Ringed by verdant mountains and dotted with grand palaces, colourful markets and neon-splashed streets, Seoul can inspire, amaze and astound in the course of a single day.
With its irresistible mix of the ancient and the modern, Seoul encapsulates Korea’s rich heritage and its dynamic momentum in a single exciting destination. Stepping out of the shadow of more heralded capitals such as Beijing and Tokyo, Seoul is where today’s savviest travellers go to find centuries-old neighbourhoods tucked among streets that overflow with the style, innovation and creativity that have come to define the Korean Wave.
Things to Do in Seoul
10 Reasons to Visit Seoul
Discover South Korea’s capital city, from the best galleries in Gangnam to the top dining spots in Mapo.
Seoul as a Shopper's Paradise
From one end of this sprawling capital to the other, the streets abound with everything from luxury flagships to bustling street markets.
This 14th-century palace was built to mark the heart of the capital of the Joseon Dynasty. Damaged and restored several times since, the palace today pays homage to Seoul’s rich history with its breathtaking architecture and its sheer scale and scope.
Built in the early 15th century and having lived through periods of turmoil and war, Changdeokgung Palace is one of Korea’s living treasures. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the palace is revered and celebrated today for its sheer beauty and its long-standing influence on Korean architecture and garden design.
Another of Seoul’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, Jongmyo has existed in its present form since the 16th century and is the oldest and most authentic of the Confucian royal shrines to have been preserved. Lucky visitors are still able to witness the performance of Confucian rituals, which take place in the courtyard several times a year.
N SEOUL TOWER
Rising from the 262-metre (860-foot) summit of Namsan and towering above Seoul stands the 237-metre-tall (778-foot-tall) N Seoul Tower, one of Seoul’s most recognisable landmarks. Accessible either by cable car or via a brisk hike, the tower rewards visitors with dramatic panoramic views of Seoul either during the day or at night, when the city ignites in a blaze of light and colour.
Exploring the City
BUKCHON HANOK VILLAGE
Clinging to the gentle slopes of a small hill, this living example of a Joseon Dynasty-era village immerses visitors in an ancient version of Seoul. Its winding alleys snake between carefully preserved hanok (traditional Korean houses), whose flared roof eaves seem to gaze down at the modern city below.
Insadong-gil, the main street of this fascinating neighbourhood, is a pedestrian’s paradise, with cafés, traditional teahouses and restaurants scattered along its length and among the many small alleys that snake off it. In addition, there are around 100 galleries in the area that showcase traditional and modern Korean art. On weekends, car traffic is blocked, and Insa-dong comes even more alive with street performances and street food stalls that offer a true taste of Seoul.
Cutting a swath of green through the heart of the city, Cheonggyecheon Stream is the result of a visionary urban renewal project that was completed in 2005. Previously a neglected waterway hidden beneath a road, the stream was uncovered and its banks transformed into an 11-kilometre (7-mile) public space, complete with pedestrian paths and park spaces that fill with nearby office workers, locals and tourists alike throughout the year.
Ringed by Seoul’s expansive cityscape, Namsan Park is the city’s primary green lung, attracting scores of hikers, runners, cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts to the hiking trails and paths that wind their way up the slopes of the eponymous Namsan (“South Mountain”). Topped by N Seoul Tower and dotted with relics, temples, shrines and traditional houses, Namsan Park offers a peaceful escape from the rush of the city by day or by night.
At the 24-hour Dongdaemun Market, avid shoppers can hunt for bargains at the more than 20 shopping malls that spread across its expanse. The market buzzes all day, with tourists and locals alike sampling the market’s cutting-edge fashion choices and its robust selection of electronics, but it is at night when things really heat up. For an authentic “when-in-Seoul” experience, swing by Dongdaemun at 3:00 am and watch in awe as streams of passionate shoppers give new meaning to “shop till you drop.”
One of the primary shopping districts in Seoul, Myeong-dong is a maze of streets and alleys that draws you in with a unique energy that is unmistakably Seoul. At night, the area is awash in neon, with signs advertising name brand shoes, clothes, accessories and beauty products, and the delicious aroma of Korean delicacies wafts through the air from the many small restaurants and street stalls. The neighbourhood also includes some of Seoul’s most well-known department stores, including Lotte Department Store and Shinsegae Department Store.
LOTTE DEPARTMENT STORE
The main branch of Lotte Department Store in the heart of Myeong-dong is a Seoul shopping landmark, with over 2 million shoppers passing through its doors daily. With eight floors of shopping, two floors of restaurants, a food court and an entire floor devoted to an expansive duty free shop featuring 400 international brands, Lotte Department Store is a true one-stop shop.
SHINSEGAE DEPARTMENT STORE
The flagship Myeong-dong location of this iconic department store is where Seoulites come to shop, dine and relax in style. Sample a delicious array of prepared foods and staple items in the basement before popping upstairs to try on a pair of shoes or browse the racks for the latest fashion collection. Before heading home, be sure to grab a bite at the top-floor food court, which spills out onto the outdoor deck boasting shaded gardens, fountains and panoramic views.