If the thought of Seoul only conjures images of Gangnam Style and bright shopping districts, you’re in for some earth-shattering realizations. Seoul is a city of ancient palaces, charming side streets, gorgeous national parks, and world-class food. It’s a place where you can hike a mountain in the morning, visit a 700-year-old temple after lunch, toy around in a virtual reality cafe in the evening, and taste Michelin-starred barbecue for dinner. Here’s our list of the 10 best things to do in Seoul for any and all types of travelers.
Stroll Through the Bukchon Hanok Village
By far one of the most interesting things to do in Seoul is to stroll the streets of the Bukchon Hanok Village. Dating back to the Joseon Dynasty in the 16th century, this picturesque residential area is full of traditional architecture and narrowly winding streets. You can sign up for tours to learn arts and crafts from locals and even learn to play a traditional Korean instrument. Also, the sweeping views offer excellent photography opportunities with the traditional architecture framed against the modern city below.
Ride the Cable Car up Mount Namsan
The famous N Seoul Tower is located on Mount Namsan, which makes it one of the top things to do in the city. You can opt to hike up the 777 feet to the peak, or hop on the cable car and soak in the incredible panoramic views. The tower itself is a communications tower, but it’s open to the public with an observation room and some entertainment as well. If you’re traveling with a significant other, a popular thing to do is to lock a padlock to the fence as a symbol of love.
Eat Street Food
If you made it a point to not enter one single brick-and-mortar restaurant during your trip to Seoul, you wouldn’t really be limiting yourself. The options for street food in Seoul are cheap, hearty, delicious, and always exciting. Dive into specialities like hotteok (stuffed pancake), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), and odeng (fish cakes). Seoul has everything from weekend markets to night markets and floating markets, which is why it deserves a spot on the Top 5 Cities for Asian Food.
Go to a Cat Cafe
If you haven’t indulged in the pleasure of getting dog-piled by cats (cat-piled), you should do so in Seoul. The city is home to a good handful of cafes that cater to those with a love for felines and caffeinated beverages. We recommend Cat Café Gangnam, Cat Living Hongdae, and Y Cat Café. There’s a certain etiquette involved in visiting cat cafes, so make sure you’re aware of the rules and regulations before you barge in and cause a ruckus. For a cat cafe that’s closer to home, check out Cat Cafe Seattle: 4 Places for Cat-Fiene Addicts.
Visit the Largest Traditional Market in Korea
Namdaemun Market can almost be considered its own self-sufficient city. The traditional market dates back to the year 1414 during the reign of King Taejong as a government-managed marketplace, and 600-plus years later, it’s still thriving. Over 10,000 stores offer everything from daily essentials and local products to exotic, eyebrow-raising goods that would not exactly be considered “essential.” Whatever you’re searching for, Namdaemun is sure to be an adventurous afternoon.
Chow Down on Korean BBQ
The DIY atmosphere of Korean BBQ is sure to be a great night on the town. Take top-quality meat and vegetables, find some space on the open flame, and put your cooking mastery to the test. BBQ isn’t something that has been co-opted by foreigners and brought abroad — it’s a huge part of Korean culture. There are literally hundreds of restaurants all over the city, so going about deciding can be a doozy. We recommend Maple Tree House for their friendliness to foreigners, Seochomyeonok for the delectable short ribs, and Palsaik Samgyupsal Sinchon Main for the side dishes and pork ribs served with eight different flavors.
Witness the Chaos of a Fish Market
Consider some statistics: 700 vendors selling every kind of fish imaginable, 300 tons of marine products traded daily, 50% of the city’s metropolitan inventory comes from here, and live auctions start at 1:00 am. The Noryangjin Fish Wholesale Market is a force to be reckoned with. Visit here in the early mornings to experience the sights, sounds, and (definitely) smells of Korea’s largest fish market. As long as you know the words for Korean numbers, feel free to jump in on the auctioning.
Get Outdoors in Bukhansan National Park
If you think Seoul is just a huge metropolitan city with bright neon lights and advanced technology, you’re about… well… two-thirds right. A quick drive outside the commotion of the city, there are tons of natural greenery and beautiful landscapes. The most desirable gem of the bunch is the Bukhansan National Park located on the northern part of Seoul. Here, you’ll find dramatic granite peaks, dense forests, and 2,000-year old fortresses. Most of the hikes take under four or five hours, so the Bukhansan National Park is a great option for a day trip.
Visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace
Seoul is home to five big palaces that are all deserving of a visit: Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Gyeonghuigung. Here, visitors can dress up in traditional Korean clothing (hanbok) and visit the palaces for free. Gyeongbokgung is widely regarded as the best of the bunch, but feel free to check them out and get your fill of Seoul’s traditional palaces.
Relax at Cheonggyecheon Stream
While there isn’t an overwhelming amount of nature within Seoul’s boundaries, there is a good collection of rivers and streams that make for great social gathering spots. Head over to the Cheonggyecheon Stream that flows right through the heart of the city. Take a dip during the day, while at night, the area lights up with musicians and impressive water light shows. Especially if you’re looking for some Travel Tips for Keeping to Your Vacation Budget, this spot is totally free.