Seoul, the infamous capital city of South Korea, is where modernity meets tradition in perfect harmony. Hailed as one of the greatest travel destinations by trekkers across the globe, this city is never short of enjoyable activities or events for foreigners and locals alike. One simply must experience what this curious land has to offer and to get you started on your very own journey to this vibrant city, here’s a list of 15 activities you simply must do when in Seoul.
1. Journey through the Ancient Palace
South Korea is well-known for preserving ancient architecture and letting them coexist with modern buildings in perfect tandem. A couple of these ancient marvels include the Grand Palaces of Gyeongbokgung and Changgyeonggung in Seoul. Step foot into Seoul’s past by wearing Hanbok, Korean traditional wear, and journey through the history and culture that shapes Korea into the country it is today.
2. Traditional Hanok Homes
If visiting ancient palaces isn’t enough to quench your curiosity of Seoul’s past, step into another time capsule at the Namsangol Hanok Village where old traditional homes continue to thrive among glistening skyscrapers. Situated at the foot of Namsan Hill.
These traditional homes have been fully restored and decorated with antique furniture, art, and other household items that symbolize Seoul before the age of modernity. You could also experience the warmth of Korean hospitality by staying in one of these traditional guesthouses manned by the actual homeowners themselves.
3. Namsan/N Seoul Tower
A few minutes away from the Hanok village lies the symbolic N Seoul Tower and Namsan Park. Koreans are known to be big hiking enthusiasts and Namsan is one of the most popular choices for a leisure hike because of its convenient trails and breathtaking scenery.
If you’re not too keen on hiking, there is also a cable car service taking you up and down the hill for minimal charges. At the very top of the hill is where the N Seoul Tower looms over the city of Seoul. Equipped with indoor/outdoor observational decks and cafes, you can relax and soak in the view of Seoul’s gorgeous skyline from up above.
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4. Local Markets
Get off the beaten path of Seoul once in a while and let’s peruse through its local markets. There are quite a number of markets dotting the city of Seoul, all boasting different types of produce and products, One of the oldest markets in the city is the Gwangjang Market which has continuously opened its door since its establishment in 1905.
This particular market boasts a wide range of vegetables, fruits, poultry, farm as well as sea produce. You could also swing by some of the restaurants in the market where your food is prepared fresh right in front of you, so you know it’s going to be a good meal.
5. Seoul’s Nightlife
Seoul never stops moving even after dusk has settled in. if anything, the city becomes even more alive during nighttime! Head on over to Dongdaemun or Myeongdong for a slow stroll of their festive night markets filled with delicious street food and cheap trinkets.
If you’re looking to let loose and enjoy the Seoul nightlife to the fullest, then hit the streets of Hongdae, Itaewon, or Gangnam where there’re an abundance of pubs, bistros, and clubs so you could eat, drink, and party all night long.
6. K-Food Tour (Korean BBQ)
No trip to Seoul would be complete without a food tour of the city! You’ll find yourself spoiled for choices in this food paradise but there is one particular Korean food culture that you simply must experience, and that is Korean BBQ.
Korean BBQ restaurants offer a unique experience of having you choose and grill your own meat at the comfort of your own table. Each meal also comes with several different servings of Korean side dishes called banchan and bowls of rice as well as refillable water so you’ll get a taste of truly authentic and fulfilling Korean meal.
7. Soju Shots
Dubbed the vodka of Korea, you have to down a soju shot whenever you dine in Seoul. There isn’t a need to go to pubs or clubs for this alcoholic beverage simply because it’s a common accompaniment for Koreans when they dine and is sold at every corner store on the streets of Seoul.
If you’re not much of a drinker, try to opt for fruit-flavored soju like apple, grape, orange, etc. but beware, while these fruity versions may mask the alcoholic tang well, they still pack a punch.
Jimjilbang or Korean sauna is the place to go if you want to relax after a full day of walking around Seoul. Here you can find sauna rooms, hot tubs, pools, arcades, canteen, sleeping rooms, massage parlors, etc. all under one roof.
Most, if not all, jimjilbang are open 24/7 so you have the option of only swinging by for a short sweating session or staying overnight in its many sleeping rooms.
9. A Stream through Seoul
There’s a secret in the heart of Seoul and that secret comes in the form of a clear freshwater stream flowing through the center of the city. The Cheonggye stream came about as modern-day Seoul’s effort in establishing a highly accessible and environmentally-friendly park for its residents. Lined with walking paths and benches, this gentle stream is the perfect spot to relax and get away from the bustle of the city. There’s also a mini water show that lights up the river during nighttime.
10. The Han River
The Han River is where Seoulites from both sides of Seoul come together for a leisure day under the sun. The river stretches across the city and there’re several highly accessible parks lining both its sides. There’re bike and kayak rentals along the river but if you don’t want to tire yourself with paddling and pedaling, go on a ferry cruise or water taxi that would take you up and down the river. There are also grassy fields around the park for you to enjoy a small picnic or even to camp overnight.
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11. Themed Cafes
Themed cafes have been booming around Korea as of late and Seoul is the epicenter of this particular cafe culture. From live animals to cartoon characters, there’s a wide array of quirky and unique cafes to choose from. Promising good food and adorable companions, you could find yourself savoring some coffee and cake with alpacas walking around or squished left and right by soft Hello Kitty dolls.
12. Starfield Library
Located inside the underground COEX Mall, the architectural wonder that is Starfield Library houses thousands of books and magazines from around the world. All the books are free to access by any mall-goers and iPad booths are also station around the vicinity for keen e-readers. As of now, the books are only available to read in-house, however, there is no limit to your stay so you can browse through the endless rows of book undisturbed.
13. Ihwa Mural Village
The Ihwa Mural Village is another piece of peace you can find in the center of bustling Seoul. Once on the brink of demolition for urban redevelopment, this neighborhood saved by having its walls painted over by 70 creative artists. Now, it is considered a protected mural village and you can find meaningful, sometimes quirky, paintings all over the walls and streets.
This neighborhood also currently occupied by a number of families and their businesses, so if you’re ever in the area to get some pictures taken, do stop by some of the shops set up by the residence of the neighborhood as a show of support.
14. Seoullo 7017 a.k.a The Skygarden
Seoullo 7017, or the Skygarden, is another successful restoration work done by Seoul administrators in the middle of the city. Once an old highway overpass, it has since transformed into an elevated linear park. Along the path lies terraces, cafes, and benches to rest on after a stroll.
There’s even foot bath booths set up for visitors to rest their feet into. Side note, the number 7017 in the garden’s name symbolizes the year the overpass was built (1970) and the year it was reborn as a pedestrian walkway (2017).
15. The National Museum of Korea
End your journey in Seoul by revisiting the history of Korea at the National Museum of Korea. This museum is by far the most important institution in all of Korea as it curates the largest collection of artifacts, paintings, and historical texts of Korea’s past.
To attract and educate more locals as well as foreigners about the gradual evolution of Korea, the museum grants all of its visitor’s free access to the main exhibitions held all year round and only charges a small fee for exclusive ones. Seoul thrives on its harmonious lifestyle of upholding tradition while still moving forward with modernity; a feat you simply cannot find anywhere else in the world.
In reality, there is so much more to Seoul than just the aforementioned activities and now is the best time for you to discover more of what Seoul has to offer.