10 Things to Do in Seoul
Seoul doesn’t have reputation just yet as a must-travel spot, but once you’ve visited you’ll be singing this underrated city’s praises to anyone who’ll listen. Just like me, after I booked a trip to Japan with a stop over in Seoul and ended up enjoying my stopover more than my actual holiday.
If you’re an in the know traveller, you’ll be aware of just how popular Korean culture is right now, and just how cool this spot is. From the seemingly overnight takeover of Korean food to the K-Pop filled Billboard charts, and our heaving bathroom cupboards spilling over with K-Beauty products, it seems Korea is everywhere you look right now. It really begs the question, why haven’t you explored Seoul yet?!
For the uninitiated, this guide serves as your one stop shop for everything there is to do in Seoul.
#1 Visit the DMZ
If you’ve never heard of the DMZ, you’ve no doubt heard of the Korean War, or at least you’re familiar with North Korea...I hope. The DMZ is the acronym for the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea. It’s an area just outside Seoul that was declared a demilitarised, no man’s land in 1953 as a result of the Korean War Armistice Agreement to create space between the two warring nations. It’s one of most militarised borders in the world, but also one of Seoul’s best tourist spots. Go figure.
The site welcomes over a million visitors each year, and gives you the closest look you’ll ever get to North Korea, without actually entering the country. And I mean that literally, you can stare through binoculars into North Korean villages and even walk the tunnels the North dug in an attempt to invade the South. If you’re feeling super touristy, you can even visit the last train station before North Korea and get a stamp. Or purchase some North Korean souvenirs, like a plum wine.
#2 Eat your way through the city
It goes without being said that Korean food is damn delicious. From kim chi to Korean fried chicken, you really can’t go wrong. If you’re in Seoul, you simply can’t leave without trying the famous Korean barbeque--fresh, marinated meats cooked over hot coals and served with an unending amount of delicious side dishes, preferably paired with a drink or two of Soju (Korea’s national drink).
Other dishes to look out for include savoury Korean pancakes (pajeon), Korean soups like jigae, spicy, chewy rice cakes (tteokbokki) and of course, bibimbap. Be warned, the food here is spicy!
#3 Climb a mountain
One of the first things you’ll notice when you arrive in Seoul is that the city is surrounded by breathtaking mountains, most of which you can climb without really leaving the city. The easiest to climb is Namsam mountain, the home of Seoul’s TV towers. If you’re not one for a hike, you can take a cable car or even a lift to the top and walk back down. If you visit in spring, you’ll be treated to cherry blossoms lining your walk to the top as well.
For the more adventurous, Bukhansan National Park is just outside Seoul and offers hikes of varying difficulty. Regardless of which route you take, you’ll be treated to jaw-dropping mountainscapes, all just outside one of the world’s biggest capitals.
#4 Visit a palace
Seoul is a delightful mix of the old and the new. One of the best examples of this is the Changdeokgung Palace--located conveniently in the city centre, and right by a subway stop, which is classic Seoul. This spot was home to Seoul’s royals for more than 200 years (there are five remaining palaces in Seoul today) and holds a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
When you visit, be sure to explore the whole palace--including the traditional, and somewhat hidden gardens just off the main palace grounds--and be sure to plan your visit around the changing of the guards for a glimpse of the old Seoul.
#5 Eat a live octopus
While you may not want to eat a live octopus, any seafood lover needs to check out Seoul’s Noryangjin Fish Markets, especially to try sannakji. Sannakji is raw octopus, so raw, in fact, the tentacles are still moving when you eat it. While the octopus isn’t alive, the tentacles continue to move, so it’s a foodie experience like no other, and one you won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
If you’re after a less alive meal, you can pick whatever fish you’d like at the markets and take it with you the market’s restaurants where they’ll cook it for you. Now that’s fresh.
#6 Check out a mural village
Seoul’s size means that it’s full of hidden gems and plenty of neighbourhoods to check out, all offering a different vibe. One of the coolest is the Ihwa Mural Village which is...you guessed it, a village filled with murals.
You’ll find the village perched on a steep hillside, right near the top of Naksan Mountain, yet another of Seoul’s city-centre mountains. Bring your camera and prepare to spend hours exploring the street art and snapping away.
#7 Live like it’s the olden days
If you haven’t guessed by now that one of the things I love most about Seoul is the mix of old and new. One of the best places to see this is in action is the Bukchon Hanok Village. Traditional, Korean-style homes are called Hanok, so it makes sense that this tiny pocket of Seoul is home to so many of them.
Any visit here will see you running into plenty of tourists, but it’s worth it to see this slice of history for yourself. Spend a solid few hours here exploring the tiny, steep streets and admiring the ancient architecture. For an added dose of culture, you can rent out a hanbok (Korea’s traditional dress) to wear while you explore.
#8 Do it Gangnam Style
Gangnam Style took the world by storm, giving many of us our first taste of Korea. So, do the song justice and take a subway ride to Gangnam, one of Seoul’s most affluent areas. Upon arrival, it’s almost compulsory to snap a picture of yourself dancing to Gangnam style at the giant mural right outside exit five of Gangnam station. You can also check out buddhist temple, Bongeunsa, or one of the areas many parks, like Olympic Park. COEX is a shopping mall worth checking out too, and is even home to an aquarium.
If you’re into clubbing, Gangnam is also the stop for you.
#9 Shop all night
One of my favourite parts of Seoul is Myeongdong. Be warned, this is a tourist hotspot, but it’s so much fun. Expect shop after shop selling Korean skincare, cute stationary stores, and some familiar Western brands. You’ll also find dog cafes, cat cafes...pretty much everything you’ve ever heard about existing in Seoul, you’ll find right here.
The best part, though, has got to be the street food stalls that line the area every evening. Think, lobsters covered in freshly grilled cheese, strawberries coated in toffee, giant dumplings (mandu), and my favourite hotteok: fried pancake-doughnut hybrids served with brown sugar. Come hungry and bring cash.
#10 Soak up the cafe culture
Seoul has a reputation as being home to some of the world’s most aesthetic cafes. While you’ll find raccoon cafes, sheep cafes, and even meerkat cafes, the real magic is happening tucked away--often down a laneway--at Korea’s uber cool cafe scene.
Head to university areas like Hongdae, pick a random laneway and you’ll stumble upon some magic. If you’re more of a planner, you can add Caface to your list and get a coffee with your picture printed into the foam. Takeout Drawing is another one you’ll be bragging about for years after you return home. In particular, their Paul’s Meringue Factory which is a behemoth espresso topped with a towering pile of delicious meringue.
Feeling like a trip to Seoul is on the cards? Chat to one of our Travel Experts now to book your own trip to South Korea.