Okay… I admit that not every item on this list is something a local would do. But I swear on my love for Kimchi Jjigae (stew) that by the time you check off all or most of this list, you will feel very much like a local. If I’m wrong, I will abstain from eating Kimchi Jjigae for a year. That is a big bet for me and I’m not sure whether or not I will survive it. But here we go! My 15 top things to do in Seoul, ranked from most touristy (1) to most local (15).
Enjoy reading! (and planning!)
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Visit Gyeongbokgung in a Hanbok Dress
So, of course, at the top of this list is Gyeongbokgung… And I highly recommend visiting in a rental Hanbok (Korean traditional clothing) because:
- You get free entry when wearing traditional clothing.
- Walking around the palace grounds in it feels like a fairytale.
- Why skip something when you can just do it?
For more in-depth information on Gyeongbokgung and renting a Hanbok, check out my Gyeongbokgung blog post.
If you’d like to learn more about the palace’s history as well, check out these walking tours below.
Stay in a Hanok House
A Hanok (한옥) is a traditional-style Korean House, either constructed in an L-shape, U-shape, or square shape with a courtyard in the middle depending on the weather. Hanoks that were built in colder areas tend to be square-shaped because they keep the heat in more effectively during winter.
There are quite a few Hanoks operating as guest houses in the Samcheongdong area, most are findable on Airbnb. I wouldn’t miss the chance to spend at least one night here. Or if slow travel is your thing, too, stay the whole trip and soak up that vibe!
If you are a light sleeper, I recommend bringing earplugs because these Hanok walls are THIN. Though from what I’ve seen, these guest house hosts are aware of that too so they usually have some ready for you.
Visit the War Memorial of Korea
While the National Museum of Korea is definitely not to be missed, I personally recommend this museum over that one first for a few reasons:
- Less frequented and much quieter atmosphere
- It’s not just about the Korean War (although it is Korean War-heavy)
- Their War History room juxtaposes Korean history with Eastern and Western histories in a neat, simple, but detailed timeline starting from 2,000 BC all the way to the 21st Century. It was brilliant to look at what was going on in Korea when the Ottoman Empire was rising, and so on.
Take subway line 4 (blue) or line 6 (brown) to Samgakji Station. Use exit 12 and continue west on Itaewon-ro until you see the memorial courtyard to your left. Everything is clearly marked so don’t worry.
Address: 29 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Take a Tour of the DMZ
After arming yourself with Korean War knowledge, you can take it to the next level and visit the Demilitarized Zone! While anyone can visit the DMZ Visitor’s Center at Nuri Park, not just anyone can cross the military-controlled zone line into the area closest to the DMZ. Only tour buses are allowed in. So you’ll have to book a day tour in order to see the cooler sights.
By cooler sights, I mean an actual infiltration tunnel that was dug by the North Koreans. After the tunnel was discovered by the South Korean government, they blocked it off and turned it into a tourist attraction. You can walk 25 floors below ground level and get as close as 170m from the Demarcation line. With a tour, you can also visit the Dora Observatory right by the border and quite literally take a peek at North Korea.
Below are some day tour options. Don’t forget to bring your passport on these tours, and be sure to try out the famous DMZ soybean ice cream!
Take a stroll along the Fortress Wall Trail
Built for defensive purposes in 1396, the stone wall is about 18 km long. Also known as the Seoul City Wall Trail, these 6 mostly intact trails of walls are accessible to the public around different parts of Seoul. You can check out the trail map and info here.
My absolute favorite trail is the Namsam Mountain trail, where you can combine it with the hike up to Seoul Tower. To get to this particular trailhead, take the subway line 4 to Hoehyeon station, get out at Exit 4, and keep following the signs to “Namsan Park.”
Hike up Namsan Mountain to Seoul Tower
While its main purpose is to broadcast for the main local TV stations, the Namsan Seoul Tower is also open to visitors with a variety of sights and activities. It’s worth the hike!
There is a mall at the bottom of the tower. The rooftop of that mall, or the base of the tower, gives you a magnificent view of the city. The rooftop barriers are also where you can find the “Love Locks” of Seoul, where couples and families leave behind colorful locks with messages written on them.
Up the tower’s observation deck, there are souvenir shops, sweet shops, and a 360 view of Seoul for you to check out. One of the things that tickled me the most was the “Sky Restroom.” Here, you do your business while looking out the glass wall of your own stall to admire the city view from up above! The observation deck ticket costs 16,000 KRW ($11.25).
Getting to Namsan
Take subway line 4 (blue) to Hoehyeon Station and get off at Exit 4. Turn left at the first side street you see and continue up the hill. You will see the entrance to Namsan Park.
Namsan Park North Entrance: 37.555893, 126.977198
Namsan Tower Address: 105 Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Eat the Foot-long Ice Cream
Or should I say… foot-tall?
32 Parfait is a hole-in-the-wall soft-serve ice cream shop that has been there since the first time I visited Seoul 15 years ago. And I’m sure they’ve also been around since way before that.
One cone is only 3,000 KRW ($2.16), and the seller will always tell you to “keep it straight, don’t tip it over!”
Take subway line 2 to Hongik University Station and get off at exit 9.
Address: 35, Hongik-ro 3-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Walk the Lotte World Tower Sky Bridge
This one is for adrenaline junkies and lovers of height.
Sky Bridge is, well… a bridge. The cool thing is it’s perched at the top of the tallest building in Korea (555 meters or about 1,800 feet). And you can take a tour of it for about $71! Each tour lasts about 40 minutes and comes with all safety gear and 2 high-resolution photos of you included.
The view up there is quite something. Unfortunately, the online reservation system does not take non-Korean credit cards, so you’ll have to buy your tickets at the booth. The first bridge tour starts at 1 PM. I recommend going earlier in the day, buying your ticket for later, then leaving to explore the rest of the Mall while you wait.
Take the subway line 2 or 8 to Jamsil Station.
Address: 300 Olympic-ro, Songpa-gu, Seoul
Enjoy Korean BBQ with Soju
It’s not Seoul life without grilling meat, isn’t it?
Unless you’re a vegetarian, I highly recommend not skipping this one. Head into a BBQ restaurant with your group of friends and have a hearty BBQ meal with some soju shots for a night.
And because BBQ restaurants are where the locals go to have fun with friends, nobody will be trying to keep their voices down. You can go to town as well without having to feel guilty 😉
Recommended BBQ Restaurants
- Choseon Hwaro Gui
- Address: 5, World Cup buk-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul
- Man Jung
- Address: 124-2, Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Maple Tree House
- Address: 130, Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Eat Your Worries Away at Gwangjang Market
Gwangjang Market is literally heaven for foodies. If you want to try the most traditional, authentic dishes that feel as if a Korean mom made them for you, this is the place.
Kimbab, Ddeokbokki, Knife-cut noodles, Korean dumplings, Korean pancakes, BBQ, Side dishes… you name it. This place has it all.
If you’re a fan of Netflix’s Street Food: Asia, don’t forget to pay a visit to Gohyang Knife-Cut Noodles stall from Episode 8.
Take subway line 1 to Jongno 5-ga station, Exit 7
Address: 88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Gohyang Knife-cut Noodles: 37.5700507, 127.0010784
Spend a Few Hours Reading at Starfield Library
My fellow book lovers… If you’ve ever dreamed of having floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in your library, I wouldn’t skip this one. Because Starfield Library is that library.
Unfortunately, because there are a limited amount of English books here, it’s a good idea to bring something you’re reading with you. But I promise the ambiance is worth it. Plus, there’s a super cute coffee shop inside!
Take subway line 9 to Bongeunsa Station, or line 2 to Samseong Station. Once inside the mall, follow the overhead signs for Starfield Library.
Address: COEX Mall – 513 Yeongdong-daero, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Visit the Joseon Royal Tombs
Why would you want to visit some tombs, you ask? Well… these particular ones are so culturally significant, they’ve been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The place itself is a quiet, shaded park in the middle of the bustling Gangnam District. That factor alone is quite nice. But there are also information plates and a mini museum along the trails and significant locations as you explore the historical tombs. This one is a must for history lovers, in my opinion.
Take subway line 2 (green) or the yellow line to Seolleung Station. Use Exit 1 or 10 and continue on Teheran-ro, turn left onto Teheran-ro 69-gil, the entrance will be right ahead at the T-intersection.
Entrance Address: 1, Seolleung-ro 100-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Have Fried Chicken and Beer
While this option sounds insanely western compared to the other ones… I’ve put it further down the list exactly because tourists wouldn’t consider it.
But having fried chicken and beer is one of the most local-like things you can do for a meal here.
Watch the Rainbow Water Show at Banpo Bridge
When in an aesthetics-heavy city, watch more beautiful things. That is my motto. And so… I will recommend yet another beautiful sight for you to enjoy.
Set aside time for a night picnic in Banpo Hangang Park and watch the side of Banpo Bridge light up in technicolor every half an hour. The first show starts at 7:30 PM, and the last show at around 9:30 PM. Each show lasts 20 minutes.
It is much more impressive in person than it sounds!
Take subway line 3 (orange) or line 9 (gold) to Express Bus Terminal Station. Use exit 8-1 and continue on Sinbanpo-ro until you see a bridge overhead in front of you. Turn right onto that street and head north towards the river.
Once the bridge starts to elevate closer to the river, you will see a pedestrian crosswalk that leads from the sidewalk to the aisle in the middle. Cross here, and the aisle should lead you under the bridge. Once you reach the river, the park should be in front of you to the left of the bridge.
Hangang Park Address: 40, Sinbanpo-ro 11-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul
If you’re interested in other night activities around Seoul, check them out HERE.
Spend a Day in a Jjimjilbang
For the ultimate local experience, spend half a day or an entire day relaxing inside the Korean bathhouse, or Jjimjilbang! Since you will have to strip EVERYTHING while inside the bathroom (of course, the bathroom and lockers will be gender-segregated in an all-gender place), this might not be for everyone. But I promise that if you have the courage to do it, the Jjimjilbang charms will grow on you. The warm, relaxing jacuzzi pools and variety of health-friendly saunas are to die for.
Unfortunately, the all-gender Jjimjilbangs in Seoul seem to have closed down after Covid as of March 2023. The only one still standing that I know of is Spa Lei, an all-women Jjimjilbang, and my favorite one.
- Take subway line 3 to Sinsa station. Use Exit 5 to head north on Gangnam-daero for a few minutes. Turn left onto Gangnam-daero 107-gil, you will see the Spa Lei building on your left.
- Address: 5, Gangnam-daero 107-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul
I’ve been monitoring the all-gender options as well. I’ll make sure to update this section if anything changes!
And there you have it! I hope this helps you plan your first (or fifth… or twelfth!) epic trip to Seoul. I recommend checking out my guide on where to stay in the city as well. But if you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email via the “Contact” button on my page, or DM me on Instagram at @polyglotpetra!