Seoul is a city of modern skyscrapers, pop culture and bustling markets brimming with independent shops. The number of things to do in Seoul are practically endless, and unique experiences await you on every corner. That’s why we thought instead of trying to tackle every attraction the city has to offer, we’d just cover some of the most amazing things we think there are to do in this fascinating city!
Let’s get started… Shall we!
The DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and JSA (Panmunjom) tour
The Korea Demilitarized Zone separating North Korea and South Korea is an extraordinary place, unlike anywhere else on earth.
The JSA tour is the most sought-after tour by travelers to South Korea’s DMZ, because it is the closest place to North Korean soil that anyone can step into, without getting arrested or shot. Needless to say, this experience takes you to the ‘front lines’ and you can see up close the tension between the two countries.
For more Info: Click to read more our ‘The DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)’ article
Visit one of the Five Grand Palaces
The following 5 structures are considered as exemplary works from the old Joseon period and each of these magnificent palaces is truly a sight to be seen. If you only can visit one palace, we suggest to visit Gyeongbokgung.
Gyeongbokgung is the first and largest of the royal palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty. Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace was located at the heart of the newly appointed capital Seoul (then known as Hanyang) and represented the sovereignty of the Joseon Dynasty. Entrance fee is KRW 3,000 and there is often a changing of guard ceremony outside the main entrance.
Inside you will find the throne of the Korean king, a meditation pond, and other buildings used by the royal court. You can also visit the National Folk Museum (in the rear) for free, where many Korean traditional costumes and the various kinds of kimchi are on display.
Nearby Tosokchon is a famous Korean restaurant serving samgyetang (chicken soup with a whole chicken, rice, ginseng, etc.), open from 10am to 10pm. There is usually a very long line during busy hours. If you don’t want to wait, try an alternative, Goryo Samgyetang near the Sejong Performing Arts Center.
In front of the Palace is Gwanghwamun Plaza, that is a public open space on Sejongno, Jongno-gu in Seoul. Here you can find the huge golden King Sejong Statue at the nearby Gwanghwamun Square. (King Sejong is best remembered as the inventor of ‘Hangeul’ or the Korean alphabet) and the Admiral Yi Sunshin statue.
Admission Fee: KRW 3,000
Operating Hours: Wednesday to Monday 09:00 – 17:00 (Closed on Tuesday)
Getting There: Take Subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station (Exit 5) OR Take Subway Line 3 to Anguk Station (Exit 1).
Changdeokgung this was the 2nd palace that was built after Gyeongbokgung and it has since been recognized as a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1997. It was the primary royal residence for over 200 years, and is the best preserved out of the five remaining Joseon palaces in Seoul. An interesting feature of this place is its ‘Secret Garden’; and there are only a limited number of admission slots per day that are given out.
Admission Fee: KRW 3,000
Operating Hours: Changdeokgung Palace & Huwon Course – Tuesday to Sunday 09:00 – 17:00 (Closed on Monday).
Getting there: Take Subway Line 3 to Anguk Station (Exit 3). Then walk straight from the exit (towards east) for about 5-min to the palace entrance.
Deoksugung this palace is famous for its picturesque stone walled road, and much like Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung has a Changing of the Royal Guards Ceremony and it is held at 11:00AM, 2:00PM, and 3:30PM daily, except on Monday.
Admission Fee: KRW 1,000
Operating Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 09:00 – 21:00 (Closed on Monday)
Getting There: Take Subway Line 1, 2 to City Hall Station (Exit 1, 2 or 3).
Changgyeonggung located in the heart of Seoul, has been used as a royal residence and as a secondary palace for queens and the king’s father. In 1392, at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, the capital of Korea was moved from Kaesong, in present day North Korea, to Seoul, known then as Hanyang. The first king of the Joseon Dynasty, Taejo, resided here while nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace was being built.
Admission Fee: KRW 1,000
Operating Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 09:00 – 17:00 (Closed on Monday)
Getting There: Take Subway Line 3 to Anguk Station (Exit 3) Walk straight from the exit (east) along Yulgok-ro for about 1 km then turn left (north) onto Changgyeonggung-ro and walk about 300m to find the palace entrance on the left.
Gyeonghuigung one of five grand palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty, served as a secondary royal villa for the king during daily excursions. It was also used as a place of shelter during times of emergency. For a time, Gyeonghuigung was of a considerable size but most of its major structures have long been disassembled and moved to other parts of Seoul.
Operating Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 09:00 – 17:00 (Closed on Monday)
Getting There: Take Subway Line 5 to Seodaemun Station (Exit 4) then walk straight from the exit (northeast) about 400m and the palace entrance will be on the left.
Integrated Ticket for Palaces
– Sites: Changdeokgung Palaces (including Huwon Secret Garden), Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Jongmyo Shrine
– Fee: KRW 10,000 (Note, refund not available after using the ticket the first time)
– Validity: Up to one month after purchase
Watch the changing royal guard ceremony
The royal guard under Joseon dynasty was responsible for protecting the capital and the royal palace. Because of this responsibility, they were also responsible for opening and closing the gate of the royal palace.
The royal guard worked in shifts that were divided into day shift and night shift. The re-enactment of the original ceremony began from 1996. The gate guardsmen serve their sentry, perform the changing of guards and hold a parade.
Garbed in traditional costumes of primary colors, the guards caught our interest, complemented by the weapons, accessories and strict ceremonial procedure providing a great opportunity to witness a rare traditional Korean scene in downtown Seoul.
Fortunately, we completed our tour with watching this ceremony. The scenes that I see in Korean movies, are now playing out in front of us.
Excluding Tuesdays, it is best to know the schedule of the performances at the Palace. There are three performances to watch out for:
- Sumunjang (Royal Guard) Changing Ceremony at 10:00, 14:00 and 20 minutes per ceremony
- Gwanghwamun Gate Guard-on Duty Performance at 11:00, 13:00 and 10 minutes per ceremony
- Sumungun (Gatekeeper) Military Training (outside Hyeopsaengmun Gate) at 9:30, 13:30 and 15 minutes per ceremony
Getting There: Take Subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Palace Station (Exit 5) OR Take Subway Line 5 to Gwanghwamun Station (Exit 2).
Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok is a Korean traditional village in Seoul with a long history located between Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung and Jongmyo Royal Shrine. Perfectly preserved and picturesque, this 600-year-old urban environment is made up of a ton of traditional wooden houses, and small alleys that offer a glimpse of the past.
The traditional hanok houses found here date all the way back to the Joseon Dynasty, and people actually live in them! This is one of our favorite photo spots in Seoul and a great place to experience the Korean village environment and see the old houses in Korea. While walking along the street, you’ll also find restaurants, art galleries, cafes and small courtyards.
Getting There: Take Seoul Subway Line 3 to Anguk Station (Exit 2)
Suwon Folk Village is located in the city of Suwon which is a one-hour train ride from Seoul. You can get a glimpse of the past here, as actors re-enact traditional Korean peasant life. This includes a traditional Korean wedding, folk dancing, and seesawing. It’s really an open-air museum where visitors can participate in daily tasks such as making rice cakes or handicrafts.
Admission Fees: KRW 18,000 per adult (One-day ticket: KRW 27,000 per adult)
(February – April) Weekdays 09:30 – 18:00 / Weekends 09:30 – 18:30
(May – September) Weekdays 09:30 – 18:30 / Weekends 09:30 – 19:00
(October) Weekdays 09:30 – 18:00 / Weekends 09:30 – 18:30
(November – January) Weekdays 09:30 – 17:30 / Weekends 09:30 – 18:00
Getting to the Korean Folk Village
From Suwon Station, (Exit 5) then take Bus #10-5 or 37 to Korean Folk Village or Nagok Village.
(Korean Folk Village ↔ Suwon Station)
Suwon Station → Korean Folk Village: 10:30, 12:30, 14:30
Korean Folk Village → Suwon Station: 14:00, 15:30, 16:30
Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built in the late 18th century. So, it’s a relatively new structure in Korea’s long history, but provides a good look at what Korean fortresses looked like prior to the modern era. King Jeongjo apparently built this fortress to prepare for a move of the capital from Seoul to Suwon.
Admission Fee: KRW 1,000 (Hwaseong Fortress)
Integrated ticket: KRW 3,500 (Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, Suwon Museum, Suwon Hwaseong Museum)
Note: Combination ticket is not available on the first Monday of every month due to the closing of museums.
09:00 – 18:00 (March – October)
09:00 – 17:00 (November – February)
Getting to Suwon from Seoul
The best way to get to Suwon is by train, and there are three types of trains that can take you there; slow, fast and fastest.
- Subway Metro Line #1 is the cheapest option and of course the slowest, takes about an hour.
- KORAIL train from Seoul Station to Suwon cost nearly double the price of Subway Line #1 but gets you to Suwon in half the time and you get a reserved seat.
- KTX trains are the fastest. It’ll zip you from Seoul Station to Suwon Station in 25 minutes, you get a reserved seat too.
Getting to Hwaseong Fortress from Suwon
From Suwon Station, exit the station and cross the street to get to the bus stop. It is a big open-air bus stop so you won’t miss it. Take bus # 5 or 7 and get off at Jangan Park stop, the ride takes about 10-15 minutes. You will see Hwaseong Fortress on your right.
Alternatively, take a bus to Paldamun Gate bus stop, which is located on the south end of Suwon Hwaseong Fortress.
Bus to Paldamun Gate from Suwon Station
- Get on intra-city bus numbers; 11, 13, 36 or 39
The bus stop is located literally outside of the tourist info center so you won’t miss it at all. The ride takes about 10-15 minutes to reach Paldamun Gate. The bus numbers are clearly marked on the bus’s digital display at the front and side of the bus.
To get back to Suwon station, cross the street and take any bus that stops at Suwon. Many buses will stop at Suwon Station because it’s a major station. You will see the route for each bus at the bus stop.
The National Museum of Korea
This is the sixth largest museum in the world. The museum is divided into three floors. On the first floor is the Archaeological Gallery, displaying 4,500 artifacts from the Paleolithic to the Unified Silla era, and the Historical Gallery, featuring the culture and history of the Joseon and other periods.
The second floor contains the Fine Arts Gallery One, containing about 900 pieces of traditional and religious art, and the Donation Gallery, which has 800 pieces of donated art from private collections.
The third floor holds the Fine Arts Gallery Two containing over 600 pieces of Buddhist sculpture and craft-work. The Asian Arts Gallery is also on the third floor with nearly 1,000 pieces from Japan, China, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere.
Operating Hours: 10:00 – 18:00
Getting There: Take subway line 4 and Gyeongui-Jungang line to Ichon Station (Exit 2) – The subway station is connected to the museum via an underpass called Bakmulgwan Nadeul-gil or Moving Museum.
The War Memorial of Korea
South Korea has been invaded about a gazillion times and this is the best place to learn about its troubled history, especially its relationships with its near neighbors.
The War Memorial of Korea, located in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, exhibits preserved materials related to the Korean War and serves as a national moral educational venue. It was established to commemorate the noble sacrifice of patriotic martyrs by the War Memorial Service Korea Society on June 10, 1994.
Though it calls itself a war memorial, this is really a huge military history museum, with tanks, planes and guns on display. What we enjoyed most was the outdoor section that showcases many tanks, planes, helicopters, and giant missiles. You can even climb in and check out a number of the vehicles. Given that the peninsula is still technically at war with North Korea, this place seems very relevant.
Operating Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 09:30 – 18:00 (Closed on Monday)
By Subway – Take Subway Line 6 to Samgakji Station (Exit 1, 11 or 12) OR Take Subway Line 1 to Namyeong Station (Exit 1).
By Bus – Take Bus 110A, 110B, 740, or 421 and get off at The War Memorial of Korea Bus Stop.
No list of the best things to do in Seoul is complete without the inclusion of Jongmyo Shrine. After all, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the world’s oldest and best-preserved Confucian royal shrines.
Built in the 14th century, this shrine has guided tours that let you learn more about the history, ancestral rites and kings of the Joseon Dynasty. While royalty once visited the shrine, today it is still used for cultural events. Several times a year, local groups perform rituals with songs & dancing.
Admission Fee: KRW 1,000
Operating Hours: Wednesday to Monday 09:00 – 17:30 (Closed on Tuesday)
Getting There: Take Subway Line 1, 3, 5 to Jongno3(sam)-ga Station (Exit 11)
Myeongdong this is Seoul’s busiest area teeming with tens of thousands of people at any given time. It is all about fashion and skin care in Myeongdong, Seoul’s most prominent shopping district. If it’s variety that you’re after, there’s no better place to shop than Myeongdong, where you’ll find everything from internationally-recognized name brands to unique items.
There are hundreds of shops here and you can find Korean cosmetics stores like The Face Shop, Missha, Laneige, Etude House, Skin Food, and Nature Republic as well as the Ralph Lauren-like Bean Pole. It is much cheaper to buy South Korean cosmetics over in Seoul, especially Myeongdong, not to mention that they give you more free samples after your purchase!
Myeongdong also houses a variety of family restaurants, fast food, plus Korean, Western and Japanese dining options. In addition, the B1 level food court at Lotte Department Store is not to be missed, with its delicious snacks (be sure to try some fresh Korean pastry).
Operating Hours: 10:00 – 22:00 everyday
Getting There: Take Subway Line 4 to Myeongdong Station Line 4 (Exit 5, 6, 7, or 8)
Located within walking distance of Myeongdong, Namdaemun Market is a traditional market that covers over 66,000 square meters, or 16 acres. You could visit every day for a month and still see something new that you missed the day before. You can find almost every type of fashion item, jewelry, clothing, bags, kitchenware, textiles, toys, stationery, carpets, hiking gear, flowers, electronics, and street foods.
The best way to enjoy this massive market is just to wander aimlessly and to get lost in the maze-like alleyways. This market is definitely worth a visit because the prices of the goods found here are very competitive.
Getting There: Take Seoul Subway Line 4 to Hoehyeon Station (Exit 5).
Hongdae is the epic center of Seoul’s vibrant and youthful, shopping and nightlife district. Many of Seoul’s idiosyncratic clubs, that draw the younger set, are clustered in the area.
With the prestigious Hongik University nearby, the area attracts bountiful students and visitors alike to shop, dine & club. There are plenty clothing stalls and vintage shops that can be found along the main passageway, Eo Ulmadang-gil.
Getting There: Take Subway Line 2 to Hongik University Station (Exit 9)
If you’re planning on buying traditional goods, head to Insa-dong! This is the place to come for artwork and antiques, and is a great place to enjoy the afternoon by combing store front windows and alleyways for all things authentically South Korean.
Stores in Insa-dong specialize in a wide variety of goods that can only be purchased or appreciated in South Korea; hanbok (traditional clothing), hanji (traditional paper), traditional teas, pottery, and folk crafts.
There are about 100 galleries in the area and you can see every example of traditional Korean fine art from paintings to sculptures. The teahouses and restaurants are the perfect complement to the galleries.
Getting There: Take Subway Line 3 to Anguk Station (Exit 6), walk straight about 100m and turn left.
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is one of the most important, recent public buildings in South Korea. Neo-futuristic in design, the space feels like a massive multimedia playground.
It offers a range of exhibition spaces, seminar rooms, event halls, library, education center; serving as a hub for design-related shows and conferences, exhibitions, and other events and gatherings.
On your visit to Seoul, be sure to check whether there is anything happening in DDP that suits your interests!
Operating Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 – 19:00 (Closed on Monday)
Getting There: Take subway line 2, 4 and 5 to Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (Exit 1).
Itaewon Street is the most exotic place in Seoul to spend a day of shopping, dining, and hanging out. It is a culturally diverse district in Seoul, where you can find a variety of shops and restaurants hailing from different countries all over the world.
It is a popular tourist spot where you can find delicious international foods, a tidy sprawl of shops, and vibrant nightlife. Seoul even designated Itaewon as its first ‘Special Tourism District,’ to highlight it as a destination for internationals to enjoy a diversity of culture, shopping, and entertainment experiences.
Operating Hours: Daily 9:00 – 21:00 (varies by shop)
Getting There: Take Subway Line 6 to Itaewon Station
Namsangol Hanok Village
This small historical village is located in the heart of Seoul near Myeongdong with a backdrop of Namsan Tower. This village has a traditional garden with a pavilion and a pond, that was totally frozen when we last visited.
Namsangol Hanok village was built to feature 5 traditional houses of different social classes from the Joseon era, all relocated to this spot from different locations in Korea, in order for guests to understand the daily life of the people, from royalty to commoners.
You cannot go into the houses but you can take a look inside. There are pieces of furniture and many household goods according to the old times in the area. This is a great, free way to spend any extra time you have while visiting Seoul.
Getting There: Take Subway Line 3, 4 to Chungmuro Station (Exit 3 or 4) then walk along the road between oh!zemidong (Chungmuro Media Center) and Maeil Business Newspaper Building (150m)
N Seoul Tower
Central Seoul revolves around the N Seoul Tower that sits at the top of the Namsan mountain. It is a communications tower that is open as an observation and entertainment tower.
Standing at 480m above sea level, this towering observation deck, that looks a little like it’s launching into the sky from its spot atop Namsan Mountain, provides an unbeatable panorama of the city.
Going to the top offers the opportunity to get one of the best overall views of the city of Seoul, somewhat like the Tokyo Skytree. Many people who go to the N Seoul Tower take a cable car up the to the peak of the mountain and then pay to go up to the top of the tower. It has also become famous to go to the tower, and lock a padlock onto the fence as a symbol of love – one of the most romantic things to do in Seoul!
Admission Fee: KRW 9,000
Operating Hours: 10:00 – 22:30
Getting There: Walk from Myeongdong Station (more info here)
Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
Leeum is home to a significant collection of traditional Korean art, as well as modern and contemporary works from local and international artists. The art is divided between three structures designed by architectural luminaries Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel, and Rem Koolhaas.
There’s something for art lovers of all tastes, whether your interest lies with Korean national treasures or contemporary painters. Don’t forget to visit the sculpture garden.
Admission Fee: KRW 10,000
Operating Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10:30 – 18:00 (Closed on Monday, New Year’s Day, Seollal, Chuseok)
Getting There: Take Subway Line 6 to Hangangjin Station (Exit 1) Walk straight for 100m in the direction of Itaewon then go into the first alley to the right, which will be signposted for the museum and walk up the hill for about 5 minutes.
Hope you enjoyed these suggestions for things to do in Seoul.
If you are looking for a great place to stay in Seoul, we suggest that you read our article ‘Where to Stay in Seoul’
Note: The information provided in this post was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service.