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first-time visitor to Seoul? Looking for the best tourist attractions in Seoul? Here is a selection of the top places to visit in Seoul on a short trip.

E very traveler has their own preferences and ideas about the top places he or she wants to visit. Seoul has many faces and can meet the needs of even the most demanding traveler. When visiting for a weekend or a couple of days, you want to optimize your time and cover the top and must see attractions and experiences. That’s not too hard to do in Seoul. Even though the city is enormous, most top places of interest are easily accessible on foot or by public transport. For the impatient traveler, taxis are a great option too, as taxi service in Seoul is very affordable. 

This is my favorite list of places a newcomer would try to visit to get a good picture of Seoul. It’s based on my preferences for historic places salted a bit with modern architecture and some food experiences.

Northern Seoul

Northern Seoul is where most historical places are. The hilly terrain and turbulent development make exploring Seoul exciting, with surprises hidden behind every hilltop and street turn. Most of the sites listed below are reachable on foot. To save money, use Seoul’s super convenient public transport.

Gyeongbokgung Palace | 경복궁

Gyeongbokgung Palace is the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty. Completed in 1394, the 4th year of the first Joseon ruler, Yi Seonggye. The difficult to pronounce palace name means “the new dynasty will enjoy good fortunes and prosperity.” The palace burned down during the Imjin War (Japanese invasion in the 16th century). During the Japanese Occupation on the palace grounds, the Governor’s Office building was built.

The western visitors have to set the right expectations for the Asian style palaces. If you expect Versalles, you will be disappointed. Gyeongbokgung is super beautiful and, grandly, represents the might and culture of Korea. The palace grounds are enormous, and it takes several hours to walk around. A lot of visitors decide to put on Hanbok – Korean traditional clothing. It gives you free entrance to the palace and is a perfect opportunity to take exciting pictures dressed up in the attire of Joseon. 

For the rainy and cold day, there are two museums on the palace grounds. The National Palace Museum of Korea, accessible through the Gyeongbokgung metro station pass. Prepare to learn about royal life and etiquette. The curious visitor can spend hours inside. The National Folk Museum on the eastern side of palace grounds has a fantastic display of the folklife during Joseon. 

Must-see buildings with great photo spots are Gwanghwamun Gate, Geunjeongjeon Hall, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, and Hyangwonjeong Pavilion (currently under construction). 

Geunjeongjeon Hall at Gyeongbokgung Palace

“Geunjeongjeon Hall”

Hyangwonjeong Pavilion at Gyeongbokgun Palace

“Hyangwonjeong Pavilion”

Make sure to plan your visit to the palace on time to see:

  • Gatekeeper Military Training: 9:30, 13:30
  • The changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony: 10:00, 14:00 (the most spectacular part)
  • Gwanghwamun Gate Guard on Duty Ceremony: 11:00, 13:00 

If you happen to visit Seoul in spring or fall night guided tours of the palace can be booked. These tours are in high demand, and you have to book at least a month in advance. 

Gyeongbokgung Palace is closed every Tuesday.

Address:
161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 종로구 사직로 161 (세종로)

Gyeongbokgung Station, Exit 5, Metro Line 3
Gwanghwamun Station, Exit 2, Metro Line 5

 

Hours:
November – February 09:00-17:00 (last admission 16:00)
September-October, March-May 09:00-18:00 (last admission 17:00)
June-August 09:00-18:30 (last admission 17:30)

Price: 3,000 won / 1,500 won children

What to do:

dress in hanbok for great experience and free entrance
watch change of royal guards ceremony
various performances in the palace premises
free guided tour of the palace in English: 11:00, 13:30, 15:30
free guided tour at National Palace Museum of Korea in English: 15:00
free guided tour at National Folk Museum of Korea in English: 10:30, 14:30
night tours of Gyeongbokgung Palace - available only in September

Bukchon Hanok Village | 북촌한옥마을

As the name indicates, Bukchon is famous for its Hanok house, around 600 of them. It’s charming traditional roofs, and warm wooden facades stand proud on a hill above two palaces. The hanoks were built in the 20s and 30s, so they do not represent the housing style of Joseon. Bukchon was home to Josen era aristocrats, noble officials and scientists. Hanoks from that period tend to be specious, built to impress and indicate the importance of the families living in it.

Bukchon is busy during the day and for a reason. The breathtaking views of hanok alley down the hill with Namsan Tower in the back – we’ve all seen that picture and want one of our own. Besides the countless coffee shops and restaurants,there are so many galleries and small art spaces. This is transforming the area into a vast open space museum. Well, parts are quite touristy but still super friendly to spend a couple of hours touring around discovering hidden gems.

“Chris at Bukchon Hanok Village”

Chris at Bukchon Hanok Village

“Scenic Views Bukchon Hanok Village”

Address:
37, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 종로구 계동길 37 (계동)
Anguk Station, Exit 1 or 2, Seoul Metro Line 3

 

Hours: during the day, keep calm at all time 

 

Price: free

What to do:

stroll along the hanbok alleys
visit Bukchon Traditional Culture Center to learn more about the history of Bukchon and various traditional experiences
find traditional tea house, there’s Tea Museum on the top of the hill
visit Baek Inje House for more realistic idea of Bukchon look and feel during Joseon era
book free walking tour from VisitSeoul website

Myeongdong | 명동

Every Korean cosmetics and fashion brand has a presence in Myeongdong. It’s a shopping mecca, and you can find there any international sports brand, but also Korean cosmetics and fashion. There is a fabulous street food alley with a great variety of food options. Make sure to bring some cash as some street vendors prefer it. If you are looking for high-end brand products, you don’t have to go far. Lotte and Shinsegae Department stores are popular duty-free shopping destinations. Worth visiting is Myeongdong Cathedral, the beautiful headquarters of the Korean Catholic Church. Myeongdong Theatre used to be the National Theatre of Korea, and these days you can watch traditional performances there.

Myeongdong by Night

“Myeongdong by Night”

Myeongdong Cathedral

“Myeongdong Cathedral”

Address:
For Myeongdong Food Street – Euljiro 1(il)-ga Station, exit 6, Metro Line 2
For Myeongdong Cathedral – Euljiro 3(sam)-ga Station, exit 12, Metro Line 2 & 3

Hours: after 12 PM to late night

What to do:

eat street food
shop Korean products
watch Nanta non-verbal show

Dongdaemun Design Plaza | 동대문디자인플라자

Designed by the talented and iconic Zara Hadid, Dongdaemun Design Plaza became one of Seoul’s landmarks. DDP is home to Seoul Fashion Week as it’s in the epicenter of the booming K-fashion. There are over 30 fashion malls all adjacent to each other. Most of them open doors for bulk sales at midnight and stay open till the morning. Some of the shops will sell you single items at hugely discounted prices. Make sure to ask when they are not too busy with wholesale buyers. 

DDP building transitions smoothly into Dongdaemun History & Culture Park. It integrates parts of Seoul Fortress, Dongdaemun History Museum 1398, Yigansumun Water Gate, Dongdaemun Excavation Site Exhibition Hall, and Dongdaemun Stadium Memorial.

Gwanghwamun Gate (광희문), Dongdaemun Gate (Heunginjimun Gate) (동대문 – 흥인지문) as well as Seoul City Wall Museum (한양도성박물관) are close by and worth exploring as well.

DDP by Night

“Dongdaemun Design Plaza”

Address:
281, Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 중구 을지로 281 (을지로7가)

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10:00-19:00

Price:
DDP Guided Tour: Tues-Sun 10:30, 14:30 / 60-80 min / 8,000 won
DDP Audio Guide Tour: free

What to do:

walk around the building into DDP Park
Explore various exhibitions and shopping areas in DDP
Visit Dongdaemun History Museum behind the main building
night fashion shopping at Dongdaemun Fashion town
Dongdaemun Gate and City Wall Museum

Cheonggyecheon Stream | 청계천

Cheonggyecheon runs through the central part of Seoul. It’s one of the favorite places for both locals and visitors for a casual walk along the 11 km stream park. Once covered by an elevated highway, it was restored in 2003 to be a small natural oasis in Seoul’s jungle of modern buildings. Cheonggyecheon is home to the Seoul Lantern Festival every November. The festival turns the stream into a magical display of light of lights and sounds.

Cheonggyecheon Stream

“Cheonggyecheon Stream”

Cheonggyecheon Stream Night View

“Cheonggyecheon Stream Night View”

Address:
Changsin-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 종로구 창신동

Hours: 24/7

Price: free

What to do:

stroll down the stream
have coffee in the surrounding shops
visit K-Style hub for tourist info, virtual experiences, traditional food and clothing

Namdaemun Market | 남대문시장

Namdaemun Market is the most significant and oldest traditional market, with over 600 years of history. You can find everything there – from delicious food to silverware and clothing. Traditional markets are not my favorite places to visit, but visiting one gives you a realistic idea of what the life of average people looks like. You can also meet super interesting people and find good stuff to buy. There are over 10,000 shops so the chance you will find whatever you are looking for is huge.

Find Galchi-jorim alley (braised cutlassfish) and Kal-guksu alley (Korean style noodle soup) for a great culinary experience at amazing prices.

Namdaemun Market

“Namdaemun Market”

Namdaemun Market Buildings

“Namdaemun Market Buildings”

Address:
21, Namdaemunsijang 4-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 중구 남대문시장4길 21 (남창동)

Hours: till late night, depending on the store

What to do:

shop
drink
eat

Seoul City Wall / Bukhansan National Park | 한양도성

No trip to Seoul is complete if you haven’t hiked some of the hills and mountains surrounding the city. Bukhansan is a collective name for 3 mountains in the Northern part of the town. Koreans love trekking, so there are many trails to enjoy the fresh air and see the city from above. For the not so adventurous travelers, a leisurely walk along the Seoul City Wall might do the job. The City Wall has a long and turbulent history protecting Seoul from invaders. The best way to see Seoul City Wall is to start at Dongdaemun Station and from exit 1 walk up to the wall. Ihwa Mural Village is close by and is worth exploring too.

Seoul City Wall

“City Wall in Fall”

City Wall Seoul

“View from the wall”

Address:
622-83 Changsin-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Donngdaemun Station, exit 1

Hours: 24/7

What to do:

Seoul City Wall Storytelling Tour Course
Visit Seoul City Wall Museum
Explore Ihwa Mural Village

National Museum of Korea | 국립중앙박물관

Prepare yourself for a real history feast in the largest museum in South Korea. The exhibition covers the history of the Korean Peninsula chronologically – from ancient times, through the Three Kingdoms period and the Joseon Kingdom to modern Korea. The museum stores and displays the most significant relics of the Korean cultural heritage. Display information is available in English, but you can get audio guide sets if you really want to dig down into history. Check out the special exhibition section in the west wing of the building. Currently on display is the fascinating ‘Gaya Spirit – Iron and Tune,’ exhibition covering Gaya Confederacy.

National Museum of Korea
National Museum of Korea Yongsan

“The impressive building of NMK”

Main Building National Museum Korea

“Main entrance of the museum”

Address:
137, Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 용산구 서빙고로 137 (용산동6가)

Hours:
Monday-Friday 10:00-18:00
Wednesdays & Saturdays 10:00-21:00
Sundays & Public Holidays 10:00-19:00 

Price: free / special exhibitions need a ticket

What to do:

enjoy the exhibition
eat in the restaurant at the rear end of the museum
get some high-quality gifts from the souvenir shop

Haneul Park | 하늘공원

Haneul Park is part of World Cup Park, a large recreational outdoor facility with tons of exciting areas to explore. The name of the park comes from the Korean word for ‘sky’ as it’s built on an elevated piece of land. You will never believe you are actually standing on! What once was Seoul’s garbage landfill now is a beautifully landscaped serene park. If you happen to visit Seoul during Autumn, don’t miss out on the famous Silver Grass Festival. Across the street is Oil Tank Culture Park.

Haneul Park
Haneul Park Fall

“Haneul Park Observation Deck”

Haneul Park Muhly Pink Grass

“Haneul Park Muhly Pink Grass”

Address:
95, Haneulgongwon-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 마포구 하늘공원로 95

Hours:
10:00-29:00 (Mar-Nov)
10:00-18:00 (Dec-Feb)
Park opens at 05:00 daily

Price: free 

What to do:

spend couple of hours exploring different areas of the park
lots of media content for your social media
romantic walk with significant one

Ewha Womans University | 이화여자대학교

One of Korea’s top universities, it’s campus it’s one of the most instagrammable spots in Seoul. The famous stair building is designed by Dominique Perrault. As he describes it, it’s a mixture of landscape, structure, and functional architecture. Next to the university campus, you can find an excellent shopping area and the first Starbucks coffee shop in Seoul.

Ewha Womans University

Address:
52, Ewhayeodae-gil, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 서대문구 이화여대길 52 (대현동)

Hours: best to visit during the day

What to do:

selfie in front of the stair building
Ewha Welcome Center has great souvenir shop
visit shopping area close to the university
get coffee at the first Korean Starbucks shop

Southern Seoul

South Seoul developed in the 60s and 70s to become a driving force for the boom of the Korean economy. Gangnam, or ‘south of the river’ as its name indicates, is a vast well-developed area. This might be the only administrative area of Seoul that you have heard before your visit. 

Gangnam is glamorous and fun to explore. A lot of Korean conglomerates and financial institutions have their headquarters south of Han River. The metropolitan area expands further south into Bundang, Suwon, and Osan. 

Gangnam consists predominantly of office end luxury apartments. There are plenty of luxury shopping, gourmet dining, and sophisticated night bars.

Seoul Sky at Lotte World Tower | 서울 스카이

Lotte World Tower is the tallest building in Seoul, a multi-purpose skyscraper with extensive shopping facilities on the ground levels. Upper levels serve as prime office space. Signiel, one of the best hotels in Seoul, occupies the top floors of the impressive building. Luxury apartments are also available for selected few, with undisrupted panoramic views to the city. 

Seoul Sky, on the top of Lotte World Tower, is the highest observation deck in Seoul. The facility is very spacious, occupying 7 floors. There are two open-air terraces, a coffee shop, a premium restaurant, and a souvenir shop. The best time to go up is right before sunset. During weekends and holidays, there is significant waiting time, so make sure you plan correctly.

Worth visiting is also Lotte World, a giant amusement park next to Lotte Tower. Connected to it, with access from Lotte Mall, is Lotte World Folk Museum. The detail and liveliness in the creation of the miniature models of royal and folk buildings are unprecedented.

Lotte World Tower

Address:
300 Olympic-ro (Sincheon-dong), Songpa-gu, Seoul
Jamsil Station, exits 2, 11, Metro lines 2, 8

Hours:
Sunday ~ Thursday 10:00 ~ 22:00
Friday/Saturday 10:00 ~ 23:00

Price: ₩27,000 / regular; ₩50,000 fast pass

What to do:

enjoy 360 views of Seoul
have refreshment drinks in the coffee shop or food in the restaurant
shop souvenirs in the souvenir shop
Indulge yourself with a night in Signiel, the most luxurious hotel in town

Bongeunsa Temple | 봉은사

Overshadowed by high-rise residential and business buildings, Bongeunsa temple is one of my favorites. It’s beautiful to visit every season, but the best is in Spring and Fall. The temple ground is a bit hilly, so it offers excellent views to COEX and the glassy office buildings around it.

Bongeunsa Temple at COEX

“Bongeunsa Temple”

View to COEX from Bongeunsa Temple

“View to COEX from Bongeunsa Temple”

Address: 531, Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

서울특별시 강남구 봉은사로 531 (삼성동)

Price: free

What to do:

learn about Korean Buddhism
talk to Buddhist monk
take great photos towards COEX Mall
donate to the temple

COEX Mall & Starfield Library | 별마당 도서관

Starfield COEX Mall is a huge convention and shopping complex. The shopping area is horizontally spread on 3 underground floors. Navigating the labyrinth of shops is a bit difficult, so don’t be surprised if you get lost. Besides shopping, COEX Aquarium and Starfield Library are two places to visit. Starfield Library is a vast open space public library with a great book and magazine collection to read on the spot. This is one of the places you must use your camera and take some great photos to share on your social media.

Starfield Library at COEX

“Starfield Library at COEX”

Gangam Style Hands Monument

“Gangam Style Hands Monument”

Address:
513 Yeongdong-daero, Gangnam-gu, Seoul  

Hours: 10:30 – 22:00 /daily

What to do:

do some shopping at the mall
visit COEX Aquarium
take some good photos at the library
visit Gangnam style hands monument just outside the mall

Seonjeongneung Tombs | 서울 선릉과 정릉

Surrounded by office buildings and upscale housing, the Royal tombs are a unique place to visit. It’s so surreal to experience the serenity of this UNESCO site, seeing and hearing the hustle and bustle of the modern city. It’s a perfect 30 min cultural detour in the heart of the financial quarter.

Seonjeongneung Tombs

“Seonjeongneung Tombs”

Seonjeongneung Tombs Gate

“Seonjeongneung Tombs Gate”

Address:
1, Seolleung-ro 100-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 강남구 선릉로100길 1 (삼성동)

Hours:
Mar – Oct 06:00 – 21:00 (Last Entry 20:00)
Nov – Jan 06:30 – 17:30 (Last Entry 16:30)
Feb 06:00 – 18:00
Closed Monday

Price: ₩1,000 / foreigners only

What to do:

stroll along the park and visit the 3 tombs
best is to visit right before sunset for contrasting pictures with the surrounding office buildings

Shopping, cosmetic procedure and coffee time at Gangnam

The areas around Sinsa and Gangnam station are famous for one of the best shopping and dining experiences. Restaurants and retail spaces alternate with plastic surgeries and cosmetic studios. Medical tourism is getting popular, and lots of visitors stay in the area to use the superb beauty and medical services.

For K-Pop lovers, Gangnam is the place to be. It’s home to K-Star Road, SM COEX Artium, and various pop-up spots related to the Hallyu culture.

Alver Cafe at Gangnam

“Alver Cafe at Gangnam”

Gangnam Station Shopping Street by Sunset

“Gangnam Station Shopping Street by Sunset”

Address:
areas around Sinsa, Gagnam Station, Cheongdam

Hours:
every day 11AM to 11PM

What to do:

do some shopping
visit cosmetic studio
discover nice coffee shops

Han River Parks | 한강공원

Han River divides Seoul to the southern and northern parts. For long, the banks of the river were not accessible or occupied by highways vital for the continually increasing car traffic. Seoul Metropolitan Government did a great job in recent years to reclaim the river bans and convert them into kilometers long river parks. Hangang Park is the collective name of the twelve Hangang river recreational areas that offer facilities for biking, picnicking, summer pool swimming, football, baseball, drone flying, and many more. 

One of the fabulous recreational areas by the river is in the vicinity of Banpo Bridge with water and lights show several times every night. There are multiple locations for riverboat renting or romantic sunset cruises.  

In spring Yeouido Hangang Park (여의도한강공원) is home to Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival (late April). During the hot summer days, various parts of Hangang Park host the Hangang Summer Festival (July-August). Seoul International Fireworks Festival takes part in October, attracting hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors for an amazing fireworks show.

Han River Parks

“Han River Parks”

Seoul Wave at Han River Park

“Seoul Wave at Han River Park”

Address:
along Han River banks 

Hours: 24/7

Price: free

What to do:

rent a bike and ride it along the bike alleys
watch Banpo Bridge water and light show
rent picnic equipment and spend an afternoon along the river
do a river cruise from Yeouido Hangang Park

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Comments:

  • LaRena

    January 31, 2020

    Love this! Thanks so much for sharing. The pictures are gorgeous!

    reply...

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