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Seoul is a vibrant and friendly South Korean City that is home to some of the world’s biggest companies and fun nightlife. Even if you have lots of places in Asia on your travel bucket list, Seoul is certainly worth a stop as well. The city offers amazing food that’s famous for Korean BBQ and traditional food markets with fresh vegetables and spices. Seoul also boasts of a lively “work hard, play hard” culture that you don’t find in many other places.
Admittedly, some Asian destinations are cheaper for visitors than Seoul, but the city is still pretty budget-friendly and an enduring favorite among backpackers and thrifty travelers. So if you’re considering a trip to South Korea in the near future, add these unique things to do in Seoul to your itinerary!
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See the Royal Gyeongbukgung Palace
The Gyeongbukgung Palace is the one of the most historic and visited sites in South Korea, and it’s easy to see why. This was a prominent palace during the Korean Joseon Dynasty, and although it was destroyed in a Japanese invasion, it was rebuilt a couple hundred years ago. Take a walk around the grounds and gardens when you get here. It’s located in the middle of the city, very easy to get to, and near other top tourist sites like Insadong. Try to catch a Royal Guard Changing Ceremony or a Gwanghwamun Gate Guard-On-Duty Performance if you can. Plan to spend a couple hours here to see the cultural sites and then head over to the famous King Sejong statute.
Sip the Traditional Korean Drink, Makgeolli
The Makgeolli is a traditional drink in Korea that’s made from rice and grains. It usually has an alcohol content that’s similar to a standard beer, about five-to-seven percent. You can find some makgeolli bars to try different types. But just watch the amount you consume because it is very refreshing!
Browse and Taste at the Markets
There are so many shops and shopping malls in the market area of Dongdaemun, and one of the best places to check out in this region is the Gwangjang Market. The best time to visit this market is at night when the locals flock here for shopping and socializing. This is a great place to find budget-friendly clothing. Another fun market area to see is Heunginmunno, which is a great place to find knock-offs of your favorite designer brands.
Walk the Historic Bukchon Hanok Village
Another great place to learn about South Korean culture and architecture is the Bukchon Hanok Village. This is where you’ll find many traditional Korean homes and interesting alleyways with small courtyards. You can stop in restaurants and shops while walking around the neighborhood and sample delicious street food. There are also some guest houses that you can stay overnight at here if you’d like to spend a little more time in the area.
See the Skyline from Namsam Tower
To get a bird’s eye view of Seoul, take a cable car up the mountain and then walk to the base off the Nasam Tower, which is also known as the Seoul Tower. This tower sits on top of a mountain and is the highest point in the city. For an admission fee, you can go inside the tower and visit the gift shop, restaurants, and observation decks.
Eat Korean Galbi
It would be a shame to visit South Korea and not see what the true hype over authentic Korean barbecue is all about. Juicy cuts of beef are known as galbi, and the staff at top restaurants can help you get it smoking to perfection. There are lots of amazing barbecue restaurants in this area, including highly recommended ones in Gahngnam and Gangbuk.
Shop at Doosan Tower
If you like to incorporate a little shopping into your travel plans, then don’t miss Doosan Tower. This is a great boutique shopping mall in the Dongdaemun district, and trendy men and women’s clothes here are budget-friendly. This shopping area is also a fun alternative nightlife scene since many of the stores stay open very late.
Watch a NANTA Performance
If you’re interested in checking out a performance in Seoul, NANTA is one of the best theatrical performances you can find here. These non-verbal performances that involve drama in the kitchen and comedy, and all ages are welcome! At least 75,000 foreign visitors check out a NANTA performance each year to enjoy and learn about Korean culture.
See Seoul's Unique Museums
Museums can be found in pretty much every major city around the world, but there are some really unique ones worth checking out in Seoul. One interesting place is the Korean Furniture Museum, which has thousands of traditional Korean furniture pieces and traditional houses. Even the museum itself is a work of art. Another can’t-miss museum here is the Seoul Museum of Chicken Art, which is something you can’t exactly find anywhere else. For a quirky day out in the city, browse the various portraits of chickens, including the permanent collection and the special exhibits. The Korean War Memorial Museum and the National Folk Museum are also worth seeing.
Visit the Noryangjin Fish Market
Fish is a big part of Korean cuisine, so why not see what all the fuss is about and visit the local fish market? This market is huge and full of live fish swimming in tanks. Be prepared to negotiate prices here, but some vendors will actually walk you and your newly purchased fish over to a nearby restaurant to serve you dinner!
Jogyesa Buddhist Temple
The Jogyesa Buddhist Temple is another popular attraction in Seoul, and it stands out among the skyscrapers and office workers bustling about their days. There are ancient trees on the grounds of the temple that are hundreds of years old.
Nightlife Scene in Hongdae
There are lots of fun bars and clubs in Seoul, but one of the best areas to go out is in Hongdae. This area is known for its indie music and urban arts, and it’s typically full of energetic young people ready to let loose and party. There is a large concentration of bars here, as well as late-night food options and restaurants that stay open 24/7.
Enjoy Nature at Bukhansan National Park
To take a break from the crowds and busy city scene, spend some time at Bukhansan National Park, which is known for its stunning gorge, granite peaks, and clear streams. The top places to visit here are Bukhansan Mountain, the Uiryeong Pass, and Dobongsan Mountain. The park is surrounded by urban areas and therefore a popular park to visit for the 20+ million people who call this area home. In fact, it sees around five million visitors each year! But despite the crowds, there are still over 1,300 species of plants thriving here, as well as fortresses and other cultural and religious sites that give visitors a glimpse into South Korea’s history.