40 Things to Do in Seoul, Korea

May 26, 2015
Since I spent three years living in Seoul, Korea, I thought it might be fun to compile a list of things to do there!  I did get a chance to do every single thing on this list besides go and hike up Bukhansan, which I hope to do one day if I ever make it back to Seoul. Oh, and I didn't take an art course at Jankura, but that's because it hadn't been started yet.  My friends and I did model for some of the artists there and got to see how others interpreted us!

1) Visit a palace. Seoul has a bunch of grand palaces to choose from, and I would highly recommend visiting one.  I've visited Gyeongbokgung Palace several times and also witnessed the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Deoksugung Palace.

2) Go to a market.  This is a must-do!  Dongdaemun Market was my personal favorite, but that's because I would go crazy buying clothes and accessories.  Namdaemun Market is better if you're looking for a wider variety of goods.  I found a gorgeous, traditional quilt there that I gave to my friend as a wedding present.  Be ready to haggle to get a few thousand won off the initial price!

3) Try Korean BBQ.  I'm not even a big meat-eater, but boy do I miss Korean barbecue! Korean BBQ consists thinly cut slices of beef or pork that can be marinated.  Many Koreans insist that bulgogi (rib-eye) is very popular with foreigners, but galbi (short ribs) seemed to be what my friends and I would go for out for more often, as there were plenty of inexpensive galbi restaurants very close to where we lived.  At restaurants, each table usually has its own grill and the raw meat is cooked right in front of you.  The best way to eat galbi is to place some meat in the lettuce that will be brought to you, then add in some garlic and a dollop of ssamjang sauce.  Wrap it all up and eat the whole thing at once and enjoy a low-carb taste explosion.  You can also add rice or kimchi into your lettuce wrap, but I liked to have those separately.  To each his own!

4) Stroll up and down Insa-Dong.  Go for a nice cup of tea at a traditional tea house such as The Flying Bird Tea Shop or shop for souvenirs like lacquered boxes, paper crafts, calligraphy materials, or celadon pottery.

5) Visit a temple.  If you can, I suggest going to one during Buddha's birthday, which is celebrated sometime in late April or May.  The date changes each year since it is based off of the Chinese lunar calendar. If you go during the time of Buddha's birthday, many temples are decorated with hundreds of colored lanterns, making it a fabulous sight.  If you're in Insa-Dong already, Jogyesa Temple is right there!

6) Sing at a noraebang. A noraebang is a karaoke room that you can rent with your friends at a reasonable rate.  I enjoyed going to these a few times because I would never want to get up and do karaoke alone at a bar full of people, but a noraebang is private, so I never felt too much pressure. The ones I went to had microphones, decent selections of English songs, and some even had musical instruments.  These are all over Seoul, but a pretty famous one is Luxury Noraebang in Hongdae.

7) See a traditional Korean performance.  I went to MISO at Chongdong Theater twice, and it was amazing!  In addition to the fan dance, you get to see the percussion quartet perform and also hear the Korean harp.

8) Shop for electronics at Yongsan Electronic Market.  There is a HUGE selection here!  I bought two cameras and an i-Pod at this particular market.

9) Go to an amusement park like Everland or Lotte World. I felt like it was practically a requirement to go to Everland since my students talked about it so frequently! The lines can get pretty long for rides, so go knowing that.

10) Walk along the Han River. There was a path about 10-15 minutes away from where I worked, but Hangang Park actually is located in 12 districts.  It was a nice place to unwind after work.  You might also be interested in taking a Han River Cruise.

11) Hike up Bukhansan.  There are different trails to choose from depending on your experience/what kind of hike you are looking for.  I've heard that there are plenty of gorges and rivers, but that it also offers good views of Seoul.

12) Check out Hongdae.  As Hongdae was just a short 15 minute bus ride away from where I lived, I headed here quite often.  Because it's right near Hongik University, there are lots of young college students in the area.  There's plenty to offer in terms of the nightlife.  One of my favorite bars was this weird, cave-like bar called OI, but if you're looking for clubs, Hongdae has those, too.  Hongdae is also worth visiting during the day.  There are coffee shops, places to shop, and great restaurants. Plus, it also has this cool free market every Saturday from March-November.

13) View cherry blossoms in the spring.  Cherry blossoms in Korea aren't as big of a deal as they are in Japan, but going to Yeouido Park to see them was a memorable experience!  If you're looking for another alternative besides Yeouido, have a look at this list of other locations.

14) COEX Mall- If shopping is your thing, then the COEX underground mall is for you!  If you don't like shopping, the mall also has a kimchi museum, movie theater, and aquarium.

15) Stop for a drink at a quirky bar.  I spent my 27th birthday at Sub-Zero Ice Bar, and although it's now closed, there are plenty of other fun bars to visit!  Another favorite of mine was the Bungalow Tropical Lounge.  Another cool thing to watch was a bar show--the bartenders juggled bottles of booze and did tricks with fire.

16) Book a tour through Adventure Korea.  This is a Seoul-based company that I have gone on many tours with.  They offer adventures both in and out of Seoul.  If you're staying in Seoul, I would recommend booking a Demilitarized Zone tour with them, as it can be an interesting day trip.

17) Pick up some souvenirs.  Some suggestions as to what to buy would be beauty products, items made from Hanji (traditional paper), varnished boxes, calligraphy brushes, stationery, tea, hanboks (traditional Korean dress), fans, pottery, etc.

18) Walk around Gangnam and Apgujeong.  Gangnam has become quite famous around the world due to the song "Gangnam Style."  It's true that a lot of rich people live here and things can be pricier than in other parts of Seoul, but there are still affordable places to shop and dine as well.  If you're looking for some high-end shopping, Apgujeong has Rodeo Street, named after Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

19) Admire the Hanoks in Samcheong-dong.  Hanoks are traditional Korean houses.  I didn't even do this until my third year in Seoul, but it quickly became a favorite spot of mine. Besides the hanoks, Samcheong-dong is full of cafes, galleries, and shops.

20) Try an all vegetarian meal at Sanchon.  The restaurant is owned by a former monk and the food is completely vegan.  I went way back in 2004, and was blown away by the atmosphere and by number of dishes I got to try!  (There is a set menu, just as a heads up!) Fresh veggies from the mountains are used to create the dishes.

21) Go to Namsangol Village, which consists of restored houses from the Joseon Dynasty. The workers there are dressed in traditional outfits and put on performances.  There are wedding reenactments, taekwondo classes for foreigners, and plenty of old-fashioned games to try.

22) Enjoy one of Seoul's many parks.  There are hundreds of parks in Seoul, but some of the big ones are: Yeouido, World Cup Park, Olympic Park, and Seoul Forest.  Where I lived, there was a lot of pollution and not many trees, so to get out to a green area for a day was a real treat!

23) Chill by Cheonggyecheon Stream.  This stream was actually reconstructed in the early 2000's as a part of an urban renewal project.

24) Stop by Myeong-dong.  This has got to be one of the most famous places in Seoul.  It's always crowded and its neon lights at night are iconic.  There are a lot of name-brand stores here as well as tons of restaurants.

25) Seoul Tower- Go up the tower to visit an observatory for panoramic views of Seoul.

26) Stay out all night and experience some of Seoul's nightlife.  Seoul is a great city for night owls!

27) Relax at a jimjilbang.  A jimjilbang is a Korean spa or bathhouse, and they are all over the place.  Most of them are inexpensive and there are hot tubs, baths, saunas, and Korean massages available.  Just a warning, my Korean massage was kind of painful at times, but my skin was nicely exfoliated and never felt so soft. Also, I've heard of people going to a jimjilbangs instead of getting a hotel, as they are cheaper and some jimjilbangs have places to sleep.

28) Learn about Korean history at the National Folk Museum of Korea.  Here you'll learn all about ancient times in Korea and can view many artifacts from long ago.

29) Visit a dog or cat cafe.  After about a half of a year of living in Seoul, my good friend was really missing her dog back home in Canada.  She suggested going to a puppy cafe to cheer her up.  Both of us went and it was such a fun time!  Okay, it didn't smell the greatest, but I suggest it if you're an animal lover.

30) Learn about Korean military history at the War Memorial.

31) Swim at Hamilton Hotel's rooftop pool. This is a great place to cool off on one of Korea's sticky summer days.

32) See Nanta, one of the most famous shows in Korea.  It has been compared to Stomp but with cooking!  There's no talking in it, so don't worry about not understanding anything.  Just sit back and enjoy!

33) Catch a flick at a DVD Bang. It's a private room where you can watch a DVD on a big screen.  Okay, it's rumored that this is where many Koreans go to "hook up," but my friends and I would go every Sunday night as a way to relax and unwind before the next week of school started up again. Every DVD Bang I've been to has a large selection of original version American movies.  I've also watched Korean movies in these rooms and have just asked to have the subtitles turned on.  Some of my favorite Korean movies are: Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall...and Spring, My Sassy Girl, and Old Boy.

34) Try a cold bowl of patbingsu.  Korea is not known for its delicious desserts, but one Korean dessert that I did LOVE was patbingsu.  It is shaved ice, milk, fruit, and sweet red beans. Some versions of patbigsu are also served with ice cream.  If you're looking for a good place to get patbingsu in Seoul, read this post.  I remember getting this dessert at local places and also at a chain called Ice Berry.

35) Learn about Korean patriots and witness a darker side of history at Seodaemun Prison History Hall.

36) Shop til you drop near Ehwa Women's University.  This spot is also known as Edae. There are bargains to be had.

37) Try some delicious street food!  I've eaten Korean street food a countless number of times, but some of my favorite items to try are: tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), mandu (dumplings), hotteok (pancakes filled with cinnamon and sugar), and bungeoppang (fish shaped cakes filled with red bean paste.) There are also plenty of things that I never tried and never had any desire to try like beondegi (boiled silkworm pupae.)

38) Take a class at Jankura Artspace. This artist share studio is owned and operated by my friend Mike.  There are lots of drawing classes as well as printmaking and photography workshops.  The classes are taught in English, so it's a great place to meet other expats as well as English-speaking Koreans (potential friends!) Obviously, this would be more ideal for someone who was on an extended stay in Seoul.

39) Watch a B-Boy show in Hongdae. The one that I saw was called Ballerina Who Loved a B-Boy and it was incredible!  It's like a dance movie coming to life in front of your eyes. I'm not sure if the one I saw is still running, but there are other B-Boy shows in Hongdae that I'm sure would be awesome, too.

40) Go to Itaewon.  Like many of the expat teachers living in Korea, I had a love/hate relationship with Itaewon. Some areas are sketchy and there are some creepy people there, but then then there are also normal people.  Because of the U.S. Army base nearby, there are many military members who hang out in the area.  Many English-speaking foreign teachers also visit Itaewon.  I visited Itaewon when I craved the comforts of home...Not going to lie, sometimes going to Gecko's for a Western-style breakfast was just what I needed. I also would frequent Itaewon to get international phone cards, to visit the Foreign Food Mart, to go to an English-speaking doctor or travel agent, or just eat a juicy burger. Sometimes it was fun going there, but too much was overkill for me.

Have you ever been to Seoul?  What am I missing from this list??
18 comments on "40 Things to Do in Seoul, Korea"
  1. Wow I've never been out the country but hope to get the opportunity soon, at least it's on my bucket list! What an awesome compilation of things to do in Korea! Thanks for sharing!

  2. What a great list! My dad was in the Army and in Korea for a year and we have always wanted to go back and visit. Pinning.

  3. I just wanted Shark Tank and a lady had an idea of having a cat cafe... To me.. it seems kind of gross unless it was outside. I pinned for all the travel people out there.

  4. Yeah, I did NOT want to order food there. You did have to order a drink to be able to play with the animals.

  5. Thanks for pinning it! I taught there from 2003-2004 and then again in 2006-2008, and the second time I went back I was so surprised at how much had changed in just a few years! I hope you guys can take a trip there soon.

  6. I went into Seoul not knowing too much about it, but was so surprised about all it had to offer! It kept me entertained, that's for sure!! Sometimes I miss the big city life. Best of luck on crossing an international trip off of your bucket list.

  7. What an amazing list! I've never been to any Asian countries but I love reading about the culture and landmarks!

  8. I've never been to Seoul, except for a layover, but I'm totally bookmarking this for future reference!! :D I need to write a post like this for Shanghai!

  9. I love Seoul! My daughter was born in Seoul and we lived in Dongducheon 2 hrs north of Seoul. It was such an amazing time and I would move back in a heart beat.

  10. Wow, what fun and eclectic things you can do there! I'd love to travel to Seoul and if I did, I'd take this guide and a good map along with me!

  11. Seoul is such a fun city--I loved it there!

  12. Seoul is really worth a longer visit. Maybe you could go on a long weekend from Shanghai. And, yes, you totally should tell us all about Shanghai! :)

  13. There was so much to do, and I miss that excitement sometimes!!

  14. The best part is that everything is pretty easy to get to, IMO! The subway system seemed daunting at first, but it's so easy to navigate and a cheap way to explore the city.

  15. This list is so stinkin' cool!!! I would definitely hit up a palace first, and then a Korean BBQ. I've heard such amazing things about them! What should I order there???


  16. Try bulgolgi first since that is what many Koreans seem to say is a hit with foreigners!! :)

  17. All my favorite things in Seoul! I've lived here for two years and you listed everything that I have thoroughly enjoyed doing. And you reminded me of a few things I want to hit up one more time before I leave!

  18. I hope that you are able to get everything in before you leave!