I got as close to the North Korean border as the Korean and UN military guards would allow me! A visit to the Demilitarized Zone was just one of many insane and exciting experiences I had in the capital of South Korea. Seoul is such an interesting and vibrant city, different than I expected and beyond my wildest imagination! You’ve got to see this place…here are my top 20 recommendations of things to do in Seoul:
The Top 20 Things to do in Seoul
1. Visit the Demilitarized Zone
If you’re brave enough to give it a chance, get up as close to the North Korean border as you’re legally allowed! This was the #1 thing on my list of things to do in Seoul and it was the very first thing I did when I arrived in South Korea. Check out the experience in this video, and book your tour with Seoul City Tour, they’re fantastic. >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRACc7FWrGQ
2. Drink ginseng tea (for energy)
Ginseng is a traditional herbal source of energy and is an important part of Korean culture! You can visit a ginseng factory to learn about growing and producing it. Then go ahead and try all the different ways that ginseng has found its way into the Korean diet…ginseng tea, ginseng candies, ginseng chicken soup, and even ginseng wine!
3. Namdaemun Market
Get ready for a crazy experience! Namdaemun market is crazy busy and you could get easily lost in the maze of shops and vendors here. Come here to buy literally anything your heart desires, or maybe just to do some people watching as you experience a staple of daily life in Seoul. This is definitely way cooler than shopping at a mall or a grocery store! It’s one of the craziest and most overwhelming experiences, definitely one of the best things to do in Seoul!
4. Changing of the guards at Gyeongbukgung Palace
Go watch the changing of the guards and check out their awesome uniforms, complete with feather studded helmets, over at the Gyeonbukgung Palace. Happens every day at 10 and 2.
5. Go down the back alleys
Jump into the rabbit hole that is Seoul’s back alleyways. There is a whole other city back there, and it’s where all the action is! What you see on the main street is only half the story, so don’t be afraid to explore back behind the main street!
6. National Museum of Korea
Come learn about Korea’s culture and history at the National Museum of Korea, and check out the enormous and beautiful grounds around it!
7. Take a food tour
You may have tasted Korean food before, but it’s nothing like the beast of Korean food in Korea. In order to properly understand it and experience the best of it, why not dine with a local? On the Korean BBQ tour with Zen Kimchi, I had the BEST Korean food of my whole trip! Highly recommend. Check out the experience here >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_2q5fms3HA
8. Visit a traditional Korean Spa
Have you every been to a Korean Spa? Trust me, you do not want to miss this! I left the spa feeling so relaxed and re-energized. And this coming from a girl who’s never done a spa day even in the States! You can expect hot baths, nap rooms, sauna, massages, and the most refreshing skin scrub (absolutely must try, unbelievable how much dead skin we’re carrying around!). The Dragon Hill Spa & Resort is a great choice, makes the experience approachable for newbies.
9. Go searching for cherry blossoms!
Okay so this only applies for the 1-2 weeks a year that they’re in bloom, but when they are, oh it’s magnificent! I didn’t even realize that they had a major cherry blossom season here, I thought it was mostly just Japan. So I was lucky to catch the season while I was here!
10. Go shopping in Gangnam
You know about Gangnam Style from the popular song, but what you may not know is that Gangnam is a district in Seoul. In fact, it’s the super post elite neighborhood south of the river. This is the place to be for shopping! I recommend starting your shopping at Coex Mall (seriously so much more than a mall!), around Dosan Park, at the Hyundai department store (like the Korean Harrod’s!), and in the Sinsa-do area. Keep yourself fueled with a crab popover or other yummy creation at Melting Pot. And definitely try the uniquely delicious cruffins at Mr Holmes Bake House!
11. Try lots of Korean food!
There is so much Korean food to try, so don’t waste any time! They have a knack for creating flavor and texture combinations that I never would have imagined. And there are some creative twists borne out of necessity from when they were a poor country…lots of brothy soups, rice-based cuisines and bugs, but less meats and sugars than you’re used to. I recommend you try Korean BBQ (see above!), bone broth soup, tofu + bean sprout dumplings, bibimbap, bean curd soup, and red bean doughtnuts!
12. Take a tour of the palaces
There are so many palaces in Seoul that it boggles my brain! Sort through the chaos and let the pros show you the important ones (and why they’re important!). I toured the palaces with Seoul City Tour and it was great! Sign up here >> SeoulCityTour.net
13. Visit a cat café!
I’m not sure how this hasn’t caught on everywhere, because it’s literally brilliant. Cat cafés. Dog cafés. You sit and sip your latte, while petting an adorable animal. Brilliant. Absolute must-do (at least once!) in Seoul! I enjoyed playing with the dogs at Bau Haus Dog Café so much, it was one of my favorite things to do in Seoul!
14. Carry a selfie-stick
Serious fashion alert here! Everyone carries around a selfie-stick in Seoul (even the old men, not just the teenage girls!). Now you can officially take as many vain selfies as your heart desires without getting ANY judgmental looks. Selfie nation lives on.
15. Leeum Museum of Art
With the perfect blend of traditional Korean art and contemporary art, the Leeum Museum is a microcosm of Korean culture. Don’t miss out!
16. Be a monk for a day
I’m thinking most of us can’t commit to a life as a monk, but maybe just for a day! Take part in one of the temple stays in Seoul or around South Korea. You’ll reconnect with yourself and your faith, and all religions are welcome! Expect a tour of the temple and grounds, a tea ceremony, and meditation with a monk. It’s super cool. I went to the Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam and loved it!
17. Shopping on Insadong-gil
Consumer culture is king here in Seoul! Get your shopping on at Insadong-gil. This pedestrian street has everything you could ever want to buy, from the traiditional to the modern. Also plenty of dining options here!
18. Visit Bukchon Hanok Village
This village is hundreds of years old and maintains the traditional aesthetic of old Seoul. The architecture is stunning, and the area around it has a number of nice artisan shops and cafes to enjoy. This was one of my favorite things to do in Seoul!
19. Try on a hanbok (traditional dress)
All around the city you’ll see girls wearing these big traditional dresses, posing at iconic spots. The traditional hanbok has not gone out of style! There are lots of places around Seoul where you can try one on and have your photo taken.
20. Hike to N Seoul Tower
Hike up Namsan Mountain to reach the iconic N Seoul Tower, rising high above the city. At the base of the tower there are lots of stores and restaurants, and the views are great from here. So if you want to save a few bucks, it’s okay to skip going up to the observation deck.
There is still so much more to see and do in Seoul, but these top 20 things to do in Seoul should get you started! Give yourself as much time here as you can, it’s a captivating city. But as my grandmother warned me, DO NOT get too close to that North Korean border!!