Seoul, the bustling capital of South Korea, is a city that seamlessly blends ancient traditions with cutting-edge technology and modern culture. For those pondering things to do in Seoul, exploring the historic Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty, and taking a stroll along the Cheonggyecheon Stream, a revitalized waterway surrounded by walking paths and public art, are top activities.
The city’s vibrant Insadong neighborhood offers a taste of traditional Korea, with its antique shops, art galleries, and tea houses. Nearby, the N Seoul Tower, perched atop Namsan Mountain, provides panoramic views of the city and has become a symbol of Seoul.
Beyond its historical and cultural landmarks, Seoul is renowned for its dynamic food scene, ranging from street food stalls in Myeongdong to high-end restaurants in Gangnam. For those seeking the best places to visit in South Korea, Seoul’s blend of old and new, delicious cuisine, and lively atmosphere makes it a must-visit destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Seoul, South Korea
1. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty. This historic palace complex boasts traditional Korean architecture, beautiful gardens, and impressive statues. Visitors can watch the Royal Guard Changing Ceremony and explore the National Palace Museum of Korea located within its grounds.
Travel Tip: Wear traditional Korean attire, hanbok, which allows you free entry into the palace and makes for great photo opportunities.
2. N Seoul Tower
Perched atop Namsan Mountain, the N Seoul Tower is an iconic part of the Seoul skyline, offering panoramic views of the sprawling city below. It’s a popular spot for locals and tourists, especially at night when the tower lights up and the cityscape twinkles with lights.
Travel Tip: Lock in your love at the base of the tower where couples leave padlocks as a symbol of their commitment.
3. Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village is nestled within the heart of Seoul and is home to hundreds of traditional houses called hanok that date back to the Joseon Dynasty. Today, many of these hanoks operate as cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants, and tea houses, allowing visitors to experience, first-hand, the traditional Korean way of life.
Travel Tip: Be respectful of noise levels as this is a residential area, and try to visit on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
4. Myeongdong Shopping Street
Myeongdong is Seoul’s premier shopping district featuring mid-to-high-end retail stores, international brand outlets, and trendy Korean cosmetics shops. It’s also famous for its street food stalls that serve up delicious Korean snacks.
Travel Tip: Go in the late afternoon or evening for the full experience, when the street vendors come out and the area really comes to life.
5. The War Memorial of Korea
The War Memorial of Korea serves as a reminder of the country’s martial history, including the Korean War. With indoor and outdoor exhibits showcasing military equipment, detailed war history, and moving tributes to soldiers, it’s both an educational and sobering experience.
Travel Tip: Set aside several hours for your visit, as the museum is expansive, and consider joining a guided tour for a more in-depth understanding.
6. Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza, designed by the renowned architect Zaha Hadid, is a futuristic urban development landmark in Seoul. It’s a hub for design and creative industries, with exhibition halls, design shops, and conference facilities.
Travel Tip: Check the DDP’s schedule in advance as there might be design festivals, fashion shows, or other cultural events during your visit.
7. Hangang Park
Hangang Park is a vast recreational area spread out along the banks of the Han River. It’s the perfect place for outdoor activities like biking, jogging, picnics, or simply taking a leisurely stroll.
Travel Tip: Rent a bike or bring a mat for a picnic to enjoy the park fully. Evening visits are especially nice for the illuminated city and bridge views.
Insadong is a cultural district in Seoul that offers a taste of traditional Korean culture with its antique shops, art galleries, traditional tea houses, and craft stores. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs, such as Korean pottery or handmade paper dolls.
Travel Tip: Visit Ssamziegil, a shopping complex with an artsy vibe, home to boutique shops selling unique handcrafted goods.
9. Lotte World Tower & Mall
Lotte World Tower is the tallest building in South Korea and the fifth tallest in the world. It features a luxury hotel, observation decks with breathtaking views, and the sprawling Lotte World Mall, which includes shops, a cinema, an aquarium, and a concert hall.
Travel Tip: Visit the observation deck during sunset for a stunning view of the city transitioning from day to night.
10. Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon
Changdeokgung Palace, another one of the Five Grand Palaces, is renowned for its harmonious integration with the natural surroundings and its Secret Garden, Huwon. The Secret Garden is a beautifully preserved royal garden with a large variety of plants, pavilions, and ponds.
Travel Tip: You must join a guided tour to enter Huwon, so book your tickets in advance as the tours can fill up quickly.
11. Hongdae (Hongik University Street)
Hongdae is the vibrant, youthful area named after the famous Hongik University and known for its urban arts and indie music culture, clubs, eateries, and fashion shops. On weekends, the streets come alive with buskers and dancers, providing free entertainment.
Travel Tip: Make sure to explore the area’s side streets and alleys to find unique boutiques and cafes, and visit on a weekend evening to experience the full vibrancy of the street performances.
12. COEX Mall and Aquarium
The COEX Mall is Asia’s largest underground shopping mall with an extensive range of shops, entertainment facilities, and a convention center. Attached is the COEX Aquarium, one of South Korea’s largest aquariums, featuring a variety of marine life.
Travel Tip: Check out the schedule for the COEX Convention Center as there could be a convention or event that interests you during your visit.
13. Cheonggyecheon Stream
Cheonggyecheon is a 10.9-kilometer-long, modern public recreation space in downtown Seoul. The stream was restored from a neglected waterway and now provides a refreshing strip of nature in the city.
Travel Tip: The stream is beautifully lit at night and features various art installations and performances, so it’s well worth a visit after dark.
14. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, presents a sleek blend of traditional and contemporary art, featuring works from both Korean and international artists. The museum consists of two parts: one dedicated to modern and contemporary art, and another to traditional Korean art.
Travel Tip: Use the museum’s app for an audio guide that provides a great deal of interesting information about the exhibits.
Insa-dong is another neighborhood that’s a must-visit for anyone interested in traditional Korean culture. The area is dotted with art galleries, craft shops, antique stores, and traditional tea houses.
Travel Tip: Visit on a Sunday when the street becomes a pedestrian-only zone, making it a more relaxed experience to explore the area.
16. Bongeunsa Temple
Bongeunsa is a Buddhist temple located in the Gangnam District, offering a tranquil escape from the bustling city life. It provides temple stays and meditation programs for visitors seeking a spiritual experience.
Travel Tip: Check the temple’s calendar for their schedule of cultural experiences and temple life programs that allow you to learn about Korean Buddhism first-hand.
17. The National Folk Museum of Korea
Located within the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace, The National Folk Museum of Korea presents Korean history and traditional life. With over 98,000 artifacts, it offers a rich perspective on the lifestyles of Koreans from prehistoric times to the end of the Joseon Dynasty.
Travel Tip: Visit during a traditional Korean holiday or festival for special events and programs at the museum.
18. Olympic Park
Olympic Park was built for the 1988 Seoul Olympics and remains a place for both Seoul residents and tourists to enjoy recreational facilities and green spaces. It also features the Olympic Museum, sculptures, and beautiful walking paths.
Travel Tip: Rent a bicycle to explore the extensive grounds of the park, or pack a picnic to enjoy in one of the many green areas.
19. Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain
The Banpo Bridge features the world’s longest bridge fountain that sets a dazzling display of water, light, and music. This nightly show creates a magical atmosphere as the fountain’s water jets are illuminated by colorful lights.
Travel Tip: The show times vary depending on the season, so check the schedule beforehand and try to find a spot on the Banpo Hangang Park for the best view.
FAQ About Things to Do in Seoul, South Korea
What are some must-visit places in Seoul?
Seoul’s top attractions include Gyeongbokgung Palace, the N Seoul Tower, Myeongdong Shopping Street, and the historical Bukchon Hanok Village.
Can I experience traditional Korean culture in Seoul?
Yes, you can visit the Korean Folk Village or participate in a Hanbok wearing experience at one of the palaces to immerse yourself in traditional Korean culture.
Is there a place in Seoul for K-pop fans?
K-pop enthusiasts should explore the Gangnam District, which is home to various entertainment agencies, K-pop idol-owned cafes, and the K-Star Road.
Are there any unique museums to visit in Seoul?
Seoul offers unique museums like the Trick Eye Museum, the National Museum of Korea, and the War Memorial of Korea, providing experiences ranging from optical illusions to historical insights.
What are the best outdoor activities in Seoul?
Hiking in Bukhansan National Park, strolling along the Cheonggyecheon Stream, and picnicking in Hangang Park are among the top outdoor activities in Seoul.
Can I take a cooking class to learn about Korean cuisine in Seoul?
Definitely! There are many cooking classes available for tourists where you can learn to make traditional Korean dishes like kimchi, bibimbap, and tteokbokki.
What night markets should I visit in Seoul?
The Dongdaemun Night Market and Namdaemun Market are great places to experience Seoul’s vibrant nightlife with a variety of street food, shopping, and entertainment options.
Are there seasonal events or festivals in Seoul that I shouldn’t miss?
Absolutely! Be sure to check out the Seoul Lantern Festival in November, the Cherry Blossom Festival in April, and the Seoul Kimchi Making & Sharing Festival typically held in November.