1. Experience the Old
Korea has an amazing and diverse history. Within Seoul, you can visit palaces, temples, and cultural villages. Some are massive and surround the city, others are tiny and tucked away. Want to visit ALL the best palaces in Seoul? Book a Tour!
This palace is the largest of the 5 main palaces – the ‘Northern’ one – and the most central of them all. Located near City Hall and Gwanghwamun square, you can’t miss it. It was built in 1395 at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty representing the change in capitals from Gaseong to Seoul. It was destroyed during the Japanese invasions and rebuilding was completed in 2010. This palace focuses on the royal history of Korea and you can visit two museums on site, as well as rent traditional Korean Hanboks, or learn about Korean food!
Price: 3,000 won (~3USD) Free on Holidays!
Hours: 9 am – 5 pm (sometimes 6 pm depending on the season) – closed Tuesdays
Arrive: Gyeongbukgung Palace Station line 3 exit 5 or Gwanghamun Station on line 5 exit 2 – you can’t miss it!
Changdeok Palace & Huwon (Secret Garden)
Just across from the Gyeongbukgung Palace, you’ll find the Changdeok Palace. This Palace is home to the (not so secret) Secret Garden. Built in 1405, this was a place of rest for the royals during the Joseon dynasty. In 1997 the palace was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s beauty, architecture, and history are certainly worth the visit. Do note that to enter the Secret Garden you must join a tour.
Price: 3,000 won (~3USD) +5,000 won for Secret Garden Tour. Free on Holidays!
Hours: 9am – 5pm (sometimes 6pm depending on the season) – closed Mondays
Arrive: Jongno-3-ga station line 1/3/5 exit 6 or Anguk station line 3 exit 3
A Hanok is a term used to describe traditional Korean houses. There are many scattered throughout Seoul, however, one of the best ones to visit is the Bukchon Hanok Village. It is located between the two above mentioned palaces, and consists of windy alleyways, traditional houses, and restaurants – you can even take a cooking class! This village has been preserved to give people the feel of what life was like during the Joseon dynasty.
2. Experience the New
N. Seoul Tower – Namsan Tower
The N Seoul Tower, or Namsan Tower, located on Mount Namsan at Namsan park, is easily the most iconic tower in Seoul. It is certainly more than just a tower as well. The ‘mountain,’ though only 237 metres at the peak still isn’t something many want to hike (many being me). You have the option of taking the cable car up to the top and then go up even higher to the observatory. Also up the tower, you can add a lock to the many others as a tribute to love.
Lotte World in Seoul by Jamsil station and Everland (though technically out of Seoul, but worth the trip) are the two amusements around if you’re looking for a roller coaster or some bumper cars. Personally, I prefer Everland over Lotte World. Lotte World I found to very childish with insanely long lines. Though if you’d prefer to avoid the 2-hour subway ride, Lotte World will do. Unless it’s a water park and zoo you’re looking for, in which case Everland has all of it. I never had the chance to make it to Seoul Land, but the zoo there, Seoul Grand Park, is top notch. Also, all the theme parks have a special foreigner discount ticket! Bring your passport or ARC (though they likely won’t ask for it if you don’t look Korean).
3. Experience the Food
It would be practically impossible to visit Seoul and not at least see Korean BBQ restaurants on every street. Whether it be pork or beef, inside or outside, all you can eat or a la carte. BBQ is a part of everyday Korean life. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s delicious! Meat, side dishes of varying vegetables among other things (though always kimchi), and often enjoyed with Soju or Beer (or both! Makju anyone?)
If you’re feeling adventurous and have a ‘when in Rome’ kind of attitude, you can try dog whilst in Seoul. Though not particularly popular, particularly among foreigners, but also with younger locals, it is still possible to get. Most often found in soups, you can also find dog restaurants that serve it grilled. Unlike chicken or pig, you will rarely see it served in any way that actually looks like a dog, though I have heard that some people have received a snout in their soup.
Found practically everywhere, street food is a must try! There are so many options that if you’re on a short stay it’d be nearly impossible to try it all, however, if you’re around longer you should definitely try it all!
The best places to try different kinds of street food are Myeongdong, which also has some of the best shopping, or Insadong, which is where you’ll find more of the traditional souvenirs, restaurants, and of course – lots of street food. Although it’s found nearly everywhere, you’ll find the most street food in the major shopping areas, like the ones mentioned above, though it’s also quite concentrated in Dongdaemun and Namdaemun.
The Noryangjin Fish Market
This is largest one in Korea, and is in a huge (66,000 square metres) open air warehouse – it really doesn’t smell at all! Open 24 hours and is a wholesale market, so can be up to 50% cheaper than supermarkets and department stores. If you’re a seafood lover, this is the place for you.
Everything in this place is alive and it has over 1,000 types of seafood varieties. You can get just about any sea creature you can think of and one that’s popular among tourists – live octopus! It is often served chopped up and still squirming on the plate, dip it in some oil, and down it goes!
Once you’ve picked out your fish (or crab, octopus, whatever), you can bring up to any of the restaurants upstairs and they will prepare it for you! They also give you side dishes and drinks for a very reasonable fee. Or you can just buy prepared sushi, or order off a menu in some of the restaurants.
4. Experience the Outdoors
Found in Gangbuk-gu, Bukhansan is the tallest mountain in Seoul. To get to Bukhansan you can take the subway line 4 to Suyu station or line 3 to Gupabal station depending on the side you want to enter. Begundae peak, the highest peak in the mountain range, is near the centre.
The hike is certainly a workout, and even if you don’t want to do Begundae, the surrounding trails are also gorgeous! I would suggest going in the fall. It’s not too cold yet and the foliage is beautiful.
The Han River
Located in central Seoul, the Han is a popular place all year round, though particularly in the summer months. There are many water activities available, such as paddle boarding, kayaking and windsurfing. Or you can choose to go on a river cruise. Also, for those not interested in getting in the water, you can find basketball courts, bike rentals, and running paths. It is also a fantastic spot for a picnic – you can even order chicken or pizza to be delivered to your picnic spot!
A stream that flows through the middle of Seoul, and considered a public recreation space. You can walk along either side of it and there are often events on and around the stream, most notable even being the lantern festival. Even when there are not major organized events, you’ll find buskers and musicians performing along the stream.
5. Experience the Culture
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
Home to the new Seoul Fashion Week, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, or DDP represents the creativity of the younger generation of Korea. Surrounded by shopping, you can go up one of the skyscraper malls to the top to get a bird’s eye view. Although the galleries and official areas have opening hours, there is still a lot of beauty and occasionally exhibits to see outside.
The DDP is open Tuesday – Sunday until 7:00 pm.
Not far from the DDP, you can visit the Dongdaemun Night Market. Opening around 10:00 pm and staying open until about 5:00 am, shopping in Dongdaemun is no trip at the mall. You’ll find basics like shirts and leggings for incredibly cheap, and also leather goods, shoes and bags. It is incredibly crowded, with a peak time being around 1:00 am. You should definitely haggle, so bring cash. Also, you don’t need to know Korean to haggle, they have calculators there to show you a price, but it certainly helps to have some numbers down. Also, like mentioned above, it’s a great spot for street food!