Instead of the more typical destinations like Tokyo or Hong Kong, consider Seoul, South Korea for you next vacation. It’s one of the most interesting Asian capitals, full of culture, shopping, nightlife, cuisine and art. Seoul is exciting yet affordable, with friendly locals eager to share their city with visitors. Here are the best activities to do during your visit.
Wander Bukchon Hanok Village
Seeing a 600-year-old traditional village preserved in the urban paradise of Seoul is rather mind-boggling. Meandering through the twists and hills of the alleyways, lined with old houses, teashops, cultural centers and beyond is a unique way to explore the culture and history of Seoul’s past.
Indulge in Retail Therapy
Seoul is a city for shoppers. Start at some of the city’s most famous markets, like Namdaemun, which dates back to 1964 and sells basically everything. Gwangjang market is famous for its silks and fabrics. For more modern shopping, Dongdaemun is a gigantic complex open 24 hours. 200 shipping containers make up the unique Common Ground shopping center, which sells items from up-and-coming designers. If you want to snap up some of those famous Korean cosmetics, Myeong-dong is the place to be.
Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung is a Korean palace built in 1395 by the Joseon dynasty. Once destroyed by Imperial Japan, it’s now restored once again to its original glory. The grounds are peaceful, with zen-like gardens and ponds surrounding the palace buildings. The palace complex is also home the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum — both worth a visit.
Sip Tea at a Teahouse
Although Seoul has a budding coffee culture, visiting a tea house is a way to get your caffeine boost while experiencing a famed Korean tradition. Tteuran is one of the most famous, with its zen-inspired floor pillows, low tables and Korean porcelain. The Sueyon Mountain tea room has a quaint patio and garden. Moonbird takes you back in time with historical decor and mood lighting.
See the Views From Mt. Namsan & Seoul Tower
The Namsan cable car will give you a panoramic ride up to the Seoul Tower on on Mount Namsan. Once there, you can enjoy even more panoramic city views at the tower’s observatory. The juxtaposition of the city below with the surrounding trees and hills combines the best of both nature and urban landscapes.
Instagram at Ihwa Mural Village
Ihwa-dong was known as one of the moon village, named for its hilltop location which offered a clearer view of the moon than neighborhoods further down below. Nowadays, you can still spot the moon from the area, but you can also walk around to see the new(ish) artwork and murals lining the buildings and streets. Some of the most popular (and most Instagrammable) spots are the tiled floral staircase and the wall murals with wings.
Explore Seoullo 7017
Seoullo 7017 is Seoul’s SkyPark. With a similar concept as that of New York City’s High Line, the park has elevated views of the Seoul’s skyscrapers and hustle and bustle below. Seoullo 7017 is a wonderful spot to visit for any kind of traveler, featuring gardens, art and sculpture exhibits, relaxing seating, peaceful resting areas, plus thousands of plants and flowers.
Open Gangnam Style
While you probably remember the song, what you may not know is that Gangnam is one of Seoul’s fanciest neighborhoods. Head there to shop the high-end brands, visit the Seoul Arts Center, party at fancy nightclubs, or simply enjoy strolling through the most stylish area in town.
Chow on Korean Barbecue
Traditional Korean barbecue allows you to grill meat/pork/chicken yourself, usually on a built-in or portable grill on the table in front of you. Saebyukjib is open 24 hours, meaning you can get your Korean barbecue at any time of day or night. Wangbijib is the spot to try if you’re a newbie to this style of food, as they’ll help you with tips on cooking your meat.
Travel to Central Asia (While Still in Seoul!)
For something a little different, visit Seoul’s Central Asian Village. The area was (and still is) blossoming with immigration from spots like Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia that have slowly meshed with the Korean culture. Check out restaurants and shops selling cuisine and goods from these cultures (think Russian vodka or cabbage roll) all while never leaving central Seoul.