I’ve been in Seoul now for around two weeks and in that time I´ve seen quite a lot in Seoul. There are still many things I haven´t seen as the city is so huge and has lots to offer. I´ll show you some of my favorite places in Seoul, both touristy and more local.
1. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Seoul has several places in the city center surrounded by skyscrapers. Something I find very unique for a city. Gyeongbokgung was the first thing I visited in Seoul, as it was the first thing in my tour guide 😉 Like everywhere you can watch the changing of the guards. I personally always enjoy that and in Korea people are dressed up nicely and they´re a huge show around it. I immediately bought a combination ticket for all four palaces as it was really cheap, the ticket was only 71 SEK, what a great deal!
They offer tours in english several times a day. I was lucky to arrive shortly before the tour started. The guide was wearing a hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and showed us around the huge palace. I would really advice you to take the tour, as otherwise you do not know what building you are currently looking at. The tour was around 1 hour 30.
Korean palaces are really colorful and rather plain, with lots of buildings. The king had his own path to walk on, I walked on it just because I can 😉 The queen was not allowed to leave the palace, therefore she had a garden at the back of her residence where she could see the changes of the seasons. Also something very interesting: in the palace the korean alphabet (hangul) was invented, so a very historical place.
This palace is smaller but the most preserved palace in Seoul, therefore being UNESCO world heritage. The palace´s buildings are similar to the Gyeongbokgung but have their own flair.Once again, in order to see the palace it is advisable to join a tour. The tour takes around an hour and is very informative. The highlight of the palace is the secret garden, which covers the most space of the palace. In order to see the secret garden an extra ticket must be purchased ( for very little money) and you HAVE to join a tour in order go inside. The secret garden is a must ! The tour takes around 2 hours and involves lots of walking (uphill!). The guide said that he lost 25 kg just by walking around the garden.
The secret garden is an oasis in the middle of a 10 million people city. Korean landscape architecture focuses a lot on nature and growing things naturally. Very different to japanese or english gardens. There are several buildings inside the garden where the King relaxed and invited officials for parties and ceremonies. The garden is secret as it was not open for public whilst the king was alive ( luckily for us, the king died decades ago).
All historic buildings in Seoul and Korea in general are not original! During the Japanese invasion in 1592-1598 all historic and cultural sites were distroyed. Changdeokgung palace was rebuilt in 1610. Gyeongbokgung was destroyed aswell and then once again during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945). Only in the last decade did the government rebuild the palace and several parts of the palace still are under construction. It is fascinating how Korean culture survive the occupation and the government invests a lot of money and effort to restore the cultural heritage.
3. Bukchon Hanok Village
Hanok are traditional korean homes. There are not many left in Seoul, therefore the hanok´s in Bukchon are very special. Small houses with cafes, shops and restaurant. It is a very touristy area, however really interesting and there is lots to see. You can spend hours walking around (HILLYYY) and the cute shops really offer a variety in things.
Probably the most photographed area in Seoul. Gwangwamun is a huge square that starts at Gyeongbokgung Palace and leads to the City Hall. A pedestrian street allows you to enjoy the fantastic view. On the square there are two important statutes: Admiral Yi Sun-sin and Kind Sejong. Both statues are very impressive.
Closeby is the artificially made Cheong-gye-cheon stream, which allows one to escape the fast pace of the city. It is very popular among young couples to go there. You can cool your hurting feet and enjoy the light show in the evenings. Have a look at the city hall, even if it´s just to fill your water bottle!
SHOPPING! Seoul is famous in Asia for being a shopping mecca! There´s everything. From high end products at Lotte Department store to cheap (fake ) clothing on the market. Especially beauty products are popular. I have never seen so many beauty shops in my life, they repeat every 100 meters. Koreans love their brands, Samsung, LG and korean beauty brands. In order to gain strength you can buy lots of korean food on the streets! Most of it is spicy so be careful!
6.Noryangjin Fish Market
FISH, FISH, FISH. So much fish! The Noryangjin Fish market makes fish lover´s hearts beat faster. Everything that swims in sea and ocean can be purchased here. All is fresh as most things are still alive and fist killed when bought. I did not try any of the fish, as there was too much to choose from. I will have to do so! Baby octopus is very popular. NO, it is not alive! The octopus is killed seconds before you eat it (raw). The octopus´s reflexes are still functioning therefore eating it can be a challenge. Remember to take a video!
The Han river divides the north and south of Seoul. Lots of outdoor activities are offered along it´s banks. Try some jetski or anything else. Janwon Park is popular among locals as you can do sports, relax and enjoy the fantastic view on the city, I did a boat tour ( I always do one, if a river is close). It was fantastic. Seeing something from a boat is always exciting and fun.
Gangnam is not just popular because of a certain song, but due to it´s trend setting shops and people. Gangnam is an outer district that has everything to offer. Great clubs, expensive and alternative shops, art galleries and nice restaurants. Gangnam really is worth a visit. So far I enjoyed Sisadong Garosu-gil street the most. Fantastic shops for a rather small budget and young designers can be found on the ginkgo lined road.
Olympic parks are always impressive, in my opinion. Seoul hosted the Olympic games in 1988. The Olympic Park offers a lot. Museums, sports and history. Walk around and feel the olympic spirit. You can walk along the Mongchontoseong Fortress on which you´ll learn about the history of the early Baekje period. Many concerts and sports events take place in the olympic park. I visited the SOMA Museum of Art to see the Frida Kahlo exhibition. Sculptures can be found all around the museum.
Itaewon is the area where you find the most foreigners. Restaurants offer food from all around the world. If you get home sick, you should come here and eat your local food.Lot´s of shops, restaurants and clubs guarantee a good time.
5 Tips for sightseeing in Seoul.
1. Buy a Tmoney card for the Subway, the “Subway” app is great for the metro.
2. Get a free Tour Guide from the Tourist Information ( each site has the metro stop and exit written on it, super handy).
3. Buy a good tour guide. I´m old fashion, I prefer a paper tour guide. I´m using the one from Lonely Planet. Any tour guide is goo, as long as it has a good map in it 😉
4. Inform yourself about the hours for the tours around the palaces
5. Most museums are free and there´s air conditioning
Wow, that was a lot. Hope that I didn’t bore you to death.
Somehow, once again I couldn’t add pictures as they were to big. Sorry for that! I´ll try to fix this asap!