A mega city with a heart of gold, Seoul will redefine your idea of fun.
When locals say that “America is a boring heaven, Korea is a fun hell”, Seoul is what they really meant.
It’s everything all at once. The constant stimulation can be addicting, especially if you come from a quiet suburb.
Seoul also changes fast, so I’ll focus on the best landmarks and types of activities.
What to know
- Seoul is 605.2 km² (233.7 sq mi), but most of the fun stuff is concentrated in a few areas.
- There are 16,000/km2 (42,000 people living per square mile) so it gets cozy.
- You don’t need to rent a car in Seoul. You probably shouldn’t. Parking is no fun.
- Get a T-money card when you arrive so you can use the public transport that includes busses, trains, subways, and taxis.
- Naver Map works better for directions and getting around.
- Take a bus or subway from Incheon Airport rather than a taxi. They’re way cheaper and faster.
Read on for all the best ways to enjoy Seoul.
How to get to Seoul?
You can fly direct to ICN from most major airports in the world including, LAX, SFO, JFK, YVR, and LHR.
Where to stay
Seoul is a big place with a lot of different neighborhoods.
Guest houses and hostels are tempting since they have high ratings, but tend to have paper-thin walls. They’re still great if you want to make friends from all over the world.
Young and hip
Traditional and historic
Anywhere near Insadong, Jongro, and Bukchon. You can stay in traditional hanok buildings.
Check out Seochon for a quieter neighborhood with the same cool hanok buildings.
Modern and new
Jamsil (Lotte land), Yeouido (wall street) are good starting places. You can enjoy modern comforts and luxury hotels while you travel. They’re also great shopping locations
LOTTE City Hotel Mapo
This has been my go-to hotel for a decade. Lotte City Hotel Mapo is not the most luxurious in Seoul, but the location and value can’t be beat.
The area is less crowded compared to downtown, and there are fantastic restaurants and coffee shops nearby.
The hotel provides an LG air purifier upon request, which comes in handy.
It’s connected to Gongdeok Station which has 4 lines that go all over the city including the airport.
109 Mapo-daero, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
What to do
It would be easier to write about things you can’t do in Seoul, but I’ll cover some of the more interesting options.
It’s a must to check out a palace or two while you’re in town. They’re extra special because they’re located among modern buildings.
Gyeongbokgung is the largest and most popular. There’s a neat changing of the guards ceremony that’s worth a look. You can get in free if you’re wearing a hanbok.
161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Changdeokgung is the most beautiful. Try to book a secret garden tour in advance.
Gwonnong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Even if you’re not spiritual, they’re worth a visit. Especially during one of the festivals when they hang all those purty lanterns at night.
Bongeunsa is the oldest and most famous temple in Seoul. It’s hard to miss with its 75 foot tall buddha statue that watches over the city.
Bongeunsa is right across from COEX in Jamsil so you can get some shopping in before or after.
531 Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Bongwonsa is a good choice if you’re around Hongdae or Sinchon. There’s a tranquil pond where you can reflect.
산 1번지 Bongwon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Jogyesa is also worth a visit if you’re near Gyeongbokgung or Anguk area. They offer an overnight temple stay that will change your perspective on stuff!
55 Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Bukchon Hanok Village is the most popular one in Seoul and for good reason.
It’s a big area but the main photo spot is called Gahoe-dong 31 View located on a hill (go before 9am to have the place to yourself).
You can also just wander around and enjoy the sights.
War Memorial of Korea isn’t an uplifting experience, but it’s one of the most impactful in the city.
29 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
National Museum of Korea houses cultural treasures in a massive modern structure.
137 Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Great at night or during the day. You can rent bikes or just have a picnic.
And yes, you can order fried chicken or anything else for that matter to your location.
Korean spa (jjimjilbang)
They’re all over city, but most are old in Seoul. You can find nicer, newer ones in the surrounding suburbs.
Siloam Bulgama Sauna Spa
On old standby that’s maintained well enough.
173 Yongmasan-ro, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, South Korea
An hour or so subway ride north of Seoul and you’ll find the most modern yet traditional version of jjimjilbang.
South Korea, Gyeonggi-do, Goyang-si, Deogyang-gu, Goyang-daero, 1955 4 층
Seoul is just prettier at night. It’s a fact.
Yes, you can gamble as a non-Korean in Seoul. Locals can’t actually use the casinos in the city and have to go to the countryside to partake.
Ever want to sing noraebang in a mansion with strobe lights? Just head to the Hongdae parking lot for the most choices.
Host or hostess bars
If you want some companionship, you can always swing for one of these establishments. They have ones for men and women.
While I wouldn’t bring the whole family, they aren’t necessarily that sleazy. The staff will simply serve you drinks and shower you with attention.
You can sing noraebang at some of them as well. There might be a language barrier if you don’t speak Korean, but body language is universal.
What to eat
Seoul has around 125,740 restaurants, but it isn’t always easy to find great ones. And when you’re on vacation, only the best meals will do.
Here are some dishes you need to try though.
Vegetarian temple cuisine
Can be found in Insadong. Temple cuisine offers healthy and surprisingly delicious banchan. Some have traditional Korean dance performances at night.
A North Korean cold noodle dish that’s popular in summer.
Pork bone stew that will do wonders for a hangover.
Do I need to tip here?
No need to tip in any situation.
Did we miss anything?
Let us know your thoughts about Seoul!