Spend just one day in Seoul and you’ll fully realize how hard the Korean capital is to pin down. One moment you could be squinting along neon-lit avenues that look as if they’re ripped from a Philip K. Dick novel; the next, you’re in a serious relationship with a seriously-delicious spicy kimchi dumpling in a tight alleyway filled with traditional food stalls.
In discovering the best things to do in Seoul, all this is put in front of you—and just about everything in between. Whether you want to kick off your Korea itinerary marvelling at traditional Buddhist temples, gallivanting through old Korean palaces, eating buldak until your tastebuds go numb, or arming your backpack with the latest fashions and digital tech, Seoul’s the place to do it.
Get started exploring with these top places to visit in Seoul…
Table of Contents
- Ready to explore Korea’s capital? Here are the top 10 best things to do in Seoul, Korea…
- Want to get close to these Seoul attractions? Here’s where to stay…
- Done with these Seoul points of interest? Here’s where to go next…
- What to do in Seoul, Korea: A summary of the best places to visit
Ready to explore Korea’s capital? Here are the top 10 best things to do in Seoul, Korea…
The first palace built by the Joseon Dynasty in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is an unmissable attraction that’s at the cultural heart of Seoul. As an emblem of Korean royalty and the former center of power, Gyeongbokgung Palace occupies an important slot in the history of the South Korea and the capital.
Little more than a century ago, Gyeongbokgung Palace was much like the Forbidden City in Beijing, a massive city-like settlement with hundred of buildings within the walls. Japanese occupation changed that. Slowly, they dismantled the palace grounds, leaving only ten buildings of the hundreds that once stood.
An on-going 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 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.
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, it has achieved an identity of its own as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famed for its royal past, spectacular structure and 300-year old gardens that look utterly picturesque when the leaves change color in autumn.
Most striking about the Changdeokgung Palace is that its design merges seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. As one of the five remaining Joseon palaces in Seoul, it’s a prestigious landmark that deserves a visit.
Huwon, the garden located on the rear end of the palace, has long been regarded as the ideal example of a traditional Korean garden.
March and September are the best times to visit Changdeokgung Palace; its lush background looks best under the spring and autumn skies.
National Museum of Korea
You may be from the far west and totally foreign to Korea’s culture, but you can be sure to connect with fascinating storytelling presented by the artifacts at the National Museum of Korea.
Housing a wide labyrinth of galleries and halls, this museum is the center stage of Korean cultural activities and preservation. In addition to housing a vast collection of national and international items, it showcases a wide selection of relics that depict Korea’s amazing history from the olden days to modern times.
The National Museum of Korea appeals to artists, history buffs, research scholars and practically anyone with a love for all things regal. It’s a nice place 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, a vast woodland area with a pond that houses a number of birds, and over 90 different kinds of trees. Rewind under the shade of the trees after a hectic day of touring, or feed some bread to the ducks if you are feeling a little wild.
A sprawling park situated along the Han River, Hangang Park is one of the top spots in Seoul to get some fresh air and chill. The park encompasses 12 separate parks that each offer 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 selection of activities. For something a little more unique and daring though, head down to Ttukseom Hangang Park, the oldest park in the system, for some 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 to let the breeze and lapping of water momentarily transport you away from the chaos of big city life.
Bukchon Hanok Village
It’s easy to relive the olden days while sauntering through this breathtakingly-beautiful neighborhood. Situated in between Gyeongbokgung Palace on the west and Changdeokgung Palace on the east, Bukchon Hanok Village features the largest number of traditional wooden homes (also called hanok) in Seoul.
The half-a-dozen alleys 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, restaurants and cafes, including one that sells local wines.
Bukchon Hanok Village is one place that lets you walk unbridled and soak up the South Korean air as much as you want. 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 experience, consider staying at one of the guesthouses in the village. It won’t be cheap of course, but you’ll have fun pretending you are back in the days of yore!
Regarded as the icon of Zen Buddhism in Korea, Jogyesa Temple houses sprawling halls and pillar gates with ancient touches of the Orient. Despite having a central location and being crowded year-round, it is surprisingly calm and offers a tranquil escape from the chaos of daily life.
Undoubtedly, the coolest aspect of the temple is its vast, lush grounds that host plenty of ancient trees, some apparently over 400 years old.
Visiting Jogyesa Temple is a must on the Lantern Festival when the grounds of the temple are decorated with lovely paper lanterns. Around the courtyard is a string of shops specializing in Buddhist souvenirs such as prayer beads, monk’s cape, wooden gongs, incense and Buddha statues.
Even if shopping and photography are not quite your cup of tea, you could always sit in the shade of the old Chinese Scholar tree and catch up on your spiritual goals.
War Memorial and Museum
There is no better place to learn about Korea’s long troubled past than the War Memorial and Museum. Interestingly enough, this place is nothing like a war memorial, rather it is a massive military museum, replete with planes, guns, tanks and weapons on display. Considering that the country is still officially at war with North Korea, it seems quite relevant.
The entrance itself is one of the coolest things about the War Memorial and Museum. On display, there is a huge assortment of statues and memorials reminiscing about the biggest wars of South Korea.
Inside, the building is decorated with art exhibits and displays of weaponry and tactics. What really takes the cake though is the outdoor section, showcasing a huge selection of tanks, missiles, planes, and helicopters. You can even hop in and check out what it feels like to control these vehicles!
N Seoul Tower
The most fascinating place to enjoy surreal views of Seoul’s cityscape, Namsan Tower or N Seoul Tower has featured in Korean dramas more than any building in the Orient. Situated on the Namsan Mountain at 480 meters above sea level, the tower was first set up to send out radio signals in the year 1969.
Today, it has acquired a new status quo of the most eminent multi-cultural feature of Seoul. Thanks to its strategic location, N Seoul Tower has become a hotspot for couples with the railings and fence tied with personalized padlocks bearing the lovers’ names.
Even if you are traveling with family, you can still visit 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 the fellow tourists.
If climbing up Namsan to get to N Seoul Tower seems too difficult, consider opting for a ride on the cable instead.
Get in touch with your inner shopaholic with a trip to the the district of Myeongdong. Touted as the mecca for commerce and culture, Myeongdong has street stalls rubbing shoulders with fancy outlets, 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 traveller 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, you can always survey the area’s exhaustive selection of restaurants, get a taste of the local street food (some of the best street food in Seoul actually!), or bury your teeth in a gigantic ice-cream cone.
Want to stay in Seoul’s shopping & food mecca? Check out this guide to the best hotels in Myeongdong!
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.
Retailers at Namdaemun Market are spread over several buildings and street-side stalls selling nearly everything imaginable: clothing, accessories, kitchenware, toys, jewellery, herbs… and the list goes on. (Claustrophobics beware: This market is almost always insanely packed!)
Namdaemun Market’s 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 like mung-bean pancakes (bindae duk), hairtail fish (galchi), or hand-cut wheat noodles (kalguksu).
Feel like staying close to Namdaemun Market? Check out this guide to the best hotels near Seoul Station!
Want to get close to these Seoul attractions? Here’s where to stay…
As you’d expect from a megapolis, choosing where to stay in Seoul can be a wee challenge. The city’s spread out over many different districts, each with a different feel that will alter the experience.
The good news: Seoul’s value-laden, providing a much better bang for your buck than other Asian cities like Tokyo, Singapore or Hong Kong. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Gateway Korea Guesthouse: A small homy guesthouse in a quiet residential area. Owners go above and beyond to ensure a delightful stay in Seoul.
- Sunbee Hotel Insadong Seoul: A modern 3-star hotel featuring spacious rooms and an excellent location in the interesting Insadong area. Walking distance to many top attractions.
- Aloft Seoul Myeongdong: A super-stylish 4-star hotel that’s one of the top luxury picks in Seoul. Located in lively Myeongdong with a ton of shopping, eating, and sightseeing options within short walking distance.
Done with these Seoul points of interest? Here’s where to go next…
- Busan: Thanks to the high-speed train line, getting to the brash & sassy second city of Korea is a relatively quick ride away. There’s a little of everything in Busan for every type of traveller from mountains and seaside delights to markets and big city life.
- Gyeongju: The old Silla dynasty capital is one of the best places to visit in Korea for cultural enthusiasts. Exploring the ancient tombs and temples of Gyeongju is an image you won’t soon let go.
- Jeju Island: Escape the peninsula to what feels like a little slice of Hawaii in East Asia. The beach resorts are hardly quiet (this is the most popular getaway in Korea), but exploring its volcanic landscapes will no doubt leave you in serious awe.
What to do in Seoul, Korea: A summary of the best places to visit
Need a little extra help? Here’s a quick summary of some of our favourites:
- Ready to deck yourself out with the latest fashions? Browse the high-end fashion boutiques of Myeongdong to bring home some of the hippest new styles out there.
- Need to tame that love of heights? Zip up to the top of N Seoul Tower for mega views of the Korean megapolis.
- Want to see Seoul at its most traditional? The old wooden houses of Bukchon Hanok Village harken back to the Korea of yesteryear. Browse its restaurants, boutiques, and munch on some yummy street food for a taste of traditional Seoul.