A megacity in Asia, Seoul is a perfect blend of traditional and modern, with a myriad of attractions to discover. At first glance, the abundance of shopping, dining options and K-pop culture will appear to be the prominent attractions. However, after wandering around and digging a little deeper, you’ll open new pages which unravel a world of rich history, countless parks and mountains, neighbourhoods oozing with life and interesting Korean culture.
Whether you’re a trendy fashionista or a hard-core nature lover or someone who geeks out on culture and history or a downright foodie, from the moment you set foot into Seoul until you depart, you will find plenty of cool, interesting and unique things to do. From hiking a mountain in Seoraksan National Park in the wee hours of the morning to visiting the palace of your choice in the afternoon to chowing down dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant to partying all night in Hongdae and lastly, kicking back in a 24hour coffee shop before going to bed, it’s a city packed with everything you’re looking for.
Here are the must-visit attractions on your next trip to Seoul:
1. N Seoul Tower
Situated atop Namsan Mountain, at a height of 236m, the tower is the second highest point in Seoul. Head to the tower for panoramic views of the city. A small hike will get you to a windy spot where you’ll have to buy tickets to ride the cable car to the top, an octagon-shaped pavilion. There can be a long queue so plan your visit accordingly. The more adventurous and fit can hike all the way up. The octagon-shaped pavilion has several eateries, things to do, different viewpoints and couples can leave lock locks here! For the real showstopper, if you shell out a few more Won (about 10,000) and at least 60-90 minutes of your time standing in line, you can go to the observation deck which is atop N Seoul Tower. The views from here are even better on a clear day!
#HolxoTip: If you go around 3-4pm, not only will you catch views during the day, but you can also capture great pictures of the sunset and cityscape at night.
Hours: 10 am – 10:30 pm
2. Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace)
Translating to ‘Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven’, among the five main palaces, Gyeongbok is the most prominent and largest one. For those interested in history, especially the Joseon Dynasty of Seoul, this is a must visit. For less enthusiastic history buffs, the grounds of the palace are extensive and beautiful. If you visit in the summer months, ensure you carry an umbrella, sunscreen, plenty of water and wear comfortable walking shoes. Other temples/palaces to visit are Changdeokgung, Jogyesa Temple and Jongmyo Shrine.
#HolxoTip: You can catch the changing of the guard ceremony held on the grounds at 10 am and 2 pm every day. Get here early to stand in the first row for a clear view.
Hours: 9 am – 6 pm, closed on Tuesdays
3. Bukcheon Hanok Village
Occupying the hilly area between Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung, here you can find the largest number of traditional Korean houses, called hanok. Some of them even date back to the Joseon Dynasty! A stroll through these narrow roads is like a walk back in time. Today, some hanoks are private homes and others are converted into coffee shops, cafes, tea houses, museums, etc. Keep in mind that this is a hilly area and you need good walking shoes plus some people call this area their home and it’s a residential area so ensure you’re as quiet as possible when you walk around here.
Hours: Anytime from 10 am until about 6 pm
4. Dongdaemun Market
Market is an understatement for this shopping mecca, within a 10 block radius, you have 20+ malls, 20,000+ speciality stores and countless wholesale shops, making it a place to go for all your shopping needs. Ensure you go to the tourist centres and get a map of the area and chalk out exactly where you want to go, otherwise not only will you be walking around in circles but you will not be able to shop your heart out. P.S., Dongdaemun Market is open 24 hours a day and some shops are open until 5 am! You can head to Doota, Migliore, Hello APM or Good Morning City which feature a mix of retail and wholesale stores. After you drop dead after shopping, you can head to ‘let’s eat alley’ or Mukja Golmok and feast on Korean cuisine. In an around this area, you can also visit the 10km long Cheonggyecheon Stream. There is graffiti, art exhibits, lanterns and décor along the stream and also steps to just sit back and relax. The DDP White Rose Garden is also a MUST visit and in the vicinity, you’ll find food trucks, live music, shopping and the famous yet oddly structured Design Plaza. Heunginjimun, the east gate is also in and around here.
Other places for less expensive shopping are Express Bus Terminal, Gangnam underground shopping complex, Ewha women’s university shopping street, other underground shopping complexes and COEX Mall.
Other areas to look out for are:
- Myeongdong – This is again a hub for fashion, more precisely skin care. Keep an eye for brands such as Etude House, Missha, Too Cool For School, Skin Food, etc. Other than skin care you can find other local Korean brands and international brands here. There are also plenty of dining options all around the area. Keep in mind that, the street is filled with cosmetic and skin care stores – you’ll find the same store after a five minute walk up ahead or around the corner. They almost always have deals, which makes it hard to resist!
- Hongdae – The city’s youth culture hub and the centre of nightlife and shopping. Hongik-ro is the main street where you can find many bars and clubs to party the night away.
- Insadong – An arty neighbourhood also known for its innumerable galleries. Great place to buy traditional Korean souvenirs and also visit the multi-storey shopping complex, Ssamziegil, which has 70+ cafes, galleries and shops.
- Gangnam – An area that become popular thanks to the famous song ‘Gangnam Style’, here you can take a photo in front of the ‘Gangnam Style’ statue. You can also visit many restaurants and COEX Mall.
- Itaewon – A choc-a-block neighbourhood with trendy bars, clubs, restaurants. Plus, great shopping especially for the international crowd.
Seoul, a buzzing city has too much to offer its tourists and it’s extremely difficult to capture everything you can do in mere words. However, on a 3-4 day trip, you can manage to squeeze in everything mentioned here. Happy Seoul searching!