11 Things to Do in Seoul

Last week, at the request of a friend, I put together a list of travel suggestions for her brother who is planning to visit South Korea. For this week’s post, I’ve decided to elaborate on that list a bit (and add some pictures, of course). So, without further ado, here, in no particular order, are my recommendations for things to do in Seoul:

  1. Visit some, or all, of the palaces. There are five palaces in Seoul, plus an additional “Royal Residence.” While I was living in Seoul, I was able to visit three of the palaces and the Royal Residence. Gyeongbokgung is the biggest, most well known, and most impressive of the palaces. For these reasons, I’d call it a must see attraction in Seoul. However, for a quieter and more intimate palace exploration experience, I would recommend Gyeonghuigung. The day I visited, I saw maybe seven other people, which made for peaceful wandering and exploration of nooks and crannies. Plus, there are some fun modern city views to be had from the palace grounds. I also really liked Unheongung Royal Residence. The style of the residence is a little different than that of the palaces, and exhibits focus on the daily lives of members of the court.
Unheongung Royal Residence
  1. Go museum hopping. My favorite museum in Seoul is the National Folk Museum, which is next to Gyeongbokgung. The exhibits are very well done, and focus on daily life in Korea. Other impressive museums include the National Museum of Korea, the National Palace Museum of Korea, and the Seoul Museum of History.
Ten-story stone pagoda, National Museum of Korea
  1. Learn a little about Korean Buddhism. Jogyesa Temple is easily accessible in the Insadong neighborhood. A visit to the temple, paired with wandering around Insadong shopping for handicrafts and taking time to relax at one of the many fun little area cafes makes for a great afternoon. If you’re feeling more adventurous and have the time, you can also arrange for a temple stay.
  1. Go mountain climbing. Namsan, a mountain in the middle of Seoul, and the N Seoul Tower that resides on its peak provide great views of the city. Seoul is really pretty at night, so it’s worth heading up a little before sunset for views in daylight and after dark. You can either hike or take a cable car up the side of the mountain. The walk back down is quite enjoyable. If you’re interested in more mountain climbing, it’s easy to get to Mt. Bukhansan by subway for a day hike. Just be forewarned that this is a popular weekend activity, during which time the subway will be packed with locals decked out in colorful hiking gear.
  1. Drink good beer. I am not the biggest fan of Korean beer. But! Craftworks Taphouse, a really great microbrewery, offers a selection of tasty brews. My personal favorite is the Geumgang Mountain Dark Ale. I considered finding this place to be pretty amazing, and would recommend it to anyone looking for quality alternatives to Hite and Cass.


  1. Go bar hopping. I lived and worked in the Sinchon neighborhood, which is adjacent to the Hongdae neighborhood. These two areas are where a lot of university students hang out, because there are five universities in the area. Hongdae in particular is full of cafes and clubs and is a great place for bar hopping at night. These neighborhoods are also home to a lot of fun little cafes, as well as boutiques and other shops for those interested in shopping.
The heart of Sinchon
  1. Play president. I think it’s worth it to schedule a tour of the Blue House (Cheong Wa Dae, in Korean), the Korean equivalent to the U.S.’s White House. You have to book the tour in advance online, but it’s free. They also give all those on the tour a memento. When I took the tour, it was a pair of coffee mugs decorated with a picture of the Blue House. The tour ends at the Korean Presidential Museum, which provides interesting overviews of the history of Korean presidency as well as foreign relations.
  1. Explore Korea’s modern history. Korea is home to a lot of history. Indeed, one of the things I loved about Seoul was seeing the juxtaposition of ancient palaces and other structures, on the one hand, and modern architecture, on the other. But, Korea is also home to a fascinating more recent history. The USO offers tours of the Demilitarized Zone, the buffer created between North and South in the Armistice Agreement of 27 July 1953. Tours need to be booked in advance online. The tour is very well done, and it is a great way to understand a little more about the political history (and present) of Korea. I highly recommend this tour as a day trip from Seoul.
The blue buildings are part of the United Nations Command, and are where official meetings between North and South take place. The stone building is in North Korea.
  1. Wander like a local. Take a stroll along Cheonggyecheon Stream in central Seoul. Maybe even pick up some takeout and enjoy it somewhere along the stream. It’s what locals do!


  1. Wander through old school alleyways. Bukchon Hanok Village is a neighborhood where traditional Korean architecture has been preserved. It is beautiful and picturesque, and is a great place to spend an afternoon wandering.
  1. Shop. Koreans seemingly love to shop, and there are lots of options for those who want to join in the fun in Seoul. I’ve already mentioned the handicrafts that abound in Insadong. You can find little clothing shops and cosmetic shops (Korean cosmetics are very high quality and relatively inexpensive) in Sinchon, Hongdae, and Myeongdong. Clothing, accessories, and other things, as well as snacks of various sorts, can also be found in little shops in subway stations across the city. There’s also Namdaemun Market, a massive traditional market that I found to be a little overwhelming. I was very glad to have a friend along to help me navigate! Also, if you’d like to expand your eyeglasses wardrobe, glasses are ridiculously cheap in Korea. The optical shop can take your prescription from your current pair.
Just a little of Namdaemun Market

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