Things to do in Seoul for First-Timers
If you're about to jet off your first adventure to the city of Seoul, you're in for an incredible journey. There are loads of amazing things to do in Seoul, so planning your trip can be a little overwhelming. But that’s where we come in! In this article, we dive into the 12 all-time best things to do in Seoul, perfect for first-timers and seasoned travelers alike.
Whether you have a week or just a few days, these are the must-see experiences that will make your visit to Seoul truly unforgettable.
12 All-Time Best Things To Do In Seoul!
Seoul is a mesmerizing blend of ancient traditions and modern wonders, where centuries-old palaces stand in the shadow of futuristic skyscrapers, and where the scent of street food wafts through bustling markets.
So, whether you're a history buff, a foodie, a shopaholic, or just an avid explorer, there are loads of things to do in Seoul for first-timers! Let's dive into the 12 best things to do in Seoul!
1. Explore the Timeless Beauty of Gyeongbokgung Palace
Let's kick off our time-travel journey through Seoul's incredible history with a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace. This ancient beauty, constructed back in 1395, is like a living, breathing history book, showcasing the rich heritage of Korea.
As you stroll through its grand gates, be sure to catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony which occurs at 10 am and 2 pm every day except Tuesdays. Once you're inside, get ready to be wowed by the palace's architecture, including the gorgeous Gyeonghoeru Pavilion. Oh, and if you want to take your experience up a notch, you can rent traditional Hanboks at nearby shops. Trust me you won’t be out of place because loads of people will be wearing them. It's all about that authentic touch, and you'll fit right in.
2. Wander Through Bukchon Hanok Village
Next, transport yourself back in time as you wander the narrow streets of Bukchon Hanok Village. Here, you'll find well-preserved traditional Korean hanok houses that provide a glimpse into Seoul's architectural past. Walk around the village, take plenty of photos, and explore the charming teahouses and art galleries along the way.
3. Explore the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
No trip to Seoul is complete without a visit to the DMZ, a strip of land that has separated North and South Korea for decades. Join a DMZ tour and get a firsthand look at the Korean War's history. You'll visit the 3rd Tunnel and the Dora Observatory all whilst learning all about the Korean war. It's a truly unique and sobering experience that gives you a glimpse into the ongoing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Make sure to book your tour in advance, as this is a popular and regulated attraction only accessible via a tour guide. And don’t forget to bring your passport!
4. Shop 'Til You Drop in Myeongdong
For shopaholics, one of the best things to in Seoul is visit Myeongdong. This bustling shopping district is a haven for fashionistas and beauty enthusiasts. Find the latest Korean beauty products, trendy clothing, and don't miss the street food stalls when the hunger strikes.
5. Savor the Best of Korean Cuisine at Namdaemun Market and Gwangjang Market
Speaking of food. When it comes to Korean street food, Namdaemun Market and Gwangjang Market are essential stops. At Namdaemun Market, try local delicacies like tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), mandu (dumplings), and odeng (fish cake skewers).
Then, head to Gwangjang Market for a culinary adventure where you can sample bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), Mayak Kimbap (Mini addictive Korean rice rolls), fresh Kimchi and other mouthwatering Korean dishes. Gwangjang market was actually recently featured on the Netflix documentary, Street Food Asia if you’re looking to get inspired on what you should try! These markets are a foodie's dream come true!
6. Get a Taste of Modern Seoul in Gangnam
Gangnam, the epitome of modern Seoul, is famous for its upscale shopping, entertainment, and K Pop. Stroll along the lively streets, visit upscale boutiques, and check out the K-Pop Dolls on K-Star Road.
And while you're there, don't miss the opportunity to savor the exquisite Michelin star dumplings at Mandujip. You may need to wait in line but once you have the first bite of their heavenly dumpling soup it will be worth it!
7. Find Serenity at Bongeunsa Temple
Amidst the hustle and bustle of Gangnam, you'll find Bongeunsa Temple. Explore the beautiful grounds – think lush gardens and charming old buildings that make you feel like you've stepped back in time.
And if you’re up for it, join one of their temple stay programs. These programs provide a unique chance to delve deep into the daily life of the monks, participating in meditation sessions, temple rituals, and communal activities.
It's a fantastic way to gain insight into Korean Buddhism and to experience the rhythm of monastic life firsthand.
8. Admire the Beauty of Namsan Seoul Tower
Namsan Seoul Tower, also known as N Seoul Tower, offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city.
Reach the top via cable car or a scenic hike. Once you make it to the observation deck of Namsan Seoul Tower you’ll understand why it’s one of the best things to do in Seoul. The whole city sprawls out below giving you a whole new perspective.
But Namsan Seoul Tower isn't just a daytime destination. As the sun dips below the horizon and the city switches on its lights, the tower takes on a whole new vibe. This is when the magic kicks in. It's the perfect setting for a memorable night out, whether you're hanging out with your sweetheart or chilling with your crew.
9. Visit COEX Mall for Starfield Library and Shopping
Head to the COEX Mall in Gangnam for a bit of retail therapy.
But first, explore the enchanting Starfield Library in the mall, an incredible space with towering bookshelves filled with an extensive collection. This place isn't just your average library; it's a total cultural gem that mixes a passion for books with some seriously cool modern vibes.
Afterward, indulge in some retail therapy as you explore the mall's diverse shopping and dining options.
10. Discover History at the War Memorial of Korea
For history buffs, the War Memorial of Korea is a must-visit. It's a comprehensive museum that tells the story of Korea's tumultuous past. Explore military equipment, and exhibits, and pay your respects to the fallen.
11. Immerse Yourself in Hongdae
Hongdae, short for Hongik University Street, is a hub of youth culture and art in Seoul. Stroll through its vibrant streets, lined with quirky shops, boutiques, street stalls, and art. Take your time to enjoy the lively atmosphere and street performances by local artists. Hongdae is also renowned for its eclectic nightlife, making it an ideal spot for those who want to have a few cocktails and dance the night away. Don't forget to try the delicious street food while you're there!
Tip! Hongdae is an excellent place to stay for first-timers, particularly solo travelers!
12. Stroll Along the Cheonggyecheon Stream
Find a moment of calm in the heart of the city at the Cheonggyecheon Stream. This urban oasis is a wonderful escape from the city's hustle and bustle. Take a walk along the stream and enjoy the beautifully lit lanterns at night.
Where to Next?
Now that you've got a taste of the incredible experiences that Seoul has to offer, you might be wondering where to head next on your South Korean adventure. If you're up for more exploration and perhaps some relaxation, the vibrant coastal city of Busan is the perfect place to head to next. Busan, known for its stunning beaches, rich maritime culture, and bustling markets, offers a wonderful contrast to the hustle and bustle of Seoul. There are loads of things to do, I recommend you consider spending at least 3 or preferably 5 days in Busan!
And it’s only a 2-hour train ride from Seoul!
And there you have it, the 12 all-time best things to do in Seoul!
From the rich historical treasures to the mouthwatering street food, from the serene temples to the bustling markets, Seoul offers a fantastic mix of experiences for every traveler.
Whether you're a history buff, a foodie, a shopaholic, or just someone full of curiosity, Seoul has a little something special waiting for you.
So, as you plan your trip to Seoul, make sure to check off these must-visit spots, but also leave room to explore hidden gems and enjoy unexpected moments that make travel so exciting. Seoul is a city of surprises, and we're confident that it will leave you with unforgettable memories.
Safe travels, and enjoy your unforgettable Seoul experience!
Author - travel blogger Olivia McDonald → Defining Decade