Featuring the thoughts of a resident in South Korea, here are five Seoul local tips for activities and interesting things to do. Ideal for anyone looking for some quick inspiration of how to pass time in the Korean capital. You may also enjoy our look at the best and cheapest cities to live in South Korea if you’re planning on moving to the country to live.
by Michael Geer
Why you should Visit Seoul
Seoul is the capital of South Korea and one of the post populated metropoli on the planet! This sprawling city is loaded with sites both ancient and modern to explore. Here are five sites I think are most worth visiting on a trip to Seoul:
Seoul Local Tips – 5 Things to Do
1. Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace
One of the largest and most well known of the ancient palaces in Seoul. This sprawling palace complex is a must see for visitors to Korea. With it’s iconic gates and palace halls, it’s a photographer’s dream.
Additionally, traditional processions are often played out within its grounds, Gyeongbokgung Palace is a place to step out of the modern world and into the old. The palace is near exit 5 of the aptly named Gyeongbokgung Subway Station (Orange Line).
2. Insadong Street Market
Located near Gyeongbukgung Palace is another iconic destination for Seoul. Insadong is a traditional market street that caters to foreigners looking to gather mementos and traditional souvenirs from Korea. It’s a charming and well manicured place with lots of tea shops and souvenir vendors (not to mention plenty of street food).
Though I wouldn’t recommend doing all my souvenir shopping here, it is certainly the easiest place to do it (unless you want to haggle). You can find Insadong by exiting Anguk Station, exit 6 (Orange Line).
3. Climb up Namsan Tower
Standing atop Namsan mountain is the aptly named tower that shines brightly in the night sky. The hike up the mountain is a series of steep and winding wide staircases, but it’s quite enjoyable if you’re not too tired on a temperate afternoon. The tower looks over the city and you can ride the elevator to the observatory for 9,000 won (about $9 US). Namsan Tower is also a traditional location where lovers go to profess their affection.
You’ll see hundreds of locks inscribed with names of couples who declare their love by clipping a lock with their names to the fences. They then chuck the key over the edge and down the hillside. You can still buy locks there today to similarly seal you and your lover’s names to the wall. Yet, signs politely ask people not to toss their keys onto unsuspecting hikers below! Namsan Tower can be reached a number of ways through hiking trails or a cable car (near Myeon-dong Station, Blue Line). There are also shuttle buses up the mountain.
4. Hit Hongdae after dark
Hongdae is near one of the most popular universities in Seoul. It’s particularly known for it’s nightlife. Hongdae is loaded with plenty of bars, restaurants, and noisy nightclubs. During the weekend it is a hub of evening activity with people from around the world out drinking and partying all the way until dawn! If you’re looking for a fun night out, grab a friend and check out some Korean clubs!
If you need to make a friend, buy some drinks in a local convenience store and head to Hongdae Park, a small playground in the midst of the nightlife where many people gather to drink and socialise between bars. It’s easy to meet people here and you might even spot the legendary Makoli Man, an eccentric local who appears in Hongdae at night and pours paper cups of Korean rice wine (Makoli) to whomever wants to say hello!
Hongdae is located near the Hongik University Station, exit 9 (Green Circle Line). To find the park leave Hongik University Station by exit 8, take the first right, then left at the next intersection. Following the road on the left as it forks, the park will be on your right.
5. Visit The Korean War Memorial/Museum
Located near the foreigner district (Itaewon) is the Korean War Memorial. Here is where brave soldiers from around the world who served in the Korean War are remembered. The Memorial has many pieces of art and statues on display, as well as the names of fallen soldier from the war inscribed on memorial plates.
Inside is the quiet memorial and an adjoining military history museum. The memorial and museum are free to the public and contain exhibits of warfare from ancient Korea to the present day. The displays have English translations and can be very informative. For those looking for an interesting view into Korea’s tumultuous past, this is definitely worth a few hours of your time.
To visit the Memorial go to Samgakji Station, exit 12 (Brown Line) walk straight until you find the main entrance on your left.
Seoul is loaded with other places to visit. The Chungmuro Royal Shrine, the Han River walk, and shopping at COEX Mall or Myeon-dong, are all wonderful things to see! There are even more places to visit if you venture beyond the extent of Seouls far reaching subways.
You can also check out Michael’s Busan local tips if you’re planning on heading to South Korea’s second city.
Michael is an English teacher for a Korean public school in Busan. He has lived in Korea for two years and explored much of it during that time. When not travelling, he occupies himself with writing, photography, and occasionally teaching.
This article was first published in August 2014.