Gyeongbokgung Palace (man with drum)

10 Unmissable Things to do in Seoul

Seoul is an amazing city. It is full of life and energy that is hard to find anywhere else in the world. There are countless things to do in Seoul, and it can be difficult to figure out what attractions you should visit and which ones you can miss.

The 10 Seoul attractions on this list are things you cannot miss out on when you’re in Seoul.

These are the things to do in Seoul that everybody should visit. They embody the culture, history, and energy of the city.

1. Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace is the most popular tourist attraction in Seoul.

It is the main palace from the Joseon dynasty and is the largest of the Five Grand Palace in Seoul.

If you only have time to visit one of the palaces in Seoul, it has to be Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Construction on the palace was finished in 1395, and it had 7,700 rooms! Gyeongbokgung Palace has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times throughout its history.

The most recent destruction happened in the 20th Century during Japan’s occupation of Korea. Nearly every single building was destroyed.

In 1989, the South Korean government committed to a 40-year rebuilding plan, and reconstruction on the palace began. Hundreds of buildings have been completely restored since then, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Gyeongbokgung Palace is open Wednesday through Monday from 9am to 6pm.

It is closed on Tuesdays.

Admission for adults costs 3,000 won (approximately $3USD).

Changing of the guards ceremony
Changing of the guards ceremony

One of the most spectacular things to do at Gyeongbokgung Palace is watch the changing of the guards ceremony.

The ceremony takes place at 10am and 3pm every day the palace is open. It lasts about 10 minutes and is well worth planning your visit around.

The ceremony is conducted in the exact same was as it was during the Joseon dynasty and has both English and Korean narration, so you can follow the significance of each part of the ceremony.

It takes about 90 minutes to tour Gyeongbokgung Palace on your own. There are free guided tours run throughout the day.

If you happen to be visiting when there is a tour, it is well worth participating in it. Your guide shares a ton of information about the history of the palace you wouldn’t learn about just by reading the descriptions on each building and artifact.

Gyeongbokgung Palace (man with drum)

2. National Museum of Korea

The National Museum of Korea is the most extensive and well known museum in Korea. It holds more than 12,000 artifacts spanning ancient and modern Korean history.

It is the place to go if you want to learn about the country you’re visiting while in Seoul.

There are 6 permanent exhibits at the museum. They include:

  • Medieval and Early Modern History
  • Pre-Historic and Ancient History
  • Calligraphy and Painting
  • Sculpture and Crafts
  • World Art Gallery
  • Donated Works (works donated to the museum by individuals)

There are also 3 to 4 rotating exhibits on display at any given time. The rotating exhibits vary vastly, and there could be anything from local or foreign art to science displays on when you’re visiting.

You can visit the National Museum of Korea website to learn what rotating exhibits are scheduled during your visit.

Admission to the museum is completely free, so it is one of the best things to do in Seoul if you’re on a tight budget.

It is also one of the best places in Seoul to access reliable public wifi.

The museum is open 10am to 6pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday and 10am to 9pm on Wednesday and Saturday.

The National Museum of Korea is located a few blocks away from Han River Park. There are a lot of street food vendors in the park.

Grab some food and have a picnic in the park after you visit the museum. It makes for a beautiful and relaxing afternoon. You can even take a river boat cruise along the Han River if you want!

3. N Seoul Tower

N Seoul Tower is one of the most iconic features of the Seoul skyline. It stands on Mount Namsan and is the second highest point in all of Seoul.

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You can admire the tower from afar, or you can make your way up Mount Namsan and see the tower up close.

You can go up the tower to an observatory deck, but the view isn’t that much better than the view from the base of the tower. There are other things to do in Seoul that are worth saving your money for.

If you do want to go up the tower, it costs 11,000 won (approximately $10 USD).

The evenings when the city is lit up in lights is the best time to visit N Seoul Tower. It is an absolutely gorgeous view and way better than the view you get during the day.

It takes a little over an hour to hike from Myeong-dong to the base of N Seoul Tower. The walk has a few hundred steps you have to walk up, but it isn’t very steep.

You can also take a bus or the cable car up the mountain if you don’t want to walk.

There is a coloured strip around the middle of the N Seoul Tower observation deck. The LED lights are used to display the air quality, so people is Seoul know how good or bad the air is just by looking at the tower.

Green means the air quality is good, yellow means the air quality isn’t great and people with breathing issues should take precautions, and red means the air quality is really bad.

It is a pretty cool feature of the tower and a fun fact you can impress your friends with!

4. Bukhansan National Park

bukhansan mountain seoul south korea

Hiking Bukshansan Mountain is the most popular day trip from Seoul and over 5 million people hike the mountain each year! It even holds the world record for the national park with the most visitors per square meter.

To say it is one of the most popular things to do in Seoul is an understatement!

There are three peaks on Bukshansan Mountain, so there is a hike that suits every skill level. The last part of the hike to the top peak is a bit steep and strenuous. Make sure you take your time and go at your own pace.

The hike to the top peak takes about 4.5 hours, so you should plan to spend the majority of the day at Bukshansan National Park.

The earlier you arrive at the hike the better. It is a very popular hiking trail for both tourists and locals, so it is always busy.

No matter how early you arrive, you’ll never have the trail to yourself. It is, however, a much more enjoyable hike when you get there first thing in the morning when there are fewer people.

Hiking Bukhansan Mountain is possible all year ’round. Each season has its pros and cons, but spring is the most beautiful. The trees are blooming, and there are plenty of pink cherry blossoms to stop and look at.

One word of warning though. Hiking in Korea is a bit different than hiking in North America and Europe.

You walk up a lot of stairs.

There seem to be more stairs than hiking trails to walk on. The stairs are manageable, but it helps to know you’ll be walking up a lot of stairs before you start the hike.

But the view from the top of Bukhansan Mountain is worth the effort!

5. Insadong

If you’re looking to do some souvenir shopping Seoul, Insadong is the place to go!

It is a shopping district a few blocks from Gyeongbokgung Palace. It is filled with small shops that sell every souvenir you could ever want and some you probably didn’t know you wanted.

There are a few shops that sell artwork and traditional pieces, so it isn’t all generic souvenirs. You have to hunt to find the locally-made souvenirs, but it is well worth the effort.

Most tourists only explore the main road in Insadong, but there is so much more to see! There are a number of side streets that exit off the main road, and that is where you’ll find the hidden gems.

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The side streets are also where you’ll find some of the best restaurants in Seoul. Insadong is home to some of the best restaurants in the city, but it is often overlooked by tourists. Most people think it is just a shopping street and go to another neighbourhood for food.

That is a big mistake! You don’t want to miss out and not have a meal in Insadong.

If you’re not interested in a full meal, be sure to stop at a cafe to do some people watching. There are dozens of cafes along the main street (mainly on the second or third floors), and it is so much fun to grab a drink and people watch.

Korea has a great coffee culture, so it is always nice to have an excuse to stop for a warm drink and a snack.

6. Namdaemun Gate

Namdaemun Gate (aka Sungnyemun Gate) is one of 8 ancient gates that surrounded Seoul during the Joseon dynasty.

It is the first national treasure of Korea and is an important part of Korean history.

The gate was first built in 1389 but had to be rebuilt in 1447. It stood untouched until 2008 when an arsonist burnt the top wooden pagoda.

Reconstruction immediately began, and it was reopened to the public in May of 2013.

You can walk through Namdaemun Gate just like ancient Koreans did during the Joseon dynasty. You’re truly walking through history!

Namdaemun is one of the most beautiful parts of Seoul. You experience how ancient Seoul molds with modern Seoul.

The gate is surrounded by modern skyscrapers, and the juxtaposition between new and old is beautiful.

After visiting the gate, you can stop by Namdaemun Market. It is right next door and is a traditional Korean market. The market is popular with tourists, but it is still very much a market that locals rely on to get their daily supplies.

You can find nearly everything and anything at Namdaemun Market.

It has multiple different alleys, and they all carry one specific item. There is a food alley, ladies’ clothing alley, camera alley, military supply alley, and on and on and on.

You can find pretty much anything you can think of at Namdaemun Market.

It is hectic, but it is one of the most local things to do in Seoul. You leave with a better understanding of what everyday life is like for the people of Seoul.

7. Myeong-dong

Myeong-dong is the heart of shopping, skincare, and street food in Seoul. It is the busiest and most crowded place in all of Seoul and should not be missed when you’re visiting the city.

You can’t help but get swept up in the excitement and energy of Myeong-dong.

Every store is blaring music, employees are yelling at you trying to get you in their store, and you’re shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other people walking up and down narrow streets.

It is an unbeatable experience and one you won’t mind many other places in the world.

This is the place to go if you want to do some skincare shopping. Over 80% of the stores in Myeong-dong are skincare stores, so you will find whatever you’re looking for.

And 100 other things you weren’t looking for.

It is easy to get carried away with the excitement of all the Korean skincare, but don’t buy the first thing you see.

You should spend some time wandering through various stores to make sure you’re getting a good deal. Many brands have multiple stores in the Myeong-dong area, and some have sales while others don’t.

You can save a lot of money by finding what stores have sales on and buying from them.

In the evening around 6pm street vendors start setting up. You can find everything from meat to vegetarian dishes. There are always unique dishes popping up too.

Myeong-dong is probably the only place in the world you can get an ice cream S’more served on a stick!

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If you’re looking for something more substantial than street food, there are countless restaurants in Myeong-dong.

Be sure to check the side streets and the second floor of buildings on the main street. That’s where you can find the best food!

9. Namsangol Hanok Village

Hanok Village 10 Unmissable Things to do in Seoul

Namsangol Hanok Village is one of the most underrated things to do in Seoul!

It is a small village of traditional Korean houses that have been preserved for tourism and education. You literally walk back in time to learn how people used to live in Seoul.

The Hanok Village is not only educational, but it is also beautiful. The architecture of the preserved buildings is awe inspiring.

Namsangol Hanok Village is located on Mount Namsan, so you can easily stop by one your way to visit N Seoul Tower.

The village is open from 9am to 8pm Tuesday through Sunday and is free to visit!

You can visit houses, traditional gardens, a performing arts stage, and a pavilion. With all the different buildings, you get a pretty good idea of what life in Seoul used to be like.

It is a really fun way to learn about Korean history and a great view from partway up Mount Namsan.

The village can be a little difficult to find, and Google Maps takes you in a weird path. Once you get on the hiking trail up Mount Namsan, just follow the signs. You’ll easily be able to find Namsangol Hanok Village that way.

10. Indulge in Korean Food

Korean tea and dessert

Korean food in incredible, and it would be a shame if you visited Seoul and didn’t experience the cuisine.

There is a large food culture in Seoul, and you can find food everywhere you look. Street food is sold on nearly every street, and it isn’t uncommon to stumble upon a lone street food stall randomly as you’re walking around the city.

One of the most fun things to do in Seoul is stop at a random street food vendor and try whatever they’re cooking up!

The restaurant scene is incredible as well. You can find every cuisine at every price range. If you want it, Seoul has got it!

The most popular Korean dishes that every tourist should try in Seoul are bibimbap, Korean BBQ, bulgogi, and porridge.

That last one is odd, but the porridge is made with rice as a base instead of oatmeal and has rice cakes in it. The flavours range widely as well. You can get anything from pumpkin to beef! Porridge is a popular Korean dinner and worth checking out when you’re in Seoul.

Myeong-dong and Insadong are the two most popular neighbourhoods for tourists to eat. There are restaurants, cafes, and street food vendors everywhere you look.

There are lots of choices, so you’re guaranteed to find something that suits your taste buds.

Conclusion

Seoul is a diverse city, and you’ll fall in love with it no matter what your interests are. There are things to do in Seoul for history lovers, sports lovers, and everyone in between.

You can easily spend a two weeks in Seoul and not run out of things to do, but if you’re only in the city for a few days, the Seoul attractions on this list are some of the best Seoul has to offer.

You experience Seoul’s culture, food, history, nature, and beauty when visiting the 10 attractions in this list.

They’re a great introduction to Seoul and Korea, and you’ll be itching to go back again and again once you’ve had a taste of the city!

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