12 fun and unique things to do in Seoul
Our handpicked recommendations for what to do in Seoul.
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From ancient temples, palaces and city walls to buzzing market stalls and bright neon signs, Seoul is a city where tradition and technology are practically seoul-mates.
The streets are wide and unexpectedly clean, the people are friendly and the metro runs like clockwork.
If you're keen to discover this budding tourist destination, here's what you should add to your itinerary based on our own personal experiences and recommendations.
Best things to do in Seoul
1. Shop, eat and relax in Myeong-dong
Famous for being the beauty district of Seoul, Myeong-dong should be your first port of call as an introduction to the shopping, food and culture of the city. If a store isn't selling cosmetics or a beauty experience here, it's probably selling some high-end fashion label.
Arrive from midday to witness the street stalls set up shop and nom on everything from grilled squid to dakkochi spicy chicken skewers.
Or pop by in the evening for all of the above under the glow of the street's neon lights.
- Our top pick: Traditional Hwanggeum sauna
2. Wander Seoul's famous markets
Food, clothing and wet markets are heavily sprinkled throughout the city. If you're searching for boutique fashion, Dongdaemun Designer Plaza is a marvel to look and shop at.
This futuristic building was designed by Zaha Hadid and is a multi-purpose space which includes exhibition rooms, a design lab to incubate future designers' projects and a shopping centre.
Head to the Namdaemun Markets in Hoehyeon for something more traditional. This is the country's oldest and largest market and is a mix of retail shops, market stalls and restaurants hidden deep in its laneways. You can eat mighty cheap here and it's not unheard of to eat standing at the stall while chatting with your friends.
- Our top pick: Seoul palaces, temples and market tour
3. Glimpse royal life at a Seoul palace
Word of warning: there are not one, not two but FIVE grand palaces in the soul of Seoul. They all date back to the Joseon Dynasty and are grand complexes you could spend hours exploring.
Changdeokgung Palace is the most famous as it's on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its "outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design". Its gardens were the largest during the Joseon Dynasty.
Gyeongbokgung Palace is open on Monday, unlike the other palaces, and is particularly known for its traditional changing of the guard ceremony. Catch it at 10am and 2pm daily, except on Tuesdays when the palace is closed.
- Our top pick: Palace and temple tour
Unique and fun things to do in Seoul
4. Dress to impress at a Hanok Village
Seoul has done an impeccable job at preserving its traditional architecture and you'll see this in its wide variety of Hanok Villages.
Some are still occupied, such as Bukchon Hanok Village which is over 600 years old and is a mini pocket of laneways flanked by tiled-roof stone-built houses. It's a quiet zone that's closed on Sundays in respect of the locals.
Others, such as Namsangol Hanok Village, are open folk museums where you can peer into restored Hanok homesteads.
For a special treat, hire a Hanok costume and walk through these traditional backdrops – camera in hand, naturally.
- Our top pick: Hanok rental voucher
5. Walk the high and low lines
You've heard of the High Line in New York. Now, walk Seoul's answer to it. Dubbed Seoullo 7017, it's a disused highway repurposed into a sky garden that runs from Malli-dong through City Hall to Hoehyeon.
Observatory towers grace you with higher perch points, while recycled pianos and potted plants provide a calm and creative atmosphere.
That's the high line but further west in Hongdae is where you'll find a more down-to-earth repurposed space. The Gyeongui Line Forest follows a disused rail line of the same name that was built during the Japanese occupation.
Now it's a forest walk and creative space with a book swap facility and art spaces in the shape of train carriages.
6. Lotte World
When you have kids in tow the best thing you can do is take them to Lotte World. This amusement complex consists of indoor and outdoor theme parks, a shopping mall, sports facilities and more.
You can stay at the park hotel or take the subway to its doorstep.
Designed to look like Disneyland, the park offers a princess castle, roller-coasters by the bucket load and entertainment around every corner.
Foodies will be glad to hear that there's a heavy focus on food in Lotte World too.
- Our top pick: Lotte World 1-day pass
Things to do at night in Seoul
7. Eat Korean BBQ, fried chicken, kimchi and more
If your sole purpose is to eat until you drop, you'll find no shortage of options in this city. From market stalls serving grilled meats to tea houses selling baked goods, there's food aplenty waiting for your belly.
The place to be? Insadong. This hotbed of Korean fare has it all. Start with some people-watching in a tea house then grab a few bites at a local market stall (the boiled fish cakes and grilled BBQ chicken are mouthwatering) on your way to a Korean barbeque joint.
We particularly recommend 8palsaik where you can dine on eight marinated meats, from ginseng and wine to herb and hot. Don't forget to order the soju while you're there to wash it all down.
- Our top pick: Korean food walking tour with lunch
8. Seoul nightlife
They say that New York is the city that never sleeps, but really they should say this about Seoul.
The city doesn't really wake until close to midday, with shopping malls often running hours from 10.30am until 10.30pm.
There's plenty going on after hours, with everything from food stalls and shopping to bars and nightclubs. One of the buzzing areas at the moment is Hongdae which has all of the above and more.
This truly is the city to sleep in and party late.
- Our top pick: Korean pub crawl
9. Take in the view from N Seoul Tower
Spearing the sky high above the city, Namsan – or N Tower as it's more commonly known – is a communication and observation tower.
On a clear day you can capture views of the city from its observation deck or, if you're not willing to pay the KRW11,000 to take the lift up, you can still capture fantastic views from the base.
This one is particularly ideal for couples as there are restaurants, arcade games and a lock bridge at the attraction.
To get here, you can take a bus for KRW1,200 each way, cable car at KRW9,500 each way.
- Our top pick: Tailored bus transfers to N Tower Seoul
10. Cheonggyecheon stream
If after you've walked Seoullo and the Gyeongui Line and you're keen to continue the magic, make sure you walk all or part of the Cheonggyecheon stream.
It's 10.6 kilometres of recreation space alongside a restored stream that was destroyed during the Joseon Dynasty. It runs through the heart of the city under 22 of its bridges.
At night the stream is lit up in colourful lights and during festivals, such as Christmas, there are lanterns on the water in celebration.
Seoul day trips
Explore beyond Seoul city centre to see a different side of the country.
11. Take the train from Seoul to Busan
Busan is South Korea's other big city hub and has been touted as being the next big destination by Expedia and Skyscanner. This port town is famous for its beaches, mountainous landscape and markets and is a two-hour fast speed train from Seoul.
If you're strapped for time you can see it in a day. Otherwise we recommend spending a few days to do it justice.
South Korea's demilitarised zone is the space that divides it from North Korea. There are various areas of the DMZ you can visit. This includes:
- The tunnels of aggression – Underground tunnels presumably built by North Korea that land in South Korea.
- Dora Observatory – A viewpoint that lets you cast your eye into North Korea via binoculars or by eye on a clear day.
- Joint Security Area (JSA) – The part of the DMZ where North and South Korea can stand face to face and you can walk between the countries.
- Freedom Bridge – Located outside the JSA, it's the bridge that joins North and South and was used for prisoner exchanges during the Korean War.
- Our top pick: Seoul to DMZ tour
Seasonal events in Seoul
Things to do in Seoul in summer
- Visit the Ice Museum
- Eat bingsu
- Hangang Summer Festival
Things to do in Seoul in winter
- Seoul Christmas festival
- DDP Winter Light Festival
- Celebrate Lunar New Year
Things to do in Seoul in autumn
- Seoul Kimchi Festival
- Seoul Lantern Festival
- Seoul Fashion Week
Things to do in Seoul in spring
- Cherry blossoms
- Seoul Grand Park Rose Festival
- K-Pop Dance Festival
Stephanie travelled to Seoul as a guest of Jetstar which flies direct to Seoul from the Gold Coast.
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