10 Places You Must See In Seoul
I’ve been living in Seoul for about a year and three months now, and I’ve seen many things and awesome places. Truly, I have plenty more yet to see, but some structures have influenced me more than others–so much so, that I simply had to visit those locations multiple times. I’ve decided to share with you the places I’ve loved the most, in the hopes that this will encourage you to visit not just South Korea, but any faraway place your heart is set on. My list reads:
1. The Palaces
There are five of them, to be exact, and they are some of my favorite places to go because they really give you a sense that you are living in another world, if only for a moment. Located in the heart of the capital city, tall, modern buildings surround the palaces.
The palaces are named as follows: Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, and Unhyeongung. Gyeongbokgung was the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty, but several of the palaces were destroyed during the Japanese occupation from 1592-1598. Since then, Korea has been taking steps to rebuild these landmarks to share with the world.
Each palace has something different about it, with my personal favorite being Deoksugung for the more tranquil atmosphere and on-site museum. The site tends to be less overrun by tourists, and thus, it is easier to take pictures of the structures. Best of all, admission fees tend to be low, nothing over 6,000 won, which is less than $6 dollars per site. At the time of this writing, it is possible to get a three month admission period ticket to visit all of the palaces, with the exception of Unhyeongung, due to the fact that this palace charges no admission fees for entry. However, the three month pass does give palace goers additional entry into the Jongmyo Shrine, another unique cultural sight worth exploring. Unhyeongung also tends to be near Insadong, and I cover that location later. If you are interested in palaces, you might be interested in seeing Insadong altogether.
2. Bukchon Hanok Village
Across the street from Insadong and immediately next to Gyeongbokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine lies Bukchon Hanok Village. Walking tours are available for this location, for those who want to walk down the streets and see for themselves the beautiful traditional homes, referred to as hanok, that are hundreds of years old. The best part of exploring the streets of the village is that there is endless street food, great architecture, wonderful shopping opportunities, and museums. For those interested in an authentic, traditional Korean experience, several locals operate tea houses and guest houses from their hanoks. Feel free to treat yourself to a great cup of tea, relax in the comfort of a traditional home, and take in the cultural experience.
Insadong is the place to go if you’re a traveler looking for great souvenirs to bring back home. Loaded with traditional goods, there is something for every friend or family member available there. There is more to Insadong than just ancient artifacts and souvenir shopping, however. Check out Old Shin Tea House while you’re there. The ancient home is over a hundred years old and serves traditional tea in a traditional home setting. Prepare to have sweet rice cakes offered to you while you sit on a placemat on the floor enjoying your tea and the view around you. The place is decorated quite nicely.
If you’re into history more than tea, there is something for you as well. Insadong is famous for being the location where many important historical figures stood up to Japanese occupation, and it is home to the sight of the signing of the declaration of independence from Japanese rule. Museums and galleries abound. There are even vegetarian shops and a poop-themed café where, you guessed it, pastries are served in the shape of poop. You really can’t make this stuff up. The word on the street is that there was even a bird café there at one point that would allow visitors to enjoy birds flying around them while they drank their tea. This location is no longer around, though, I’m guessing due to sanitation reasons, but just typing in Insadong bird café in a search engine brings up other travelers stories about the location.
As a makeup lover, Myeongdong is one of my favorite places. It might as well be renamed as makeup heaven. Everyone who is anyone in Seoul society goes to Myeongdong, if not for the makeup, for the culture or the plastic surgery. (I’m not kidding.) Check out the assortment cafes. There is a Viking style buffet that isn’t really very Scandinavian, but worth checking out anywhere.
Makeup lovers should try one of the various, snake, snail, and horse protein and skin infused face masks that boast beauty-enhancing and anti-aging properties. If using a product that may test or use animals is against your moral code, try the various collagen or plant-infused masks, instead.
For travelers who want to experience traditional dress, there are plenty of photo studios that will immortalize your hanbok experience for a small fee. The Chinese embassy is located in the heart of Myeongdong, and you may just see a banner of me modeling for Misoweol Cosmetics right across from it. It’s a small world, isn’t it? If music is what you’re into, check out the underground shopping centers where vinyl record lovers and numismatists alike can find unique music and rare coins. It’s one of the few places in Korea to offer those types of products that I’ve seen. I have also dabbled in collecting some coins in Myeongdong, and managed to get several from countries such as Iraq and Macau. The selection is decent.
5. Seoul Tower
Having opened in 1980, the tower, also known as Namsan Tower, is located on Namsan Mountain and is on the highest point within the city of Seoul. Thousands of people go there each day to get a full view of the city. There is a restaurant available at the top of the tower and visitors can take full advantage of the mountain landscape outside as well. The tower is open well into the night time for those who want to take photos of Seoul during later hours. There is a cable car available for those who prefer it. Observers can order nachos, beer, popcorn, and other foods and snacks to enjoy during their visit.
6. Cheong Da We
Roughly translated, Cheong Da We means Blue House, due to the structures blue tiles. The building was made in the traditional Korean style and was initially created to entertain foreign guests. Surrounding the location is Gyeongbokgung Palace. The president of South Korea lives here and does official business from this location. Press conferences are also held at this location. There is a 90 minute tour available, too. Foreigners and natives alike must register for a reservation in order to participate in a tour, and are asked to reserve at least three weeks prior to the intended date.
There’s plenty to do after the tour as well, like visiting the palace, or walking around and seeing all the neat cafes, gift shops, and museums in the surrounding area, all within short walking distance of the magnificent home.
Dongdaemun is a shopper’s paradise. Nowhere else will you find clothes for a cheaper price. Home to Seoul flea market, Dongdaemun is the one place you can go where the streets are lined with appliances, furniture, used computers, décor, and more. If you’re looking for it, Dongdaemun has it.
For example, there is an entire section of a road devoted to pets. There are kittens, parakeets, mice, hedgehogs, and even sugar gliders. I’ve seen a few chickens there, too. It makes me fairly sad to see the animals locked in a cage, but I try to be positive by thinking that someone is trying to get these animals a home as opposed to leaving them on the streets or worse.
There is also an entire section of the road devoted to shoes, and another for electronics. I’m not kidding when I say no matter your fancy, there is something available for you. If you’re passionate about fashion design, plenty of fashion merchandisers and manufacturers line the streets of Dongdaemun awaiting your business. Individuals and company representatives alike line the streets with piles of clothes, bags, and shoes, usually in the range of 1,000-10,000 won each, or less than 10 US dollars. Most of the dresses I’ve obtained in the location have been 3,000 won or less per piece, so I pay less than three dollars per piece, and many are quite nice, elaborate dresses suitable for work that hit at or slightly below the knee. Before you shop at a big department store for basics or flashy dresses, check out Dongdaemun Street. If you can’t sleep and want something to do, there is a night market, so the streets are basically always open. Shop ‘til you drop!
8. Nami Island
Only 90 minutes outside of Seoul, Nami Island is a fun little place to go to. It’s not really a real island, but it’s surrounded by a river in the middle of the country, and it’s a very popular destination during vacation periods. One cool thing about Nami Island itself is that telephones don’t exist there. All electric wires were built under the ground to fulfill the view of what an island might look like. The island even has its own website and a faux passport. A one year passport is about 35,000 won (about 30 USD) and an integrated passport for the Naminara Republic including the Tamnara Republic is 50,000 won (or about 50 USD). Anyone with a passport can enter both locations for a year an unlimited amount of times without being charged any additional fees. There’s a lot to do and see on the island, such as visiting the theme gardens, enjoying the restaurants, and interestingly enough, there is an electric car tour and zip wire events.
The location increased in popularity after the Korean drama, Winter Sonata, was filmed at the island. If you get a chance to go to this nature retreat, I highly recommend you take the opportunity!
9. Lotte Adventure World
Currently, I live near Seokchon Lake in Seoul. It’s a beautiful lake with ducks living nearby, coy fish in the water, and nests around it. Trees line the lake in the middle of the city as well as a walking trail for people. There is a small outdoor gym, as South Korea tends to provide these types of things at parks for the public. It’s a beautiful site.
Listen to relaxing Korean music while power walking down the path with Korean locals. Take a rest at one of the free public WiFi spots located around the lake. Go to Lotte Mall just a few feet away and eat some amazing international food, or visit a restaurant overlooking the lake on the water. There is plenty to do around Seokchon Lake, but my favorite place happens to be in the middle of it: Lotte Adventure World. I am not kidding, this wonderful amusement park/castle rests in the middle of the lake. Cotton candy, roller coasters, and Korean food eagerly wait for you here. Once you’re done with the outside gig, there is an indoors section of the Adventure World that is located within the Lotte Mall (hence the name Lotte Adventure World). People travel from all around Korea and even internationally to visit this fantasy land, and you should, too!
Affordable prices are always what I look for when I go shopping, and if you’re ever in the Seoul area, you’ll likely want to escape expensive city prices for more reasonably priced goods. Namdaemun market, then, is a good bet if you’re looking for an excellent deal. The market is open from the hours of 11:00 PM through 3:00 AM, and you can find just about anything there. Clothes, shoes, imported goods– you name it, it is there. The place is so vast, you could literally spend the entire day navigating the streets. Of course, there are also plenty of souvenirs. Some of them are even handmade by the shop owners themselves. Don’t miss this location during your stay.
It’s a fairly detailed list and much to absorb, but I guarantee you, you do not want to miss any of thrse locations if you’re looking to visit Seoul. They are truly remarkable sights to see. I’ll see you in the city among the locals soon!