The Top Things to Do in Seoul, South Korea

Traditional Houses At Bukchon Hanok Village
••• Heegyoung Jeon / EyeEm/Getty Images

Seoul, South Korea offers something for everyone. Easy to get around thanks to an efficient public transit system and also pleasantly walkable depending on where you are, Seoul is a city made for laid-back exploring. Even travelers on a tight schedule should find it easy to pack in a decent amount of sightseeing without having to worry about feeling too rushed. So where should you focus your attention when it comes to making the most of a trip to the South Korean capital? Whether you’re into history and culture, shopping, exploring the great outdoors, or stuffing you face with delicious street food, you won’t be disappointed with what’s on offer. If you’re headed to Seoul, here are some of the best things to see and do while you’re there. 

  • 01 of 09

    Shop 'Til You Drop at Myeongdong

    People at Myeongdong Shopping Street at night
    ••• Ed Norton/Getty Images

    Exiting the subway at Myeongdong Station, it’s easy to see which direction to head – simply follow the throngs of people all heading to one of the primary shopping districts in Seoul. But despite the presence of so many shoppers, the area still feels organized and easy to navigate. You’ll find some familiar name brands here (from UNIQLO and Zara, to Nike and H&M), along with many Korean brands. Myeongdong is also a mecca for anyone on the hunt for Korean beauty and skin care brands, shelves lined with every conceivable product to keep skin looking young and healthy. These stores are usually generous with samples, so if there’s something you’re curious about, just ask. If you get hungry, there's some good street food to be found in and around Myeongdong.

  • 02 of 09

    Head to the Top of Namsan Seoul Tower

    Red maple leaves with N Seoul tower in background
    ••• N. Umnajwannaphan/Getty Images

    If you’re looking to get some photo-worthy panoramic views of Seoul, this is the place to do it. Originally created as a broadcasting tower, N Seoul Tower (as it’s generally called), is located at the top of Namsan Mountain. Take in those aforementioned views over the city with a quick elevator ride to the observation deck, or ride the Namsan Cable Car, which runs from the base of Namsan Mountain up to Namsan Seoul Tower. 

  • 03 of 09

    Explore the Alleys of Itaewon

    Neon signs in Itaewon night club area.
    ••• John W Banagan/Getty Images

    Itaewon is a must-see neighbourhood in Seoul for its diversity, ability to surprise and the abundance of bars, cafes and restaurants. Walking around Itaewon, it’s well worth peeking down the area’s narrow lanes and alleyways – because you never know what you’ll find. Maybe it’s a stunning piece of street art, or a tiny Italian restaurant with a shaggy dog snoozing on the stoop while wait staff sets up for dinner service. Itaewon is also home to Antique Furniture Street, which as the name suggests, is chock-a-block with shops selling beautiful housewares and furniture you’re not likely to find anywhere else.  

  • 04 of 09

    Walk Along Cheonggyecheon Stream

    stream
    ••• Cheonggyecheon Stream. Image courtesy flickr.com/photos/DougSunBeams

    Seoul is bustling city, with something going on somewhere 24 hours a day. But respite can be found at Cheonggyecheon Stream, which runs through downtown Seoul. The 11-kilometre stream passes under nearly two dozen bridges before flowing into the Hangang River. This is a great place to come for a leisurely stroll by the water.  

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  • 05 of 09

    Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace

    Traffic in front of the Gwanghwamun Gate in Seoul, South Korea capital city
    ••• Didier Marti/Getty Images

    Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is probably Korea's most famous royal palace – and justifiably so. The massive complex is comprised of an impressive array of ornate structures and it’s worth spending at least three to four hours exploring the sprawling grounds. There are free guided tours in English daily at 11am, 1:30pm and 3:30pm. One-hour tours start from the information centre inside the Heungnyemun Gate.

  • 06 of 09

    Step Back in Time in Bukchon Hanok Village

    Motorcycle in the Bukchon Hanok village in the morning
    ••• N. Umnajwannaphan/Getty Images

    Seoul may have a futuristic vibe and ultra-modern sensibilities in a lot of ways, but you can travel back to much simpler times with a visit to Bukchon Hanok Village. A hanok is a traditional Korean home and there are several villages you can visit in Korea, but the interesting things about Bukchon Hanok Village is that although it’s a tourist attraction, it’s also a real residential neighborhood where people actually live. In addition to residences, many of the traditional buildings here operate as restaurants, boutiques and cultural centres.  

  • 07 of 09

    Relax at a Jimjilbang

    dragon-hill
    ••• Dragon Hill Spa complex in Seoul. Image courtesy instagram.com/karenzcx

    Feeling stressed from travel? In need of some serious relaxation? Put a visit to a Korean jimjilbang (sauna and spa) on your list of things to do in Seoul. But if you’re picturing a traditional spa, you’re in for a bit of surprise. A jimjilbang, like Dragon Hill Spa (one of the most popular in the city) are usually open 24 hours a day and offer the chance to unwind in various saunas, soaking baths of various temperatures, and opt for body treatments from scrubs to massages. There are even nap areas should you want to snooze between soaks, and most have restaurants for post-relaxation refueling. 

     

  • 08 of 09

    Learn Everything There Is to Know About Kimchi at Museum Kimchikan

    kimchi
    ••• Bowl of kimchi.

    Kimchi goes with or on nearly everything in Korea. The country’s go-to condiment is the focus at this museum and curious visitors can learn about the history of kimchi as well as how its made, the many methods for making the spicy side dish and the many different varieties. If you book in advance, you can also try your hand at making your own kimchi to take home.  

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  • 09 of 09

    Take a Free Walking Tour

    seoul-city
    ••• City of Seoul.

    Exploring on foot is often one of the best ways to get a sense of a new city. But if you prefer a bit more structure to your stroll, you can sign up for a free walking tour. "Seoul City Walking Tours" is a free program offered by the city of Seoul wherein you sign up online and then get to see some of the city’s top attractions on foot with an expert local guide. Just note that reservations need to be made at least three days in advance via the Visit Seoul mobile website and spots fill up quickly on weekends, holidays, and during peak season (April, May, September, October).