43 Must-Visit Attractions in Seoul

| Zequn Gui / Unsplash
Linda Dunsmore

With a fizzing K-Pop scene, cut-price beauty emporiums and late-night norebang (karaoke) bars, the capital of South Korea is one of the most exciting cities in Asia. Come for a few days at least and you will find a mix of traditional and modern thrills with countless attractions and sites to explore. Here are the top must-visit attractions in Seoul.

1. Bukhansan National Park

Park

Bukhansan National Park near Seoul, South Korea
Chaewul Kim / Unsplash
South Korea is only the size of the US state of Kentucky yet it manages to squeeze in 22 national parks. One of these is Bukhansan, just beyond the outskirts of Seoul. It is a great place for leisurely hikers: make it up the lush Bukhansan Mountain at your own pace to discover an amazing view of the city. Book a private hiking tour to spend the day with a mountain expert.

2. Gyeongbokgung

Park

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea
Brady Bellini / Unsplash
Seoul has not one but five main palaces. Painted in hues of red and jade, Gyeongbokgung is the largest and arguably the most important. Often compared with the Forbidden City in Beijing, Gyeongbokgung also houses the National Folk Museum of Korea. If you wear hanbok, the traditional Korean dress for men and women, your visit is free. You can rent your costumes in the city, or book a Gyeongbokgung Palace Hanbok Rental Experience in advance.

3. Gwanghwamun Square

Architectural Landmark

Statue of Sejong the Great, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
Clark Gu / Unsplash

This new public square lies in front of Gwanghwamun Gate, the main gate to the impressive Gyeongbokgung Palace. The square features a statue of King Sejong the Great, the inventor of Korea’s Hangul alphabet. Visit on a sunny day and you can enjoy the view of the soaring green hills beyond Seoul’s skyscrapers. Most city tours of Seoul will include a photo op at Gwanghwamun Gate.

4. Changdeokgung

Building

Changdeokgung, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Jeanne Rouillard / Unsplash
A short walk to the east of Gwanghwamun is Changdeokgung, the second-largest palace in Seoul. This palace is liked for its “secret garden” of temples and pavilions. Changdeokgung is especially popular in spring, for cherry blossom, and autumn, when the colour of the leaves is dazzling. Visit early in the day and it will be so peaceful you can imagine what it was like centuries ago. Combine visits to Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung when you join the Royal Palace and Seoul City Tour.

5. Bukchon Hanok Village

Archaeological site

Traditional Korean style architecture at Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul, South Korea
© Vincent St. Thomas / Shutterstock
Between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung lies a hillside village of more than 400 hanok – traditional Korean houses. Bukchon is loved by Instagrammers, who often wear traditional hanbok dress when they roll up for photoshoots. The village has a sprinkling of cafes and restaurants as well as shops selling crafts and souvenirs. You can also find traditional teahouses nearby. Visit the area in traditional hanbok clothing with the City Highlights and Historical Experience tour.

6. Cheonggyecheon stream

Natural Feature

Cheonggyecheon-ro, South Korea
Sandi Benedicta / Unsplash
This 10km-long stream in the heart of the city serves as an exhibition and festival area. Especially at Christmas, but also for holidays including Buddha’s birthday and the Lantern Festival, the waterway features illuminations and artworks. With its rows of foliage and splashing water, it can feel so tranquil you can forget you are in a city of 10m people.

7. N Seoul Tower

Building

Iconic N Seoul Tower, also known as Namsan Tower, majestically stands atop Nam Mountain in Seoul, South Korea
Oat Appleseed / Unsplash
On Namsan Mountain, in the centre of the city, is the N Seoul Tower. The mountain is 243m above sea level and is the capital’s second-highest point. Go up the 236m tower to experience breathtaking views by day or night. There is a digital observatory and revolving restaurant. Don’t forget to look for the love locks left by couples to signify the promise of their relationships. Many guided city tours in Seoul include a visit up to the N Tower.

8. Myeongdong

Shop

Seoul’s hectic shopping district of Myeongdong is a magnet for anyone who craves Korean fashion or skincare. You will want to stock up on revitalising facial masks as well as delicious honey-butter-almond snacks. Myeongdong is also the place to go to find quirky themed eating places, including the Hello Kitty cafe.

9. Lotte World

Amusement Park

Seoul’s largest recreation complex is home to the world’s biggest indoor theme park as well as an outdoor amusement park called Magic Island, all linked by a monorail. Lotte World, which is to the southeast of the city centre, has a luxury hotel, a national folk museum, sport facilities and cinemas. To add life and Seoul to your trip, make your way here.

10. Jogyesa Temple

Buddhist Temple

Jogyesa Temple, Seoul, South Korea
William Warby / Unsplash

This will probably be the most colourful temple you will ever see – the exterior is bright red, jade, blue and yellow. Inside are three golden Buddhas. As the visual fanfare suggests, the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism is one of the most important in the country. It was founded at the start of the Joseon Dynasty in 1395. Visit during Buddha’s birthday in May and you can join Korean visitors taking part in the festivities. We recommend checking out the temple when lit by lanterns on an atmospheric nighttime tour of Seoul.

11. Jongmyo Shrine

Shrine

Jongmyo Shrine, Seoul, South Korea
Brother Yoon / Unsplash
According to Unesco, Jongmyo Shrine is the oldest and most authentic of the surviving Confucian royal shrines. Painted in a rich red hue, it is next to Changdeokgung Palace and is dedicated to kings and queens of the Joseon dynasty. This is one of the capital’s cultural highlights and is definitely worth an hour or so of your time.

12. Gangnam

Shopping Mall

Subway station entrance lit up at night in Gangnam, Seoul, South Korea
Vicky Yu / Unsplash
Thanks to Psy’s viral single Gangnam Style, the titular neighbourhood has become the most famous part of Seoul. You cannot visit without taking a selfie beside the Gangnam Style statue. The real draw, though, is the nightlife. With its trendy restaurants and swanky cocktail bars this area comes into its own after dark.

13. COEX Mall

Shopping Mall

Laura Manglier
© Culture Trip
Superstar Psy is not alone in putting Gangnam on the map. The area is also home to the COEX Mall, the world’s largest underground shopping centre. There are hundreds of stores, two food courts, a Megabox movie theatre, the COEX Aquarium and a huge book shop. It is also home to SM Town, a K-Pop museum with themed cafe and hologram shows.

14. Demilitarised Zone

Historical Landmark

DMZ, South Korea
Elizabeth Cho / Unsplash

This strip of land will make you shiver… and think. The DMZ divides the Korean peninsula and is the border between North and South Korea. Created in 1953 as a buffer between communism and capitalism, it is a surviving slice of the Cold War. It’s just 48km (30mi) north of Seoul and there are observation towers from which to peek into North Korea. It can only be visited on an organised tour. Luckily, you can visit the DMZ on Culture Trip’s 10-day trip to South Korea. Alternatively, book one of many day trip tours departing from Seoul.

15. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art

Museum, Building

Here is a pleasant way to while away an afternoon: even the structure is a work of art, created by global architects including Rem Koolhas and Jean Nouvel. The garden is an attraction too. Step inside Museum 2 to find Western hits by Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. In Museum 1 there are Korean masterpieces, including calligraphy, paintings and ceramics.

16. Heunginjimun

Building

With its tapering eaves and rippling roof tiles, this is one of the eight gates in Seoul’s fortress wall. Heunginjimun translates as “gate of rising benevolence” and is located in the Dongdaemun district. The gate was built in 1398 in the style of the late Joseon period. Top tip: see it lit up after dark.

17. Soigné

Restaurant, Contemporary

One of Seoul’s most reputed contemporary dining restaurants, Soigné is situated in a quiet nook of Seorae Maeul. The open kitchen, referred to as “The Stage” by owner and head chef Jun Lee, allows diners to watch the chefs elaborately create their meals. The menu rotates every few months and incorporates themes that vary from movies to seasons. For the full experience, try the full course dinner, which stretches out over a leisurely two to three hours. Recommended by Mimsie Ladner.

18. Jazz Story

Bar, Pub Grub, Korean, Fusion

At the heart of Seoul’s lively Hyehwa district is one of its best-kept secrets — Jazz Story, a unique live music bar that is spacious enough so visitors never feel cramped, even when at full capacity. Here, patrons can relax in an eclectic interior bedecked with items such as a hand-crafted airplane that hangs suspended over the stage. Otherworldly figures and contraptions adorn the exposed rebar and broken concrete walls, adding to the atmosphere. The wine, beer and cocktails on offer are varied to please just about any taste, but the house jazz band, which plays daily and takes requests, is the real draw here. Recommended by Mimsie Ladner.

19. Maple Tree House

Restaurant, Korean, BBQ

Close up of Korean BBQ
Daniel Lee / Unsplash

For those wishing to sample the best Korean barbecue food, a visit to the Maple Tree is a must. The restaurant is well-renowned for serving high-quality meat in a spacious setting that is decked with polished brass tables and modern interiors. Book a food tour of the city for an even more comprehensive culinary deep-dive. Recommended by Naintara Gurung.

20. War Memorial of Korea

Building, Memorial

Korean War Memorial, Seoul
William Warby / Unsplash
The Korean War dominated the world’s headlines for three years from 1950. To find out about it, visit the War Memorial of Korea, opened in 1994 on the site of the army headquarters. Six indoor exhibits pay tribute to the history of the conflict, which involved 58 nations fighting against North Korea and China. Outside there are displays of military equipment and memorabilia.

21. Buam-dong

Architectural Landmark

Nestled between Inwang and Bugak mountains, Buam-dong is a tranquil neighborhood situated in the middle of the city, but shielded by nature from the concrete that makes up the remainder of the metropolis. Untainted by retail franchisees or coffee chains, the area retains a quiet residential vibe. Boasting only a single bus stop, it is certainly not the most convenient place to visit, but its quaint galleries, beautiful nature trails and unique charm make it well worth the trek. The area even features on a tour of the filming locations from the global filmic phenomenon that was Parasite (2019). Recommended by Mimsie Ladner.

22. Korea Furniture Museum

Museum

A unique place to visit, the Korea Furniture Museum is ideal for history buffs who will fall in love with the museum’s antique collection of wooden furnishings. Many global curators love to visit this museum, and visitors can book a one-hour guided tour. Recommended by Naintara Gurung.

23. National Museum of Korea

Museum

More than 3m visitors a year come to the National Museum of Korea, the country’s largest museum for Korean history and art. That makes this institution one of the most-visited museums in the world. If time is tight make sure you see the golden treasures from the Great Tomb of Hwangnam and the intricate gilt-bronze Baekje incense burner, which resembles a lotus bud on a dragon-like pedestal.

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24. Korean alcohol-tasting classes

Bar, Cocktails

One of the most popular alcoholic drinks in Korea is a type of rice wine called makgeolli. The Korea Tourism Organization even claims that makgeolli sales overseas have increased by 20–25% in recent years. Baesangmyeonjuga, a liquor company well-known for producing a wide selection of Korean drinks, hosts lessons on how to make makgeolli. Classes are held in Korean and take place every Saturday, and the first and third Friday of each month. There are also plenty of classes (as well as drink tours) held in English through Viator.

25. Seoul fashion week

Building, Architectural Landmark, Shop

Woman attending Seoul fashion week at DongDaemun Design Plaza, Seoul, South Korea
Tycho Atsma / Unsplash
In spring or fall the city hosts one of the largest fashion weeks in the world. Big names in the international fashion industry have been reserving their seats to shows in advance since the founding of Seoul Fashion Week in 2011. Among them are buyers from Selfridges, Saks Fifth Avenue, Harvey Nichols Hong Kong and Parisian concept store L’Eclaireur, as well as editors from American, French and Italian GQ, Dazed, Vogue, and Another Man. Follow the trendiest Korean fashion bloggers and you’ll know exactly which show to visit and when.

26. Singing rooms (Noraebang)

Music Venue

If you want to explore Seoul like a local, you should visit a singing room (Noraebang). Private rooms of different sizes come equipped with high-tech karaoke facilities, and are available for groups of friends, families or even colleagues. Going out to sing songs and drink is a common pastime for many Koreans. Don’t know any K-Pop? No problem. Every Noraebang offers a wide selection of popular English hits.

27. Korean bathhouses

Spa, Swimming Pool

Bathhouses are a prominent part of Korean culture. However, you might be surprised to find out what a casual day at a Korean spa looks like. Jjimjjilbang, or Korean bathhouses, are gender-segregated, with only some common areas. Once done showering in the aroma pools, visitors can enjoy the saunas or relax in the common area. It’s also worth noting that most Korean spas are open 24/7, allowing visitors to spend the night. This makes for the perfect low-budget accommodation.

The Best Markets in Seoul

28. Noryangjin Fish Wholesale Market

Market, Seafood

Giant shrimp on ice at Noryangjin fish market
William Warby / Unsplash
The Noryangjin Fish Wholesale Market is where you can savor seaside delicacies sold on hundreds of stalls here. This is Seoul’s oldest and biggest indoor fish market, with more than 700 vendors each selling the catch of the day. Get here early to enjoy the excitement of this bustling warehouse and you can participate in the seafood auction that takes place as the sun rises. Plenty of culinary tours in Seoul include a fishy visit to Noryangjin. Recommended by Naintara Gurung.

29. Namdaemun Market

Market

The largest traditional market in Korea, Namdaemun Market is the place to shop for cheap goods as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. It is also the perfect spot to graze – don’t miss the spicy tteokbokki rice cakes or the mung-bean pancakes, prepared while you wait. The market is open through the night from 11pm to 4am. Join a street food tour for guidance on the best stalls in the market.

30. Gwangjang Market

Market

Market in Gwangjang-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, Corée du Sud
(っ◔◡◔)っ Clement 🇰🇷 / Unsplash
Established in 1905, Gwangjang Market is the oldest traditional Korean market in Seoul. It is popular among foreign visitors as it is the perfect opportunity to sample your way through Korea’s endless snack and street food selection. Over 5,000 shops on 10 acres make Gwangjang Market a must-visit when in Seoul.

31. Dongdaemun Market

Market, Bazaar

Dongdaemun is the center for fashion lovers in Seoul. Whether you want to pick up a few pieces of clothing or want to buy fabric to make your own, Dongdaemun is the place to go. Not only does this market offer cheap items, but it is a bustling center for fashionistas and aspiring designers, who offer their creations to test the local waters. In total, the market covers 26 shopping malls, 30,000 specialty shops, and 50,000 manufacturers. The best time to visit is in the evening when the market really comes to life.

32. Hongdae Free Market

Market

Every Saturday from March to November, local artists, performers, and even musicians get together to form this unique market, offering handmade arts and crafts and unique entertainment performances to the crowd. The best part about Hongdae Free market is the relaxed atmosphere that lets visitors engage with the local vendors and performers and get to know their stories and the background of their products.

33. Yangjae Flower Market

Market

Yangjae Flower Market is one of those hidden attractions in the city not many people know about. The market first opened in 1991 and started out selling cut flowers. Today, it is the largest flower market in South Korea and carries flowers and plants of all varieties. The market also sells gardening related items.

34. Tongin Market

Market

Just west of Gyeongbokgung Palace, you will find Tongin Market. While it might seem ordinary at a first glance, the market is actually a hotspot for the popular Korean dish tteokbokki, chewy rice cakes in a spicy chili sauce. The market is also a piece of Korean history in itself, as it was created for Japanese residents in 1941 when Korea was under Japanese rule.

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35. Seoraksan National Park

Natural Feature

Forested valley and peaks in Seoraksan National Park, South Korea
Tom Hill / Unsplash

Two hours from the capital by bus is Seoraksan National Park, home to Korea’s third tallest mountain and various scenic hiking trails. The most popular is the steep climb to Daecheongbong Peak, a dramatic granite cliff overlooking the park. While a trip to Seokransan National Park is possible during a day trip from Seoul, it’s advisable to spend a night nearby in Sokcho city. The park is home to 1,562 animal species, as well as Buddhist temples and impressive caves, so you won’t run out of ways to fill the time. Book a guided hike to make sure you see the very best of the park in just one day.

36. Nami Island

Natural Feature

The tiny landmass of Nami Island was accidentally formed when the waters of the Han River rose around it during the 1940s. Now, it’s one of the most popular day trips from Seoul, home to a dense redwood forest and the idyllic-sounding Garden of Morning Calm. If that all sounds a little too zen, why not turn up the adrenaline and zip-wire onto Nami Island from an 80-metre (262-foot) tower on the mainland? Guests can zip beside each other on twin cables reaching speeds of 55kph (35mph). Nami island is a one-hour drive from Seoul by car or bus, but you might want to ease the planning stress by booking a day tour with pick-up from the city.

37. Elysian Gangchon Ski Resort

Ski Resort

While Japan probably springs to mind as a ski destination before South Korea, there are some excellent slopes on the mountains that surround Seoul. Elysian Gangchon Resort (open November to March) can be reached by subway in just one hour from Seoul, making it a popular option for outdoor adventurers on a budget. The resort spans more than 200,000 square metres (50 acres) and has slopes for beginners and advanced skiers and snowboarders. Catch the Gyeongchun Line from Seoul’s Cheongnyangni Station to Baegyang-ri Station, or book a day tour from Seoul with Viator.

38. The City Walls (Hanyangdoseong)

Archaeological site

For an outdoor activity in Seoul with unrivalled views, the City Walls could be classed as either a history lesson or a hike. Hanyangdoseong measures 18 kilometres (11 miles) in length, built in 1396 to protect the city from encroaching enemies. Travelling between Seoul’s four main mountains, Inwangsan, Naksan, Bugaksan and Namsan, the City Walls pass by new and old: 600-year-old turrets looking out over gleaming skyscrapers. Take the one-hour Naksan Mountain Trail between Heunginjimun Gate and Hyehwamun Gate for a gentle hike, or the three-hour Baegak Trail between Changuiman Gate and Hyehwamun Gate. As this section passes the Blue House (the residence of the President of South Korea), you must bring your passport for identification.

39. Guui Park

Park

If you’re short on time and unable to hike one of the mountains on the outskirts of Seoul, then an outing to Guui Park should not be overlooked. Located across the street from both Dong Seoul bus terminal and the vast TechnoMart electronics building, Guui Park is filled with exercise enthusiasts during the evening making their umpteenth lap around the track, couples canoodling on park benches and rowdy youngsters climbing the jungle gym equipment. It’s best to visit in the morning hours to enjoy the park’s ambience. Recommended by Rebecca Biage.

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40. Marvel at a light and water show on Banpo Bridge

Bridge

Dongjak Bridge, Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
yeoul Shin / Unsplash
Chances are, you (and your certain someone) have never seen a fountain spouting out of a bridge before, much less one illuminated by rainbow lights! While there are numerous bridges that cross the Han River, Banpo Bridge is without a doubt the most spectacular, and it’s not hard to see why. Bring your date here, and surprise him or her with this magical sight. Pair it with a few convenience store beers, and you’ve got yourself the perfect summer night date.

41. Enjoy the view from Seoul Dream Forest

Park

There’s nothing more romantic than looking out on a glistening city of lights from a towering observation deck, and while there are plenty of places to make this rom-com-worthy date happen, most charge a hefty admission. But what many don’t realize, however, is that the 139-meter-high observatory at Seoul Dream Forest is both free and offers stunning panoramic views of the metropolis. The park’s Moon Reflecting Pond and Lawn Plaza are just as idyllic and make a great setting for an evening stroll.

42. Bike along the Han River

Park

Active and athletic couples can easily and affordably take in views of Seoul’s unique skyline by biking along the city’s iconic Han River. While numerous shops punctuate the river, Yeouido Park is home to one of the biggest, where visitors can rent bicycles for around 3,000 won (US$2.50) for the first hour and 2,000 won (US$1.75) for each additional hour. Yeouido is also a bike tour checkpoint – one of 40 in the country – where riders can purchase a passport for a nominal fee in which they can collect stamps along the country’s bike routes to earn a certificate and medal.

43. Get artsy at Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Building, Architectural Landmark, Shop

Seoul is home to plenty of free art spaces, but Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a must-visit for design-loving couples. While some of the exhibitions require an admission fee, there are also a few free ones from time to time. Even if you don’t go into the structure itself, the Zaha Hadid-built complex is worth visiting if only to take in its magnificent, futuristic design. Don’t miss the field of LED roses, which provides a great background for a couple selfie.

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