There’s no better way to start a South Korea vacation than by digging into all the fun things to do in Seoul. One of the world’s biggest cities, South Korea’s capital is jam-packed with tourist hotspots, from ancient palaces and Buddhist temples to night markets and hip fashion boutiques. Whether you want to spend your days eating street food at Namdaemun Market or going shopping in Myeongdong, discover the heart of Seoul with this complete attractions guide!
What to do in Seoul
The first palace built by the Joseon Dynasty in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is an unmissable attraction topping the list of what to do in Seoul for culture-seekers. An emblem of Korean royalty and the former center of power, Gyeongbokgung Palace occupies an important slot in the history of South Korea and Seoul.
Little more than a century ago, Gyeongbokgung Palace was much like the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was a massive city-like settlement with hundreds of buildings within the walls.
Japanese occupation changed that. Slowly, the Japanese dismantled the palace grounds, leaving only ten buildings of the hundreds that once stood.
An ongoing restoration project hopes to return Gyeongbokgung Palace to its height. Today, the palace houses a handful of beautiful halls, gates, pavilions, and even two museums, the National Folk Museum of Korea and the National Palace Museum of Korea.
Three daily English tours of Gyeongbokgung start at 11:00, 13:00, and 15:30. The palace is closed on Tuesdays.
Getting there: With Seoul’s awesome public transportation system, it’s easy to find your way to Gyeongbokgung Palace. There are two metro stations nearby, Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3) and Gwanghwamun Station (Line 5).
Exit 5 of Gyeongbokgung Station pours out onto the palace grounds, while Exit 9 of Gwanghwamun Station deposits you just a couple blocks south.
Built by King Taejong in 1405, Changdeokgung Palace was originally designed to serve as the cornerstone of power and royalty while Gyeongbokgung was being renovated.
Today, Changdeokgung Palace has achieved an identity of its own as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is famed for its royal past, spectacular structure, and picturesque 300-year-old gardens. The site is especially beautiful when the leaves change color in autumn.
Most striking about the Changdeokgung Palace, one of the five grand palaces in Seoul, is that its design merges seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. Huwon, the garden located on the rear end of the palace, is particularly striking. It’s the perfect example of a traditional Korean garden.
March and September are the best times to visit Changdeokgung Palace when its lush background lights up with beautiful colors under spring and autumn skies.
Getting there: To get to Changdeokgung, take Line 3 of the Seoul Metro to Anguk Station. Use Exit 2 and walk about 5 minutes along Yulgok-ro to reach the palace.
Bukchon Hanok Village
It’s easy to relive the good-ol’ days while sauntering through the breathtakingly beautiful Bukchon Hanok Village. One of the coolest things to see in Seoul, this lovely neighborhood is situated between Gyeongbokgung Palace on the west and Changdeokgung Palace on the east. It features the city’s largest number of traditional homes (hanok).
Although the once completely wooden hanok of Bukchon Hanok Village have adapted to modern construction standards, they’ve held on to many of their most compelling features. It’s created an atmosphere and aesthetic unlike any other area in the city.
Unlike other “villages” in Seoul, the hanok here are authentic: Bukchon Hanok Village is a living and breathing neighborhood where locals live and thrive. (Be sure to maintain respect for its residents while you walk through.)
The narrow alleys of the village are marked with beautifully preserved architectural elements, such as dark tiled roofs, tiny courtyards, and glazed outer walls. The entire neighborhood is dotted with art galleries, cultural centers, restaurants, and cafés, including one that sells local wines.
Don’t forget to stop at key points to pick up stuff from the boutique shops and sample the lip-smacking Korean street food.
For a full-fledged Bukchon Hanok Village experience, consider staying at one of the village’s hanok guesthouses. You’ll have a ton of fun pretending you’re back in the days of yore!
Getting there: Make your way to Anguk Station (Line 3), taking Exit 2 onto Bukchon-ro. Walking up about 300 meters, you’ll see the unique architecture of the village appearing on both sides of the street. Wander to your heart’s content!
National Museum of Korea
Even if Korea’s culture is completely foreign to you, connecting with the spellbinding storytelling of the artifacts at the National Museum of Korea is one of the coolest things to do in Seoul. The museum houses a wide labyrinth of galleries and halls. It’s the center stage of Korean cultural activities and preservation.
The National Museum of Korea features a vast collection of national & international items. It also showcases a wide selection of relics depicting the country’s fascinating history, from the olden days to modern times.
The National Museum of Korea appeals to artists, history buffs, research scholars, and anyone with a love for all things regal. It’s the perfect Seoul attraction to read up on the rich cultural past of Korea or learn a thing or two about natural preservation.
Adjacent to the museum is Yongsan Family Park. This vast woodland area includes a pond, houses a number of birds, and has over 90 different kinds of trees. Rewind under the shade after a hectic day of touring—or feed some bread to the ducks if you’re feeling a little wild!
Getting there: Take Subway Line 4 to Ichon Station. Exit 2 leads directly to the museum through an underpass.
Regarded as the center of Korean Buddhism, Jogyesa Temple houses sprawling halls and pillar gates with ancient oriental touches. Despite its central location and year-round crowds, the temple is surprisingly calm. It offers a tranquil escape from the chaos of daily life in Seoul.
Undoubtedly, the coolest aspect of the Jogyesa Temple is its vast, lush grounds. Marvel at its ancient trees; some are apparently over 400 years old!
Visiting Jogyesa Temple is a must during the Lantern Festival. Watch as the temple grounds light up with lovely paper lanterns.
Around the courtyard, you’ll find a string of shops selling Buddhist souvenirs such as prayer beads, monk’s capes, wooden gongs, incense, and Buddha statues.
Even if shopping and photography are not quite your cup of tea, sit in the shade of the old Chinese Scholar tree to meditate on your spiritual goals.
Getting there: The closest subway station to Jogyesa Temple is Anguk Station (Line 3). Take Exit 6 and walk straight down Yulgok-ro. Turn left at Ujeongguk-ro and walk about 50 metres. The entrance to the shrine will be on your right.
With a history of over a century to back it up, Gwangjang Market isn’t your run-of-the-mill Seoul hangout. While most other markets focus on edgy fashions for relatively decent prices, the market delves further back into Korean fashion history.
Gwangjang Market’s claim to fame is that it’s one of the best places in Seoul to pick up hanbok, traditional Korean clothing now worn mostly on formal occasions.
Even with all the colorful textiles to distract your attention, the real reason to visit Gwangjang Market, like any of the most popular night markets in Seoul, is the food. If you’re having a tough time figuring out what to eat in Seoul, all of the city’s top dishes linger here, from bibimbap and hotteok to tteokbokki to kalguksu.
Don’t leave Gwangjang Market without tasting its specialty, bindaetteok. This tasty traditional Korean mung bean pancake is loaded with savory and umami ingredients like kimchi, sesame oil, green onions, and pork.
Getting there: From Jongno 5-ga Station on Line 1, take Exit 9. The main entrance will be right in front of you.
War Memorial of Korea
There is no better place to learn about Korea’s troubled modern past than the War Memorial of Korea. The site is less a war memorial than a massive military museum, replete with planes, guns, tanks, and weapons on display.
South Korea is still officially at war with North Korea, as only an armistice was signed, not a peace treaty. As such, the War Memorial of Korea is still quite relevant today.
The entrance itself is one of the coolest things about the War Memorial of Korea. On display is a huge assortment of statues and memorials reminiscing the biggest wars in South Korean history.
Inside, the War Memorial of Korea is decorated with art exhibits and displays of weaponry and tactics. Outside, you’ll find a huge selection of tanks, missiles, planes, and helicopters. You can even hop in to check out what it feels like to control these vehicles!
Getting there: Take Subway Line 6 to Samgakji Station. From Exit 12, walk straight down Hangang-daero, following it left as it merges onto Itaewon-ro. The entrance to the complex will be on the left-hand side, about one block up.
N Seoul Tower
The most fascinating place to enjoy surreal views of Seoul’s cityscape, Namsan Tower, or N Seoul Tower, is featured in more cheesy Korean dramas than any other building in South Korea. The tower is situated on Namsan Mountain, 480 meters above sea level. It was first set up to send out radio signals in 1969.
Today, N Seoul Tower has acquired a new status quo as the city’s most eminent multi-cultural feature. Thanks to its strategic location, the tower has become a hotspot for couples. The railings and fence are tied with personalized padlocks bearing lovers’ names.
Even if you’re traveling in Seoul with kids, you can still visit N Seoul Tower at sunset to watch the city transform into a sea of sparkling lights. The upper floor is a cafe where you can lounge with a drink and mingle with fellow tourists.
Getting there: The most rewarding way to get to the tower is to do as many locals do and hike up Namsan. It offers some of the best hiking in Seoul within city limits and is only about a 30-minute walk uphill from the Namsan Cable Car Station.
The hike isn’t hard. You’ll want to make sure you have proper footwear and outerwear for the season, though. (Check out this guide on what to wear in Korea to help you plan for it.)
If hiking up seems too challenging, ride the Namsan Cable Car instead. From Myeongdong Station (Line 4), use Exit 3 and turn left. Continue straight (while keeping right) for about 15 minutes. The cable car station is located where Toegye-ro 18-gil and Sogong-ro 6ga-gil meet.
Get in touch with your inner shopaholic with a trip to the lively district of Myeongdong. Touted as the mecca for commerce and culture in Seoul, Myeongdong has street stalls rubbing shoulders with fancy outlets. The neighborhood is thronged daily by locals and international visitors.
Myeongdong is crazy busy, even on weekdays. But the feeling of strolling amidst Seoul’s subtle contemporary vibes with smiling locals is something that every traveler should experience. Whether you are looking for high-end fashion retailers, dirt-cheap Korean cosmetics, neon-colored sneakers, or neatly woven handicrafts, Myeongdong’s got it all.
Even if shopping bores you to death, there’s plenty more to do in Myeongdong than just spending your won. Survey the area’s exhaustive selection of restaurants. Get a taste of the local street food—some of the tastiest street food in Seoul, actually! Or bury your teeth in a gigantic ice cream cone to get the full Myeongdong experience.
Getting there: By metro, you can access Myeongdong via either Euljiro 1(il)-ga Station on Line 2 (Exits 5, 6 & 7) or Myeong-dong Station on Line 4 (Exits 5, 6, 7 & 8).
If you’ve grown tired of Seoul’s high-end boutiques and glitzy shopping malls, Namdaemun Market is a step back into a more traditional era of commerce in Korea’s capital.
The retailers at Namdaemun Market are spread over several buildings and street-side stalls. The vendors sell nearly everything imaginable: clothing, accessories, kitchenware, toys, jewelry, herbs… and the list goes on. (Claustrophobics, beware: This market is almost always insanely packed!)
Besides being one of the top points of interest in Seoul for shoppers, Namdaemun Market is also an awesome place to get your fill of Korean food. Walk along Namdaemun Sijang 4-gil, stopping along the way to try out some of the market’s most famous dishes. Keep on the lookout for mung-bean pancakes (bindae duk), hairtail fish (galchi), or hand-cut wheat noodles (kalguksu).
Getting there: The closest subway station is Hoehyeon Station (Line 4). From Exit 5, you’ll be able to enter Namdaemun Market through Gate 6.
Sure, Insadong has become a bit of a tourist trap. But I’m 100% confident that you’ll love wandering around this lively neighborhood in central Seoul.
The Insadong area is one of the top places to see in Seoul. It centres around Insadong-gil. Along this colorful and bustling street, you’ll find clothing shops, cosmetic boutiques, and street-side snacks to tackle your Korean food cravings.
Insadong is at its most atmospheric, though, in the narrow alleyways that radiate from its main strip. Within them, you’ll find hidden art galleries, restaurants, and traditional teahouses harkening back to a Seoul long forgotten.
While visiting Insadong, don’t miss out on Ssamziegil. This colorful spiraled shopping complex features a barrage of fashion boutiques and handcraft shops.
Getting there: Take Subway Line 3 to Anguk Station. From Exit 6, walk about 100 meters down Yulgok-ro. Insadong-gil is the first street to the left.
Noryangjin Fish Market
Unless you’re born into a family of seafarers, the thought of visiting a seafood market while traveling probably didn’t slot into your travel plans. For good reason, though, don’t miss out on Noryangjin Fish Market. This famed market is easily one of the coolest cultural attractions in Seoul.
Noryangjin Fish Market throws some truly unique scenes your way. Plug your nose and get out your camera to capture the action as you ply through stall after stall. They’re filled with prawns, crab, octopi, squid, tuna, mackerel—and just about every other sea creature you could fathom!
The market buzzes 24 hours a day. The most exciting time to visit Noryangjin Fish Market, however, is around 3 am during the daily fish auction. Wake up before the crack of dawn to watch wholesalers gather boisterously to compete for the top catches of the day.
Getting there: Hop onto the metro and find your way to Noryangjin Station on Line 1. Alighting at Exit 1 in the station, walk over the train track on the footbridge. Head down the stairs to find the market.
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
Although it’s technically outside the city, one of the coolest things to see & do in Seoul is to hop on a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). If you’re thinking about carving time out for only one of the top Seoul day trips, this is definitely the one.
The DMZ is a strip of land only about four kilometers wide, straddling the border between North Korea & South Korea. These two countries share a common history. But since the Korean War (1950-1953), Korea remains the only divided country on earth. Needless to say, the DMZ isn’t among your typical fun-loving day trips from Seoul!
It’s only possible to visit the DMZ on an organized tour. There are plenty to choose from, but if you want the full experience, I’d recommend the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and JSA Panmunjom Tour.
What’s special about this tour, unlike the cheaper ones, is that it includes a visit to the intense Joint Security Area (JSA). Here, you’ll get an extreme close-up view of North Korea. You’ll even be able to stand in North Korean territory in the joint conference room. (And it’s, by far, the coolest part of the tour!)
Getting there: The most complete DMZ tour is the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and JSA Panmunjom Tour. It includes a visit to Imjingak Park, Freedom Bridge, Third Infiltration Tunnel, DMZ Museum, Dora Observatory, Dorasan Station, and Panmunjom Joint Security Area (JSA).
If you’re looking to save money, the cheaper Half-Day Korean DMZ Tour excludes the stop at the JSA.
Along with Myeongdong and Insadong, the artistic neighbourhood of Hongdae is one of Seoul’s most interesting corners to wander about. Named for the nearby Hongdik University, Hongdae showcases the Korean capital at its most creative. The area teems with art galleries, cultural performances, and some of coolest street art in Seoul.
On your visit to Hongdae, don’t leave without checking out the Hongdae Free Market. This outdoor flea market takes place in a small park across from Hongik University. The Hongdae Free Market gathers Seoul’s most creative souls to sell their handmade creations. The market kicks up every Saturday afternoon from March until November.
Getting there: Find your way to Hongik University Station (Line 2). Taking Exit 9, walk straight along Yanghwa-ro to Hongik-ro (about 150 meters). Turn left and walk towards Hongik University to get into the thick of the Hongdae area.
A sprawling park situated along the Han River, Hangang Park is one of the top places to go in Seoul to get some fresh air and chill. The park encompasses 12 separate parks along the banks of the Hangang River. Each offers varying recreational facilities like basketball courts, cycling paths, baseball fields, tennis courts, and soccer pitches.
For getting your sport on, Mangwon Hangang Park gives one of the park’s best selections of activities. For something a little more unique and daring, though, head down to Ttukseom Hangang Park. The oldest park in the system is the perfect place to enjoy waterskiing or windsurfing on the Han River.
Surrounded by tower city buildings and lights, Hangang Park takes on a different glow in the evening. Walk along the boardwalks after sundown. Let the breeze and lapping of water momentarily transport you away from the chaos of big city life.
Getting there: Depending on which part of the park you want to visit, there are several metro stations to get to Hangang Park. Among the most popular areas to visit by metro are Ttukseom (Ttukseom Resort Station), Mangwon (Mangwon Station), Yeouido (Yeoinaru Station), and Yanghwa (Dangsan Station).
Where to stay in Seoul for sightseeing
As you’d expect from a megapolis, figuring out where to stay in Seoul can be a wee challenge. The city is spread out over many distinct neighborhoods. Each offers a different feel that’ll alter your experience of the city. Most travelers will want to stick to central areas like Insadong, Myongdong, or Gangnam.
- Gateway Korea Guesthouse: A small homey guesthouse in a quiet residential area. Owners go above and beyond to ensure a delightful stay.
- Sunbee Hotel Insadong Seoul: A modern 3-star hotel featuring spacious rooms and an excellent location in Insadong. It’s within walking distance of many top attractions & cool things to see.
- Aloft Seoul Myeongdong: A super-stylish 4-star hotel that’s one of the city’s top luxury picks. It’s located in lively Myeongdong, with a ton of shopping, eating, and sightseeing options within short walking distance.