For any wanderlust traveler questioning whether a trip to Seoul should be their next stop for a grand, eye-popping, immersive adventure in East Asia, well, if you’re looking for a city loaded with jaw-dropping cityscape views, mouthwatering street snacks, festive cultural celebrations, aesthetically beautiful historical landmarks, endless shopping districts, and electrifying nightlife, then there’s absolutely no reason to believe that a visit to South Korea’s largest metropolis won’t be one of the best travel decisions you’ve ever made.
But before you pack your bags and get ready for that long-haul flight to Seoul, I’m here to make sure you’ve got the right idea of what to do, where to go, and how to get the best out of your time exploring all the amazing attractions and experiences waiting for you in the land of the morning calm.
With that, check out my list of 10 top things to do in Seoul, and let’s officially kick off your next great adventure in Korea.
Table of Contents
- Start with a Bird’s Eye View of the City at N Seoul Tower
- Unearth Seoul’s Rich History at Gyeongbukgong Palace
- Visit an Active War Zone at the DMZ
- Party Like a Rockstar in Gangnam
- Wine, Dine, and Party with Foreigners in Itaewon
- Watch a Live Sports Game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium
- Observe a Live Taekwondo Practice and Demonstration at Kukkiwon
- Attend a Cultural Festival and … Water-Gun Fight?
- Munch of Tasty Snacks at One of Seoul’s Street Food Markets
- Shop Til’ You Drop Across All of Seoul
Start with a Bird’s Eye View of the City at N Seoul Tower
It’s the first thing I have to do right after arriving in a new travel destination, especially if I’m touring a mega city. Find the highest observatory, pay it a visit, and lay eyes on a sweeping 360-degree panoramic view of the city from hundreds of feet in the air. It offers a great first impression of the region—a solid introduction to the layout of the land you’ll be touring.
And thus, welcome to N Seoul Tower, a 777-ft. observation and broadcast tower that sits beautifully atop of Namsen Mountain, an already-860ft-tall sprawling peak riddled with trees, plants, gardens, trails, and cable car.
Outside of providing a bird’s eye view of Seoul, visitors can experience French dining on the tower’s 7th and highest floor, as well as drinks, cafes, Korean cuisine, an American burger restaurant, and a highly visual art exhibit on the floors below.
Hey, there’s a reason it’s consistently listed as the #1 attraction to visit in Seoul.
Other observatories to visit in Seoul: 63 Sky Art Observatory and Seoul Sky.
Find out more on the N Seoul Tower website.
Unearth Seoul’s Rich History at Gyeongbukgong Palace
Seoul might just become your new favorite city once you’re done exploring its endless ensemble of beautifully crafted, culturally aesthetic historical landmarks. From centuries old gates and fortress walls to grand Buddhist temples and traditional villages—you’ll find plenty worth visiting every few miles. Perhaps the most popular and frequently visited historical landmark in Seoul, though, has to be Gyeongbukgong Palace.
Built in 1395 during the reign of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, Gyeongbukgong Palace was the largest of the Five Grand Palaces, a group established to house Korea’s influential noblemen and powerful hierarchy. Each contained a number of traditional styled buildings and residences, decorative halls, beautiful pavilions, picturesque gardens, structural gates, and striking religious statues.
Today, Gyeongbukgong Palace is one of the most prominent landmarks of Seoul. Visitors have the chance to explore the historical grounds freely or via guided tour, and they may also view the coveted changing of the guard ceremony at its front gate, in addition to attending various concerts and events held at the palace throughout the year.
Plus, learn about the history of the Josean Dynasty and overlook artifacts belonging to the period at the National Palace Museum and National Folk Museum of Korea, which are both located on the premises.
Feel free to check out the rest of Seoul’s Five Grand Palaces: Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, and Gyeonghuigung Palace.
Visit the Gyeongbukgong Palace website.
Visit an Active War Zone at the DMZ
You’ll often find Korea’s Demilitarized Zone listed across travel articles and Youtube videos as one of the most interesting places to visit in the world. But what exactly is it?
The DMZ is a 154-mile long, 2.5-mile wide, weapons-free buffer zone—think, ceasefire zone—between North and South Korea, established in 1953 at the end of the Korean War.
The strip is under constant surveillance by military personnel and is heavily fortified on both sides of the aisle, and a Joint Security Area serves as a meeting place for prisoner exchanges, negotiations, and joint conferences between the two nations.
Strangely enough, err, rather, intriguingly enough, foreign tourists are allowed to explore the Korean Demilitarized Zone safely via licensed tour operator, which is why ever since opening its doors to the public, it’s become one of Korea’s most popular attractions.
No matter which method of transportation you take to reach the DMZ, like hopping aboard the DMZ Peace Train, most of the DMZ can only be accessed via guided tour—many agencies depart directly from Seoul—and there are plenty of options to choose from. You’ll want to visit Imjingak Resort and see the Bridge of Freedom, Peace Park, Camp Greaves, Third Tunnel, Dora Observatory, Dorasan Station, DMZ Gondola, and JSA if possible.
Just remember to book your tour of the DMZ far in advance!
Party Like a Rockstar in Gangnam
“Oppa Gangnam Style!” Remember that worldwide smash hit single by K-pop sensation PSY? It was only the first video to reach a mere 1 billion views on Youtube. So … maybe you’ve heard of it?
Gangnam style went immensely viral for a reason—it’s wildly fun, exhilarating energy, and electrifying vibrancy was the perfect exemplification of Gangnam’s bustling shopping, dining, and nightlife scene.
Dubbed the “Beverly Hills of South Korea”, Gangnam is home to endless high-end department stores, malls, and underground shopping centers. One could go from overlooking the city from 123 stories high at Lotte World Tower’s Seoul Sky Observatory to viewing the latest innovative technology at the interactive Samsung D’light Exhibition.
You’ll also find Buddhist temples, arcades, a K-Pop Museum, Seoul Olympic Park, and Bamdokkaebi Night Market, where you can taste delectable local street snacks from food trucks, buy handmade accessories, and listen to live music.
One of the more popular reasons to visit Gangnam, though, is for its pulsating nightlife. You’ve got a great mix of top-notch karaoke rooms (noraebangs), bars, and clubs that play everything from EDM to popular Hip-Hop tracks deep into the night. Should you go, make sure to check out Club Octagon, Running Rabbit, and Once in a Blue Moon.
Wine, Dine, and Party with Foreigners in Itaewon
Should you prefer to wine and dine or bar and club hop in a more foreign-friendly nightlife hub in Seoul, Itaewon is your best bet to have a good time.
The district is loaded with international restaurants, boutiques, shops, and nightlife venues that are geared towards the diverse foreign audience in Seoul, which will include everyone from businessmen/women and English teachers of different nationalities, to diplomats and American soldiers from a nearby base.
You can find a restaurant for every style of food you’ve missed back home, like tacos, sushi, Indian, Thai, American-style burgers, gyros, and Chinese dumplings.
It’s also worth noting that Itaewon is highly regarded as one of Seoul’s most popular places to drink and party. As for clubs, you’ll want to check out Cakeshop, Venue, and Lucid Dream.
Watch a Live Sports Game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium
Don’t you just love seeing different interpretations of how sports are played around the world? What about discovering a new sport that you’ve never even seen? How about discovering which sports are popular in different countries, and even attending a live game?
Korea is big on baseball. In fact, baseball and soccer are the region’s two most popular sports. Anyone that’s ever traveled to Seoul and watched a baseball match will tell you that Jamsil Baseball Stadium is the best place to catch a game.
Go ahead—read up on reviews. Here’s what they’ll mention: Festive atmosphere, highly engaged fans, lots of singing and chanting, cheerleaders, fried chicken and beer (BYOB options, too), great games, and an overall exhilarating atmosphere that puts Korean Baseball scores ahead of America’s MLB!
There’s nothing like watching live sports in another country, which brings me to my next trip recommendation …
Observe a Live Taekwondo Practice and Demonstration at Kukkiwon
If you love martial arts as much as I do—I’m a huge UFC fan, by the way—your trip to Seoul won’t be complete without a visit to Kukkiwon, also known as the World Taekwondo Headquarters.
Taekwondo originated in Korea thousands of years ago, with modern day techniques, schools, and standardizations having primarily developed since the 1940s. Today, Taekwondo has grown to become one of the most practiced martial arts around the world, with over 90 million practitioners spanning 200+ countries.
So, want to check out high-flying kicks, punches, and jaw-dropping athletic skills? Kukkiwon not only gives visitors the chance to see some authentic, homegrown, live Taekwondo training sessions and demonstrations, but guests also have the opportunity to learn the history of Taekwondo through a collection of audio, photos, and commemorative displays that include uniforms, trophies, magazines, and books, in its museum.
Check out the Kukkiwon website for more.
Attend a Cultural Festival and … Water-Gun Fight?
Seoul’s got plenty of amazing festivals to experience throughout the year, from merry cultural celebrations to large community gatherings devoted to culinary prep of local foods.
A few top festivals to visit in Seoul include Kimchi Festival, a local and foreign-friendly event dedicated to making and sharing Kimchi, a staple food of Korea, with the world.
The Lantern Festival (held in November), and perhaps Seoul’s most popular festival, places hundreds of lanterns of varying shapes, sizes, colors, and designs along Cheonggyecheon Stream for a dazzling display.
There’s Seoul Rose Festival, where you’ll find a 3.2 mile stretch jam packed with thousands of gorgeous roses and flowers in full bloom.
And finally, you won’t want to miss Seoul’s annual Water Gun Festival (held in July), featuring water fights, water activities, concerts, and parades. Now tell me that doesn’t sound like fun!?
Other festivals in Seoul you may be interested in are the Royal Culture Festival and Seoul Gugak Festival.
Munch of Tasty Snacks at One of Seoul’s Street Food Markets
Two words: Street food. Believe me, Seoul’s got plenty of it. You’ll find street vendors and food trucks dishing up a variety of traditional local snacks, which means everything from rice cakes, fish cakes, kimchi, kimbap, sweet pancakes, and grilled cheese lobster, to scrumptious meat skewers, blood sausage, live octopus, and fried milk, is up for grab.
Consider making Gwangjang Market, one of Korea’s oldest and most popular street food markets, your first stop.
From there, squeeze in trips to Bamdokkaebi Night Market, Myeongdong Street Food Alley, Common Ground, Dongdaemun and Namdaemun Night Markets, and Tonjin Market.
And, one very important thing to remember: On a fun night out at one of Seoul’s street food markets, as is tradition, don’t forget to wash everything down with some shots of Soju, Korea’s national alcohol. Drink responsibly!
Shop Til’ You Drop Across All of Seoul
Seoul is a shopper’s paradise. You’ve got department stores, malls, massive underground shopping centers, outdoor markets, boutiques, and entire districts that are primarily known as the go-to centers for a little retail therapy.
For a more high-end, name brand, fashion-tailored shopping experience, head over to Lotte World Tower and Myeongdong, which is considered one of the most popular shopping districts in Seoul.
Dongdaemun is home to a sprawling collection of boutiques, vendors, specialty shops, and malls, and at Namdaemun, Seoul’s largest and most traditional market, you can find souvenirs, clothes, accessories, electronics, food ingredients, and more.
You’ll find shops geared towards hip college kids and local youth in Hongdae, but if you’re looking for traditional art, crafts, sculptures, and antiques to take home, Insa-dong is where you’ll want to visit.
There’s something for everybody, everywhere in Seoul!
So, now that you’ve got a solid idea of top attractions and things to do in Seoul, what’s the next step? Have you considered what to pack and what to wear? How about getting a visa? Or, here’s a thought: Maybe you like my list so much that you’re considering sending me on an all-expense paid invitation to join you on your next grand adventure in Korea. Yep, I like that next step best. Safe and happy travels!