We created this Seoul guide for you to start planning your next adventure on the Asian continent. Read about tourist attractions, food, and costs!
Tourist Attractions: a Seoul Guide
- Any of these Cultural Heritage sites, if you’re keen to tap into its rich (and very long!) history. In fact, if you just want a more full-on type of experience, Bukchon Hanok (Korean word denoting its traditional houses) folk village is a good choice.
- Insadong is a shopping district and quaint neighborhood filled with many traditional experiences – from teahouses and eateries to galleries and booths showcasing folk art. This tip applies for most Korean neighborhoods and not just this, but please – don’t miss out on the street food!
- N Seoul Tower: a high vantage point ideal for appreciating the city’s skyline and cityscape.
- Starfield COEX Mall (check out their latest addition!) in Hannam-dong and adjacent Sinsa-dong offer an eclectic variety of shops, mostly on the upscale side. Fancy restaurants in this general Gangnam district may be worth a visit.
- Starfield (public) library in COEX Mall. Photo courtesy: Jane Kim
Since it’s almost Christmas time, here’s a rundown of festivities you can enjoy in the city.
Here’s a general list if you have trouble getting started. Despite being tiny in geographical size, Seoul encompasses a great variety of attractions. Hence, tourists will find that Seoul can be whatever each chooses to make of it.
Frankly, S. Korea’s food scene is huge. Koreans are extremely proud of their cuisine and you’ll find food everywhere. Not to mention that compared to Seoul’s standard price range for everything else, food is always accessible and affordable.
- Though Namdaemun market is Korea’s largest traditional one selling all sorts of goods and utilities, (its counterpart – ‘Nam’ meaning ‘south’ and ‘dong’ meaning ‘east’) Dongdaemun market is famous for its plaza of eateries. Here are some other markets in the city where cheap Korean eats can be found, along with handy tools and quirky souvenirs.
Always ask a local about their favorite eateries, they’ll give you excellent suggestions. And, if you’re a vegetarian, read our list of the 10 best vegetarian restaurants in Seoul.
For buzzing nightlife, university/student neighborhoods Hongdae, Sinchon and laid-back Yeonnam-dong are. Konkuk Unv. Stn is always teeming with youthful energy too, especially the hip shopping center Common Ground. The whole plaza and their individual shops are uniquely fashioned from cobalt blue shipping container boxes.
- Common Ground, lit up for a Halloween Night market/party
Photo courtesy: Jane Kim
Itaewon, though an expat neighborhood is also known for its parties and clubbing scene. Since most Koreans are nocturnal (a.k.a their nights know of no end), there’s never a shortage of late-night eateries… or even quick delivery, for that matter.
Here are some ‘only in Korea’ suggestions, from a non-Korean viewpoint that may help pinpoint you to some unusual things you’ll see in the city.
Want to truly immerse yourself in the locals’ lifestyle? Why not let a local guide open your eyes up to some exclusive info? Download Talk Travel App to talk to a Seoul expert or resident.
Expectations vs. Realities
Though Korea is homogeneous both lingually and ethnicity-wise, being the only nation to speak Korean, more Koreans have above-average English speaking skills than one might expect. In regards to the ethnic/racial part of its homogeneity, even just a couple of years ago any non-Asian could reasonably expect to get multiple uncomfortable stares in public. However, things have rapidly changed for South Korea as its global presence interested more foreigners to visit and live there – in return for which now at least in Seoul, non-Koreans won’t have to feel too alienated.
Korean culture, having its distinct roots in Confucianism, is still more conservative than it actually may seem from the outside. Fashion revolves on lightspeed and trends viralize themselves just like that; needless to say, the youngsters are no less liberal and expressive than those from other parts of the world. But oftentimes, there is more patriarchy and societal hierarchy, or constraints and stigma attached to certain issues than the looks may lead you to imply.
Though S. Korea, especially Seoul is (in)famous for being an uber-paced and spatially cramped up super city, the country offers up a lot of scenery, with a unique geography that – paralleling its mixture of four distinct and intense seasons – encapsulates all: the mountains, the beach, and you name it. The naturescape to-be-expected will widely vary per season and thus the outdoor activities ideal for tourists, so best to check these guides out (spring | summer | autumn | winter). For the brutally cold winters, one can either savor the snow or opt to stay as warm as possible.
Settling down long-term
Here’s a good resource to get started on an apartment search, which in this densely populated city, requires you to be nimble. The website also gets down to the nitty-gritty of settling down in the cutthroat city, as well as featuring timely tourist info.
In line with the abovementioned point regarding the plethora of foreign residents in recent years, there are multitudes of sources out there that can be of service to you. But we get it; sifting through too much info is a lot of work in itself, right? Start by simply asking the questions you need instantly, via Talk Travel App. Talking to an expert beats efficiency in any sort of research.
There are an excellent array of cheaper options like buses (both inner-city and outer-city), subways and trains. All of them are widely utilized. The fastest trains are SRT and KTX, but you’ll only need to get to a train station to venture outside of Seoul. For guidance and instant updates on subway timings, download some apps on your mobile. Most of them are named along the lines of “Seoul subway” like this one.
Since subways and buses stop running around midnight, taxis and ‘Kakao taxis’ (the Korean version or Uber) are also frequented. These are easy to grab and they’re mettered so you don’t have to worry about getting ripped off. Naver/Daum (Korean search engines) Maps can even give you taxi fare estimates. Plus, these maps are convenient for comparing travel times per transportation mode.
When choosing where to stay while in Seoul know that there are wealthier neighborhoods and prices could be more expensive there.
If you’re looking for luxury, check accommodations in Apgujeong and Cheongdam. For the more cultural interested travelers, Gwanghwamun and Jongo are excellent neighborhoods to stay in, since the area is full of old palaces and other historic buildings.
For a better experience when searching for accommodation in Seoul be sure to check All the Rooms, this website gives you practical information on how to actually save money in Seoul by not overpaying for accommodation.
Destinations worth venturing out to
- Nami Island, incredibly scenic all-year-round, boasts different naturescapes every season. 1.5-2.5 hrs away from Seoul, depending on which method of transport you use. Tours afford the simplest accessibility.
- Busan can take up to 5 hrs by car, but down to 2.5 hrs via any of the faster trains. The second biggest Korean city after Seoul, Busan is at the southernmost tip and thus a busy coastal city – accompanying a huge party scene. Though the same transportation modes will be available, they might run in slightly different ways with which to navigate. This article, as well as the blog’s other posts, provide a good idea of what Busan has to offer.
Here are some National Parks, historical fortresses and other wondrous experiences not too far from Seoul.
It is not uncommon to meet rural residents who are so much laid back than the typical ‘Seoulite.’ Let a local help you plan out your itinerary, using Talk Travel App.
Traveling as a woman
With Korea being one of the safest places in the world, there’s absolutely no need to carry another baggage of safety concerns. For tips about female solo travel, visit our guides here.
Traveling with a child
- Children’s Grand Park and Seoul Children’s Museum are some of the most well-known, among the many other parks and museums.
- Temples and botanical gardens are also scattered about the country’s mountainsides, well enjoyable by the entire family.
Ready for your adventure in Seoul? Remember we also have other destination guides to inspire your travels!