Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is pretty high up there when it comes to favorite cities in the world amongst tourists. Seoul is very high-energy and is often compared to New York City and Tokyo. There is so much to see and do and is the perfect place for anyone to enjoy.
Seoul has been continuously settled for over 2,000 years since it was first founded in 18 B.C. by the Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. The city also remained as the capital of Korea during the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire. During the Japanese colonization of Korea in the early 20th century, Seoul became known as Gyeongseong.
In 1945, Korea gained its independence from Japan and the city was renamed Seoul. In 1949, the city separated from Gyeonggi Province and it became a “special city,” but in 1950, North Korean troops occupied the city during the Korean War and the entire city was nearly destroyed. On March 14, 1951, the United Nations forces took control of Seoul. Since then, the city has rebuilt and grown considerably.
Today, Seoul is still considered a special city, or a direct-controlled municipality, in that it as a city has a status equal to that of a province. This means that it has no provincial government controlling it. Rather, the federal government of South Korea controls it directly.
Because of its very long history of settlement, Seoul is home to a number of historic sites and monuments. The Seoul National Capital Area has four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Changdeokgung Palace Complex, the Hwaseong Fortress, the Jongmyo Shrine, and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
Seoul is an exciting city with so much to see and do. Whether you have one weekend or two weeks, you can easily pack in a lot of sights and attractions without feeling rushed. But if you have more time, one of the best ways to discover South Korea’s capital is to explore the city’s wide array of diverse neighborhoods, offering everything from art and culture, to history, shopping and nightlife. Whatever your interests are, there’s an area that’s worth a visit.
Here is a list of the top 10 neighborhoods in Seoul:
- Myeongdong – This is one of the primary shopping districts in the city (for both locals and visitors) and has about one million visitors pass through the area every day. But don’t let that number deter you; getting there and around isn’t nearly as chaotic as it might sound. The streets may be busy, but getting around doesn’t feel overwhelming. Here you’ll find a good mix of both Korean and North American brands, as well as a plethora of Korean skin care and beauty-focused shops where there will be samples aplenty if you ask for them. Myeongdong is also a great place to fill up on Korean street food (both sweet and savory). The entire shop-filled area stretches from Shinsegae Department Store to Lotte Department Store, and along Cheonggyecheon Stream to Myeongdong Subway Station.
- Itaewon – With its colorful winding streets filled with bars, street art, cafes and restaurants and the area’s international vibe, Itaewon is a great neighborhood to spend time in on a visit to Seoul. Itaewon was the first special tourist zone in Seoul, designated in 1997, and where you’ll find a high concentration of expats, giving the neighborhood its multicultural feel. You can get almost any type of cuisine you’re craving here. Itaewon is also home to Antique Furniture Street filled with over 100 shops selling unique pieces of antique furniture and home décor items. In general, this is a fun, laid-back area with lots to see and do.
- Hongdae – Located near four universities, Hongdae offers an exciting blend of boutiques, live music venues, cafes, bars and clubs creating all the buzz and excitement you can expect from a university-centric area. During the day, stop by to do some shopping or people watching at one of Hongae’s many cute cafes. In the evening, the neighborhood is known for its vibrant club scene — so if you’re a night owl, this is the place to be. You’ll also find lots of Instagram-worthy street art in Hongdae, as well as the Hongdae Free Market, held every Saturday from March to November at Hongik Children’s Park and featuring handmade products of all kinds.
- Gangnam – You may be familiar with Gangnam thanks to the ultra-popular song and accompanying viral YouTube video of “Gangnam Style” by PSY. But if you’re not (or you just know the song and not anything about the area), Gangnam, which means ‘South of the River,’ is the district that lies along South Korea‘s Han River. One of Seoul’s busiest areas, Gangnam is packed with high end shops, malls, restaurants and cafes. The affluent neighborhood is also home to COEX Mall, the largest underground shopping center in Asia, located in the basement of the Korea World Trade Center.
- Namdaemun – This area is where to go to shop at Korea’s oldest and largest traditional market, also named Namdaemun. The market and the greater Namdaemun area are named after the large gate located nearby, which is one of eight majestic gates you’ll find in Seoul along the city’s Fortress Wall. The market itself is a twisting maze of stalls spread over several city blocks, making it fairly easy to get lost — but that’s half the fun. Take your time wandering the stalls and definitely sample some street food when you’re hungry.
- Samcheong-dong – This is where you’ll find Bukchon Hanok Village (Hanok are Korean traditional houses), a great place to learn about traditional Korean culture. The charming neighborhood is also home to forty different galleries, which art-lovers should make a point of visiting, as well as European-style cafés and unique shops, some of which reside in renovated hanok in the area.
- Jamsil – Sports fans might want to make their way to Jamsil, a neighborhood that’s home to two professional Korean baseball teams: the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins, which both play at Jamsil Baseball Stadium. The stadium also hosted events during the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Jamsil is also home to Lotte World, a massive entertainment complex where you’ll find the world’s largest indoor amusement park, an ice rink, stores, restaurants, a folk museum and even a lake – meaning you won’t be bored on a visit.
- Dongdaemun – Another shopping-centric neighborhood, Dongdaemun, consists of over 20 shopping malls and 30,000 traditional shops and markets, meaning that no matter what you’re on the lookout for, you’re likely to find it here. Dongdaemun covers the entire area around Dongdaemun Gate, and even if you aren’t in the mood to buy, the neighborhood makes for a fun area to walk through. In addition to all of that shopping, this neighborhood is also where you’ll find Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), and home to museums and galleries offering a variety of cultural experiences and exhibits. For something a little off the beaten path, wander up the road behind Dongdaemun Gate to Dongdaemun Seonggwak Park for a bird’s eye view of the city below.
- Insadong – Insadong is an ideal place to find a few local souvenirs from Seoul to take home with you. The main street features a plethora of shops specializing in a wide variety of traditional Korean goods, including hanbok (traditional clothing), hanji (traditional paper), pottery, tea and crafts. That being said, the neighborhood’s winding alleyways are a wealth of teahouses and quaint eateries, so give yourself some time to explore slowly so you don’t miss anything. Art lovers will also want to put Insadong on their must-visit list — there are about 100 galleries in the area showcasing traditional Korean fine art. When you get hungry, the area is known for its ample array of places to eat, including Sanchon for vegetarian food and Gogung for Korean staple bibimbap.
- Buam-dong – This charming neighborhood in central Seoul is where to go to get away from the faster pace you’ll often feel in other areas of the city. The peaceful, residential area offers views of the surrounding mountains of Inwangsan and Bugaksan, and is home to many art galleries, museums (including Seoul Museum and Whanki Museum), coffee shops and restaurants. Stake out a spot at Sanmotoonge (which means Mountain Corner), a popular coffee shop with amazing views over the mountains.
Where to Stay
Where you stay in Seoul definitely depends on what your interests are and what kind of vibe you enjoy. If you are young and wanting to stay somewhere close to the popular nightlife scene and lots of international travelers, I recommend staying in Itaewon. For me, I wanted to be in the shopping district and have a view of the Namsan Tower, so I looked for places to stay in Myeongdong. Both times that I’ve visited Seoul, I’ve stayed in this neighborhood.
Selected Room: Panoramic Double Room with Namsan View, High Floor
Nightly Rate: $85 Weekdays, $121 Weekends
Notes: This hotel was a 7-minute walk to the nearest metro and a 10-minute walk to the main shopping area in Myeongdong. I selected the room with a view of the tower. The only thing I didn’t like was that the hotel staff didn’t let anyone check-in until exactly 3PM (even though the rooms were ready). This resulted in a long line of people waiting in line. There is a rooftop bar, although it was not in service during my stay.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/Fz93tFAR
Selected Room: Premier Suite, 2 Bedrooms
Nightly Rate: $130
Notes: I chose this hotel because it was one of the only ones that I could find that had 2 rooms. I had my dad and brother visiting me in Korea, so I wanted a room in Seoul that was more of an apartment-style. The Premier Suite has one room with 3 beds (one double and two singles) and another room with a single bed. There are 2 bathrooms, a living room, laundry, and a kitchen. There was also a balcony, but it didn’t have a great view. This is perfect if you have 3+people and want separate rooms without having to pay for 2 bookings.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/5g3vBUs3
Getting Around the City
T-money transportation cards can be used on public buses and subways in several different cities and locations throughout South Korea. With this transportation card, travelers can save the hassle of purchasing single journey subway tickets for every ride and enjoy discounts on rides during transfers from one bus to another, one subway line to another, or from bus to subway or vice versa (within a transfer time limit). T-money cards can also be used as a method of payment at affiliated stores.
To purchase a T-Money card, go into any convenience store and request one. They can also be purchased from ticket kiosks inside subway stations within the Seoul metropolitan area.They cost anywhere from 2,500 won to 4,000 won to activate. Then, you will need to deposit money on it. I recommend starting with about 10,000-20,000 won for a few days in Seoul. You can easily add more money to it at any convenience store (7-Eleven, GS25, CU, etc.).
Once you have the card, you simply scan the card when entering the subway or bus and scan it again when departing. The machine will tell you how much the journey cost you and how much money you have remaining on your card. If you are traveling around Seoul, you definitely want to get a T-money card!
View the metro map online HERE
Download the Subway Korea app HERE
Download Naver for the best navigation HERE
Getting to Seoul From Osan/Humphreys
Osan to Seoul (1 hour 48 minutes via Subway)
- If you live off base, leave your car at the long-term parking lot on the 2nd floor of the parking garage at the Commissary.
- Take a taxi from the commissary to Songtan Subway Station (5 minutes / approximately 5,000 won).
- Board Line 1 at Songtan Station toward Seoul Station (go down stairs on the left after scanning your T-money card – 1 hour 30 minutes / approximately 2,350 won).
- Get off at Seoul Station OR transfer to another line depending on where your final destination is.
Humphreys to Seoul (1 hour 24 minutes via Train)
- If you live off base, leave your car at the long-term parking lot and take a taxi to the walk-in gate.
- Board Bus 20 (cross street and turn left after walking out of the gate) and take it 17 stops to Wonpyengdong Community Service Center / Pyeongtaek Elementary School (25 minutes / approximately 1,450 won)
- Walk 8 minutes to Pyeongtaek Station
- Purchase a train ticket and board the train to Seoul Station (53 minutes / approximately 7,200 won)
- Transfer to another line depending on where your final destination is
Table of Contents
*Click on the links below to jump to the destination on the page
- Cheonggyecheon Stream
- Gangnam District
- Harry Potter Cafe (943 Kings Cross)
- Lotte World Tower (SEOULSKY)
- Gangnam Style Statue
Entrance Fee: Free
Notes: As the main temple and district head temple of the Jogye order in Seoul, Jogyesa Temple is the center of Korean Buddhism. The temple was built in the late 14th century during the Goryeo period but was completely destroyed in a fire. It was rebuilt under the name of Gakwangsa Temple in 1910 with the effort of many respectful monks, namely Han Yong-un and Lee Hee-gwang. The temple was given a role as the head temple of Korea’s Buddhism and renamed to Tegosa Temple in 1936. In 1954, a purification drive took place to eliminate Japanese influence and revive traditional Buddhism, which established the present day Jogyesa Temple as a result. Jogyesa Temple’s Dharma Hall serves as the main venue for several Buddhist events, holding rituals, lectures, ceremonies, and other events all year long. The annual lantern festival in celebration of Buddha’s birthday also takes place at this temple.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/xs4BRbP9 (Exit 2)
Sungnyemun Gate (Namdaemun Gate)
Entrance Fee: Free
Times: Closed Mondays
March-May & September-November: 9AM-6PM
Notes: Sungnyemun Gate is the largest castle gate stone structure with an arched entrance in the middle. There’s a column on top of a platform, raising the roof, distinguishing the upper stories and lower stories of the building.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/xH22Gx3H (Exit 4)
Euljiro 3(sam)-ga Station
Notes: Cheonggyecheon Stream is an 11 km-long stream that runs through downtown Seoul. Created as part of an urban renewal project, Cheonggyecheon Stream is a restoration of the stream that was once there during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The stream was covered with an elevated highway after the Korean War (1950-1953), as part of the country’s post-war economic development. Then in 2003, the elevated highway was removed to restore the stream to its present form today. The stream starts from Cheonggye Plaza, a popular cultural arts venue, and passes under a total of 22 bridges before flowing into the Hangang River, with many attractions along the way.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/Fye2h3wC (Exit 1)
*Can also use several other stations depending on which part of the stream you wish to visit
Notes: Gangnam literally means ‘south of the river,’ and this district in South Korea’s capital that lies along the banks of the Han, one of the country’s largest bodies of water. My favorite area for dinner restaurants is in Gangnam. Gangnam is very popular nightlife area. The clubs are pretty spaced out, so club hopping isn’t as easy as in the Hongdae area. Most of the clubs in this area play EDM or hip-hop music and have separate rooms for different genres.
Right outside of Gangnam Station Exit 5 is a tribute to ‘Gangnam Style’ by PSY, once the most popular song in the world. ‘Gangnam Style’ received more than three billion views on YouTube, and that number is still rising. Here, you can get on stage and record yourself dancing to ‘Gangnam Style’ while the music plays on loop in the background. A must-visit if you’re hitting this section of the capital.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/GPBZWDLT (Exit 5, 11)
Hongik University Station
Harry Potter Cafe (943 Kings Cross)
Entrance Fee: Must purchase one drink per person to enter
Times: Friday-Sunday: 10AM-9:30PM / Monday-Thursday: 11:30AM-9:30PM
Notes: If you are a Potter-head coming to Seoul, 943 King’s Cross should be on your to-do list! This themed cafe is perfect for those who enjoy thematic cafes. It is a 6-story cafe, with 5 of the floors open to visitors. You can choose any of the floors to enjoy your food and drink. Each floor has a different kind of atmosphere. Personally, I would recommend the 4th floor (the Wizard dormitory) where they have table beds and cute decorations. The 4th floor is also where you can try on robes from every house and take pictures. They also have a sorting hat and scarves for you to have fun either alone or with friends.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/5bXfZDrj (Exit 9)
Lotte World Tower (SEOULSKY)
Entrance Fee: Adult 27,000 won / Child 24,000 won
Times: 10:30AM-10PM (Last ticket and entry 9PM)
Fri-Sun & Holidays 10:30AM-11PM
Notes: The Seoul Sky Observatory is located at the top of the Lotte World Tower, the world’s fifth tallest building standing 123 stories and 555 meters high. The observation decks are located on floors 117-123. There are a couple cafes and a souvenir shop at the top. The milkshakes were a hit with my family!
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/x3OwdIpX (Exit 2)
Notes: Seokchon Lake Park is a resting place loved by the citizens of Seoul. It is divided into West Lake and East Lake based on Songpa-daero. Visitors are able to see various sights such as Lotte World Adventure, Cafe Street, and Bangi-dong Food Alley while exploring around. Additionally, every spring, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the Seokchon Lake Cherry Blossom Festival is held.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/FWLkvsYA (Exit 2)
Gangnam Style Statue
Notes: The 2012 mega hit song ‘Gangnam Style’ by PSY is still alive in Gangnam. Once you get on the stage below the hands, the song “Gangnam Style’ will be played for your perfect experience. Dance on the stage and take a picture!
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/59eLQv0j (Exit 6)
*Can also use Line 9 – Bongeunsa Station (Exit 7)
Bukchon Hanok Village
Notes: Bukchon Hanok Village is home to over 900 traditional Korean houses (hanoks) dated back to Joseon Dynasty. Members of the royal family and aristocrats lived here during the Joseon period. Today, many of these hanoks operate as cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants and tea houses, providing visitors with an opportunity to experience, learn and immerse themselves in traditional Korean culture.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/5rTIhgWV (Exit 2)
Entrance Fee: Adult 3,000 won / Child 1,500 won (free if you wear Hanbok)
Times: Closed Tuesdays
Notes: If you only have time for one palace, this is definitely the palace to visit. Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is commonly referred to as the Northern Palace because its location is furthest north when compared to the neighboring palaces of Changdeokgung (Eastern Palace) and Gyeonghuigung (Western Palace). Gyeongbokgung Palace is arguably the most beautiful, and remains the largest of all five palaces. The premises were once destroyed by fire during the Imjin War (1592-1598). However, all of the palace buildings were later restored under the leadership of Heungseondaewongun during the reign of King Gojong (1852-1919). Remarkably, the most representative edifices of the Joseon dynasty, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion and the pond around Hyangwonjeong Pavilion have remained relatively intact. The raised dias and stone markers of Geunjeongjeon showcase the representative art style of their time.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/FPakf14J (Exit 4)
Namsan Seoul Tower / Namsan Park
Entrance Fee: Cable Car: Adult 14,000 won / Child 10,500 won (return ticket price)
Observatory: 16,000 won Adult ; 12,000 won Child
Times: 10AM – 11PM
Notes: From the metro, walk up the road to the free elevator lift that takes you to the Cable Car station. Purchase roundtrip tickets, unless you would like to walk up/down Namsan Mountain. From the Cable Car, you will walk up stairs and through the park toward the observatory. There are often performers in the park during busy times. You can purchase discounted tickets in advance on trip.com or purchase tickets there. There is a cafe at the top of the observatory. I recommend going during a clear day or around sunset time so you can get a view of the city in daylight and at night.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/xsFjR46P (Cable Car – Exit 3)
Times: Stores are generally open from 11AM – 10PM
Notes: Myeongdong is Seoul’s best-known shopping and fashion district. Shoppers can enjoy shopping and dining experiences at the pedestrian-friendly zone in Myeongdong.
Myeongdong cathedral is the birthplace for Roman Catholic Church community in Korea.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/F4ekV7Nm (Exit 6)
Notes: Itaewon was the first special tourist zone in Seoul, designated in 1997. It is a multicultural place where over 20,000 foreigners live and is widely recognized by international visitors. This is a go-to place for both shopping and entertainment. The street is crowded with shops selling clothes and bags, as well as hotels, restaurants, entertainment facilities and travel agencies. With about 2,000 shops and stores lining every street, visitors can experience a multicultural atmosphere. Travelers can taste authentic cuisine and experience culture from around the globe on the World Food Street where there are 40 restaurants operated by foreigners.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/5mYlzw3V (Exit 4)
Starfield COEX Mall
Notes: Starfield COEX Mall, located at the center of Seoul, leads in trend and culture. Combining fashion, food, culture and entertainment, the mall provides everything visitors need. The Starfield Library offers a space to rest and entertainment with books. There are over 200 retail stores and approximately 90 food/beverage outlets. There is also an aquarium and movie theatre attached to the mall.
Naver Pin: http://naver.me/IIZehJBK (Exit 7)
*Can also use Line 2 – Samseong Station (Exit 6)
These are the places that I’ve been to in Seoul so far. I have a lot more places on my list! Where else do you think I should go? I’d love to hear your favorite parts about Seoul!