Seoul is the capital of South Korea and probably one of the most impressive cities you could ever dream of visiting! There are endless things to do there, and if you are wondering why I say that, just check this list of great things to do in Seoul!
During my visit in Seoul, my list of potential places to visit only grew bigger and bigger. My initial plan was to travel around South Korea, but I liked Seoul so much I ended up exploring it for one full week! I have no regrets about that because there are so many amazing things to do there!
In case you want to travel to South Korea like I did, continue reading to find out more about the top things to do in Seoul as well as how to save money on sightseeing and tours during your vacation! You will find out what to do and where to go in Seoul, some tips on how to get around the city and save money on attraction tickets, where to stay and where to eat as well!
WARNING: There will be a lot of markets on this list!
1. WALK AROUND THE TRADITIONAL GYEONGBUKGUNG PALACE
Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1495 for the Joseon Dynasty but suffered with many partial destructions due to the Japanese invasions. Its last reconstruction finished in 2007. That being said, you will not see it as it was originally built but you will see an exact replica, so it’s close enough!
There are two things that I recommend doing while there: witness the changing of the guards’ ceremony that happens at 10 AM and 2 PM (everyday except Tuesdays), and dress yourself in one of the traditional hanboks.
A hanbok is the traditional Korean dress that reflects historical Korean ideas, customs, and forms, all illustrated in the colors and shapes of the material.
You might see many people wearing this traditional attire, and I really regretted not knowing about it in advance! You can find stores renting hanboks everywhere between the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Changdeokgung Palace. Once you have the dress on, you can walk around the palaces. By the way, it is pretty much the only place in the world where you can walk around in traditional clothes in the city and not look out of place!
The hanbok rental can be from 1.5 hours to a full day and the prices range between 5,000 to 15,000 KRW (US$4 to US$14). You will find a lot of stores around the palaces!
When traveling alone and want to have double the fun while playing dress up, join this photoshoot experience right on the Palace grounds.
NOTE: There is a ticket package called “Royal Palace Pass” that includes the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace and the Jongmyo Royal Ancestral Shrine for a price of 10,000 KRW (US$9). You can only purchase this ticket package at any of the palaces or the Ancestral Shrine ticket office.
TIP: If you are wearing a hanbok you will enter all the palaces for free! They’ll still give you a ticket so they can track the number of people inside, but I repeat, you don’t need to pay for it!
TIP 2: The best time to go is around 9 AM when there are hardly any people! I was basically walking around the Palace alone; then, by 10 AM, it was already much more crowded. The Palace is huge, so it took me about 2 hours to explore the entire property without rushing.
PRICE: The entrance fee to the Palace is 3,000 KRW (US$3) per adult. You can book your online ticket here.
2. GO OVER TO BUKCHON HANOK VILLAGE
After visiting the Palace, I headed over to the traditional Bukchon Hanok Village since they are so close to each other. This is a traditional Korean village and it’s name means “north village” because it’s located north of the Cheonggye Stream.
The village is filled with traditional houses called hanok, and it’s a very cute area where people still live! Some of these hanoks are used as cultural centers, restaurants, and guest houses so you can go inside and immerse yourself in the traditional Korean culture.
TIP 1: I recommend stopping at the Tourist Information Center inside the village and picking up a map, then following the wonderful walking route that will get you to all the main points! You can also get a free map outside the Angok Station if you arrive by metro.
TIP 2: For wonderful photos, again, you can use the traditional hanbok (the classic Korean dresses); you will see plenty of people doing so!
3. HEAD OVER TO MYEONG-DONG FOR SOME SHOPPING
Myeong-dong is the go-to area for shopping and also one of the most popular shopping hubs of Seoul!
Walk along the Myeong-dong shopping street to find everything from the latest Korean cosmetic trends to all kinds of clothes and shoes you can think of!
You will find a diversity of retail stores, family restaurants with Korean, Western, and Japanese dining options, and you can even stumble across hair salons and banks there.
Even if shopping is not exactly your thing, we still recommend visiting this street. First of all, for people watching – because it is such a big part of Korean life, there is no better place to see the local culture in action! I think it was only more interesting to people watch in Harajuku in Tokyo! And secondly, it is worth visiting because of the many restaurants and food stalls where you can find some great local dishes!
4. ADMIRE THE LOVELY CITY VIEW FROM N SEOUL TOWER
N Seoul Tower also known as Namsan Seoul Tower was initially built to broadcast TV and radio signals back in 1969, but has been opened to visitors and is now a local landmark of the city!
The view is very nice, but in my humble opinion it is only worth it if you go on a weekday. On weekends it gets so full of visitors you will feel like you are in a packed shopping mall where everyone wants to take a picture with the fake tower background, and you might even miss the show projected on the wall.
I went on a weekend and still remember how horribly long the line was to buy a ticket. That is why, if you really need to go on the weekend, I recommend going for a skip-the-line ticket; no need to struggle with transportation up the hill or fighting with the line. I used it myself!
You can take the cable car from Myeong-dong Station; the ride takes a few minutes and costs 7,000 KRW for a one-way ticket (US$6)
You can also take the bus (No.02, No.03, or No.05 lines) for a price of 1,200 KRW (US$1).
TIP: My suggestion is to take the cable car up and the bus down (though I remember I had to wait for the bus for about 20 minutes).
TIP 2: I don’t recommend going on weekends because it’s too crowded to enjoy! Same applies for Seoul Sky.
PRICE: 11,000 KRW (US$9) on the official site, but 5,500 KRW (US$5) if you book here.
5. VISIT NAMDAEMUN MARKET, THE LOCALS’ FAVORITE
Yes, Seoul is all about markets, that’s why they are on my list!
Namdaemun Market is not the trendiest market, but it is the oldest and most traditional one. It opened in 1964 and it is found between City Hall and Seoul Station.
The market covers about 66,000 square meters where there are about 10,000 retailers, vendors, and wholesalers!
You will definitely find cheaper souvenirs here, but you can also find a diversity of products from food supplies to electronics which made me think it is more of a market for locals.
TIP: Starting at 11 PM is probably the best time to visit the market when all the shoppers are going around looking for the best deals and sampling some of the street food stalls! By the way, just like finding your way around a new city, the best way to enjoy the market is by wandering through the maze of shops.
OPENING HOURS: The market is closed on Sunday
6. VISIT AND EAT AT A THEMED CAFÉ
This is probably the most fun activity for anyone tired of going to the classic coffee shops!
You can get completely out of your comfort zone and head over to a themed café – Seoul has everything from cat and dog cafes to even poop cafes!
Below I will recommend a couple of great themed cafes in the city:
Ddo-Ong Cafe – this one has the craziest theme of them all – a poop theme! This place has decorations full of squat toilets and pooping dolls. Although the menu selection might not have the most appetizing names, it’s hilarious! It might be the most difficult to find; it is on the roof level (4th floor) of the Insa-dong’s Ssamziegil shopping complex.
Blind Alley Racoon Café – this one goes wild and welcomes raccoons onto the property! Plus, they also have pigs and a corgi that lives there!
Banana Tree Cafe – it is a different cafe, where your cake is served in a plant pot and your spoon actually looks like a tiny shovel!
Thanks Nature Cafe – this one is among the wildest cafes I’ve seen because you can actually have a drink while petting the sheep!
Princess Diary – it is a fun and beautiful cafe where you can play dress up with gorgeous dresses and feel like a princess while having coffee in their fairytale areas.
221 B – Sherlock Holmes-themed cafe in Gangnam neighborhood
7. TAKE A TOUR AROUND CHANGDEOKGUNG PALACE
The Changdeokgung Palace (also known as Changdeok Palace) is part of the Five Grand Palaces made by the Joseon Dynasty Kings. But just like the other buildings, this palace suffered structural damage during the Japanese occupation.
The rear garden at the palace was done to create the ideal resting place for the royal family members – I definitely recommend checking it out!
TIP: You can book an inexpensive tour with a local and ask for specific Seoul attractions you want to visit; they will gladly give you the t
TIP 2: As I mentioned earlier, there is a ticket package called “Royal Palace Pass” that includes the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace and the Jongmyo Royal Ancestral Shrine for a price of 10,000 KRW (US$9). You can only purchase this at any of the palaces or the Ancestral Shrine ticket office.
PRICE: Palace building entrance is 3,000 KRW (US$2.50). Book your online ticket here or purchase a ticket at the gate.
Ladies, this is paradise! Korean cosmetics are known to be the best in the world, and it is crazy cheap to buy them here in the motherland!
Being a travel blogger who is continuously on the road, I hardly buy anything other than a magnet, but I couldn’t help myself and following the craziness bought many cute things in Seoul. Seriously, how can you not? So my advice is to bring some extra cash for that!
TIP: If you are staying a couple of days in the city, I would first buy samples, try 2 or 3 and figure out the ones your skin likes the most, then buy a huge box of it (it’s cheaper if you buy in big quantities!).
From my experience, I can recommend some good stores to shop for beauty products such as Olive Young, Nature Republic, Banila Co, and Skinfood. They sometimes give you free samples so that you stop and maybe buy something, no obligation.
TIP 2: Don’t forget to ask for your tax refund form. You will be able to get 10% of the cost of your purchases back at the airport, so save the receipts!
9. GO TO INSA-DONG IF YOU LOVE SOUVENIRS AND TRADITIONAL CRAFTS
Insa-dong is another great option for shopping for souvenirs and traditional crafts. Head over to this street for the antique shops and art galleries that offer a selection of pottery, antiques, and unique souvenirs.
If you are feeling hungry and you aren’t in a shopping mood, there are plenty of food options here as well! The street food is probably Insa-dong’s best attraction!
Insa-dong Street has many alleys and smaller streets that branch from it which create a street food paradise with food carts all along the way. You will find many options for dumplings, hottoek, and local corn cookies filled with ice cream.
By the way, all the districts I mention in this article are in the city center, so walking from one to another takes no more than 15 – 20 minutes.
10. SEE HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY AT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF KOREA
National Museum of Korea has been a center of studies and research of Korean history through archaeology, history, and art. It houses the greatest artifacts to tell Korea’s fascinating story from ancient eras to modern ages.
The museum is divided into a Main Exhibition Hall and a Children’s Museum, with galleries holding many national and international pieces. Throughout the year, there are different educational events and cultural programs that visitors can be part of; you can see the updated program here.
11. RELAX AT CHEONGGYECHEON STREAM
Cheonggyecheon used to be a neglected stream covered by an elevated highway after the Korean War, but is now part of a modern urban park! The entire stream is about 11 km long – it goes from Cheonggye Plaza under a total of 22 bridges before meeting Hangang River.
I stayed near the stream in the city center and was really impressed and enchanted by the view while walking right next to the stream! While you’re there, you can also go to Cheonggyecheon Museum that shares the story of the stream with a scale-model of it and old photographs.
12. TRY SOME KOREAN BBQ
Korean BBQ anyone? Yes, please!
If you’ve never heard of or tasted Korean BBQ before, let me explain it! The amazing part of this dish is that in most restaurants you will get your own personal grill on the table. The server brings the meat you ordered (we ordered pork and beef, for example) and you put it on the grill together with some mushrooms and onions.
You will have many other little plates on the table around the grill such with items like kimchi (cabbage), salad leaves (for you to wrap your meat in), marinated sliced garlic, soups, sauces, and salt.
The food was absolutely delicious! I just had a flashback of that great meal while typing. I definitely recommend you to try this, unless you are a vegetarian.
The most popular version is called bulgogi (sliced marinated beef sirloin) or galbi (marinated beef short ribs).
Maple Tree House is a fantastic place to try the best Korean BBQ in the city! Although they have a variety of Asian dishes, their BBQ is still a highlight. Their most famous version is the one with hanu (Korean beef) cut in thin stripes.
FUNNY FACT: You can store your clothes (jacket etc) in a special plastic bag while you eat so they don’t smell like BBQ afterwards.
13. DISCOVER THE COOL STUFF AT DONGDAEMUN DESIGN PLAZA
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is a major development landmark built with a neofuturistic design that has become the city’s fashion hub!
There are maaaaany shopping malls and markets in this area that form a district.
Make sure to walk inside the Design Plaza where you will find the coolest and most unusual stuff such as a walkable park on the roof! Some shops might be a bit pricey, but you can always go inside for some window shopping only!
The building is divided into five halls, each with a different purpose:
Art Hall – there are numerous conventions, exhibitions, fashion shows, and concerts there
Museum Hall – you can find a design playground, a museum, and an exhibition hall there
Design Lab – works as an incubator for local and international product designers.
Design Market – convenient for some late night shopping
Dongdaemun History & Culture Park – the park shows what the area used to look like during the military training of the Joseon dynasty.
14. ADMIRE DEOKSUGUNG PALACE
Deoksugung Palace started out as a royal family house but was named a palace after the main palaces had been destroyed during the 1592 Japanese invasions.
By the way, Deoksugung Palace means “palace of virtuous longevity”!
The Palace is divided into three main halls, each with a different style and purpose:
Jeonggwanheon Hall – the first extension to the palace and King Gojong’s favorite place to spend his free time. The back of the hall included a secret passageway to the Russian Emissary, and is still in existence
Seokjojeon Hall – a Japanese art gallery opened to the public. It also holds the palace treasure exhibition and the National Museum of Modern Art
Junghwajeon Hall – the base for all political discussions and national affairs during the Korean Empire.
TIP: Don’t forget to stop by the Daehanmun Gate to see the changing of the Royal Guards, everyday at 11 AM, 2 PM, and 3:30 PM (except Mondays).
You can check out the Palace with a free guide service (there is no option to book, but you can check the tour schedule here) to actually understand what you are admiring.
OPENING HOURS: Tuesdays through Sundays from 9AM to 9PM. Check the updated opening hours here.
PRICE: Entry fee to the palace is 1,000 KRW (US$1), pay it at the entrance
15. RELAX IN A KOREAN SPA
How can a Korean spa differ from any other spa worldwide? Only one word – jjimjilbang!
Jjimjilbang means “bath house”, and comes from the word “Jjimjil” which means heating. A jjimjilbang consists of gender-segregated public baths or saunas mostly frequented by locals, but you can definitely go there if you want to unwind after a full day of walking and shopping.
In most of these spas you can find traditional kiln saunas, massage tables, and hot tubs, as well as heated salt rooms, ice rooms, and sleeping quarters. Another great idea is going for a seshin, which is a full body scrub that has to be booked with the “room manager” who will let you know when it is your turn.
Most of these jjimjilbangs are open 24 hours and have a lot of visitors on the weekends.
Okay, but how can you choose a good Jjimjilbang out of all the choices? It’s not easy, but I handpicked a couple of options for you:
Dragon Hill Spa & Resort – one of the best in Seoul because of the service and facilities! They have a spa, sauna, golf course, KTV, and cinema.
Itaewon Land Sauna is a less touristy Jjimjilbang. You can find a big traditional oak wood sauna with a 300 m underground spring of water there.
PRICE: about 8,000 – 16,000 KRW (US$7 – US$14)
CONCLUSION OF THE TRIP:
Seoul is such a unique, colorful city that offers so much – from spicy local dishes to fun theme parks and cultural attractions, its range of activities is perfect to fit any travelers’ preferences and budgets!
This was my complete list with my 18 best things to do in Seoul as well as some bonus activities, attractions to see, best hotels to stay in, local cuisine recommendations, and even some tips to save money on several tickets!
I must say that I stayed in Seoul for one week and I always found plenty of new things to do in the city! The must-visit list will just get bigger because Seoul has everything you can think of! It is heaven on earth for all foodies and shoppers.
I hope you enjoyed my Seoul travel guide and you will have a great time during your visit to Seoul!