15 Things To Do In Seoul On Your First Visit - With Photos
There are many things to be seen and done in South Korea’s capital city Seoul - city of Royal Palaces, temples, street food, Instagrammable coffee shops, late night shopping and K-Pop Idols, Mecca of skin care products, and plastic surgery capital of the world.
You can read my blog post about 14 things you should know before visiting Korea here.
If you are planning your very first trip to Seoul you can quickly become overwhelmed by everything that city has to offer. Just to give you an idea, I spent 12 days in Seoul and I feel I have barely scratched the surface.
I have put together a list of 15 things you should put on your To Do list when visiting Seoul to help you plan your itinerary. You should be able to squeeze in at least a few of them no matter how long your stay in the capital of South Korea is.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and I am not receiving any compensation for writing this. Any links included in this post are not affiliate links and I'm only including them for reader's convenience. I am simply writing this because I want to share my experience with you.
1. Rent Hanbok And Visit Royal Palaces
Rent traditional Korean outfit and spend a day exploring The Grand Palaces of Seoul and Bukchon Hanok Village. What better way to experience historical sites than by wearing the outfits that go with the historical surroundings! A must visit for architecture, history and culture lovers.
How to rent hanbok and how to get free entry to the palaces.
2. Korean Barbecue
Have you even been to Korea if you didn’t have Korean BBQ?
It is very common for people to gather around BBQ, eat meat and drink Soju after work. Koreans have very long working hours and these restaurants only really come alive in the late evening hours.
So if you want to get a taste of local life - find a restaurant (this is not going to be hard as they are literally on every street corner) and let Ajumma serve you some marinated meat. P.S. As soon as you are seated down you will be served with side dishes. If there’s one thing that can be said about Korean BBQs is that you will not leave them hungry.
3. Late Night Shopping In Myeongdong
Myeongdong is one of the main and best shopping districts in Seoul. You can find everything here. And by everything I literally mean everything - designer brands, skin care and beauty shops, fake Supreme, street food, BBQ shops and much more.
Nothing really opens before 11 AM except for tourist attractions. As Koreans tend to work long into the evening, shopping streets and shops tend to stay open well into the early morning hours.
Shop for souvenirs, cosmetics and skin care in Myeongdong where you can find great bargains in comparison to what the products are being sold for overseas up to 2 in the morning!
4. Cafe Hopping - Themed Cafes
In a city with most cafes per capita and where new coffee shops open faster than I can type, cafe hopping is a must! You don’t like coffee? Don’t worry, in Seoul concepts of the coffee shops are the main attraction. Concepts even come before the location!
From 7 storey ! Harry Potter Cafe, meerkat cafe, cafe inside a vending machine, to 2D black and white cafe - Seoul has it all!
Check out 10 themed cafes you should visit in Seoul by clicking here.
5. Traditional Tea House
Korea is a tea-drinking country with rich ceremonial tea culture. You can get your tea served hot or cold so it is perfect for every season.
Make sure to visit this secret traditional tea house called Moon Bird Only Does Think Of Only The Moon hosted inside a hanok (traditional Korean House) in the heart of Insadong.
6. Street Food and Soju
Trying street food in Seoul is a must! Similar to Korean BBQ places, food stalls can be found everywhere!
Tteokbokk (rice cakes aka my one true love), eomuk & odeng (fish cakes), gimbap (rice and vegetable roll that looks a bit like sushi) hod-dogs, swirly potatoes, fried octopus, hotteok, 30 cm long ice cream, poop shaped and read bean paste filled pancakes, are just some of my recommendations.
Tip: Myeongdong is street food lovers’ and foodies’ paradise. You can combine your late night shopping with some street food sampling - it makes for a perfect night out in Seoul.
As we have already established, Koreans love their BBQ and the love it best whilst sipping on alcoholic drinks! Soju is the most popular alcoholic drink in Korea and you can get it in different flavours. I’m not going to lie - the original one tastes like nail polish varnish. But I love flavoured ones! My two favourites are green grape and blueberry flavours!
A bottle of Soju will cost you around 1 200 KRW (£0.80/ 1USD) in convenience store like 7/11 or GS that can, similar to Korean BBQ places and street food, be found on every street corner. I would advise that you stock up on the Soju if you like the taste as the bottle of Soju in Korean restaurant in London can cost you ridiculous £15! The cheapest price I have found so far in London was about £4 for a bottle. You do the math...
7. Street Performances in Hongdae
Hongdae is a district in Seoul that is due to the Hongik University (one of the nation's top fine arts colleges in South Korea) being located there heavily frequented by students and creative youth. Besides many shops, street food stalls and cheap restaurants (student district), it is best known for its lively nightlife with many nightclubs and late night street performances.
Head to the one of Hongdae’s main shopping streets to observe dance and singing performances. The performances are so popular that sometimes the roads are completely blocked for the traffic from all the people that come to watch the people perform.
Beware, this is not your classic street performance. In a country where Idols have god-like status and scouts are roaming the streets to discover the next big thing, only the best will do. Don’t be surprised to see posters, dance and filming crews accompanying the performers. If you look some of them up on SNS (social media or as Koreans call it Social Network Service), don’t be surprised if you see some of them already having a massive following online!
If you take your time and observe the “behind the scenes” happenings, you will often see street performers accepting gifts from fans.
I would say this was one of my personal favourites and I definitely recommend putting this on top of your list if you like any of the following: street performances, people watching, Kpop, or / and experiencing the local life.
8. Visit Noraebang or Private Korean-Style Karaoke Rooms
Same as with BBQ and Soju, Koreans seem to love karaoke if the number of karaoke places are any indicator. Similar to all aforementioned, karaoke rooms can be found just about everywhere.
How To Rent Noraebang Karaoke Room In Seoul:
Head to a lively district like Hongdae and look out for a brightly lit neon sign “노래방” [Noraebang].
Ask if they have English songs on the playlist. They are usually located at the end of the catalogue.
Pay for the number of hours you want to rent the room for. Prices for karaoke rooms start at around 6 000 KRW per hour. You can extend your stay and sometimes they even give you free extra time, especially if it’s closer to the closing time of Noraebang.
Enter the assigned room, take off your shoes, and let the fun begin.
Have a look at the catalogue and use a device that kind of looks like a launchpad or a big remote control to punch in the number of the song of your choosing.
Don’t be afraid to try singing your favourite kpop song.
Have some Soju and a lot of fun!
9. Admire the architecture
Besides plenty of traditional architecture, there are many modern buildings worth a visit.
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is located in Jung-gu and was designed by Zaha Hadid (who also helped to design one of my all time favourite cities - Innsbruck). DDP is a must visit with its beautiful outside curves and famous indoors spiral stairs.
Starfield Library located in COEX Mall in Gangnam is probably one of the most Instagram famous libraries. Try not to visit it on the weekend as it is absolutely packed. (The fact that it is located inside of convention / shopping centre has probably something to do with it as well.)
Lotte World Tower located next to the Olympic Park is currently the tallest building in South Korea and 5th tallest building in the world. Take the fastest elevator in the world to Seoul Sky which has the highest glass floor observatory in the world!
If you are lucky and you are visiting Korea in spring, make sure to check out the cherry blossom festival that is happening right next to Lotte World Tower - Seokchon Lake Park.
Seoul Olympic Park (Olpark) is located south of Han river and east of Gangnam. The park was built to host 1988 Summer Olympics and is a perfect place to explore on a sunny day.
You can find over 200 pieces of art and sculptures here. One of the most famous pieces being World Peace Gates that also guard the eternal flame.
10. Ihwa Mural Village
One of my favourite places in Seoul was without a doubt Ihwa Mural Village. This is one of the most colourful parts of Seoul due to the bright murals and street art decorating the buildings.
To check out some of my favourite pieces and to educate yourself on how respectfully visit this very much residential area, read my full blog post here.
11. Meet the Idols
Kpop and Kdramas had a massive impact on exposing Korea and Korean culture to the world.
Meet your favourite Kpop idols at Star Avenue
Eat at Idol owned restaurant
Click here to read about my visit to Kim Sokjin’s (BTS) Japanese style restaurant.
Visit sets of Kramas or SM Town, and purchase all the merch! Believe me, it is waaaaay cheaper than buying it overseas. You can find my guide to buying BTS and BT21 merchandise in Seoul here.
12. Visit A Museum
There are many museums you can visit in Seoul. We have visited Daelim Museum (located right next to Gyeongbokgung Palace) and they had Coco Capitan exhibition going on at the time.
13. Samsung D’Light
Samsung D’light is located in Samsung Electronics building right next to Gangnam station. Iit is free to visit and it offers unique opportunity to experience Samsung’s newest technology and see how it will / can affect the future.
Start with personality test, experience virtual reality (VR) roller coaster ride and see how in the future your house will park your car and lock your doors and windows, how your mirror will pick out your outfit and also analyse your skin and physique to let you know which skin care products and vitamins you need to take. Basically, step into a Black Mirror episode.
14. Explore Gangnam
Gangnam is the most prestigious district of Seoul with sleek skyscrapers, prestigious nightclubs, designer shops and high end restaurants.
There is plenty to do in Gangnam, no matter the budget you travel on. Explore shopping streets, visit handbag museum,
famous floral Arriate Cafe,
or walk down the K-Star road. More than half of Korean entertainment companies are based in Gangnam thus it is fair to say Gangnam is where most of the Kpop stars were born. Everyone who’s anyone in Kpop has a GangnamDol (Gangnam + Idol) there. GangnamDol is a human-scale bear sculpture with the symbolic images of the famous K-pop Idols printed on it. Think of It as Korean version of Hollywood walk of fame but instead of the stars on the pavement you have giant teddy bears.
15. Visit Lantern Festival or Cherry Blossoms Festival
Depending on the season, there are many festivals going on in Seoul. In November, Seoul Lantern Festival along the Cheonggyecheon Stream is a must visit.
In spring, there are many cherry blossoms festivals going on, one of the most famous being hosted around Seokchon Lake Park.
Visit Korea Tourism Website for latest updates and information on running and upcoming festivals!
Let me know which of the 15 suggestions is your favourite and follow me on Instagram for my latest travel adventures!