The 20 Best Highlights To See In Seoul
Seoul is an up-and-coming trend-setting capital that has helped push South Korea onto the edge of everyone’s mind. From its own music genres and jaw-dropping series to culinary masterpieces and life-changing technology, Seoul functions as the beating heart of a country at the centre of human advancement.
The capital is a beautiful representation of Korea’s surrounding cultures while always managing to create something completely unique in a way that only Korea knows how.
As such, this criminally underrated capital is home to all manner of things to please all manner of travellers. So, in that case, let’s take a look at the 20 best things to see during your time in Seoul!
First, we start with one of Seoul’s most iconic sites! Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 and is the largest of Seoul’s five Joseon Dynasty palaces. Though the original structure was severely damaged by the invading Japanese, several rounds of restoration brought the palace back to its former glory.
Within the vast palace grounds are the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea, both of which are well worth a look! Where the former displays priceless pieces of antiques and artwork, the Folk Museum focuses exhibits ancient relics used in daily life and showcases the story of the Korean people since prehistoric times.
A common site amongst the palace (and other sites around the city) are locals wearing hanboks, the traditional Korean dress. These intricately designed dresses reflect historical Korean customs and can be rented throughout the city. Better yet, by doing so you’ll get into sites such as this for free!
Also, be sure to catch the changing of the guards’ ceremony that happens at 10 am and 2 pm every day (except Tuesdays.)
Bukchon Hanok Village
From seeing how Korean royalty once lived, now let’s compare it to the average local! A stone’s throw away from Changdeokgung Palace (more on that later), Bukchon Hanok Village is a collection of neighbourhoods that give a sense of what life was like in Korea 600 years ago.
Throughout the sleepy little district are traditional houses, known as hanok, which date back to the Joseon Dynasty! Amongst this living museum is an array of cultural centres, humble restaurants, and even a few guesthouses! Even better, most of these hanoks are still used as houses to this day!
As such, the neighbourhood paints the perfect picture of traditional Korean culture and architecture.
Though Seoul is a peaceful, cosmopolitan city at the heart of human advancement, it’s easy to forget that it’s only a stone’s throw away from one of the deadliest and most fragile borders in the world! The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is the contentious border that separates North and South Korea, and believe or not, you can actually visit it as part of a tour!
On this one-of-a-kind adventure, you’ll get an in-depth opportunity to experience the brewing tension first-hand! Visitors can explore North Korean infiltration tunnels and the ghostly Dorasan Train Station that was built to connect the North and South someday in the future!
You’ll even have a chance to look into North Korea itself from the Dora Observatory! From here you’ll be able to spot North Korean military installations, masses of fake villages and even a few locals passing by on bicycles.
If that wasn’t enough, you can even step INTO North Korea itself! While touring the Joint Security Area (JSA), you’ll get to enter the iconic blue shacks where Korean diplomats from both sides come to meet. Here, you’ll be permitted to walk to the opposite side of the shack, meaning you’ll have officially crossed the border into North Korea!! Not many people can make that claim!
The ultimate guide on visiting the heavily guarded border that separates North and South Korea, the DMZ.
Seoul is blessed with many spectacular places, but this is by far the best of the lot! This stunning palace complex was the primary royal residence for over 200 years and is the best-preserved out of the five remaining Joseon Dynasty palaces.
Sadly, even this place couldn’t avoid the anger of the Japanese and on top of that was even burnt down by angry locals during the Imjin War!
Despite that, the palace still has some jaw-droppingly beautiful areas. The most notable of all is the superbly named secret garden, which became the royal family’s favoured spot for relaxation amongst the landscaped lawns and marvellous pavilions which surround the central lotus pond. Undoubtedly, this place earned itself its prestigious UNESCO title!
N Seoul Tower
Every city needs a decent spot to view its expanses, and this is Seoul’s offering! Also known as Namsan Seoul Tower, the impressive structure once broadcasted TV and radio signals across the city. Since then, the tower has now been turned over to tourists to provide one hell of an amazing view of the city!
Standing almost 500m high on the edge of Namsan Mountain, visitors need to take a cable car to reach its base before being whisked to the top. From here, you’ll be able to visit one of the four observation decks or even dine in the tower’s rotating restaurant.
One thing South Korea does better than most is its extensive and vibrant markets and naturally, the one’s in Seoul proudly represents the magnitude of the capital! Gwangjang Market is one of the city’s oldest and largest traditional markets with 5,000 stores and over 65,000 daily visitors!
Though you can find everything from clothes and tech items to vintage antiques, the market is best known for its street food! Gwangjang best represents Korea’s tastebud tingling array of flavours with all manner of local treats!
These include bibimbap (rice with sauteed beef, vegetables, and gochujang red chili paste) gimbap (Korean sushi), tteokboki (sweet and spicy rice cakes) and bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes). Plenty to tickle your fancy!
“Oppan Gangnam style!” The lyrics which have been ingrained in the global subconscious for almost a decade is actually a real place, and it’s right here in Seoul! Gangnam is the third largest district in the city, and as the name suggests, this is Seoul’s fashion, glam and rich-bitch centre!
The style the song refers to comes from its upscale stores, highly fashion-conscious visitors, overpriced restaurants, and thumping nightclubs. Put simply, it’s where the rich like to play!
So, if for nothing else, it’s worth coming here just to claim that you’ve been able to live a second of that Gangnam life!
What was once a grubby stream running beneath an industrial highway, these seven miles of trickling water has now been revitalized and have brought out the glistening diamond in the urban rough!
Cheonggyecheon stream is now a central recreational area that runs through the CBD. With some wonderful walking trails along the peaceful brook, it’s a breath of fresh air from the megalithic city that surrounds it!
The creek is also home to the eye-catching Seoul Lantern Festival each November, where beautifully designed paper lanterns flow along the creek. The light show at night is something to behold!
Immerse Yourself In Seoul’s Different Districts
The South Korean capital is so vast and diverse, that each district is like its own city! Each area has its own vibe, own speciality and most importantly of all, plenty of shopping! There are way too many areas worth a mention, so let me just give you a few of the best!
On top of the list for locals and foreigners alike is Myeong-dong! Known as a shopper’s paradise, Myeongdong is one of the most popular tourist hotspots in Seoul. The area has much more of a commercial vibe with monumental department stores and well-known brands.
There’s also plenty of diversity when it comes to the culinary side, whether you’re after some authentic Korean or a taste of home with a bit of Western!
If you’re looking for a younger, indie vibe, then Hongdae is the place for you! The district is a favourite amongst Seoul’s youth as a place of free expression with a strong music and nightlife scene that often attracts street performances and even local festivals!
The streets also gather regular arts and crafts markets as well as being the go-to place for independent fashion stores. Hipsters head right this way!
For a bit more of an artsy vibe, why not check out the streets of Insa-dong. Known for its multitude of galleries, the streets also hold regular art festivals and is amongst the best places to pick up a unique souvenir!
On the other end of the scale, Insa-dong is also a great place to pick up some mouth-watering street food from one of the multitudes of carts along the avenue!
One of the most unique shopping experiences in Seoul and Asia alike is the peculiar Common Ground, which is built out of 200 shipping containers! These bright blue building blocks form a unique market that attracts independent traders, performances and exhibitions alike!
It’s become a one-stop shop for fashion, art, music and good food! You won’t find anywhere like this anytime soon!
Last but not least, we have Dongdaemun, the spiritual centre of Seoul’s shopping scene. Within the space-age outer structure is a megalithic 24-hour shopping complex as well as an underground shopping centre, both of which provide their wears to most of Seoul’s boutiques! As such, this is the go-to place for the fashion conscious amongst you!
Ihwa Mural Village
South Korea has a wonderful way of revitalising something old and forgotten into something utterly magical, and that’s what you get at Ihwa Mural Village. Much like the former slums of Busan’s Gamcheon Village, Ihwa village was set for demolition before it was given a spectacular make-over as part of a government project. Since then, it’s become one of the city’s most photogenic attractions!
From walls to stairs and even the road itself has been given an artistic touch! With the influx of tourists came a fair share of cafés and restaurants to help service them! In the end, this sleepy little neighbourhood earned its place on the hills of Seoul!
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Lotte World Tower
Of the many skyscrapers found throughout the city, one is worth your attention more than any other! Lotte World Tower skyscraper may be one of the newest buildings poking above Korea’s skyline, but it’s by far the tallest in the country. Not only that, but it’s also the 6th tallest building in the world!
Like any good city-sized scraper, Lotte World Towers houses everything you’d ever need! From high-class office spaces to luxury apartments and hotels, all the way to its own aquarium, art museum and even a whole shopping mall! And for the sake of another record, their cinema even has the world’s largest movie screen!
If none of that catches your interest, then the view from the top certainly will! There are a handful of observation areas, known as Seoul Sky, which line the 117th to 123rd floors. And just another record to add to the list, the 118th floor has the world’s highest glass floor which switches from opaque to clear in a split second. Terrifying to say the least!
Leeum Samsung Museum of Art
As you might be able to tell, Seoul is a city that truly appreciates its art! No proof of that is stronger than at the Leeum Museum of Art! Run by the Samsung Foundation of Culture (yes, the same people who make your phone!), the museum is home to a vast collection of eye-catching pieces!
The exhibitions are divided between two buildings. While Museum 1 houses a collection of pottery, Buddhist art and sculptures, Museum 2 focuses on modern and contemporary art pieces from both Korean and international artists.
Another industry Korea excels at is the immense amount of seafood that they trade! So much so, in every major city, there’s a central hub where the fresh ocean harvest is sold as soon as they’re caught! In Seoul, that place is the Noryangjin Fisheries!
Around 250 to 300 tons of sea life pass through this market every day! The six-story building houses 700 independent fish retail stores that auction off every known creature in the deep blue!
If you see something you fancy, then problem! Just pick the seafood you want and they’ll prepare it for you upstairs in their in-house restaurants!
War Memorial of Korea
From 1950 to 1953 the Korean peninsula was rocked by a civil war that devastated the country. Evidence of this horrific time can still be seen at the DMZ, as the two countries are still technically at war to this day.
For all those lost during these horrendous battles, the War Memorial of Korea was built to commemorate the fallen comrades. The memorial also doubles as a museum that educated visitors on the war through artefacts and military equipment that survived the war.
Crossing the Han River that connects the districts of Seocho and Yongsan, Banpo Bridge is a two-tier bridge renowned for the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain show. As the sun sets, over 380 water jets unleash under the gleam of multicoloured lights as it streams into the river below!
On Saturdays, the bridge even attracts local performances to take part in the “Moonlight Square Cultural Weekend” who perform a spectrum of different musical styles. With performances such as acapella to jazz and even entire to orchestras come to perform under the lights of the bridge, it’s a great place to cap off an evening.
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Though there aren’t too many on this list, Seoul definitely has its fair share of beautiful temples! Undoubtedly, one of the most striking is Bongeunsa temple, which is recognisable by the enormous figure of Guanyin overlooking the entire courtyard!
Dating back to 794, the temple has one of the most vibrant histories of any temple in the city and is certainly a peaceful respite from the enthusiastic district of Gangnam it finds itself in! There’s even a short-term temple stay program that can give you a glimpse at life in a Korean temple!
Blue House (Cheongwadae)
Where America has the White House, Korea has the Blue House! Officially known as Cheongwadae, this is the official residence of the Korean president.
The Blue House isn’t actually a single building, rather a complex of buildings built in the traditional Korean style and all featuring a distinctive blue roof. Regardless of their playful, smurf-esque style, this is where serious matters of Korean government take place!
Tours are available of the Blue House, which bring you to many parts of the palace complex including meeting rooms, reception rooms, as well as where the president holds press conferences.
What was once the house of the royal family, Deoksugung Palace was promoted to its current title after those pesky Japanese had destroyed all other palaces in the city! Though it’s much less grandiose than others on this list, it’s the immense history of the complex which makes it so worthwhile!
The compound is separated into three main halls, each of which given its own design to correspond to its different purpose. These include the Jeonggwanheon Hall for free time and the Seokjojeon Hall top house art.
National Museum of Korea
Yet another speciality of Seoul is the immense number of awe-inspiring museums, each with its unique collection of items! Of these museums, the National Museum of Korea has the biggest collection of all!
The museum beautifully illustrates the incredible history and artwork of the Korean people with exhibits focused on archaeology, history, and the arts as far back as a million years ago! You could spend hours gazing at the relics and artefacts that detail each step of human development up to modern-day Korea!
Suyeonsanbang Tea House
There’s no better way to end a long day of sightseeing than with a warm cup of tea, and this is the place to do it! Located near the idyllic Bukhansan National Park, Suyeonsanbang is a small, picturesque lodge that offers a sense of tranquilly you could only find in a forgotten age!
The teahouse is known to be the favoured spot of iconic Korean authors, and little wonder why! The gorgeous space allows for a unique sense of tranquillity away from the megalithic advancement of modern-day Seoul!
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