Seoul is one of the hottest tourist destinations in Asia these days. Every year South Korea welcomes over 17 million visitors. There’s a reason for Seoul to top tourist charts all over the world.
In Seoul, the old blends with the new in a fascinating manner. The city is not shy of its turbulent past too. A royal palace stands proud next to the ultra-modern office building. Thousands of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops are lined up in narrow alleys, overshadowed by fancy office buildings built in parallel to the super-wide main city roads.
Seoul is a city that never sleeps. 24/7 convenient shops are on every corner offering fresh food and facilities to cook it. At some university areas, they might be equipped with study areas or makeup rooms.
Hallyu fans flock the city in search of their K-pop idols’ favorite spots, discovering K-drama filming locations or doing shopping rounds for K-beauty products. Korean food is getting popular too. South Asian visitors come to Seoul to experience Korean gourmet food.
No matter if you come on a tight budget, for a shopping spree or history and culture experience, Seoul would not disappoint. The city is abundant with luxurious hotels, authentic Hanok stay houses, and plenty of affordable Airbnb listings.
This guide is my best attempt to cover the basics for the first visit to Seoul. Read on and skip sections that are not relevant to you.
What makes Seoul so exciting for visitors is how diverse the city is. Seoul has so many faces and you don’t have to travel much to discover interesting places. There’s no such thing as a city center. Every area has its own character, developed in time due to its location, economic advancement, and trends. Koreans are fast movers so trends change very fast. As a result, various areas of the city have developed to cater to that changing demand for excitement, innovation, and modernization.
For the history lover: Stay close to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Bukchon Hanok Village, Insadong and Ikseondong are perfectly located to explore the great heritage of the Joseon era.
For the shopper: Myeeongdong, Dongdaemun and Hongdae are great areas in Seoul for shopping. Each has it’s unique vibe so read on to find out which one suits you the best.
For the party goer: Gangnam shines bright with its luxurious lounges, sophisticated bars, and party places. Itaewon is more for the international crowd, but a popular party destination for young Koreans. Hongdae is definitely the ultimate place for a great night out, attracting every night countless young people.
For the gourmet eater: Gangnam, Hongdae, Itaewon might be considered great places to eat out, but amazing eateries and restaurants are spread around every single area of Seoul.
For the gay traveler: Definitely, Itaewon has the most gay-friendly venues in Seoul, but there are places spread around Jongno and some in Gangnam.
In the heart of Seoul historic area, Bukchon offers authentic Hanok stay experiences. Pick Bukchon if you want to stay in a traditional Korean style house, sleep on a thin floor mat, but still enjoy the contemporary conveniences when traveling. The grand Joseon palaces are within walking distance, as well as Insadong and City Hall area.
Great location for people who plan to do lots of shopping. All major Korean cosmetic brands have flagship stores there. Myeongdong is packed with tourists so expect streets and shops to be busy. There’s a great street food area as well as plenty of coffee shops and restaurants with English menu.
Another great area for all night long shopping sprees. Dongdaemun is the mecca for Korean fashion and most of the malls work around the clock to offer the trendiest garments in town. Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Zara Hadid futuristic building, placed in the center of Dongdaemun area is another highlight worth exploring.
A popular area famous with its student inhabitants and vibrant shopping streets flocked by Hallyu fans. Busking is a popular attraction there, as well as countless restaurants, bars, and themed coffee shops.
Itaewon is where most foreigners used to live, these days is a popular party place for Koreans. There are lots of gay-themed places so it’s a popular place to stay for gay travelers.
This might be the only area of Seoul you are familiar with due to the Gagnam Style song that put K-pop music style on the charts. Gangnam covers quite a big area of the city of Seoul. It’s the first choice to stay for the business traveler. This is where most of the big international companies headquartered. There is plenty to do and see here if you are looking for luxury shopping and flashy nightlife.
Suggested daily budget – 50-60 EUR / 52-62 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
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