There’s no way around it: the city of Seoul, South Korea is sensory overload at its finest. It’s a bustling but highly organized city that, at times, seems like it belongs to two different worlds. That means the top things to see and do in Seoul are often in stark contrast to one another, which always makes for some of the coolest and most interesting travel experiences.
As you explore Seoul, you’ll find glitzy, polished, hyper-modern buildings and infectious K-Pop culture alongside ancient palaces, Buddhist temples, and traditional street markets. It’s the biggest sign that South Korea is a country that embraces progress and modernity while still holding onto the roots from which it sprung. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition that makes you realize the depth and complexity of the country and Seoul in particular.
You can’t speak about Seoul without mentioning its fantastic food scene, which is among the best and most diverse on Earth. From tasty, traditional fare that has been around for generations to unique recent creations, Seoul has it all!
The food, culture, and people in Seoul captured my heart from the moment I arrived in May of 2019. It’s a wild and alluring place that seems like it was made for curious travelers to explore, and I’m so excited to share it with you. These are the top 25 things to see and do in Seoul, South Korea.
Eat Authentic Korean Barbecue
I cannot stress how unreal Korean barbecue is. I had never eaten it before my trip, and by the end of it, I was addicted to its unique flavors and signature freshness. Having some is easily one of the top things to see and do in Seoul, and there are so many varieties to try!
On my very first night in Seoul, I linked up with my travel buddy Sam, who took me to have samgyeopsal for the very first time. I had only been in Seoul for a handful of hours at that point and was already blown away. The restaurant he took me to even had a big, inflatable pig outside, so I was expecting some bomb pork!
I quickly learned that samgyeopsal is grilled pork belly, which is grilled right at your table. Your cook will cut it into strips, which you then wrap in a piece of lettuce with red pepper paste and garlic. It was so tasty, juicy, and tender and had my mouth watering all night.
The samgyeopsal was served alongside a fresh, intensely flavorful salad that contained cabbage, seaweed, some insanely long bean sprouts, and red pepper paste. Other banchan (side dishes) included pickled vegetables and spicy seaweed!
You have not lived until you have had Korean barbecued duck. I tried this dish in a city just north of Seoul called Paju. It makes a great day trip and isn’t far from the world-famous demilitarized zone, or DMZ, along the border with North Korea. But back to the duck!
Like the samgyeopsal, the duck is cooked right at your table and is cut into strips. It’s also meant to be eaten as the filling in a lettuce wrap. The duck is fatty, smoky, and ridiculously tasty by itself, but once you add onion, garlic, gochujang sauce, it becomes a flavor bomb in your mouth! I could not get enough of the richness of the meat and the layers of complex flavors. It’s outstanding in every way!
One of the most tantalizing dishes I tried in Seoul are marinated beef ribs, known locally as galbi. Like other styles of Korean barbecue, the ribs are cooked at your table with the bone still inside. Mine were cut into strips once they had finished cooking. The ribs are marinated in a sweet, glazy sauce, which infuses itself into the meat during the grilling process. It results in some of the most delicious and tender ribs I’ve ever eaten in my life!
The galbi is served with a spicy gochujang sauce that pairs extremely well with the sweet and tender meat. On the side, I enjoyed a rich beef and mushroom soup and several banchan. The banchan included mushrooms, spicy chili crab, fish with vegetables, radish soup, a tofu and soybean paste soup, and lots of fresh refreshing vegetables. If you love ribs of any kind, galbi is the dish for you!
Another fantastic marinated Korean meat is bulgogi, which I tried in the trendy Hongdae area of Seoul. Enjoy watching your cook grill the beef at your table and mix it with thick noodles and rice cakes. It’s then topped with a healthy mound of sprouts.
Delicious doesn’t even begin to describe bulgogi. The chunks of beef are fatty and practically melt in your mouth. The noodles reminded me of buckwheat noodles I had eaten in China, and the sprouts added a light, refreshing element with a nice crunch. The dish itself has a slight kick of spice but also has a sweetness to it as well. It’s served family-style, so everyone in your party eats right out of the pan!
After you’ve eaten most of the bulgogi, your cook will return to mix a generous helping of rice, seaweed, and cheese into the remaining bulgogi. The cheese melts throughout and the rice on the bottom of the pan gets crispy. Add the briny flavor of the seaweed and you have one of the tastiest and most decadent fried rice dishes I’ve ever had! Having it is easily one of the top things to see and do in Seoul!
Take a Korean Cooking Class
Even though I don’t really cook much, one of the most fun things to see and do in Seoul is to take a Korean cooking class! During my class with Chef Gia, I learned to make two fantastic dishes: sundubu jjigae and haemul pajeon.
Sundubu jjigae is a spicy stew that contains tofu, seafood, cucumber, onions, and leeks. Making it was pretty simple! After chopping the vegetables, I learned how to de-shell, de-vein, and wash the shrimp, and gradually built my stew with some helpful instruction from Chef Gia. The end result was a spicy seafood stew with delicious vegetables, succulent seafood, and silky tofu that made my taste buds sing!
The other dish, haemul pajeon, is a savory pancake that contains seafood and green onions. It starts off an a batter consisting of with all-purpose flour, water, and salt. Then you make it like any pancake by adding oil to the pan, letting it sizzle, and pouring in the batter. Top it with your spring onion, squid, and vegetables, use some egg to bind it all together, and serve it once it gets brown and crispy!
This savory pancake isn’t sweet at all and is next-level when you try it with a soy-vinegar-chili sauce!
Visit the National Museum of Korea
I love history. I believe that you can’t truly understand a country or its people unless you first have an understanding of what they’ve been through to get to where they are today. One of the best ways in Seoul to learn more about the country is to visit the National Museum of Korea. It was established in 1945 and is considered the flagship museum for showcasing Korean history and art.
My museum visit was an interactive experience that began on its third level in the Asian Arts, Sculptures, and Crafts section. There, my buddy Sam and I admired some beautiful celadon ceramics that date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. There’s also a beautiful Bodhisattva statue from the 3 Kingdoms period.
One of my favorite displays was one along the walls that showed and explained the differences between carved Buddhas in India, China, Korea, and Japan. I had already visited the other three countries and was fascinated by the differences in each regional variation of Buddhism.
There’s also a large, colorful scroll that features the Buddha, as well as a fantastic exhibit dedicated to the Joseon Dynasty, the last period before the Japanese occupation began. But one of my favorite exhibits was an awesome hall containing numerous statues of Arhats, which are Buddhist figures who have reached enlightenment.
Interactive Museum Activities
Travelers who enjoy interactive activities shouldn’t miss the opportunity to carve their own seals. Seals date back 4,000 years and represent different social classes. You’ll use a tool to carve your name into a stone. After that, you can use your carved seal as a stamp, which you’ll use on a letter you’ll write to a loved one. I chose to write a letter to my wife! This was one of my favorite things to see and do in Seoul and should be on everyone’s itinerary!
Eat Fried Chicken & Beer
One of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life is Korean fried chicken. I’ve eaten fried chicken all over the world, including in America, but none of them hold a candle to the Korean version. During my two weeks in South Korea, I tried several varieties of Korean fried chicken. Three of my favorites were the kinds I tried at Oven Chicken and Beer in Seoul.
The first was the regular, standard version. Except there was nothing “regular” or “standard” about it in my mind. Words can’t fully describe how fresh this chicken was. After just one bite, I could tell that it had never been frozen and that it hadn’t been pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. It was organic chicken at its finest and was perfectly crispy and juicy!
The second variety, which was coated in a tangy sauce that was both sweet and spicy, was downright heavenly. It strongly reminded me of Chinese sweet and sour chicken and was one of the best things I ate in Korea. The third was a soy sauce chicken, which had been slathered in a rich, brown sauce. The sauce had an insane amount of soy flavor that complemented the chicken very well.
Of course, when you’re having fried chicken, you need to have some beer with it. I enjoyed many of the Korean beers I tried during my trip, but light and refreshing Cass beer I had with the chicken went perfectly with it!
Visit the Korean War Memorial Museum
Speaking of museums, you cannot miss the Korean War Memorial Museum when you visit Seoul. I personally love war museums. They’re fascinating to me. This museum commemorates the lives lost during the Korean War, which took place from 1950 to 1954.
The Korean War Memorial Museum’s goal is simple. They aim to teach lessons that prevent war, which they hope will eventually lead to the unification of North and South Korea.
One of the top things to see and do in Seoul is the hall on the ground level, where planes, cannons, and buggies were on display. Alongside them were old-school cars that were driven by former presidents and Soviet tanks that date back to 1939!
The most sobering room I visited at the museum is the Korean War Room. Inside is a memorial that commemorates the different countries that contributed to the war, and those who lost their lives, including 36,000 American troops. Displays around the room tell you how many people were involved from each nation.
Also on display in the Korean War Room are weapons like rifles, rocket launchers, machine guns, and knives. You can also get a good look at army uniforms from all the countries that participated in the war. The room is a heartbreaking look at the horrors war can wreak and the cost many people and families have to pay during wartime.
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Visit Jogyesa Temple
Located in the Insa-dong neighborhood near Gyeongbukgong Palace is Jogyesa Temple, a beautiful Buddhist temple in the city. It was established in 1395, just three years after the founding of the Joseon Dynasty. Jogyesa is the main temple for the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, and has been since 1936.
I had the pleasure of visiting Jogyesa Temple just a couple of weeks after the annual Buddha’s Birthday celebration, which takes place from May 6-8. From May 6 to May 22, colorful lanterns featuring lotus, traditional figures, and other objects representing people’s wishes are hung at night. I got the chance to see these beautiful lanterns, as well as the stunning golden Buddha statues inside the temple.
Seeing Jogyesa Temple decorated at night during the Buddha’s Birthday celebrations is a glorious experience. It not only gave me more of an appreciation for Korean Buddhism, but also for the temple’s gorgeous mix of traditional temple and palace architecture. It’s one of the best things to see and do in Seoul, period!
Try Korean Convenience Store Food
When I travel to countries where convenience stores are a big part of the culture, I always like to visit them to find a local, inexpensive breakfast. Much like in Japan, Korean convenience store food is a complete 180 from the awful, unhealthy food American convenience stores are known for. Instead, most convenience store food in Korea is fresh, tasty, and quite good for you!
There are three main convenience store chains in South Korea: 7-Eleven, FamilyMart, and See You Soon. I visited a 7-Eleven and bought $10 USD worth of food, including a triangle gimbap, a rice roll, a red bean jelly bar, a bun with red bean paste and cream inside, a bowl of rice porridge, and seaweed chips.
The triangle gimbap, which is almost identical to the Japanese onigiri, was a real highlight. It only cost $1 USD and contained delicious pork, red pepper paste, and sticky rice. The seaweed on the outside gave it a nice crunch and the flavors inside were outstanding!
Some of my other favorites included the bun, which was dense, decadent, and filling. The combination of red bean paste and cream was fantastic. My favorite was the traditional gimbap, which contained marinated barbecue beef, carrot, yellow radish, and rice. The smoky and creamy beef paired nicely with the rice and crunchy veggies. I can eat gimbap for breakfast every day!
Visit Cheongwadae Sarangchae Museum
Now that we’ve explored Korea’s distant history, what do you say we learn about its more recent history with a visit to Cheongwadae Sarangchae Museum? This museum is all about celebrating modern-day Korea and is a fascinating place to visit. It’s one of my top things to see and do in Seoul for a reason!
One of the museum’s coolest exhibits is a display of all of the Korean presidents from 1948 to 2017, which is called the Wall of Presidents. Below each president’s photo is a detailed list of their accomplishments.
There’s also an interactive room that displays photos of some of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. On the opposite wall is an interactive, multi-lingual map that has lots of information about locations around the country, including street markets.
Speaking of street markets, you can learn about Korean street food at a display dedicated to the subject. Another exhibit I found interesting was called Dear Korea, which is about the Democratic movement and the protests and stages that got Korea to where it is today.
Try Street Food at Tongin Market
Of course, Seoul is an amazing city for those who love to eat street food. One of the best spots in the city to try some is Tongin Market, a covered market that dates back to 1941. The market boasts 75 shops and stalls and immediately reminded me of Nishiki Market in Kyoto, Japan.
I fell head-over-heels for the kimchi-jeon I found there. It combines two of my favorite foods: kimchi and pancakes! It was perfectly spicy and moist, but still had a crispiness on the outside.
Another of the top street foods at Tongin Market is the extra-long gimbap, which consisted of rice, onion, carrot, and beef or pork wrapped in seaweed. It was very crunchy, with only a small amount of rice. The vegetables in it were crisp and delicious! Enjoying a gimbap is one of the top things to see and do in Seoul. They’re the perfect snack food and a great complement to a full meal!
You also must try the ultimate Korean street food, tteok-bokki. This unique dish is made up of spicy, savory stir-fried rice cakes in a rich, red sauce. I tried this dish nearly every day I spent in South Korea. It is seriously addicting! The dish is spicy, oily, and flavorful and made my mouth water every time I had it! When you travel to South Korea, having tteok-bokki is easily one of the best things to see and do in Seoul!
I know I mentioned Korean fried chicken earlier, but you really need to try the variety that’s sold at Tongin Market. It’s called dakgangjeong and consists of little nuggets, almost like popcorn chicken. The dakgangjeong is coated in a thick, glazy red sauce. Because of the color, you might think it’s spicy, but it’s not. Instead, it’s sweet and sour! Like ever other type of Korean fried chicken I’d eaten, it was incredibly fresh and tasty!
Not to be confused with the Japanese oden, a dish with somewhat similar components, one of my favorite seafood dishes in Korea is odeng. It’s made up of a spongy fish cake on a skewer and can be served alone or in a sauce along with tteok-bokki. The kind at Tongin Market was served by itself, but was still packed with flavor. The flavor was reminiscent of fish balls, something I’ve eaten a lot of in Asian countries. If you love fresh-tasting fish, this is the dish for you!
I visited South Korea in late May, so the weather was starting to get hot and humid. When exploring a packed market, you need something refreshing to cool you off. Enter sikhye, a rice-based drink that’s similar to the sugarcane juice I often have when I travel through India. It contains grains of rice on the bottom and is a sweet and fresh drink that’s perfect for a hot day!
Some of you may know that I’m not the biggest sweets guy. But I am a lover of honey, so I knew I had to try the fried pancake-like pastry called hotteok when I learned it was stuffed with honey and cream! It’s served piping hot, straight out of the oil, and is crispy and super greasy. Be careful, as the honey and cream can scald your mouth if it’s too hot. It oozes after just one bite. Having one is one of the best things to see and do in Seoul if you have a sweet tooth!
Whenever you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture of a destination, you should take it. It really enriches your travel experience in a way that’s difficult to explain in words. One of the top things to see and do in Seoul is visit Gyeongbokgung Palace. You can visit the palace wearing your regular street clothes, of course, but you can also rent traditional, 17th-century-style clothing called a hanbok, which allows you to get in for free! Trust me, it’s worth it!
There are shops near Gyeongbokgung Palace that specialize in hanbok rentals. During my visit, I chose a blue and gold outerwear option with a dragon on the chest. I finished the look with a white shirt and pink pants that matched the belt with the outer layer. Not only did I look like a 17th-century Korean royal, I was also ready to visit the palace!
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Explore Gyeongbokgung Palace
No trip to Seoul is complete without visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace, which was built in 1395 during the Joseon Dynasty. It is considered the most beautiful of the Five Grand Palaces that were built by the Joseon Dynasty. The palace served as the home of the Joseon kings, their households, and the government officials. Over 500 buildings make up the sprawling palace complex.
The palace complex includes the National Folk Museum of Korea, which serves as an entrance to the grounds. There are also a Buddhist temple, traditional houses built on stilts, a picturesque pond, a massive pavilion, and the Diligent Governance hall, which is the most impressive building in the complex.
As you explore the grounds, you’ll likely run into lots of other tourists wearing hanboks. I met a very friendly group of ladies from Malaysia and New Zealand, all of whom looked beautiful in their traditional clothing.
Visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace was one of my favorite things to see and do in Seoul, without a doubt. It strongly reminded me of my visit to the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. Although the entry fee for those wearing street clothes is tiny (3,000 won/roughly $2.50 USD for adults), it changes your whole experience to wear one. Just visit early when it’s not as hot outside; I was pouring sweat under mine!
Try Korean Stews and Porridges
Another Korean food experience you must have in Seoul is trying Korean stews. Following my visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace, my friend Sam and I found a spot down a narrow alleyway that specializes in them. After a scan of the menu, I found one that combined several of my favorite things: dumplings, noodles, radishes, kimchi, and spring onions. I was sold immediately!
The dumplings were nice and tender and contained juicy pork and lots of vibrant, flavorful herbs. The broth and noodles had a miso-like flavor, while the kimchi added a pungent and spicy kick! Together, everything tasted really fresh and healthy, which I had learned is a signature of a lot of Korean dishes.
A heavier Korean food option you may want to try is porridge. Porridge is a popular breakfast item in South Korea. Toward the tail end of my time in the country, I tried a rice, seaweed, and shrimp porridge that reminded me a lot of risotto. It didn’t have any spice to it but was still quite flavorful. I especially enjoyed the large chunks of shrimp. It’s a healthy and hearty way to start your day. I highly recommend it!
Visit Changdeokgung Palace
One of the most gorgeous things to see and do in Seoul is easily Changdeokgung Palace. This spacious palace dates back to 1405 and served as the main residence of the Joseon kings. Like Gyeongbokgung Palace, it’s one of the Five Grand Palaces that were built by the Joseon kings. It was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 for being an “outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design.”
The grounds of the palace are expansive and are home to over 26,000 species of trees. It was the favorite palace of the royal family because of its peaceful atmosphere, and I could see why during my visit. The architecture of the various buildings was really unique and the secret garden is especially beautiful. Another highlight is the hall that was used for royal ceremonies and the coronation of the king. You can see his throne there!
Just It costs 3,000 won ($2.82 U.S.) to see the palace and an extra 5,000 ($4.19 U.S.) to see the secret gardens. With a total cost of just 8,000 won, or $6.71 U.S., to see a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site, Changdeokgung Palace is one site you can’t afford to miss!
Visit Namdaemun Market
As you probably know by now, visiting street markets is one of my favorite things to do when I travel. Hands down, one of my favorite markets in Seoul is Namdaemun Market. It dates back to 1414 and boasts a whopping 10,000 stalls!
There, you’ll find a wide assortment of street foods, including a crunchy, deep-fried hot dog with a potato batter coating; fried, polenta-like rice cakes, and some divine gimbap! The gimbap was filled with seaweed, rice, carrot, cucumber, and radish and tasted heavenly with soy sauce mixed with wasabi.
You can also find sweet rice cakes, some sweet and spicy tteok-bokki with odeng, and a refreshing green tea latte. But my favorite item was easily the mandu. Mandu are steamed dumplings. There’s a reddish one that contains kimchi, noodles, and pork that blew my mind, and another with juicy pork and glass noodles inside.
The great thing about Namdaemun Market is that it’s not just street food. In fact, I actually had some trouble finding the street food because there were a lot more retail vendors and shops there. There are some clothing vendors, but just know that some of them aren’t particularly friendly or helpful.
My favorite shop in Namdaemun Market is a maze-like Korean folklore store. This is the shop to visit if you’re looking for great souvenirs. They sell a variety of beautiful, authentic wooden masks in different colors and sizes that would look great on anyone’s wall!
Between the incredible street food and the cool shops, it’s no wonder exploring Namdaemun Market is one of the top things to see and do in Seoul!
Seoul is full of unique sites and experiences, and if you’re looking for one that’s both unique and peaceful, you can’t beat Cheonggycheon. Cheonggycheon is a beautiful pedestrian area in the middle of Seoul that has a stream flowing through it. It’s made up of two concrete, pedestrian boardwalks with the stream flowing between them.
Despite its location in the middle of one of the world’s biggest cities, Cheonggycheon seemed almost soundproof. Its concrete walls amost completely blocked out the sounds of the city. Because it’s quiet, the area is a great spot to take a walk or go on a date, especially at night. There’s plenty of light so you can see.
Seven bridges cross the stream, but it’s more fun to use the stepping stones to get to the other side! Just be careful, because you don’t want to slip and fall.
In all of my travels, I’ve never seen a place like Cheonggycheon. It isn’t just water and concrete; the area is actually teeming with plant life. It makes Cheonggycheon feel like a green oasis in the heart of the city. It’s easily one of my favorite things to see and do in Seoul. I highly recommend it!
Eat at Gimbap Cheonguk
There are lots of great spots to grab a tasty and filling breakfast in Seoul, but one of my favorites is Gimbap Cheonguk, which I visited late into my trip. Gimbap Cheonguk is a popular chain of restaurants in Korea. They serve classic Korean dishes including mandu, meats, and gimbap. They’re also inexpensive and the dishes are available at all times of the day!
I recommend trying their steamed kimchi mandu, which was tender with lots of tasty kimchi inside. The flavors were explosive and irresistible from my very first bite. It’s my favorite dumpling of all-time! There are also lots of banchan, including a fluffy vegetable omelet, a crunchy yellow radish, a savory leek pancake, and crunchy and spicy mixed vegetables.
But the star of this meal was the fried pork cutlet, which was topped with a rich, sweet marmalade-like sauce. It paired perfectly with the crispy, meaty cutlet, which had been expertly fried and battered. The combination of the two was unreal and had me sink further and further into Korean food heaven with each bite. The cutlet is also huge, so you’ll feel full and satisfied for hours!
Hike to Seoul Tower and Ride the Namsan Cable Car
I love the unpredictability of travel. Sometimes the moments that don’t go entirely according to plan wind up being fun experiences if you go with the flow. I had such an experience after taking a taxi to Seoul Tower. But because of the language barrier, the driver dropped me and Sam off at Namsan Park instead, which meant we were in for an unexpected 20-minute hike to get to the tower.
As I made my way up to Seoul Tower, I was struck by all of the greenery around us. The air there felt clean and fresh. And every now and then, the vegetation would open up and provide us with stunning views of Seoul. These views made the hike totally worth it! All in all, it’s not that bad of a hike. I’m in pretty good shape, so I managed it well, but there are resting areas along the path if you get winded.
Once you arrive at Seoul Tower, you’ll have to pay 10,000 won/$8.33 USD for an adult ticket to the observation deck at the top. A child’s ticket will cost 8,000 won/$6.66 USD. You’ll have to go to the 5th floor to take a second elevator to the top.
The views from the top of Seoul Tower are nothing short of breathtaking. At 236 meters above the city, I could see for miles, all the way to the mountains in the distance. Eagle-eyed visitors will also be able to spot Lotte World Tower and the Han River. From above, I realized just how green Seoul is.
That’s why I love visiting observation decks. They give you a completely different perspective of the city you’ve been exploring on foot.
Love Locks and Namsan Cable Car
After you exit Seoul Tower, you can obviously hike back down to the street, or you can take an even more scenic route. Follow a path lined with love locks until you reach the Namsan Cable Car, which costs 7,000 won/$5.83 U.S. per person for a one-way ride. The cable car ride is quick at only three minutes, but is another great way to see Seoul from various angles from above. Riding it is one of the best things to see and do in Seoul!
Try Korean Street Food at Mangwon Market
As I mentioned earlier, I love visiting street markets when I travel. They’re some of the best places to get a sense of what everyday life is like for the people who work and shop there. Unfortunately, many markets have become very touristy, so it’s always a breath of fresh air to find one that has retained its local feel and authenticity. Enter Mangwon Market.
Mangwon Market is a hidden gem on the west side of Seoul. There are no tourists there, so you get an authentic look at Seoul. It’s very much an all-purpose market, as you can find butchers, clothing vendors, supermarkets, bars, and yes, street food.
For a quick and easy treat, try the hot bar, which is a cheese stick wrapped in an odeng fish cake. The cheese inside may be artificial, but it’s still pretty good! There’s also an exotic-looking flat, grilled puffer fish pancake that is dry, salty, and chewy. It goes really well with gochujang sauce!
You can also get an eight-piece order of tempura, which includes carrots, minced pork, green peas, cod fish, radish, cucumber, and imitation crab in a light, eggy tempura coating. Don’t miss the Korean rice wine, spicy fried chicken, and tteok in a sweet and tangy sauce!
But the food that makes exploring Mangwon Market one of the best things to see and do in Seoul is the pork belly. It was sold by a friendly vendor near the intersection in the center of the market. From the first bite, his pork belly was like an explosion of delicious, juicy fat in my mouth. It was tender, porky goodness!
Mangwon Market is a can’t-miss when you’re in Seoul. There’s no place better to people watch and learn more about everyday life in one of the world’s largest cities!
It would be a crime to visit Seoul and not check out the youth scene that drives modern Korean culture. The best way to do that is to head down to the Hongdae area, which is a bright and lively entertainment district with shops, street food, restaurants, and games. Even if you don’t fit into the youth-oriented scene, checking out Hongdae is one of the best things to see and do in Seoul.
While I had the time of my life exploring the streets, I couldn’t help but notice that, at 33 years old, I was at least ten years older than most of the people there! However, that didn’t stop me from playing a dart game and winning a big, Korean stuffed animal as a prize for my daughter!
Dance is a huge part of K-Pop culture and it was on full display on the streets of Hongdae the night I visited. I had the pleasure of watching a troupe of very talented hip-hop dancers put on an awesome, choreographed routine right on the street. They were so good that they attracted a pretty big crowd!
As far as food in Hongdae, I recommend finding a restaurant that offers bulgogi, the mouthwatering form of Korean barbecue I discussed earlier. Be sure to try some seaweed soup and soju (a Korean spirit that’s similar to vodka but smoother) while you’re there!
Visit Lotte World Tower
Even though I had visited Seoul Tower earlier in my trip, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to view the city from an even higher vantage point. To do so, I headed to Lotte World Tower. It’s the fifth-tallest building in the world and has 120 floors. It stands 1,821 feet high and is home to the highest glass-bottomed observation deck in the world and the highest swimming pool in the world! It even has its own mall and hotel!
Before you even go inside the tower, take some time to stroll around the lake outside. The views of the building from the shore are spectacular. From there, you’ll see that the angular, futuristic-looking building wouldn’t be out of place in a Star Wars movie!
Seoul Seoul 3080
Inside, there are tons of things to do, but I recommend having a meal at Seoul Seoul 3080, the food court on the fifth floor. There’s a restaurant there that sells a wide variety of bibimbaps and set menus. I tried a sensational one that contained seaweed, radish, mushrooms, hot sauce, cucumbers, beef, and onions. I also ordered some extra beef on the side!
Glass-Bottomed Observation Deck and Sky Terrace
Before you head up to the observation deck, you’ll first head down to the B1 level, where you’ll find an exhibition hall displaying the building materials used in the tower. After a one-minute ride, you’ll arrive at the top.
Lotte World Tower has the coolest observation deck I’ve ever visited. It’s massive and has huge windows so you get a panoramic view of the entire city. I could see lots of helipads below, along with the Han River, the distant mountains, Seoul Tower, and much more.
The biggest (and scariest) highlight is the glass-bottomed section of floor, which you can lie down on for an exhilarating rush! There’s also an outdoor section called Sky Terrace. The view there isn’t much different from the one inside, but was cold out there even though it was almost June!
Visit the Gangnam Area Monument
Lovers of pop culture would be remiss if they didn’t take some time to head to the Gangnam Area of Seoul. Gangnam, or Gangnam-gu, is an upscale area south of the Han River. It’s known for its modern skyscrapers, trendy nightclubs, high-end restaurants, and designer retail stores.
But if you were alive in 2012, there’s no way you missed the pop culture phenomenon that made introduced Gangnam to a worldwide audience. Of course, I’m talking about the huge hit song, “Gangnam Style” by PSY.
The song and accompanying music video left such an indelible mark that there is a monument dedicated to it in the area. The monument consists of a large statue of PSY’s crossed hands, made famous by the dance in his music video.
If you think I went there just to attempt the “Gangnam Style” dance in front of the monument…you’d be right! It’s easily one of the top things to see and do in Seoul. Cross your wrists, lift those knees, and go for it!
Have Korean Street Food on Myeongdong Street
I’m a foodie at heart, so there’s no way I could visit Seoul without exploring Myeongdong Street, which is considered a mecca for Korean street food! I explored this touristy, centrally-located street with my friend Paul, who took me around to several stalls and ate with me. Even if you’re not a foodie, touring Myeongong Street is one of the best things to see and do in Seoul.
Sweets and Treats
The treats here are wide-ranging. There’s a sweet and nutty dish that’s made from pulled strands of soybeans and fermented honey and topped with almonds that blew my mind.
Speaking of almonds, you can sample several flavors at a stall on the street, including fire chicken, wasabi, and even one with Pop Rocks! The Pop Rocks flavor was so good I had to buy a bag to take back home with me!
One of my favorite sweet treats was the egg bun, which had a custard-like mouth feel. It was topped with a fully-cooked egg, almonds, peanuts, and sunflower seeds. The sunflower seeds added a whole new layer of flavor that I really enjoyed!
Fans of savory dishes shouldn’t miss the pork-and-vegetable mandu, which is garlicky and full of zesty spring onions. The pork inside is juicy and tender as ever, and a bit of soy sauce really makes the flavors pop!
If you’d prefer some beef, you have to try the Myeongdong dakgalbi, which is essentially a Korean hamburger. It’s a tender beef patty that is topped with rice cakes and loads of stringy cheese before it’s torched! It’s light on spices, but the beef is so flavorful that it didn’t need more. It was even better with some spicy sweet and sour sauce!
You can’t leave without trying a gimbap that’s filled with spicy roe and sticky rice. The seaweed surrounding it gave it a nice crunch. I also recommend the skewered chicken. You can choose from several different sauces, including a divine teriyaki, a tangy barbecue, and one so spicy, it felt like my entire mouth had been set on fire!
Try Korean Craft Beer
I admit, I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to beer. When I travel, I seek out local craft beers because I find a lot of the mass-produced ones taste very watery. Luckily for beer enthusiasts, there are fantastic spots all around Seoul where you can grab a tasty craft beer.
One of my favorite spots was a place called Craft Hans, a beautiful, trendy spot that sells Korean and international beers. There, I went with a smooth and hoppy Hans IPA, while my friend Paul chose a citrus-infused Weizen.
My buddy Sam and I hit up a craft beer spot called Michin Dak, which translates to Crazy Chicken. The pale ale I ordered there was very light and hoppy and had a fruity and slightly bitter flavor. I also tried their South Korean Hefeweizen, which had a fruity taste that reminded me of either passionfruit or dragonfruit.
During our exploration of Hongdae, Sam and I found a great, youth-oriented bar with a garden area, where I ordered a Belgian beer called a Chimay White Triple. It was the strongest and most expensive beer sold there and it was worth every sip!
Travelers who love good craft beer should not miss the varieties available in Seoul. They will blow your mind and having any one of them is among the best things to see and do in Seoul!
Explore Bukchon Hanok Village
Something I love to do when I travel is to explore traditional villages. They often radiate a sense of the past that you don’t often get in big, modern cities. But Seoul is an exception, as the beautiful 14th-century Bukchon Hanok Village lies on a hill between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces!
Before you explore, you should probably grab some breakfast. Luckily, there’s a great, diner-like restaurant nearby that sells cold buckwheat noodles. They come with egg, spicy sauce, cucumber, radish, and ice. Yes, ice. They’re very cold but have a nice heat to them from the spice, which is an interesting combination I wasn’t used to!
Their gimbap is to die for. It’s stuffed with pink sticky rice, canned tuna, carrot, egg, and kimchi. The tangy flavor was different from what I was used to, but it had me salivating after the first bite. Don’t forget the banchan, which include a phenomenal kimchi.
When you explore Bukchon Hanok Village, I recommend going in the morning. That said, if you visit early, be courteous and stay as quiet as possible. It may be a historical village, but it’s also still a residential neighborhood full of people who don’t want to be disturbed in the wee hours of the morning by noisy tourists.
This village is where government officials and nobility used to live. You can feel the history as you walk the streets and marvel at the traditional architecture. I especially loved the stonework and the rooftops, which are emblematic of traditional Korea. Many of the houses there also boast gorgeous wooden doorways.
With the village being a bit of a tourist haven, there are gift shops there. I explored one that sold lots of cool figurines wearing hanboks as well as items from Korea, China, and Nepal. Some of the most beautiful items included traditional masks and boxes made of mother of pearl!
Take the KTX Bullet Train to Busan
Hands down, one of the top things to see and do in Seoul is ride the KTX, or Korean Express. The KTX is Korea’s bullet train, which is a high-speed train that travels at speeds up to 190 mph. They make traveling between distant cities quick and affordable. There are similar trains in both Japan and China.
I rode the KTX several times during my time in South Korea. I rode Economy Class from Seoul to Busan. You catch the train at Seoul Station. I recommend booking your tickets 4 or 5 days in advance if you’re planning on traveling during the weekend. Expect to pay 59,800 won, or about $50 USD, for a ticket. It’s roughly half the price of what you’d pay for a comparable bullet train ride in Japan!
Remember to be on time for your KTX trains. They arrive at the platform on time and leave five minutes later whether you’re on board or not. The ride is quite comfortable. The seats recline and there’s lots of leg room, which is great if you’re six feet tall like me! A ride from Seoul to Busan should take around 2 hours and 15 minutes and will take you across green hills and farming communities.
I rode First Class back to Seoul, which cost 83,700 won, or about $69 USD. First Class riders are given a package with mixed nuts, a chocolate chip cookie, and hand wipes. There’s also a water machine that provides you with an ice-cold bottle of water for free. Riding First Class is among the best things to see and do in Seoul. If you can afford it, go for it!
BONUS: Ride the Airport Express Train from Seoul Station to Incheon International Airport
You might be surprised to learn that Seoul’s airport isn’t actually in Seoul. Like other large Asian cities like Tokyo and Shanghai, the airport is located outside of the city, in the neighboring city of Incheon.
The fastest and most efficient way to reach Incheon International Airport from Seoul is to take the Airport Express train. When you arrive at Seoul Station, just follow the blue lines on the floor and you’ll get there with no problem.
A ticket on the train will cost 9,500 won, or about $8 USD. After you buy your ticket, you can head down to the tracks and board. New Airport Express trains arrive every half-hour, so you never have to wait long and they’re never full.
The ride is quick, just 43 minutes, but you can still enjoy free WiFi onboard. I recommend taking the Airport Express at least 3 or 4 hours before your flight so you have time to check-in, go through security, and get something to eat before you take off.
I highly recommend traveling to Seoul. It’s a must for anyone who truly wants to experience the world. From its traditional markets and villages to its vibrant, pulse-pounding K-Pop culture and everything in-between, Seoul is a city like no other. You could easily spend a year there and still find new things to see and do in Seoul. Book a trip to Seoul today to experience it for yourself! If you do, drop me a comment below and let me know what your favorite things to see and do were!
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