"I want to make Seoul the front line of the new South Korea. Seoul is sleeping, and I want to wake it up."
- Chung Mong-joon
Seoul is the 5th most populated city in the world and is an ever-changing mix of delicious street food, sprawling markets, and historic war monuments that make it a favorite destination of many. With so much to see here, it's difficult to figure out how to make the most of your trip. This is a list to help you navigate the best that this city has to offer.
FOR A LIST OF MY FAVORITE STREET FOOD SPOTS AND RESTAURANTS, CLICK HERE
1. Noryangjin Fish Market
One of the largest fish markets in Asia, the Noryangjin Fish Market handles between 250 to 300 tons of marine products everyday. The general fish market is open from 1:30PM - 10:00PM, but if you want to get a feel for what it's really all about go at 3:00AM for the live fish auction (truly a sight to behold!).
If you're feeling extra adventurous you can choose a live fish which they will then prepare for you, after which you can walk over to one of the various restaurants in the nearby alley and have them cook and serve it the traditional Korean way!
Hours: General Fish Market - 1:30PM to 10:00PM
Fish Auction - 3:00AM
Address: 674 Nodeul-ro, Noryangjin 1(il)-dong, Dongjak-gu, 서울특별시 South Korea
2. Gwangjang Market
A combination textile/street food market in the center of Jongno-gu. Packed with hundreds of street food stalls selling a variety of traditional Korean foods, it's easy to get lost here for hours as you explore this seemingly never-ending market.
The market is one of the largest and oldest in Korea, it was constructed during the Joseon Dynasty under King Gojong. In the beginning the market mainly sold agricultural and seafood products. However it evolved over the years and is now known for its wide variety of Korean street food and restaurants.
Hours: Daily 9AM - 6:00PM (Closed Saturday's)
Address: 88, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03195, South Korea
3. Bukchon Hanok Village
This quaint little neighborhood is filled with trendy shopping and family owned restaurants. Over 900 traditional Korean style homes and winding walking streets make it a great place to spend the afternoon. Make sure to stop at one of the many tea houses for a hot cup of local tea!
After it was featured in several prominent television programs it has risen in popularity but it still remains one of the best areas to immerse yourself in Korean culture.
Address: Bukchon Hanok Village, Jongno-gu, Gye-dong, 계동길 37 South Korea
4. Mount Namsan/N Seoul Tower
If you're looking to get away from all the chaos and noise of the city, Mount Namsan is the perfect place to go. The peak is 262 metres high and is dotted with hiking trails that snake their way to the top. The 360 degree views you get at the top are truly astounding and the perfect place to relax and take in the beauty of the city.
There is a cable car that will take you to the top if you'd rather hike down but it will set you back about 8,000 wong.
Price: Free (cable car, 8,000 wong)
Hours: Cable car closes 11:00PM
Address: 83 Sopa-ro, Myeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
5. Hong Dae
Hong Dae is where all the action is. From some of the best restaurants in the city to dozens of live music bars, there's always something going on here. You'll notice that the crowd is made up of mostly young South Koreans, looking to catch a glimpse of the their favorite band or scarf down some Korean BBQ.
In addition to the restaurants and bars there are hundreds of street performers who come here to show off their skills. Unfortunately the area is becoming more gentrified but it remains one of the city's top places for indie musicians to perform.
Address: Hong Dae, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
6. Myeongdong Shopping Street
The Myeongdong shopping center gained popularity following the Korean war, as restaurants, boutiques shops, and street food stalls opened their doors to the war torn country. As the city's economy picked up speed, this area exploded with energy and grew at an unprecedented rate. Today it's home to endless shops and restaurants selling the best that Korea has to offer. So whether you're looking to explore crazy fashion trends or grab an authentic Korean street food snack, the Myeongdong shopping center is the place to be.
Hours: All day, everyday
Address: Myeongdong-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 중구 명동길 (명동1가)
7. Jogyesa Buddhist Temple
The Jogyesa Buddhist Temple is the center of Buddhism in Korea, and was built sometime in the early 1300's. It was a symbol of resistance during the Japanese colonial invasion of 1910, when Buddhism was almost completely wiped out in the country.
Today the sprawling temple grounds are home to a number of monks and worshippers and is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city.
Hours: Open daily, sunrise to sunset
Address: 55 Ujeongguk-ro, Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
8. Bukhansan National Park
The mountain ranges surrounding Seoul are packed with secluded temples, beautiful hiking trails, and the Bukhansanseong Fortress which was built in 129 A.D. to protect Seoul from foreign invasions. There are three main peaks that you can hike and each takes about two hours to complete (some sections can be quite steep!).
Address: 262 Bogukmun-ro, Jeongneung-dong, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul, South Korea
9. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeogbokung Palace is a staple attraction in Seoul. Built in 1395, it housed the royal family for decades and was where the king conducted all government related business. The palace was systematically destroyed by the Japanese when they invaded Korea in 1910, but it was slowly rebuilt following the occupation.
This is by far the most "touristy" attraction on my list but the history of the palace helps provide context for how the Korean people think and act. It helps you better grasp the country's ideology (not to mention the building is quite impressive on its own!).
Price: 3,000 won
Hours: January-February 9AM - 5PM
March-May 9AM - 6PM
June-August 9AM - 6:30PM
September-October 9AM - 6PM
November-December 9AM - 5PM
Address: 161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 종로구 사직로 161 (세종로)
10. Korean War Museum
Now it's possible my bias as an American makes it difficult to accurately judge the Korean War Museum (and by possible I mean definitely), but I found it absolutely fascinating. The museum is very well done and the translations are excellent. There are a number of floors and dozens of detailed exhibits that do a great job painting the picture of what the war was like.
If you are at all interested in the history of that time then I highly recommend checking it out because it's one of the better war museums I've had the chance to explore. Not to mention it's free!
Hours: 9AM - 6PM (last admission is one hour before closing)
Address: 29, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 용산구 이태원로 29 (용산동1가)
WHERE TO STAY?
There are two main areas of the city that I would recommend staying in. The first area is Hongdae, which I spoke a little bit about before. Hongdae is by far the most energetic and lively area of the city with tons of bars, street food, and local markets. Ideal for the solo traveller.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Bukchon Hanok Village, the cultural center of the city. In stark contrast to Hongdae, Bukchon is ideal for someone who wants to experience traditional Korean culture, without the non-stop action of Seoul's younger generation. Beautiful architecture and small "mom and pop" shops dominate this area.