50 Great Reasons to Add Seoul to Your Bucket List
There’s a reason Seoul was the 10th most visited city in the world in 2016. (More like 50 reasons, as it turns out!) Here’s what helped draw an astonishing 10-million overnight visitors to the South Korean capital last year.
1. N Seoul Tower
Built in 1969, it wasn’t until 1980 that N Seoul Tower opened to the public. Since then, it’s become an iconic landmark and a point of pride on the Seoul skyline. It’s home to two restaurants and for about $10 CAD, you can venture up to the observation deck for a stunning 360-degree view of Seoul.
Location: 105 Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
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2. Locks of Love
Though it’s now a familiar sight in romantic cities around the world, Seoul can proudly say it was one of the first to play host to “Locks of Love.” Likely inspired by a similar installation in Tokyo, these Locks of Love are located in the grounds of N Seoul Tower, and remain an irresistible attraction for visiting couples. Packed along the fences of the tower grounds, the fastened locks are inscribed with messages of peace, hope, love, and the initials of couples hoping for the gift of forever with their beloveds.
Location: 105 Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
3. Changdeokgung Palace
Recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Changdeokgung was the second of the five grand palaces built in Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty. In addition to its magnificent architecture, the palace grounds showcase well-manicured gardens and paths that are perfectly suited for a romantic stroll.
Location: 99, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Brought to international fame by Psy’s love-it-or-hate-it hit, “Gangnam Style,” Gangnam is one of Seoul’s richest and flashiest neighbourhoods. Located south of the Han River, its bright neon lights and busy streets are rivalled only by the splendour of its hotels and skyscrapers. It wasn’t always this way, however: before Seoul hosted the Olympics in 1988, this area was largely covered in rice fields. The surge in development since then has transformed Gangnam into a hot spot for locals and tourists seeking fun, shopping and, well, Gangnam style!
Location: Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
5. Noryangjin Fishery Market
In the mood for fresh fish? Set your sights on Seoul’s famous Noryangjin Fish Market. Daring foodies can put their taste buds to the test by sampling live octopus (Sannakji)—a delicacy that’s drizzled with a delicious mixture of spices and oils. Be sure to chew quickly, and chase it down with a shot of soju—one of Korea’s national drinks. Gunbae! (Psst—that’s Korean for “Cheers!”)
Location: 674, Nodeul-ro, Dongjak-gu, Seoul
6. King Sejong Statue
King Sejong may not have reigned since 1450, but he remains revered by Koreans. Credited with the invention of the Korean alphabet (Hangeul), Sejong’s legacy and influence can still be felt across the country in everything from agriculture and literature to science and technology. This impressive statue in his memory was erected in Gwanghwamun Square in 2009.
Location: Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul
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Karaoke is a popular hobby among Koreans, who frequent singing rooms (noraebangs) to to belt out their favourite tunes. Rooms come in different sizes, themes and price points, and can be rented by the hour. For the trendiest noraebangs (with the biggest libraries of karaoke classics!), head to Hongdae, the arts and entertainment district of Seoul.
Location: Hongdae: Eoulmadang-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul
8. Seoul Olympic Park
Commonly known as “Olpark,” Seoul’s Olympic Park was built to host the 1988 Summer Olympics. From a beautifully landscaped outdoor space that’s comparable to Manhattan’s Central Park, to museums and memorial sites, Olpark provides a welcome escape from the urban jungle. It takes about three hours to fully explore the park, so pack a picnic lunch—and don’t forget your camera!
Location: 424 Olympic-ro, Bangi-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul
9. Namdaemun Market
Want to shop like the locals shop? Hit up Seoul’s largest traditional market, Namdaemun, for deals on everything from fabrics and kitchenware to souvenirs and jewelry. It does get crowded, however, so be prepared to go with the flow of bargain-hunters.
Location: 21 Namdaemunsijang 4-gil, Namchang-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
10. Lunar New Year Celebrations
The new year of the lunar calendar (Seollal) is a major event in South Korea, and celebrations usually last for three days. On Seollal, Koreans pay respect to their ancestors by wearing traditional hanboks (shown here) and celebrate the present by sharing food with family and friends.
11. Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Designed by late starchitect Zaha Hadid to showcase South Korean arts, culture and design, Dongdaemun Design Plaza cannot be missed. The plaza is made up of five halls: Design Market, Art Hall, Museum, Design Lab, and Dongdaemun History and Culture Park—the newest park in downtown Seoul. Check the program listings for current and scheduled exhibitions.
Location: 281 Eulji-ro, Gwanghui-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
12. Cat Cafés
Do you suffer from separation anxiety when you travel without your fur baby? If so, you might be pleased to hear that there are many cat cafés throughout Seoul, in which you can sip a delicious beverage while sharing some QT with a friendly feline. The Goyangi Noriteo Cat Café, located in Myeongdong, is particularly popular with locals and tourists.
Location: 3F, 37-14, Myeongdong 8-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
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13. Bukchon Hanok Folk Village
Just because you’re in a bustling metropolis, it doesn’t mean you can’t step back in time for a taste of what life was like in centuries past. Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Folk Village is home to about 900 hanoks (traditional Korean houses), where many Seoulites still reside. The architecture, roofs and patterned walls are a stark—and welcome—contrast to the skyscrapers and modern buildings found throughout the city.
Location: 37, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
14. Seoul Public Transit
Seoul boasts a modern public transportation system that’s efficient, clean and easy to use. Plus, it’s much cheaper than hailing cabs to shuttle you between the various districts within the city. Purchase a rechargeable T-Money Card (think of London’s Oyster Card or Ontario’s Presto Card, for example) from any convenience store or at vending machines inside the subway.
Makgeolli is a traditional liquor made from rice, wheat and a fermented yeast starter. The drink is served at restaurants and bars across Seoul, and is best enjoyed as part of a meal with a group. Not much of a drinker? The good news is, makgeolli (also known as “nongju”) has a relatively low alcohol content, so it’s a popular alternative to stronger drinks like beer, wine or soju.
16. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung is the largest of Seoul’s five grand palaces from the Joseon Dynasty. It was built in the 1300s, and offers insight into South Korea’s rich history. The palace offers tours in English three times a day. Try to schedule your visit to coincide with a Royal Guard Changing Ceremony, which occurs twice daily.
Location: 161 Sajik-ro, Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul
17. National Folk Museum of Korea
Located within Gyeongbokgung, the National Folk Museum of Korea contains artefacts and ancient relics that offer unique glimpses into Korean history. Established in 1993, it’s since amassed collections from regions across Korea. Admission is included with entry fee to the palace grounds.
Location: 37, Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
If you’re looking for traditional South Korean arts, crafts and textiles, venture no further than Insa-dong. The ideal spot to pick up a chic souvenir, the area is also renowned for its tea houses and galleries, including the famed Gana Art Gallery and the classically designed Hakgojae Gallery.
Location: 62, Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
19. Naksan Park
Many mountains in Seoul offer spectacular bird’s eye views of the densely-packed city, but this park, situated on Naksan Mountain, boasts one of the best. Not only does it deliver scenic vistas, but it also allows you to walk along the ancient Seoul City Wall. It’s best to head to the park at night, when twinkling lights cast a glow that makes the cityscape below seem even more magical.
Location: Park,54 Naksan- Ihwa-dong,, Naksan-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
20. Myeongdong Shopping District
Shopaholics looking for great deals on unique finds should make a beeline for Myeongdong. It’s infamous for its busy streets, which are packed with vendors selling everything from beautifully woven shawls to affordable footwear. Keep an eye out for the brand mascots (salespeople who are usually dressed in animal costumes) walking through the crowds—they’ll offer free samples (every shopper’s dream), and make for an irresistible photo opp.
Location: 04536 27, Myeong-dong 8-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
21. Yeouido Spring Flower Festival
Seoul’s Yeouido Park boasts more than 1,800 Yoshino cherry trees, and when they bloom, they fill the air with their intoxicating fragrance. The annual event draws hordes of spectators anxious for a glimpse of this fleeting phenomenon: Part of what makes the cherry blossom so special is the fact that it’s only in bloom from early- to mid-April.
Location: 62 Yeouiseo-ro (Yeouido-dong), Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul
22. Cheonggyecheon Stream
Once a forgotten stream that flowed 15 feet below the bustling streets of Seoul, Cheonggyecheon Stream is now a vibrant recreational space that’s a huge draw for locals and tourists alike. In addition to the many beautiful bridges that span the stream, one of the highlights is the Candle Fountain, with its impressive two-tiered waterfall and synchronized lighting.
Location: Taepyeong-ro 1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
23. Namhansanseong Provincial Park
Located just outside of Seoul (but still accessible by subway), Namhansanseong Provincial Park is a spectacular mountain fortress that draws hiking enthusiasts from around the world. Dating back to the Joseon Dynasty, the historical site makes for a beautiful outing year-round, but it’s especially striking in the fall, when the red leaves cast a warm glow that’s visible from the city below.
Location: 731, Namhansanseong-ro, Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do
24. Gwanghwamun Square
Gwanghwamun is a public square in the very heart of Seoul that serves as the perfect jumping-off point for any number of Seoul’s attractions. It’s a great place to people-watch as Seoulites go about their daily activities, and if you time your visit well, you just might catch an outdoor festival or concert here, too.
Location: Jiha 172, Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu, Seoul
25. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) beyond South Korea’s northern border is a popular day trip from Seoul. The two-kilometre wide buffer dividing North and South Korea was established in 1953 as part of an armistice agreement, and, in the absence of any human activity in more than six decades, it’s become a haven for wildlife. As tensions keep the two nations divided, it’s important to pay attention to protocol and rules outlined in the area.
Location: 148-53, Imjingak-ro, Munsan-eup, Paju-si
26. Seoul City Hall
A stylish, eco-friendly building that opened in 2012, Seoul City Hall is an architectural gem. It’s the interior, however, that’s the real draw for tourists, who spend can easily lose several hours exploring the building’s unique design features. Look for the “green wall”—a living, breathing garden that’s the size of a soccer field, turned on its side!
Location: 110, Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul
27. Changing of the Guard at Deoksugung
An age-old tradition comes to life three times a day at the Daehanmun Gate of Deoksugung Palace. Filled with fanfare and extravagant costumes, the 30-minute long changing of the guard ceremony is a treat for the eyes. Be sure to pack your camera!
Location: 99, Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul
28. Cheong Wa Dae (Blue House)
The official residence and office of the South Korean president, Cheong Wa Dae is known as the “Blue House” because of the blue tiles that adorn the roof. Equally striking is Bugaksan Mountain, which provides a breathtaking backdrop to the presidential pad. If you can, time your visit between July and October, when the mugunghwa (Rose of Sharon) flowers are in bloom.
Location: 1, Cheongwadae-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
29. Jongmyo Shrine
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jongmyo Shrine is a sacred space with a distinctly solemn atmosphere. The shrine was a place of worship during the Joseon Dynasty, and remains highly revered. The sprawling 16th century structure itself is a point of fascination, as it’s said to be the world’s longest wooden construction.
Location: 157, Jong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
30. Get a Fish Pedicure
Does the thought of a fish pedicure make you feel queasy? After several long days spent sightseeing Seoul on foot, you might reconsider spending a paltry five dollars to soak your feet in a pool while cute little “doctor fish” nibble away at dead skin and callouses. The spas are well-sanitized and offer snacks and drinks while you await your, erm… Treatment. Although the sensation is admittedly strange at first, the chance to have silky smooth feet (not to mention a great story to tell for years to come) makes it all worthwhile.
31. Nami Island
Nami Island is a must-see, particularly for tourists who know it as the romantic backdrop to the popular Korean drama, Winter Sonata. The half-moon shaped island is a joy to visit throughout the year, and is easily accessed from Seoul via train, followed by a short ferry ride.
Location: 1, Namisum-gil, Namsan-myeon, Chuncheon-si, Gangwon-do
32. The Street Food Scene
From chicken skewers and kimchi to spicy soups and roasted silkworms (beondegi), Seoul is globally renowned for its street food. You’ll find vendors lining the sidewalks in most of the major shopping districts, serving up exotic dishes at budget-friendly price points. Want to stay on the safe side? Go for the red bean ice cream, mandu (dumplings) fried chicken, or teokbokki (spicy rice cakes). The more daring might sample the aforementioned roasted silkworms. (You’ll smell them before you see them!)
33. 63 Building
Built in the lead-up to the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, the 63 Building is one of the true standouts on the Seoul skyline. The building’s rooftop observation decks offer panoramic views of Seoul, including the Han River and the many mountains that surround the city. An aquarium was added to the recently-renovated building, as well as a large IMAX movie theatre and the country’s largest buffet restaurant.
Location: 50 63-ro, Yeouido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul
35. Traditional Korean Tea Ceremony
The traditional tea ceremony (Darye) has been part of Korean culture for centuries. Historically, this delicate art was primarily reserved for weddings and special occasions, but it has recently become part of daily life. Tea ceremonies follow a set ritual with a focus on calmness and relaxation. Participate in one at any of the grand palaces or at tea houses in Insa-dong.
Location: 161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
36. Yeouido Hangang Park
Located in Seoul’s financial district, Yeouido Hangang Park is renowned for its Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring and World Fireworks Festival in the fall. The rest of the year, the park plays host to relaxed picnics by day and romantic dates by night.
Location: 330, Yeouidong-ro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul
37. CoEX Mall
Located in trendy Gangnam and connected to Korea’s World Trade Tower, CoEX Mall is the largest underground shopping mall in Asia and attracts visitors from around the world. Whether you’re looking for a theatre showing the latest releases, internationally-renowned eateries, or even an aquarium, you’ll find it here. (You might even get around to some shopping, too!)
Location: 513 Yeongdong-daero, Samseong 1(il)-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
38. Jogyesa Buddhist Temple
The spiritual heart of Zen Buddhism in South Korea, Jogyesa Buddhist Temple attracts followers and curious visitors alike from around the world. Every May, the temple is adorned with brilliantly-coloured prayer lanterns for the Lotus Lantern Festival—a celebration of Buddha’s birthday. Be sure to check out the gnarled and twisted trees in the grounds: Many of them are more than 500 years old!
Location: 55 Ujeongguk-ro, Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
39. Seoul Children’s Grand Park
Travelling with little ones in tow? The large playground at Children’s Grand Park is the perfect place for wee ones to run free and explore the imaginative sculptures and art installations. If they’ve still got energy to burn, tour the park’s zoo, botanical garden and giant musical fountain. This family-friendly attraction is open year-round and admission is free, but you’ll have to purchase tickets for some of the rides found throughout the park.
Location: 216 Neungdong-ro, Neung-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul
40. Bongeunsa Temple
More than 3,000 Buddhist scriptures are stored in Beongeunsa Temple, which dates back to the Silla period (circa 794 AD). Visitors can also participate in Templestays—cultural programs that give you a taste of the temple experience as a Buddhist practitioner—and other traditional activities related to the Buddhist faith.
Location: 531 Bongeunsa-ro, Samseong 1(il)-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
41. The Jimjilbang experience
No trip to Seoul is complete without a visit to a jimjilbang (sauna). You’ll find them throughout the city, but perhaps the most famous is the eight-storey Yongsan Dragon Hill Spa, which offers everything from charcoal rooms and open-air baths to salt rooms and de-stressing zones.
Location: 40-712, Hangangno 3-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
42. The Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty
Recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, the magnificent Royal Tombs drive home the 500-year legacy of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty. The tombs—including the burial mounds of King Seongjong (1469-1494), his wife Queen Jeonghyeon, and King Jungjong (1506-1544)—are still virtually intact, despite the generations of burials that followed on the same site.
Location: 1, Seolleung-ro 100-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
43. Banpodaegyo Bridge Moonlight Rainbow Fountain
The two-tiered Banpodaegyo Bridge spans the Han River, and makes a magnificent spectacle at night when 380 jets spurt water over the river, accompanied by music and a dazzling light show that lasts for approximately 20 minutes. Truly a one-of-a-kind sight.
Location: Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul-si
44. Lotte World
Divided into various indoor and outdoor theme parks, Seoul’s Lotte World is a magical reprieve from city life. Set aside a full day to experience its thrilling rides, extravagant parades, and spectacular evening fireworks and laser shows.
Location: 240 Olympic-ro, Jamsil 3(sam)-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul
45. Seoul Lantern Festival
Seoul’s Lantern Festival entrances more than three-million spectators each November. Situated along the Cheonggyecheon Stream, the festival showcases beautifully-crafted figural lanterns that use colour and light to weave fascinating tales. It’s a spectacle best seen at night, and makes for a truly magical post-dinner stroll.
Location: 04704 530, Cheonggyecheon-ro, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
Craving kimchi? You’re not alone. The spicy fermented cabbage side dish that accompanies most Korean meals is one of the hottest items on the Canadian food scene. When in Seoul, why not try your hand at making it yourself? There are plenty of kimchi-making classes to choose from, but your best option would be at the Food and Culture Academy. Whether you’re learning on your own or in a group setting, it’s sure to be one tasty tutorial!
Location: Food and Culture Academy, 116, Pirundae-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
47. War Memorial Museum of Korea
The War Memorial Museum of Korea fills six exhibit halls with military artifacts, weaponry, vehicles, aircraft and equipment from the Korean War (1950-1953). Give yourself approximately three hours to work your way through the exhibits and take in the various films depicting life in Korea in the early 1950s.
Location: 29 Itaewon-ro, Namyeong-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
48. Seoul World Cup Stadium
Built for the 2002 Japan/Korea World Cup, Seoul’s World Cup Stadium is still used for matches between local and international clubs. Even if soccer’s not your passion, it’s worth catching a game during your visit: Seoul has many soccer clubs, and the enthusiasm the Seoulites show for their teams is contagious. The stadium is surrounded by five parks, ideal for walks, exploration and outdoor cultural festivals.
Location: 240, World Cup-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul
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49. Korean BBQ Houses (Gogi-jips)
Gogi-jips (which literally translate to “meat houses”) are located all over Seoul. Order a selection of pre-marinated meat—bulgogi beef and pork belly are the most popular—which you then cook over a stovetop at your table. The meat is usually accompanied by a generous selection of side dishes, including kimchi, potatoes, bean sprouts and lettuce.
50. PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics
Seoul’s had its moment in the Olympic spotlight, but it’s not South Korea’s only host city. In early 2018, hundreds athletes from around the world will head to PyeongChang, South Korea, to participate in the Winter Olympics. A two-hour train ride east of Seoul, PyeongChang is home to some of Korea’s largest mountains and breathtakingly beautiful winter scenery. Preparations are already underway for the big event, and details of the upcoming Olympic games can be found here!
Location: PyeongChang, South Korea