Spend just one day in Seoul and you’ll fully realize how hard the capital of Korea 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
- What to do in Seoul: Top attractions & best places to visit
- Where to stay: The best hotels for sightseeing in Seoul
- Where to go in Seoul: A summary of the top points of interest
What to do in Seoul: Top attractions & best places to visit
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.
Getting to Gyeongbokgung Palace: 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, it’s 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—especially 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 and a 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 colours best under spring and autumn skies.
Getting to Changdeokgung Palace: 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.
National Museum of Korea
Even if Korea’s culture is completely foreign to you, you’ll surely connect with the spellbinding storytelling of the artifacts at the National Museum of Korea.
Housing a wide labyrinth of galleries and halls, this museum is the centre stage of Korean cultural activities and preservation. In addition its vast collection of national & international items, the National Museum of Korea showcases a wide selection of relics that depict 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 practically 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, a vast woodland area with a pond that houses a number of birds, and 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 are feeling a little wild!
Getting to National Museum of Korea: Take Subway Line 4 to Ichon Station. Exit 2 leads directly to the museum through an underpass.
Bukchon Hanok Village
It’s easy to relive the good-ol’ days while sauntering through the breathtakingly-beautiful Bukchon Hanok Village. Situated in between Gyeongbokgung Palace on the west and Changdeokgung Palace on the east, this lovely neighbourhood features the largest number of traditional homes (hanok) in Seoul.
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 to create an atmosphere and aesthetic unlike any other area in the city. And unlike other “villages” in Seoul, the hanok here are authentic: Bukchon Hanok Village is a living and breathing neighbourhood 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 centres, 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. It won’t be cheap of course, but you’ll have fun pretending you’re back in the days of yore!
Getting to Bukchon Hanok Village: Make your way to Anguk Station (Line 3), taking Exit 2 onto Bukchon-ro. Walking up about 300 metres, you’ll see the unique architecture of the village appearing on both sides of the street. Wander to your heart’s content!
Regarded as the centre of Korean Buddhism, Jogyesa Temple houses sprawling halls and pillar gates with ancient oriental touches. Despite its central location and year-round crowds, it’s surprisingly calm and 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 that host plenty of ancient trees—some apparently over 400 years old!
Visiting Jogyesa Temple is a must during the Lantern Festival when the grounds of the temple light up with lovely paper lanterns. Around the courtyard, you’ll find a string of shops specializing in 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 to Jogyesa Temple: 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 in Seoul focus on edgy fashions for relatively decent prices, Gwangjang Market delves a little further back into Korean fashion history. It’s claim to fame is as one of the best places in Seoul to pick up hanbok, traditional Korean clothing now worn mostly on formal occasions.
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 speciality, bindaetteok, a traditional Korean mung bean pancake loaded with savoury and umami ingredients like kimchi, sesame oil, green onions, and pork.
Getting to Gwangjang Market: 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. Interestingly enough, it’s less a war memorial, than a massive military museum, replete with planes, guns, tanks and weapons on display. Considering that South Korea is still officially at war with North Korea (only an armistice was signed, not a peace treaty), the War Memorial of Korea still seems 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 about the biggest wars in South Korean history.
Inside, the War Memorial of Korea 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 to check out what it feels like to control these vehicles!
Getting to the War Memorial of Korea: 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 the country. Situated on the Namsan Mountain at 480 meters above sea level, the tower was first set up to send out radio signals in 1969.
Today, N Seoul Tower 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 travelling 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 the fellow tourists.
Getting to N Seoul Tower: The best way to get to N Seoul Tower is to do as many locals do and hike up Namsan. It’s only about a 30- minute walk uphill from the Namsan Cable Car Station. The hike isn’t hard but you’ll want to make sure you have proper footwear and outerwear for the season. (Check out this guide of what to wear in Korea to help you plan for it.)
If hiking up to N Seoul Tower seems too challenging, ride the Namsan Cable Car instead. From Myeongdong Station (Line 4), use Exit 3, turn left and 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 the lively district of Myeongdong. Touted as the mecca for commerce and culture in Seoul, 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, there are plenty of other things to do in Myeongdong. 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 to get the full Myeongdong experience.
Want to dig more into Seoul’s shopping mecca? This comprehensive Seoul Shopping Tour takes you through the boutiques of Myeongdong and Dongdaemun to help you find all the best deals the city has to offer!
Getting to Myeongdong: By Seoul 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.
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).
Getting hungry in Namdaemun Market? Sample some of the tastiest Korean food in the city with a professional food guide on the Namdaemun Market Tasting Tour!
Getting to Namdaemun Market: The closest subway station is Hoehyeon Station (Line 4). From Exit 5, you’ll be able to enter Namdaemun Market through Gate 6.
Sure, some might say that Insadong has become a bit of a tourist trap, but I’m 100% confident that you will absolutely love wandering around this lively neighbourhood in central Seoul. The area centres around Insadong-gil, a colorful and bustling street where you’ll find clothing shops, cosmetic boutiques, and street-side snacks to tackle your Korean food cravings.
Where Insadong is at its most atmospheric, though, is 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.
When searching for things to do in Insadong, don’t miss out on Ssamziegil, a colourful spiraled shopping complex featuring a barrage of fashion boutiques and handcraft shops.
Getting to Insadong: Take Seoul Subway Line 3 to Anguk Station. From Exit 6, walk about 100 metres down Yulgok-ro. Insadong-gil is the first street to the left.
Noryangjin Fish Market
Unless you’re born into a family of seafarers, there’s a good chance the thought of visiting a seafood market while travelling probably didn’t slot in inside your travel plans. For good reason though, you simply shouldn’t miss out on Noryangjin Fish Market, easily one of the coolest cultural attractions in Seoul.
Noryangjin Fish Market, much like Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, 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 of prawns, crab, octopi, squid, tuna, mackerel—and just about every other sea creature you could fathom!
The market buzzes 24 hours a day, but the most exciting time to visit Noryangjin Fish Market is around 3am during the daily fish auction when wholesalers boisterously gather to compete for the top catches of the day.
Getting to Noryangjin Fish Market: Hop onto the Seoul 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 and head down the stairs to find the market.
Although it’s technically outside the city, one of the best 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 one of the top Seoul day trips, this is definitely the one you’ll want to fit in.
The DMZ, a strip of land only about four kilometres wide, straddles the border between North Korea & South Korea. These two countries share a common history, but since the Korean War (1950-1953) remain the only divided country on earth. Needless to say, the DMZ isn’t among your typical fun-loving day trips from Seoul!
As you’d imagine it’s only possible to visit the DMZ on a 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 from Seoul.
What’s special about this tour, unlike the cheaper ones, is that it includes a visit to the intense Joint Security Area (JSA) where you’ll get an extreme close-up view of North Korea. In fact, you’ll even be able to stand in North Korean territory in the joint conference room! (And this was by far the coolest part of the tour.)
Getting to the DMZ: The most complete DMZ tour is the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and JSA Panmunjom Tour from Seoul. 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 Seoul at its most creative. The area teems with art galleries, cultural performances, and some of the best street art in Seoul.
Of all the best things to do in Hongdae, don’t leave without checking out the Hongdae Free Market. This outdoor flea market brings together Seoul’s most creative souls who gather in a small park across from Hongik University to sell their handmade creations every Saturday afternoon from March until November.
Getting to Hongdae: Find your way to Hongik University Station (Line 2). Taking Exit 9, walk straight along Yanghwa-ro to Hongik-ro (about 150 metres). 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 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.
Getting to Hangang Park: 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: The best hotels for sightseeing in Seoul
As you’d expect from a megapolis, figuring out where to stay in Seoul can be a wee challenge. The city’s spread out over many distinct neighbourhoods, 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 & things to see in Seoul.
- 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.
Where to go in Seoul: A summary of the top points of interest
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? Head up Namsan, one of the best places to go hiking in Seoul, and 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.