Seoul is probably one of the only urban cities that still has a community feel. While I would normally say that people are generally nicer outside of the city, I didn’t notice this to be true of Seoul. People are lovely here! You will enjoy this city inside and out, and certainly will wish you had more time to spend before you are through.
The subways are super easy to navigate, and the buses seem to be just as rad. Be warned, however: the bus drivers are far more erratic than anywhere else I have experienced! Keep your hands and legs inside the vehicle at all times, guys. It’s a bumpy ride.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you get lost. I have had a wonderful time with a few older ladies I met along the way, as they helped me to my destination (sometimes feeding me along the way!). A lot of times, Korean people love to practice their English, and might be too shy to strike up the conversation even if you look like you are lost. Almost all Korean people that I came into contact with were extremely friendly, overly accommodating, and some of the most helpful folks around, especially the a-ju-shi’s (formal way of saying “misses”).
Top Free Things to Do
Myong-Dong Catholic Cathedral
Quiet, serene, and spacious. This place is the perfect get-away after spending a few hours on your feet shopping in Myong-Dong. I loved looking at the beautiful stained glass of the cathedral. Grab a cup of coffee inside if you really need a good rest off your feet.
Insadong Window Shopping
The ice-cream shop on one of the main corners is a hoot to observe. The staff love teasing their customers, almost to the point of frustration, as they try to grab their purchased cone from the maker. This guy is quick with his hands!
Bukhansan National Park
Are the mountains calling you? There aren’t many cities with a giant national park within an hours ride from the city center. Bukhansan shouldn’t be underestimated either. There are some serious hikes there! I was certainly feeling the results of summitting Baekundae Peak for a few days after.
Located next to the World Cup Stadium, this park is covered in cattails during the fall, and filled with gorgeous flowers during the spring and summer. Originally a landfill until the early 2000’s the fertile soil below the mounded park is an awesome (easy) hike all year round.
Seoul Tower and Namsan Park
If you don’t want to spend money o n a ticket to use the cable car, you can walk around Namsan park to reach the base of Seoul Tower. Be warned: it’s a trek. The tower itself is a cute little date-spot, offering locks for sale to add to the lock bridges and faux-trees, and selling cafe items “for two” along with tickers and popcorn to split to see the top of the tower.
If you need a place to beat the bustle of the city, here’s a place for you. Quiet, serene, and open all day and night, this spot is perfect for a picnic, a mid-afternoon nap, or a people-watching spot.
The world’s longest bridge-fountain, complete with thousands of LEDs and water nozzles, sits in downtown Seoul, stretching across the Han River. This neon bridge spits out 190 tons of water per minute, and all 1,140 meters of it is bathed in neon lights. Surely a sight to see!
5 things unique to Seoul
You can actually stay inside of a Buddhist temple for a night or two, complete with a chance to learn all about Buddhist life and religious history in Seoul. For less than the average price of a hotel, it’s pretty hard to pass up if you are interested in those awesome temples!
While not technically in Seoul, you can take a bus or a subway north a few hours and experience one of the last remaining standoffs in history. This intense area is still heavily guarded by both North and South Korea alike. Why not check out the border?
Korean bathhouses, called jimjilbangs, are public areas that normally include wet and dry saunas, hot and cold tubs, and areas meant for relaxation. The staff will bring you cold water and fresh towels to place over your face in the relaxation rooms, and you are free to sit in any of the tubs as your heart desires. It’s quite different from most western spas.
The best one is Dragon Hill Spa, which boasts a Jade room, a Salt Room and a Charcoal room, as well as a relaxation area and optional scrubbing service.
You should be able to buy a discount ticket to visit all 4 palaces in Seoul, but I highly recommend GyeongBukGyung above the others. It’s kept in excellent condition, and its huge! You can also experience the changing of the guard outside Deoksugung Palace for free, without entering the grounds.
Korean Disneyland, anyone? Lotte company is the mega-giant corporation in Korea, making everything from ice cream to, well, theme parks. It’s surely a scream!
Where and What to Eat
Insadong: Little India Cafe
Seriously one of the best meals I had while I was in Korea. While I know its not Korean cuisine, I have to recommend this place because of the cute location overlooking Insadong street. It’s perfect for people watching. The Korean couple and their son that run the restaurant are awesome people, and gave us free shots of rum! They are super friendly people, and the decor is awesome.
The owner spent years decorating the restaurant, inside and out. Go check it out, it’s awesome!
Byeokjae Galbi (벽재갈비)
Besides being one of my all-time favorite meals, I would be doing you a huge disservice by not recommending a KBBQ restaurant! If you are looking for Korean Barbeque, you might as well get the best, right? Dinner starts around 36,000won, (roughly $20 USD)
467 Dogok-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 강남구 도곡동 467-29)
Budget Eats: KimBap & Dukbokki
Need a meal for less than ~$4 per person? Kimbap, kimbap, kimbap. Japan has sushi, Korea has Kimbap. It’s similar to a roll-sushi, with tons of veggies and meat rolled with rice inside seaweed, and served sliced up. One long cylindrical piece will run you around 3,000 won at many restaurants, and you can’t go wrong. It’s REALLY hard to mess up Kimbap. The best part? It almost always comes with a side dish! (Free food!!!)
Dukbokki: super chewy rice cakes served in a go-chu-jang soup, slathered in the sauce on a stick, or in a bowl. Probably with other veggies or meats. Chances are, you will love this stuff, and it’s cheap. A plate will set you back around 5,000won ish (can’t beat that!) and will fill up your belly.
Don’t get lost here! The shopping never quite seems to end. Every direction you look (including up!) is filled with shops just waiting to be explored
Insadong is a lot cheaper than Myong-Dong, from what I saw. It’s a better bargain in terms of souvenier shopping.
What a crazy seafood market here. I saw giant (live) crabs, eels, and skates (which are similar to sting rays). The best part? They will cook up your grub right there for you!!! From tank to stomach, it can’t get much fresher than that!
It might seem counter-intuitive, but don’t forget your passport (not just a copy or a photo) if you plan on going out! I was denied entry at Mass nightclub, despite having 3 different ID forms, and a photo of my passport. How frustrating, right??
It was packed full of party-goers, even on a Thursday night (when I couldn’t get in). They are STRICT with the ID policy. You must have a passport to get into this club, and a secondary form of ID.
My recommendation? Do it!!!
I was a bit underwhelmed after visiting this infamous nightclub. The cover charge is 70,000 won. Per person (yes, including girls). It’s farther away from a lot of the other night clubs that were a lot of fun. It was dead inside. The staff were a bit pretentious. I did, however, do a pole trick there. (I can never resist….)
My recommendation? Skip it.
My general consensus is to just go out in Gangnam or Hongdae and see where the night takes you. I ended up at a club with a name I cannot pronounce filled to the brim with partiers dancing their socks off. You can’t go wrong. Seoul has a reputation for being a party city, so even on a weeknight, there is a large chance that the scene will be huge! Go out and enjoy yourself! The night clubs don’t stop or shut down just because the sun comes up or the trains start. Keeping an eye on your watch is unnecessary, because you can always wait out the rest of the evening at a restaurant eating something delicious if the music is too much. Seoul is honestly one of my favorite places by far to party in!