Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a city that’s both modern yet traditional and urban yet green. In other words, Seoul has everything. Sightseeing? You got it. Delicious food? You got it. Shopping? You got it. Hiking? You got it. There is something for everyone. So I have compiled a list of the top things to see, do and eat in this megacity!
What to see & do in Seoul, South Korea
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a major urban development landmark, designed by Zaha Hadid and Samoo. This plaza boasts long, curving lines and ultra-modern features like its rooftop parks. It serves as a key venue for design-related shows and conferences, exhibitions, and other events and gatherings. The plaza is connected to the Dongdaemun History & Cultural Park. The park is a thrilling mix of old with new. It celebrates hundreds of years of Korean history and culture.
A funny anecdote about this place: we were enjoying the plaza while visiting Seoul and somehow we suddenly ended up in a Vietnamese tourism ad. Sadly, I still haven’t found the ad.
On Mt. Namsan is Namsan Park, popular for hiking trails, tourist attractions like the N-Seoul Tower, and panoramic views of downtown Seoul. Namsan, meaning “South Mountain”, is the largest park in Seoul and is perfect for who wants to experience a little slice of nature in the middle of the urban city. You have to do a lot of stairs to get to the top if you hike up. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
At the top of Mt. Namsan stands the iconic N-Seoul Tower. You can enjoy the view from the 360° observatory or the base. Take some time to enjoy the view with a coffee or look for the best viewpoints for some photos. The N-Seoul Tower is more than the observatory. Explore the inside of the tower where you can find a digital observatory, gift shops etc.
Namsangol Hanok Village
Namsangol Hanok Village is set in landscaped gardens featuring a pavilion, a festival stage, a small lake and offers a view of Namsan Mountain.
I recommend visiting this Hanok Village instead of Bukchon Hanok Village. Bukchon is more famous with the result that it is quite touristy. Namsangol is is quieter and more authentic if you ask me.
Seoul houses 5 palaces of the Joseon period. Visiting all 5 might be a little bit of a cultural overkill for most travellers, certainly when you’re only in Seoul for a short trip.
The most impressive and expansive of the 5 Seoul palaces, Gyeongbokgung was the original palace (construction began in 1395) and was historically the main seat of royalty. Now it’s surrounded by mountains on one side and modern corporate buildings on the other.
Don’t skip the garden, but more importantly don’t miss out on the change of the royal guard. This unique ceremony is a great opportunity to experience a rare traditional scene in Korea, as the ceremony is reenacted exactly as it used to be held: with guards wearing royal uniforms, carrying traditional weapons and playing traditional instruments. This ceremony takes place twice a day in front of the main gate of Gyeongbokgung at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., except on Tuesdays.
We visited Gyeongbokgung Palace on a national holiday so the entree was free. The only downside of visiting on a national holiday, it gets extremely busy. Walk to the back if you want to escape the business but still enjoy this gorgeous palace.
Combine Seoul with a unique glimpse of North Korea. Read how to visit the DMZ here!
Visiting Insadong is also another great way to get an insight into South Korean culture and explore one of the neighbourhoods of Seoul. Insadong is known as an artsy area filled with galleries and traditional restaurants, teahouses and cafes. There are about 100 galleries in the area and you can see every example of traditional Korean fine art from paintings to sculptures. You will also see a lot of shops with creative souvenirs here.
Deoksugung Palace is another one of the five grand palaces. This is one of the smaller palaces to visit in Seoul, but it’s still gorgeous to see. It’s worth visiting in the evening when most of the other sights have closed because it’s open till much later than the other palaces.
If you’re in the area, you can walk to the Cheonggyecheon Stream. This peaceful oasis gives you the perfect opportunity to escape crowded Seoul.
Myeong-Dong is probably my favourite district in Seoul. This district is known as one of the best shopping streets in Seoul. But Myeong-Dong also one of the best things to do in Seoul if you want an evening of bars and food, especially street food. There are so many different foods to choose from, so make sure to visit this district on an empty stomach.
This district is great for shopping too! I love all the little boutiques and other stuff you can’t find anywhere else. I bought pug socks and I’m still not regretting anything. Korea is famous for its cosmetic products as they are some of the best in the world. Many of the beauty shops will have workers outside handing out free samples if you agree to come into their store to shop. In other words, there are endless Korean beauty shops in the Myeongdong district.
Hongdae is the district where you’ll see all sorts of singers, dancers and bands performing on the streets. This area also houses some of the coolest themed cafes like the 2D-cafe and 943 Kings Cross (yes, that means Harry Potter themed).
Club-goers will be pleased to know that Hongdae is the centre of club culture in Seoul. One of the reasons is the student population in this area. Just so you know where to book your stay.
Food and drinks in Seoul, South Korea
The food in Seoul and South Korea is incredible! I’d say try as much as you can.
There are two restaurants in the Myeong-Dong district that I can highly recommend. The first one is called Myeongdong Kyoja. If you’re looking for the most delicious dumplings (still dreaming about them) and noodle soup in Seoul, you just may find it here.
I also recommend checking out Yoogane in Myeong-Dong. They serve a spicy chicken dish called Dak Galbi that is prepared right at your table. Your waiter will bring meat, veggies and spicy sauce to your table, mix them all together and cook it on a griddle that sits in the middle of your table. There’s also a version that comes with cheese for who loves cheese or for who prefers his or her chicken not so spicy.
Another big thing in the Myeong-Dong district is the street food. The streets are lined with rows and rows of delicious Korean street food. You may need a few visits (and cash only) if you want to try everything.
One thing you can’t miss is visiting a traditional teahouse. You can find several of these in Insadong. They’re a pleasant getaway from the bustle of this district. Leave your shoes outside, take a seat on the pillowed floor and enjoy some Korean tea. I visited Chatjip Tea House. They offer traditional teas and desserts/snacks.
One last thing, don’t forget to try some of the delicious soju!
Getting around Seoul & South Korea
Seoul is a huge city, so walking everywhere isn’t always the best idea if you want to see it all in a few days. The main ways to get around are by bus or subway. You might be blown away by the many stations but don’t worry, it’s all pretty self-explanatory.
You will need a T-money card. It is a rechargeable smart card used for paying transportation fares (subway, bus & taxi) in Seoul and the rest of South Korea. T-money can also be used in some convenience stores. But where can you buy this T-money card? You can buy one at the airport when you arrive, in subway or train stations or you can buy one in a convenience store.
So there you have it! Have you been to Seoul, South Korea? What else would you add to the list?