An intoxicating mix of modern high-rise buildings, traditional palaces, and rustic alleyways, the city of Seoul is like no other. The number of things to do in Seoul is overwhelming, but as a first-timer with limited time, what are the things you definitely have to strike off your never ending list of things to do?
If you’re looking for a touch of everything – adrenaline, localities, shopping, culture, romance - we’ve got you covered! Listed below are 10 things to do in Seoul for an all-rounded experience:
1. Be transported back in time to the Joseon dynasty when you enter Gyeongbokgung Palace
Kind of like the “Statue of Liberty” of Korea, Gyeongbokgung Palace is an iconic place of interest and visiting it is definitely an amplified must-do for all first-timers. South Korea has a very rich history; by stepping through the doors of this palace, you get transported back in time, walking down the paths of former royalty. Allow yourself an hour or two to stroll around the pavilion and halls within the walls of the palace and get a feel of Korean customs and traditions.
You might want to catch the colorful changing of the guard ceremony, which take place outside the main entrance (Gwanghwamun) at 11 am, 2 pm and 3.30 pm every day, except Monday.
How to get there: Take subway line 3 to Gyeongbokgung (exit 5)
Opening hours: 9 am - 6 pm daily; Nov - Feb to 5 pm, closed on Tuesdays
Costs: 3000 KRW (approximately 2.57 USD)
2. Visit Noryangjin Fish Market to truly experience a traditional Korean lifestyle
Famous for their seafood, this popular 24-hour market is nestled in the local neighborhood of Noryangjin-dong. While it is a popular tourist attraction, the area surrounding Noryangjin Fish Market holds a very local vibe so visitors are able to take in an authentic experience. With the smell of fish wafting through the market, you can bag a variety of the freshest seafood and head to a nearby restaurant where chefs will then whip up a scrumptious meal for you at an additional cost.
How to get there: Take the subway to Noryangjin station. The market is a two-minute walk away from the station (exit 1)
Opening hours: 24 Hours
3. Explore the streets of Myeong-Dong for local street food and a cosmetics Haul
Myeong-Dong is a shopping paradise for ladies, especially beauty junkies. The streets of Myeong-Dong are lined with famous Korean cosmetic brands such as The Face Shop, Etude House, Tony Moly, and more. There will be lots of discounts and samples given out and given the reasonable price, it’s hard to say no! For ladies, it’s probably the only time you won’t get nagged at for buying a year’s supply of facial cleansers and moisturizers.
Also, be sure to try local street food, there will be lots of stalls by the side selling local delicacies like ddeokbokki / tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), samgyupsal, and eomuk guk (fish cake soup). Finally, you get to taste the mouth-watering delicacies that you usually only dream about when watching Korean dramas.
How to get there: Take subway line 4 to Myeong-Dong Station
4. Get your heart pumping at Lotte World
What’s a holiday without an adrenaline rush? Lotte World is a major recreation complex that houses the world’s largest indoor theme park. If you’re a thrill blazer, anticipate enjoying their wide range of amusement rides. Look out for the Gyro Drop and the Gyro Swing, which are the top pleasers. With a steep drop of 70 meters (230 feet), or tasting the thrilling sensation of being inside a tornado, you can be sure to experience some of the most exhilarating rides to get that adrenaline going.
How to get there: Take Seoul Subway Line 2,8 to Jamsil Station (Exit 4)
Opening hours: 09:30 am - 10 pm
Admission ticket costs:
Regular: Adults 33,000 KRW (approximately 28.26 USD) / Teenagers 30,000 KRW (approximately 25.69 USD) / Children 27,000 KRW (approximately 23.12 USD)
After 16:00: Adults 27,000 KRW (approximately 23.12 USD) / Teenagers 24,000 KRW (approximately 20.55 USD) / Children 21,000 KRW (approximately 17.98 USD)
After 19:00: Adults 17,000 KRW ( approximately 14.56 USD) / Teenagers 15,000 KRW (approximately 12.85 USD) / Children 13000 KRW (approximately 11.13 USD)
5. Climb up Namsan to catch the sun’s descent
Catch the spectacular view of Seoul making its transition from off-gray to flushing orange from the 262-meter-high (860-foot-high) peak. Seated proudly at the top of Namsan is the N Seoul Tower, which dominates the Seoul skyline and is now home to a viewing platform, cafes, and restaurants. Admission tickets are required to reach the top of the N Seoul Tower.
You’ll also be enchanted by the pretty sight of colourful padlocks clustered along the railings, which were placed by couples who visited Namsan. The secured padlocks signify everlasting love, so you might want to do the same if you’re visiting with your significant other.
Also, don’t forget to take pictures as it’s guaranteed to be 100% Insta-worthy with its picturesque background.
Though you can reach the top of Namsan by cable car, if you’re adventurous and brave enough, try climbing up instead. It’s definitely not a walk in the park, and you may find yourself cursing and sweating buckets on the journey up, but the view will be worth it, even more than those who took the cable car since you worked for it!
How to get there: Nearest subway station is Myeong-Dong station (line 4)
6. Be bedazzled by Korea’s beauty as you cycle along the Han River
With all the delicious food options you’ll be presented with in Seoul, you may gain a pound or two! Adding some exercise to your itinerary will give you the perfect mix of things to do on a holiday, and will also allow you to indulge in those mouth-watering delicacies without feeling guilty.
Unlike challenging and mundane runs, a cycle along the Han River is not your usual exercise routine. Away from a boisterous and noisy modern lifestyle, the cycle will provide you with the right amount of peace and solace you need. With its breathtaking views and tranquility, the Han River is the perfect place to do some Seoul (soul) searching, and just escape modern life for a few hours or so.
The Han River is a scenic location and is a top destination for both locals and tourists. You can expect to see many families, professional cyclists, and runners. Several bike rental stations are situated along the river, and priced reasonably at about 3000 KRW (approximately 2.57 USD) per hour. If you’re with your significant other, tandem bikes are available for rent as well, so you might want to go with that option for a little romantic getaway.
The Han River stretches over 494 kilometers (307 miles) so it is easy to find your way there.
How to get there:
a. Seoul Subway Line 7 to Ttukseom Resort Station (Exit 2,3)
b. Seoul Subway Line 5,8 to Cheonho Station (Exit 1, (20-minute walk)
c. Seoul Subway Line 5 to Yeouinaru Station (Exit 2,3)
d. Seoul Subway Line 2 to Dangsan Station (Exit 4, 10-minute walk)
7. Visit one of the most daunting places in Korea – the DMZ
Think you’re brave enough to handle what it’s like being surrounded by tank traps, electrical fences, landmines, and armies in full battle readiness? You wouldn’t want to miss experiencing being in one of the scariest and tense places on earth, and that’s none other than the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which slashes across the Korean Peninsula, segregating the two Koreas.
It is probably a place you never thought you could visit, but it’s open to tourists through day tours organized by selected travel agencies. The DMZ is restricted to civilian access and requires documentation for identity check purposes. Photos are permitted only at certain areas so don’t be too eager to snap pictures of everything you see.
There are several tours to choose from, and each one of them is unique in what it has to offer.
The thought of being in a place with such tight security is scary but it’s an experience of a lifetime. And there’s a lot to gain from this experience! Not only can you learn more about Korea’s history, you also get bragging rights to say you’ve visited one of the most secluded countries (North Korea) on earth.
8. Experience a local’s way of life and dine at a Pojangmacha (roadside tent)
If you’re an avid fan of Korean dramas, you may have seen many scenes where characters drown their sorrows in soju (and 99% of the time end up wrecking the whole area or causing some sort of trouble) in a roadside tent. These roadside tents are known as Pojangmacha, and they sell mainly street food and soju. They attract a diverse crowd: employees who knock off from work, couples on dates, and, of course, those who just want to get drunk.
Due to government interference, there has been a big reduction in the number of operators, but these roadside tents are still widely-found, especially in the Jongno area.
Be sure to put this on your to-do list as you can experience the lifestyle of an average Korean. Go easy on the soju, though!
Fun facts about drinking etiquette:
a. Koreans do not refill their drinking cup unless it’s completely empty
b. You should hold the cup with both hands and turn your head away when an elder is pouring you a drink
c. When pouring an elder a drink, you should use both hands to hold the bottle
Other places with Pojangmacha include Jongno, Nam Dae Mun Market, Shinchon, and Hong Dae.
9. Explore a jimjilbang (local bath house)
A jimjilbang is a 24-hour, gender-segregated bath house furnished with hot tubs, showers, traditional Korean kiln saunas, and massage tables. But that’s not all! In other areas of the building there are unisex areas, usually with a snack bar, wide screen TVs, noraebang (area for singing), and more! Sounds like a place where you can easily spend 24 hours right?
It’s a popular place for tourists to go since it provides accommodation at a much cheaper price compared to hotels. It’s also a popular choice for a weekend getaway for local families.
One thing to note: it’s a must to strip naked before getting into the tubs! If you’re a first-timer, don’t get thrown off-guard when you’re exposed to all the nudity. It may get a little uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re more conservative, but you’ll get used to it.
There are a lot of jimjilbangs in Seoul, but one of the most well-known is the Dragon Hill Spa in Yong-San as it is tourist-friendly.
Address: 40, Hangang-daero 21na-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Daytime (05:00 - 20:00) - Adults 12,000 KRW (approximately 10.28 USD) / Children 6,000 KRW (approximately 5.14 USD)
Night time (20:00 - 05:00) - Adults 14,000 KRW (approximately 11.99 USD) / Children 6,000 KRW (approximately 5.14 USD)
Weekends & holidays - Adults 14,000 KRW (approximately 11.99 USD) / Children 6,000 KRW (approximately 5.14 USD)
10. Go on a grocery shopping rage at Lotte Mart
After an exhausting day of exploring Seoul, don’t forget to drop by Lotte Mart to buy local snacks to take back for your friends and family! Lotte Mart is one of the leading departmental stores in Korea, and you can find almost everything you need there. It offers household appliances, groceries, and everything else within the spectrum.
For all food-loving individuals, replenish your food stash with Crown Butter Waffles, Market O Brownies, Choco Pies, Korean Seaweed and Ramyun at a fraction of the price back home. And for adults, every household has to have the revolutionary frying pan, Happy Call, so be sure to add that to your basket as well!
Lotte Mart deserves added brownie points for providing tax refunds up to 8%. So don’t forget to issue a reimbursement slip at the help desk.
On a side note, remember to bring reusable bags as plastic bags are not provided.
How to get there: Take Seoul Subway Line 1,4 to Seoul Station (Exit 1)
Opening hours: 10 am - 12 midnight
I.Seoul.You: Plenty of reasons to love this city
There are a lot of reasons to love this city. If you haven’t had a taste of Seoul, why not make it your top destination to visit this Summer? Seoul is indeed a beautiful city with the right mix of things to do: historical culture, fun activities, and mouth-watering cuisine; you certainly won’t regret your decision to visit!
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