Seoul is a city of contrasts. On one hand it is a city of skyscrapers, technology and fashion. While on the other hand it is a city of ancient culture, temples and palaces. There is so much to take in during a trip here, there is no way to experience everything that Seoul has to offer. But with more and more international flights having a layover in Seoul here are some of the best spots to visit if you get the chance.
The ancient historical heart of Seoul is a must visit for anyone interested in history and culture. The vast palace grounds are made up of the residences of past kings, queens and royal families.
There are a number of palaces around Seoul including the four gates of the city but Gyeongbokgung is by far the largest and most stunning. The palace sits right next to the modern-day seat of government and the surrounding area is well worth exploring. Check out neighbouring Insadong for great local food and souvenir shopping. Or rent a Hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) and walk the grounds of the palace. Renting and wearing a Hanbok will get you free entry.
One of the most enjoyable pastimes of local Koreans is relaxing next to the Han River which runs through the centre of the city. The river side is dotted with a number of parks which are a playground for locals during the summer months.
Take time to sit down for a picnic in one of the riverside parks and partake in what the locals called Chimak. Chimak is the simple but delicious combination of fried chicken and beer. You’ll find convenience stores in all Han River parks and all of them sell fried chicken and beer.
This high-end suburb, popularised by the global hit song Gangnam Style, almost lives up to the ridiculous music video. The capital of plastic surgery and money this is the place to see and be seen.
There are a number of expensive night clubs worth the visit if you have the cash to afford a drink. But if you’re looking for something more affordable check out the fantastic underground shopping centre in Gangnam train station. There are local designers and fashion students selling their gear. You’ll find a lot of good bargains here.
Namsan is a small mountain in the middle of the city. Better know as N Seoul Tower the mountain has Seoul’s signature tower pointing to the sky on top of it. The view from the top of Namsan is amazing and it takes in all corners of the city.
Namsan is the typical lovers dating spot in Seoul, the Empire State Building of Korea. You’ll find hundreds of padlocks left behind by couples who have dedicated their love here overlooking the neon glow of the city below. Take someone you love and leave your own padlock behind.
Hongdae is the place to be if you want to enjoy Seoul’s night life and youth culture. In fact, Hongdae is such a fun place it deserves its own list of things to do in Seoul.
The suburb is where some of Korea’s best art and music universities are so needless to say the student culture matches the hype. As soon as the sun goes down the streets light up with night clubs, buskers, market stalls of fashion and street food. Street life here doesn’t really slow down until sunrise the next morning and you’ll easily find somewhere to party until dawn.
If you like shopping Seoul is the city for you. The city is world renowned for its fashion and you’ll find plenty of places to pick up a bargain. Dongdaemun has one of the largest markets in Seoul and you can spend a full day here restocking your entire wardrobe.
The markets range from street stalls to tailors and you can literally find anything here. There is even an entire market street dedicated to toys. Stop by for a touch of shopping or get lost in the labyrinth of streets and alleys, the choice is yours.
A relatively new on the scene suburb in Seoul is Haebangcheon. Popping up at the foot of Namsan and right next to the once notorious foreigners suburb of Itaewon HBC (as it’s referred to by the locals) finds a nice middle ground between locals and foreigners in Seoul.
The suburb is lined with foreigner owned and operated restaurants, bars and cafes that are frequented by both locals and travellers. It’s one of the best cultural melting pots in Korea and you’ll find some great food as well. Explore some of the back alleys to find some great bars to spend a night in.
If you’re looking for a market experience in Seoul check out Namdaemun markets. These markets are truly an ‘everything you could possibly imagine’ kind of place. You’ll be able to buy traditional souvenirs, street food, designer jeans, you name it and you’ll find it here.
The markets are an amazing place just to explore and get lost for a few hours. The locals will invite you into every shop that you walk past and if you don’t respond to their ‘hello’s’ they’ll try in another language. Check out more of Seoul’s great markets with a local Seoul tour guide.
What else is there to see?
Seoul is an amazing city to visit. A lot of global cities have very distinct personalities and Seoul is the same. The thing that makes this beautiful city stand out is the clash of new and old, ancient culture and futuristic technology, quiet temples and mega night clubs. It really is a city where every person who travels here gets a different and unique experience.
My advice is make Seoul more than just a layover destination. Take in the food, culture and local personalities that makes every part of this city a travel destination. There are plenty more places in Seoul that should be on the list of best spots to visit in Seoul, don’t miss out.