk who started a community called Malgo Hyanggiropge or “clean and fragrant” and believed in Non-Possession (무소유 – musoyu). 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. Learn more about the temple on their website here


Pagoda at Gilsang temple

Pagoda at Gilsangsa temple. Pixabay CC0

How to get to Gilsangsa: 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


The Corridors of Gyeongbok Palace

The Corridors of Gyeongbok Palace. Maxpixel CC0

This is the star of the show and one of the most visited tourist 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.


Cherry blossoms at Gyeongbuk Palace

Cherry blossoms at Gyeongbok Palace. Pixabay CC0

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.


Gwanghwamun, the main entrance to Gyeongbuk palace

Gwanghwamun, the main entrance to Gyeongbok palace. Maxpixel CC0


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.


Instagrammable Gyeongbok Palace in any season

Instagrammable Gyeongbok Palace in any season. Pixabay CC0

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)


Wearing Hanbok and drinking tea in a Hanok

Wearing Hanbok and drinking tea in a Hanok

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.


Typical Korean architecture of old at Changdeokgung

Typical Korean architecture of old at Changdeokgung. Pixabay CC0

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 far apart though, so you may not get to visit them all in one go. The closest to Gyeongbokgung is Deoksugung, near City Hall.


Wearing Hanbok at Gyeongbok Palace

Wearing Hanbok at Gyeongbok Palace. Pixabay CC0



HOW TO HIRE HANBOK FOR THE DAY
Hanbok Hanbok

There are many different ways to hire hanbok for the day, but the best and safest bet would be to book online. Klook has many different options including an entire photoshoot where you can choose one of 500 styles from Hanboknam, get your hair styled, and then go on a personalised photoshoot through Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, or Bukchon Hanok Village. You can also just hire the hanbok through Hanboknam and wander the streets at your own leisure.

Secret tip: If you purchase a 24-hour Discover Seoul Pass, you get the hanbok from Hanboknam for free. You also get over 30 free experiences and over 20 discounted services. You can purchase your Pass online here.

How to get to 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


Protest action at Gwanghwamun

Protest action at Gwanghwamun. Pixabay CC0

While there are several entrances to Gyeongbokgung, the most famous is the south gate or Gwanghwamun. It is the largest of the gates, and the sprawling open space at the exterior of the compound makes it one of the most Instagrammable places to visit in Seoul.


Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin

Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin. Pixabay CC0

The area south of the gate and outside of the Gyeongbokgung complex is called Gwanghwamun Square or 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.


Statue of King Sejong the Great, the inventor of Hangeul

Statue of King Sejong the Great, the inventor of Hangeul. Pixabay CCo

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.


Watch the Seoul Philharmonic perform at the Sejong Centre

Watch the Seoul Philharmonic perform at the Sejong Centre. Pixabay CC0

How to get to 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.

Lantern festival art 2

Lantern festival art 3

Lantern festival art 1

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 Myeongdong, 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. This is one of the best things to do in Seoul at night on a weekday if you enjoy beer and oily foods.

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 to eat 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 local coffee shop in Seoul is also in this area at Caffe Themselves, across the road from the eating area and next to the Bibap Theatre (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. Takeaway coffees are discounted.

Shop all night long at Dongdaemun


One of the many stores in Dongdaemun

One of the many stores in 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, Hello APM or any of the other 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. If you’re looking for some insider tips on where to shop and where to find specific items, Tripadvisor may help you find out more as there are currently over 500 comments. 

Admire the Dongdaemun Design Plaza


Interior of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Interior of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza


The fairly new Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) 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 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. For more information on DDP, check their website

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.


Delicious hotteok or Korean Sweet Pancakes

Delicious hotteok or Korean Sweet Pancakes. Maxpixel CC0

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), soondae (순대, blood sausage made of cow’s intestines) and bindaetteok (빈대떡, mung bean pancake). Bring cash and an empty stomach, this should be at the beginning of your list of top things to do in Seoul for foodies.

How to get to 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 they 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.


Daehakro mural

Daehakro mural. Pixabay CC0

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 things to do in Seoul for younger travelers, 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.

Visit a real makgeolli house for an authentic experience. My favorite is Cheongseoggol which has great pajeon (spring onion pancake) and walnut makgeolli (밤막걸리 – bahm makgeolli). This is a very localised tip with no website or social media. So check our map above for directions. 

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.

How to get to 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


Osulloc Tea House in Myeongdong

Osulloc Tea House in Myeongdong


Can’t decide what to do in Seoul and need a break to think? Why not take it easy and 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.

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Hike Bukhansan, the most famous mountain in Seoul


A temple in the Dobong District of Bukhansan

A temple in the Dobong District of Bukhansan. Pixabay CC0

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.


Using the via ferrata to get up Bukhansan

Using the via ferrata to get up Bukhansan. Pixabay CC0

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.


You will always see people hiking in Korea, no matter the season

You will always see people hiking in Korea, no matter the season. Pixabay CC0

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.


Climbing up Bukhansan

Climbing up Bukhansan. Pixabay CC0

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.

How to get to 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.

Hike Namhansanseong

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. You can also see more photos and reviews on Tripadvisor

Things to do in Seoul north of the river (Gangbuk)

The area running along the north of the Han river is made up of several districts and has a few of the best attractions in Seoul.

Northeast of the river you can find Yongsan-gu, made of expat shopping and foodie havens Itaewon and Haebangchon. These areas are mostly 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 is 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 and can be booked online here.

Myeongdong and Namdaemun in the centre are the best places to shop in Seoul beyond Dongdaemun 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


The mosque in Itaewon showcasing its multiculturalism

The mosque in Itaewon showcasing its multiculturalism

Travelers craving places to visit in Seoul with a diverse mix of people and food 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.

There are so many things to do in Itaewon that we couldn’t fit them all in this article. In fact, you will find a dedicated page on Tripadvisor listing all the best things to do with over 10,000 reviews! Visit the site here to see more. Read on for our list of the best things to do in Itaewon.

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 ostracised. 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 places to visit and things to do in Seoul at night. 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 less of a 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 dessert 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).


Paul’s Meringue Factory at Takeout Drawing

Paul’s Meringue Factory at Takeout Drawing. Pixabay CC0

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 pictured above 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 a 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.

How to get to 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.

How to get to 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


Leeum interior

Leeum interior. Wikipedia Severin.stalder (CC BY-SA 3.0)


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 and is one of the top artistic Seoul tourist attractions.

Check out the craft beer scene in Haebangchon

A little way passed Itaewon and around the hill is trendy Haebangchon 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. Walk a few 100m and you’ll see a stack of brown kimchi pots. Take the 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.

The Booth Brewery The Booth Brewery

Images provided by The Booth Brewery

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.

How to get to 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 the best place to visit in Seoul to find graffiti-lined walls, students expressing themselves through arts of all forms and hipster cafes. Just like Itaewon, there are too many places to visit in Hongdae to fit in this post. You can see more things to do in Hongdae including a list of over 2,500 places to eat on Tripadvisor

Shop at Hongdae Walking Street


A bit of night shopping before the party in Hongdae

A bit of night shopping before the party in Hongdae. Wikipedia Keneckert (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Although you can come here at any time, Hongdae Street is best visited after dusk and is therefore one of the obvious choice of things to do in Seoul at night.

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.


Hongdae

Hongdae


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. For more information, check this website.

Noraebang nights (karaoke)


Luxury Su Noraebang

Image by Luxury Su Noraebang


Karaoke one of the top things to do in Seoul for a unique cultural experience – whether it’s with friends, family, or just to practice by yourself. 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 to be had with friends.

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 K-pop or old school Korean “Trot” 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 noraebang 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 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


The cutest sheep in Hongdae

The cutest sheep in Hongdae


Hongdae has lost of hipster cafes but perhaps the most interesting and unique things to do 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 your fluffy friend, even posing for a selfie.

Look out for graffiti


The old playground in Hongdae covered in graffiti

The old playground in Hongdae covered in graffiti. Wikipedia Michaela den (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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 smatterings of graffiti around the area, but this small alley is devoted solely to the artfrom. It’s very close to the entrance to Hongik University. See our map above 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 one of the Seoul tourist attractions but one of the best ways to experience local life.

As Hongdae is the mecca of nightlife in Seoul, there are a pantheon of club 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. It goes without saying that Hongdae is top if list of things to do in Seoul at night.

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


Ewha University

Ewha University. Pixabay CCo

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 for some Seoul sightseeing.


The amazing glass structure ECC at Ewha

The amazing glass structure ECC at Ewha. Pixabay CCo


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.

How to get to 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.

How to get to Sinchon Area – Sinchon Station (신촌역) line 2 (green) exit 7 or 8 to get to Hongdae.

How to get to 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 Myeongdong, in Central Seoul


The entrance to Myeongdong

The entrance to Myeongdong. Maxpixel CC0

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, Myeongdong 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 guides walking around Myeongdong in red jackets and cowboy hats (not to be confused with Salvation Army troopers who also wear red). 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 Myeongdong

Shopping in Seoul is basically a national sport and lots of visitors come to the city just to shop. But walking around Myeongdong 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.


Night shopping in Myeong-dong

Night shopping in Myeongdong


Most first-time visitors to Seoul will most likely arrive from Myeongdong 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.

Myeongdong 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! If you’re wondering where to go in Seoul for shopping, this would be my first recommendation, over Dongdaemun, as it has more known brands and a multi-cultural vibe. 

Myeongdong 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. See all the insider information and various tours of Myeongdong on Tripadvisor

Insider tip: The money changers on the outskirts give more affordable rates. My favourite place to exchange cash is in the map. 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.

Taste great street food


Street food in Korea, these fish have red bean inside

Street food in Korea, these fish have red bean inside


Wondering 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.


Milky Bee

Milky Bee. Flickr Wei-Te Wong (CC BY-SA 2.0)


After a walking lunch, go grab a rose gelato at Milky Bee. There are several location scattered around Myeongdong 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 Myeongdong Theater or watch Nanta

Previously known as the National Theater of Korea (which is now at the base of Namsan in Jung-gu), Myeongdong 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 unique 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 is preferable to book your ticket before you go. Book online here. It’s fun for everyone, young and old.

Following the trend and success of Nanta, another fun alternative and more contemporary show in Jongno called Bibap was created. The performance combines comedy, breakdancing, beatboxing and of course cooking, into another spectacular show. Kids love this show and when I was working in the area I often saw school kids waiting in line on a field trip to see the show. You can book the show in advance online here

Myeongdong Cathedral


Myeongdong Cathedral

Myeongdong Cathedral. Pixabay CC0


A fantastic religious and architectural site in the area is the Myeongdong Cathedral, a beautiful church for the 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. See the schedule online here

Ride or hike to the top of Namsan (N Seoul Tower)

N Seoul Tower is a directional landmark of Seoul

N Seoul Tower is a directional landmark of Seoul. PXHERE CC0


Once you are done shopping, head back to Myeongdong 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, discounts, and bookings we recommend clicking here

There are also free options to walk up to N Seoul Tower through a windy road that goes 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.


N Seoul Tower

N Seoul Tower. Pixabay CC0


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. It’s also one of the top places to visit in Seoul and tourist attractions.

There are several options to book your ticket, either at the location or online, but we would highly recommend reserving an e-ticket to avoid disappointment. You can book the cable car in combination with a Seoul sightseeing bus by clicking here and selecting “Route B: Seoul Panorama + Namsan Cable Car Combo”.

The entrance to the observation deck can also be booked online by clicking here There are various combos to choose from beyond just the observation deck, like a meal at N Burger or checking out Hello Kitty Island. You can also organise personal van transport from Myeongdong to N Seoul Tower here.

How to get to Myeongdong 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


Namdaemun gate before the shopping

Namdaemun gate before the shopping. Pixabay CC0


One station after Myeongdong on the same line (Hoehyeon) is one of the top Seoul attractions for tourists: Namdaemun market.

Namdaemun market


Delicious steamed buns at Namdaemun Market

Delicious steamed buns at Namdaemun Market. Pixabay CC0


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 Namdaemun Market until you reach the main road.

Taste street food at a pojangmacha


Pojangmacha at Namdaemun

Pojangmacha at Namdaemun. Pixabay CC0


One of the top things to do in Seoul for lovers of street food 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.


More street food at Namdaemun Market

More street food at Namdaemun Market. Pixabay CC0


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.

How to get to 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 above the Han river does not have a lot of the most visited Seoul tourist attractions, there are some fantastic places to go if you want to experience Seoul like the locals.

Visit Seoul’s premiere green space at Ttukseom


Seoul Forest 서울숲

Seoul Forest or Seoul Soep – 서울숲. Wikipedia Christian Bolz (CC BY-SA 4.0)


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. See how you can take a break from the rush of Seoul with more photos of Ttukseom on Tripadvisor.

How to get to 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


Taste some gopchang

Taste some gopchang. Pixabay CC0


The area near Seoul Forest 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 based. The vibe is still great at both areas and it’s 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. It is really chewy, but bursting with flavor. And just like any Korean restaurant, it comes with various side dishes. Remember to eat some chives with your gopchang as this will cut through the fatty flavor. Try Hwangso Gopchang (황소곱창) and Gopchang-Jo (곱창조) for two of the top restaurants in the area.

Hunting for sales at Enter 6 Mall

There is a large mall called Enter 6 right above 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 line to or from Hongdae or 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.

How to get to 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.


Common Ground container market

Common Ground container market. Pixabay CC0


If you walk a few blocks from exit 6 you’ll stumble across one of the newest places to visit in Seoul, 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. Plan your insta-journey of this unique shopping complex by seeing more photos here.  

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 in Korea. 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 the Lotte Department Store. Turn right in 2 blocks and start your search out of numerous options. Maehwa Banjeom (매화반점) serves a signature lamb skewer, or yangkkochi, that is deliciously tasty.

How to get to 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

 

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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 and onto one of the hippest places to go in Seoul.

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 above for some of the best selections and explore one of the least touristy parts of Seoul.

Try Cafe Onion or Daerim Changgo (대림창고) for our top picks.

Get handmade shoes

Seongsu is also the top places to visit in Seoul 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).

How to get to 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)


Crossing the Han River by foot into Gangnam

Crossing the Han River by foot into Gangnam


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.

Things to 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

Skyscrapers in Gangnam. Flickr Joop (CC BY 2.0)


Gangnam is one of the most popular places to visit 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 obvious. So let me guide you to the best things to do 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 line, get out at Gangnam station and take either exit 10 or 11. There is also underground shopping at the station. 

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 stated below. So read on to find out more things to do in Gangnam from shopping to eating to bar hopping. 


Gangnam Style

An ode to Gangnam Style. Pixabay CC0


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 a mix of local and 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.  

How to get to Gangnam Main 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. There are occasionally K-pop group signings at the lower level Hot Tracks, a large stationary and curious store. See more of what Kyobo has to offer here

Spend the big bucks at Gangnam’s luxury shopping malls

As 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 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 19 and 29 have undergone surgery.

Trend it out at Garosugil


A Parisian feel in Apgujeong

A Parisian feel in Apgujeong


Beyond the flash malls there is trendy Garosugil in Sinsa-dong. This is one of the things to do in Gangnam for those seeking 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.


Trendy open air cafes abound in Garosugil

Trendy open air cafes abound in Garosugil

How to get to 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 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.

Psst… get your dicsounted SM Town Theater tickets on Klook here.

Real Hallyu fans can enjoy a complete Seoul Hallyu Kpop Tour which will take you to most of the places mentioned above, like SM and JYP, and beyond like one of BTS’s favorite restaurants in the city.

There are also some great Kpop dance classes that you can join in. This one at Fanxy studio is for beginners and is very highly rated and it’s right in the centre of Gangnam!

One last Kpop experience that you can have to complete your Hallyu adventure is to visit a recording studio and record your own Kpop song! Click here to book your session now.

How to get to 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


COEX Artium building

COEX Artium building. Pixabay CC0

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.


Starfield COEX Public Library

Starfield COEX Public Library


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 points 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.


Digital nomad paradise at COEX

Digital nomad paradise at COEX. Pixabay CC0


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.

WATCH A VIRTUAL K-POP SHOW

K-pop fans should try and get to SMTOWN Theatre in COEX Arteum to experience popular virtual hologram concerts from bands such as EXO, Super junior and Red Velvet. While you won’t watch the stars perform live, the show is a sensory overload and it will feel as if you are actually watching the concert live. You can book your ticket online here.

There is also an Aquarium in COEX that is a great way to pass some time for families with bored kids. You can book your tickets online here.

Guzzle down BBQ chicken and beer (chimek) at a baseball game


No one does fried chicken better than Korea

No one does fried chicken better than Korea. Pixabay CC0


Another one of the top things to do in Seoul for entertainment and fun 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 savor 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


Bongeun Temple

Bongeun Temple. Pixabay CC0


Temple stays are a unique cultural experience to be had by the spiritual traveler. If you are interested in Zen (Seon in Korean), mindfulness 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 you 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. Read more about Bongeun on their website.

How to get to 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


Lotte World complex

Lotte World complex


The Lotte World Complex includes Lotte Department StoreLotte WorldLotte World Mall and Seokchon 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 100km/h. You will scream with excitement.

For the best experience, which means skipping the queue and getting a discount, book your ticket online by clicking here.

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 starts 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 floors 9 and 7. Take the escalator up if you have some time and see if anything that 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 Seokchon Lake


Lotte World Tower and Mall with Sokcheon Lake to the left

Lotte World Tower and Mall with Sokchon Lake to the left. Pixabay CC0


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. 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 Seokchon Lake (Seokchon Hosoo – 석촌호수) 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 Lotte World Tower & Mall. Making the already large Lotte World Department Store (across the road) 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. Here is their website for more info. 

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.

How to get to 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 Seokchon Lake.

Ride a tandem bike around Olympic Park


Olympic Park

Olympic Park. Photo by haegy


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 Seoul Olympic Museum of Art (SOMA) is a fun museum for any art enthusiast with outdoor artwork on display for the public as well. The towering sports domes are 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, it is highly recommended to visit 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. See over 600 reviews and photos of Olympic Park on Tripadvisor to learn more about this gigantic complex. 

How to get to Olympic Park World Peace Gate entrance – Mongchontoseong Station (몽촌토성역) line 8 (pink) exit 1

How to get to 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 are 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


Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty

Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. Flickr Republic of Korea (CC BY-SA 2.0)


History buffs will want to visit UNESCO site the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, also known as Seonjeongneung (a combination of Seolleung and Jeongneung). 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.

Culture vultures thinking about what to do in Seoul should definitely consider this attraction as it’s usually one that visitors skip so you are going to see far less visitors than in other parts of the crowded city.

The tombs were built over five centuries between 1408 and 1966 and honor 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 there is also a shrine, shed, royal kitchen and guards’ house. It is a perfect display of the 5,000 year royal tomb architecture in Korea.

How to get to 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 Centre

Seoul Arts Centre. Flickr Oskar Alexanderson (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Seoul Arts Center is a large, multilevel exhibition space that houses everything from contemporary to calligraphy art and is one of the top Seoul 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. See here for more details. 

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 a templestay.

How to get to 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 Seoul’s southwest area


Yeoido with the 63 Building and Hangang Park

Yeoido with the 63 Building and Hangang Park. Pixabay CC0


There are a few places to visit in Seoul in the southwest. As the financial centre, 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.


Hanhwa 63 Building

Hanhwa 63 Building. Pixabay CC0


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.  You can also get discounted rates for a combo of both the observation deck and Aqua Planet by booking online here


Taking a stroll at Yeouido Park

Taking a stroll at Yeouido Park. GFP CC0


This video that went viral a few years back of a dancing skateboarder was shot in Yeouido Hangang Park, where you’ll notice the 63 building in the background.

How to get to 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.

How to get to 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.

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 are still a few Seoul attractions that may not be as popular, but are really great to experience local and off-the-beaten-path Seoul. 

Cruise the Han River


The Han river with Gangnam to the left and Namsan to the right

The Han river with Gangnam to the left and Namsan to the right. Pixabay CC0


Taking a cruise along the Han River provides a unique perspective of the city at a slower pace. 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 here to avoid disappointment.

Hike Gwanaksan and visit Gwaneumsa Temple


Seoul from Gwanak Mountain

Seoul from Gwanak Mountain. Pixabay CC0


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 splendor.

This is one of the prettiest things to do in Seoul during Spring and you’ll get the most extraordinary cherry blossom surprise. See how to get there below.


Gwanak mountain

Gwanak mountain. Pixabay CC0

How to get to 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 Korea are called jjimjilbang (찜질방) translated as heated room, and are places to cleanse the body and invigorate the mind.


One of the many themed rooms at Dragin Hill Spa

One of the many themed rooms at Dragon Hill Spa


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 facilities, 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 cuddling, friends playing in the arcade or entire families eating. It is one of the most typical Korean things to do in Korea 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 to walk around fully naked in the changing rooms. Save the hassle and time of getting a ticket in person by booking online before your visit here

If you would prefer to visit other jjimjilbang in Seoul there are many options no matter which part of the city you are visiting. But for ease of access and convenience you can book your experience online. Get a chocolate or collagen massage pack from
Myeongdong Traditional Spa, get scrubbed at a lesser known but still great Traditional Spa in Insadong , or have a women-only experience in Myeongdong.

Noryangjin Fish Market  


Korean sashimi or hwe, expensive and delicious

Korean sashimi or hwe, expensive and delicious. Pixabay CC0


Visiting a market is one of the top things to do in Seoul to experience culture like a local. 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.

The top pick includes 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.


Try live octopus or octopus sashimi for something a little different

Try live octopus or octopus sashimi for something a little different. Pixabay CC0


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. There are tours, reviews and photos of all kinds on Tripadvisor if you want to explore more before you go. 

Garak Wholesale Food Market


Scrumptious spicy fish broth

Scrumptious spicy fish broth. Pixabay CC0


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 a good idea to bring a Korean friend along to haggle down the prices. See more insider information on where to eat and how to get around Garak on Tripadvisor

How to get to Noryangjin station (노량진역) lines 1 (dark blue) and 9 (gold) exit 1.

How to get to 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


Sebit floating island on the Han River

Sebit floating island on the Han River. Pixabay CC0


If you have a few hours to pass, it is highly recommend to take 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.


Green areas in Sangam-dong, Mapo-gu

Green areas in Sangam-dong, Mapo-gu. Pixabay CC0


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).

Strolling along the calm waters is one of my favorite places to visit in Seoul. 

 

The Han river is safe to walk at night

The Han river is safe to walk at night. Pixabay CC0


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.

 

Seoul really knows how to turn up the romantic

Seoul really knows how to turn up the romantic. Pixabay CC0

Food tours in Seoul


A Korean staple and must try, bibimbap or mix rice

A Korean staple and must try, bibimbap or mix rice. Pixabay CC0


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. 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 very particular about taste and it is a very on-trend culture.


Bottomless side dishes are served with almost every meal

Bottomless side dishes are served with almost every meal


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.

Combine a market tour with a cooking class near Anguk from an experienced Korean chef here. For a less active and more eating-focused time go on a walking tour where you will get to sample authentic street from Korean spicy rice cake and blood sausage to rice cake and pork dumplings. Book online here. Or just learn to make kimchi and tteokbokkie from a veteran cook here.

Korean cooking class


kimchi

Kimchi. Pixabay CC0


If you’d like to take the taste of Korea home with you, it is highly recommended to take a Korean cooking class, or even just a kimchi making class. Try OME Cooking Lab as they are one of the top cooking schools for foreigners and provide several courses depending on your preferences. You can try their traditional food cooking course which is combined with a visit to Gyeongdong Market, known for its traditional medicinal produce.

This course provides an insight into the tradition and culture of Korean food detailed, step-by-step instructions from an English-speaking guide who is also a professional Korean chef. This course can be booked online here

The other course OME provides is a Korean Fried Chicken Cooking Class which is also combined with a visit to Gyeongdong Market. And, of course, you will be given some beer and several different kinds of soju (Korean rice wine). Book this course online here.

One final course you should look at attending if you love the infamous Korean spiced fermented cabbage is taking a kimchi course through Seoul Kimchi Academy. You will also learn some interesting cultural facts about the Korean staple and you’ll get to try on hanbok for some IG #OOTD shots. This course can also be booked online here.

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Go on a tour and with a local

The best way to learn about a country that you may not learn on your own is to visit with a local. If you can’t befriend a Korean, your next best option is to book a tour. There are plenty of tours available online from this 4 hour tour of all the most famous sites and areas (including shopping of course) of Seoul with a Korean buddy to a bicycle tour that is probably best in Spring or Fall.

Do it at a slower pace with a walking tour of all the most beautiful sights and historical landmarks of Seoul like Changdeokgung Palace and Insadong to Gyeongbokgung Palace and Gwanghwamun. Book it online here.

If you’re a younger traveler and looking for something a bit more on the fun side why not join a pub crawl in party central Hongdae and multicultural Itaewon. Play some beer pong and find out all about somek (soju+beer) on this vibrant experience of Korean nightlife. Book online pub crawl.

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 and beauty of the changing foliage.


Autumn in Korea is a beautiful sight

Autumn in Korea is a beautiful sight. Pixabay CC0


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 do 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 many businesses are closed.

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:

HotelDistrictPriceMore photos and availability
Four SeasonsJongno-guUS$290Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
JW Marriott Dongdaemun Seoul SquareJongno-guUS$225Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
JW Marriott Dongdaemun Seoul SquareJongno-guUS$380Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
The ShillaJung-guUS$240Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
Lotte Hotel SeoulJung-guUS$180Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
Intercontinental COEXGangnam-guUS$164Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
Park HyattGangnam-guUS$345Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
Lotte World HotelSongpa-guUS$140Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
JW Marriott Hotel SeoulSeocho-guUS$285Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
Vista Walkerhill SeoulGwangjin-guUS$260Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
GLAD HotelYeongdeungpo-gu (Yeouido)US$90Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
The ConradYeongdeungpo-gu (Yeouido)US$190Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor
Grand HyattYongsan-guUS$225Booking.com | Agoda | Hotelscombined | TripAdvisor

How to get around Seoul


Subways in Seoul are modern, efficient and clean

Subways in Seoul are modern, efficient and clean. Pixabay CC0


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 in hurriedly 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 are being scammed, take a picture of the taxi driver’s id which should be on display and you can report the driver.

One of the most popular ways to get around any city is by catching a topless sightseeing bus.  This transportation option can be booked online here and has free audio guides as you travel from one destination to another in several different languages.

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


Hangul

Pixabay CC0


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 and visiting all the best things to do in Seoul.

Getting from the airport into the city


Incheon International Airport

Incheon International Airport. Pixabay CC0


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.

Book your KAL Limousine Bus ticket to several different area online here. If you do need additional privacy, hire a private driver from Incheon to Seoul and back here, or even a luxury personalised transport here.

Visas

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.

Internet connectivity

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. KT is a great option and you can reserve your pocket Wifi with unlimited data online here. You can choose different packages for trips of varying lengths with 1, 5, 10 and 30 day options. The SIM is easy to collect from Incheon on arrival.

Currency and money exchange in Seoul


Korean Won

Korean Won. Pixabay CC0


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 which also offers an additional discount on the Pass.

The app offers free entry to many tourist hotspots, up to 75% off on select destinations and has a built in T-Money function. This is a must purchase if you’re planning on visiting the top Seoul attractions. Prices are 24h (₩39,900), 48h (₩55,000) and 72h (₩70,000).