One Day in Seoul, South Korea: Itinerary & Where to Go in 24 Hours

From the moment you first arrive in Seoul, you’ll know it’s going to be one hell of a ride. Coming off of a tortuous red-eye flight from Canada in a half-awake state, I can still remember my first time seeing the blinding neon lights of Seoul pierce through the bus window to jolt me back to life. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. (At least until I met Tokyo.)

Whether good or bad, Seoul always makes a first impression. At some moments, the capital city of South Korea seems too much to handle; in others, you’ll feel like you just can’t get enough of it.

Now, I can say confidently that one day in Seoul isn’t enough time to come to grips with this complex city. (But, hey, sometimes you gotta work with what you’ve got.)

Ready to take on South Korea’s capital? Here are some tips on how to spend your first 24 hours in Seoul…

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What to do in Seoul in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary

Visiting a big city like Seoul on a time crunch is never easy. There’s a multitude of interesting things to do in Seoul, spreading far and wide. A handful of awesome Seoul day trips also make an excellent case for extending your stay in South Korea’s capital a tad longer during your first-time Korea itinerary.

This 1-day Seoul itinerary is designed to give you a small taste of the city. It’ll hopefully be enough to convince you to return—or even inspire you to change your plans on the spot.

Night @ Yeoido in Seoul, South Korea

After checking out several of the best places to visit in Korea, it’s hard for me to conclude that there’s any place on the peninsula quite like Seoul.

And while it might not win many beauty awards, no city in South Korea will keep you as well-fed, entertained, and engaged as the wild ride that is Seoul.

Dig into Joseon history at Gyeongbokgung Palace

There’s no better place to start your Seoul trip itinerary than Gyeongbokgung Palace. Built as the main Joseon dynasty palace in the late 14th century, Gyeongbokgung is one of the most endearing symbols of Seoul and an absolute must-see on your first day in Seoul.

Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, Korea

Although it’s nowhere near as grand as it once was (the current restoration project seeks to change that), Gyeongbokgung Palace still has the power to whisk you away to another time.

Spend at least an hour exploring the palace grounds—from its halls and pavilions to its gates and bridges—to introduce yourself to Korea’s deep architectural legacy and culture.

If you’re interested in history, Gyeongbokgung Palace is also home to the National Folk Museum of Korea and the National Palace Museum of Korea. Self-professed culture vultures should carve out some time to browse both at leisure.

Step back into time at Bukchon Hanok Village

From Gyeongbokgung Palace, it’s a short trek to Bukchon Hanok Village via Bukchon-ro 5-gil. Whereas most of the city consists of skyscrapers and fairly non-descript apartment buildings, Bukchon Hanok Village wears the past on its sleeve—and with spectacular grace.

With origins reaching back almost 600 years, the old traditional Korean houses (called hanok) you’ll find in this former village will sweep you back to a long-bygone era in Korea’s history. The narrow alleyways of Bukchon Hanok Village form Seoul’s most interesting historic quarter to explore.

Street in Bukchon Hanok Village

Unlike many of the Korean folk villages around the country, this isn’t just a showpiece; Bukchon Hanok Village is a living neighbourhood that’s home to hundreds of residents. Along the way, you’ll encounter shops, teahouses, and cafés where you can stop to peruse or relax among the stunning scenery.

Should you crave a little more than just walking around, there are a handful of museums and cultural centres in Bukchon Hanok Village. One of the most popular stops is the Bukchon Traditional Crafts Centre. Get involved and try making traditional Korean stationary, ornaments, paper dolls, or jewellery for something out of the ordinary.

Explore more Korean royal history at Changdeokgung Palace

Trot east of Bukchon Hanok Village to stumble upon the glories of Changdeokgung Palace, perhaps the most handsome of Seoul’s Joseon palaces. Although originally built as a secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung Palace spent just thirty years shy of three centuries as the main royal residence in Seoul.

Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul, Korea

Besides exploring the amazing architectural masterpieces of Changdeokgung (₩3,000), the palace’s Huwon Secret Garden is one of Seoul’s best places to visit.

At almost 80 acres, Huwon Secret Garden (₩5,000) is filled with beautiful natural landscapes and pavilions that are ripe for exploration. Time your visit to Huwon Secret Garden in autumn as the leaves change colour for a scene will leave you truly mesmerized.

Check out art galleries, boutique shops, and teahouses in Insadong

Once you’ve had your spirits uplifted by Changdeokgung and the Huwon Secret Garden, head southwest toward the artistic and cultural enclave of Insadong. If Bukchon Hanok Village is the residential heart of old Seoul, Insadong is its commercial side.

Autumn in Insadong

Settle into Insadong by brushing through the alleyways and side streets that emanate from its main drag, Insadog-gil. As you explore, slip into art galleries, craft shops, bookstores, and teahouses to get a taste of what Insadong’s all about.

Insadong is also one of the best places to eat in Seoul. Be sure to grab a small street-side Korean snack along the way. Just don’t eat too much—there’s plenty more delicious Seoul food to come soon!

Get lost in the maze of Korea’s largest market: Namdaemun Market

From Insadong, hop onto the efficient Seoul subway system and make your way toward Namdaemun Gate (officially Sungnyemun Gate) via Seoul Station.

Sungnyemun Gate, built in the 14th century, was the first declared National Treasure of Korea. It’s one of the three main gates of the original eight that once opened along Seoul’s former fortress walls. Entry to the gate is free should you want to check it out. (It’s closed on Mondays.)

Namdaemun Gate in Seoul, South Korea

Pushing off of the eastern fringes of Sungnyemun is one of Seoul’s wildest attractions, Namdaemun Market. Yes, it’s overwhelming and a tad crazy. And that’s part of the reason you absolutely need to stop here on your first day in Seoul!

Elbow-to-elbow crowds will greet you at nearly all times of the day at this jam-packed market. Thousands of stores bloom from the streets and in the surrounding multi-storied buildings. Namdaemun Market is the largest and oldest market in Korea.

Shopping @ Namdaemun Market in Seoul, South Korea

Besides a never-ending supply of all the consumer goods you could possibly imagine, Namdaemun Market is most famous for its food. Peruse the stalls around Namdaemun Sijang 4-gil to chow down on market specialties like kalguksu (hand-cut wheat noodles) and galchi (hairtail fish).

Go on a shopping spree in Myeongdong

Walking east from Namdaemun Market, you’ll find yourself in the grips of Myeongdong, one of the hippest neighbourhoods in Seoul. Like Ginza in Tokyo, Myeongdong is where Seoulites pound the pavement in search of all the latest trends.

Shopping in Myeongdong, Seoul, Korea

And even if shopping for Korean cosmetics or fashion accessories doesn’t tickle your fancy, eating yummy street food slots is among the top things to do in Myeongdong.

Don’t be shocked when you follow your nose to seemingly un-Korean selections here, like grilled cheese lobster, French fry-coated hot dogs, and tornado potatoes. For something a little more Seoul-ful try the tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) or hotteok (sweet Korean pancakes), or eomuk (fish cakes).

Soak in beautiful city views at N Seoul Tower

From Myeongdong Station at the heart of the district, it’s a short 10-15 minute walk through winding streets to the base of Namsan, a mountain that towers 262 metres over Seoul from the south.

Namsan Park

If the weather’s not too muggy and you’ve got some energy to burn, you might want to get some exercise and attempt the 30-minute climb up Namsan Mountain. Otherwise, hop onto the Namsan Cable Car (₩15,000 return), a 0.6-kilometre tramway that jets up the mountain toward Seoul’s most popular viewpoint, N Seoul Tower.

One of the true icons of Seoul, N Seoul Tower serves up spellbinding 360-degree views over the city at a dizzying height of over 230 metres. Although the scene at the observation deck (₩21,000) is arguably best at sunrise, sunsets at N Seoul Tower are a close second—even if slightly more crowded. Cross your fingers for a clear day when you’ll be able to see well beyond the city into the mountainous hinterlands.

View from N Seoul Tower

Is your appetite still not satiated? Grab a French meal at n.GRILL to continue your admiration of Seoul from above over dinner.

End the evening with shopping and dinner at Dongdaemun

Heading back down to Myeongdong Station, zoom a couple stations north to Dongdaemun. If the prices at the boutiques of Myeongdong left your wallet hiding in fear, you might just find what you’re looking for at Dongdaemun.

Whatever time of day or night you find yourself here, the whole city will seem to have the same idea. Seoulites love perusing the shops of Dongdaemun Market, knowing that they offer some of the city’s best deals on clothing and other goods.

Dongdaemun Market

Unlike other shopping areas in the city, retailers at Dongdaemun won’t shy away from cutting a deal. Sharpen your bargaining skills and haggle over prices to run away with some stellar deals on new clothing and accessories. Most shops deal in cash only, so stack up your won!

Dongdaemun is also a fantastic spot for evening foodie hijinks. Take a walk down Dongdaemun Market Food Street to try out chicken soup at Jinokhwa Halma Original Dak Hanmari (18, Jong-ro 40ga-gil) or bulgogi at Dokkebi Bulgogi (38 Eulji-ro 43-gil)

Where to stay with 24 hours in Seoul

After travelling through the Korean capital and its endless sprawl, it shouldn’t be shocking that choosing where to stay in Seoul can be difficult. Fortunately, compared to other large East Asian cities, there’s a whole slew of options, even in the best neighbourhoods, that offer excellent value to independent travellers. Here are a few of our favs:

Sunbee Hotel Insadong

Sunbee Hotel Insadong Seoul

This modern 3-star hotel sits in the heart of buzz-worthy Insadong. The rooms are comfortable and spacious, offering excellent value considering its near-perfect location.

Aloft Seoul Myeongdong

Aloft Seoul Myeongdong

One of the most stylish 4-star hotels in Seoul, the hotel offers a prime location in Myeongdong that gets you within quick walking distance of Seoul’s best shopping and street food.

Lotte Hotel Seoul

Lotte Hotel Seoul

One of the top luxury hotels in Seoul, this top-notch 5-star hotel offers guests the ultimate in Korean luxury. Besides enjoying the fantastic city views from the luxurious rooms, travellers can take a dip in the indoor pool or tackle their hunger at one of the ten on-site restaurants.

Getting there

By air

Two major airports serve Seoul: Seoul Gimpo International Airport (GMP) and Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN). Several airlines, including Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, serve Seoul Incheon International from most major North American and European cities.

More 1-day Seoul itinerary ideas

Got time to squeeze in some more attractions? Here are a few last-minute tweaks to make this trip all your own:

  • Want to party till the sun comes up? The gritty Itaewon area is a favourite for nighthawks who want to dip their toes into the insanity that is Seoul’s party culture.
  • Craving more architectural beauty? Throw in a quick visit to Jongmyo Shrine, one of the most beautiful structures in Seoul that’s just south of Changdeokgung Palace.
  • Can’t get enough of Seoul’s markets? Plug your nose and start your day watching the early-morning fish auctions at Noryangjin Fish Market, a bustling seafood market that’s the largest of its kind in Korea, or head over to Gwangjang Market for some of the Korean capital’s tastiest treats.
  • Ready to see Seoul at its quirkiest? There are a ton of weird & wacky things to do in Hongdae, an artsy and youthful neighbourhood in the Mapo-gu district.

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Only got one day in Seoul? Kick-start your trip with this complete 1-day itinerary for 24 hours in Seoul! Includes suggestions for what to do, what to eat and where to stay. #seoul #southkorea #travel #itinerary

Ryan O'Rourke

Ryan O'Rourke is a Canadian traveller, food & drink aficionado, and the founder & editor of Treksplorer. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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