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11 Epic Things to do in Seoul

11 Epic Things to do in Seoul

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While living in Korea as an English teacher, I spent a lot of time exploring all of the best things to do in Seoul.

It was my weekend getaway. It was the city that taught me about the great food, awesome nightlife, and deep culture and history of Korea.

Seoul has some 23 million people living, working, and playing in it. That is by far the biggest city I had ever been to before moving to Mexico City.

There is so much to love about big cities – the variety of food on offer, the number of clothing boutiques, bookstores, and coffee shops.

One thing I love about Seoul is the amount of green space at your disposal. There are so many parks and gardens to visit, full of fascinating sculptures, places to picnic, and plenty of room to throw a Frisbee.

Most of these tourist attractions in Seoul are easily seen on your own, but if you want to get more information or you’re only in the city for a short time, you might want to consider taking a few different tours of Seoul to learn even more about each place.

How to Get to Seoul

Seoul is a major hub of Eastern Asia and you can easily fly here from most large cities in Europe and the USA.

The nearest airport to Seoul is Incheon International Airport (code: ICN). Incheon is a city to the west of Seoul, about an hour from the city center by car or public transportation.

There is a train called the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) which takes you straight from Incheon Airport to downtown Seoul in about 45 minutes. This is the fastest way to get into the city center and from here you can use public transportation to get around Seoul.

The Best Things to Do in Seoul, South Korea

1. Cheongyecheon

Before 2005, the area that is now Cheonggyecheon was covered over by a highway, but as the city quickly urbanized, the local government realized they were destroying much of the city’s early history and leaving little green space for the residents to enjoy.

So, the revitalization project began. What exists now is a place for a perfect streamside stroll.

There’s a lovely fountain at the plaza where most people were congregating. Buskers reserve spots in the shade of the many bridges to provide you with a soundtrack while you walk. Bring a book and let your feet dangle into the refreshingly cold water.

2. Namsan Park

Smack dab in the center of Seoul is Namsan Mountain, on top of which sits Namsan Tower.

It was pretty cloudy the day that Luke and I went (we walked through a thunderstorm), so we skipped the tower.

Instead, we wandered through the expansive park stumbling upon the Botanic Gardens, meandering along leafy paths and climbing up lots and lots of steps. It’s a great place to head for a hard, hilly workout or to simply stroll casually.

the people we meet when we travel

3. Changdeokgung

This stunning palace is home to one of my favorite hideaways in the city – the Secret Garden. We opted for the guided tour through the garden to learn a bit more about what we were looking at, but if you’re not into that you can grab a map and go it alone.

It’s a separate ticket you have to buy when you arrive, so be sure to ask for it at the ticket booth.

4. Enjoy a Spa Day

Korea is a beauty-obsessed country in many ways. There are makeup stores, plastic surgeons, and skincare shops on every corner of Seoul.

If you’re looking for a day of unique and, quite frankly, wonderful ways to treat yourself, you should definitely check out the best beauty treatments in Seoul.

walking along the stream is one of the best things to do in seoul.

Cheonggyecheon is one of my favorite places to come in Seoul.

5. Olympic Park

Home to the 1988 Olympic Games, Seoul’s impressive stadiums are surrounded by greenery.

I don’t know what it is about sports complexes, it’s like you can sense the hard work and achievement that took place there.

The park was once surrounded by a fortress wall, but now you can follow its path along well-manicured lawns or opt for the alternative route around the sculpture park where you can check out over 130 different sculptures.

6. Bukaksan Fortress Wall

This gem of a viewpoint only opened to the public in 2008 due to its proximity to the Blue house, the President’s home.

Bring your passport – the main section of the wall is a military zone and requires you to check in with a passport or Foreign Resident’s card. You can’t take any photos, except in designated areas but the views back over Seoul and the surrounding area are immense.

It was the first time Luke and I were able to grasp the vast scale of Seoul. We were in awe. It’s a decent ascent, so bring plenty of water.

7. Shopping in Myeongdong

Myeongdong is Korea’s shopping capital. It’s where all the high-street stores are, where the big Korean make-up brands and funky dog and cat cafes, best street food and dessert shops are based.

It’s full of bright neon lights, and it’s always packed with people – it’s the Korea I always imagined, and it’s a great place to get a sense of the city and its people.

traveling the world

8. Gyeonghuigung

The last of the five palaces in Seoul, it’s much smaller, much less grand than its counterparts. Maybe that’s why it’s my favorite.

Tucked off a busy main road, behind a museum and signposted with only these itty-bitty little path signs, sits this unsuspecting little gem. Gyeonghuigung literally means Palace of Serene Harmony and that’s exactly what it feels like.

Very few people were there while we wandered through the doorways, explored the paths that the kings once took, and looked out over their views of the city.

9. Go to the DMZ

The DMZ, or the demilitarized zone, is the area between North Korea and South Korea.

You can visit the DMZ by taking a tour from Seoul.

It’s an easy day trip and a very eye-opening look into the relationship between the two Koreas. The tour takes you through a set of tunnels that were used during the Korean War (they’re very low and very narrow, even for someone as short as me!).

You then stand on the South Korean side of the border and look straight over to North Korea. There are soldiers marching and it’s a very strange experience.

The tour guide takes you into the UN building which technically straddles the two countries and you can stand in North Korea for a second.

The whole thing is quite touristy and dramatic in my opinion, but I still learned a lot and highly recommend it if it intrigues you as it did me.

DMZ soldeirs

Soldiers at the DMZ looking from the South Korea side over to the North Korea side.

10. Ilsan Lake Park

I’m not sure if this is even still considered Seoul, but it’s certainly worth the trip on the subway. About an hour north of the central bus terminal is one of the most picturesque places to explore the fall foliage of Korea.

You can rent a bike or go it by foot, but definitely make your way around the entirety of the lake.

There is a musical fountain and a huge path around the lake. This is a particularly wonderful place to visit in Seoul when the fall leaves change. The colors here are amazing.

11. Inwangsan

Inwangsan is probably the best free view of the city that you can get.

The hike itself is a little tricky – you need to follow the path up a set of steps and over the wall (don’t carry on along the wall like we did and end up surrounded by barbed wire).

Once you get there though, you’ll be so glad you did it. It’s about 45 minutes up to the top and nothing too strenuous, so don’t worry if you’re not all that into hiking, it’s mostly stairs all the way to the top.

korean food.

Enjoying the food in Korea is on its own one of the best things to do in Seoul.

12. Jongmo Shrine

The shrines for all of the Joseon Dynasty Kings are here, a very sacred place in Korean history.

You can only come on a tour, so be sure to check their website for tour times and arrive at a time when a tour is conducted in the language of your choice. It’s a beautiful park to visit, especially during the Spring and Autumn.

If you time it right, around May, you can book in to watch the festival which honors the kings and their spirits.

13. Noryangjin Fish Market

Seoul’s famous fish market is the best place to sample some of Korea’s best seafood as fresh as it gets.

Wander the market and choose your favorites, then take them upstairs to one of the restaurants and have it expertly prepared. I highly recommend the Sannakji, or baby octopus, it’s a Korean delicacy.

You will likely not be able to try it anywhere but in this market. You can also get some local fish which can be prepared however you’d like, raw being the most common way – it’s like Korean sushi.

Feeling thirsty at the end of a long day sightseeing? Check out the best craft beers in the city.