Since I was in Seoul for five months, I had the opportunity to travel around to many parts of the city. Normal visitors to the city may not have that time available so I’ve made a list of possible places to visit while in Seoul! The spots will be separated by the ‘gu’ or districts they belong to. Also, although I do list subway stations for some of the locations, taking the bus for many of these spots is a lot more convenient.
Seodaemun-gu and Mapo-gu
University area alert! Seodaemun and Mapo host lots of trendy and fun places for young people due to a large amount of universities being located there.
- Sinchon and Edae
Home to two prestigious private universities, Yonsei University and Ewha Womans University (no, it’s not a grammatical error), the Sinchon and Edae area is the prime spot to spot local university students going about their daily lives and for shopping.
Points of interests:
- Edae Shopping streets: The streets of Edae (Ewha Womans University) are where you can find the cheapest and trendiest clothes in town. Clothing prices usually start out at ₩10,000.
- Ewha Womans University: The top women’s university in Korea also features a beautiful campus. Ewha mixes the East and the West, the traditional and the new. During the spring, the campus absolutely blooms, matching its namesake of ‘pear flower.’ Take pictures at their iconic student union building built into the hill and the delicate flower mural at the entrance of the school. Enjoy a cup of coffee at the school’s class encased coffee shop. No entry to males after 10pm!
- Yonsei University: One of the three ‘SKY’ universities of Korea (Seoul National, Korea, Yonsei), Yonsei University offers up another beautiful and imposing campus. Many college and even high school dramas have been filmed on this campus. Take a look at the soaring Yonsei mascot, the eagle, or the wonderful Underwood Hall. In the autumn, the campus is a sight to behold with golden leaves lining the central avenue and red vines climbing over age old buildings.
- Street food: Don’t go to Myeongdong for the more traditional streetfoods or for cup chicken. Instead, eat it here in the Ewha and Yonsei area where prices are much cheaper and the food is twice as good. Yum!
- Meat Street: Craving some meat and KBBQ? Head to the alleys on the right side of Yonsei-ro (while facing away from Yonsei University) and you’ll find yourself in KBBQ heaven.
How to get there: Subway Line 2 Edae (이대) or Sinchon (신촌) stop
Right next to Sinchon is Hongdae, a.k.a. Hongik University, a university famous for its arts and the university area around it reflects the character of the school very well. There’s something for everyone here and its a creative paradise of unique stores and restaurants.
Points of interests:
- Hongik University: Newer than its next door neighbors, Hongik University’s campus is still worth checking out. Across the street from the main entrance is the Playground, which may have once been truly a kid’s playground, but is now a place where you’ll often see famous artists busking away.
- Artists Fair: Every Saturday, local artists gather at the Playground in a little vendor’s fair. Definitely go check it out because there are lots of unique pieces of art and accessories you can’t get anywhere else.
- Shopping: Whether it be trendy youth brands or personal designs, Hongik has it all. Check out the giant ALand and Wonderplace stores here which offer all the styles you need (no need to go to their other branches after this) or head into the alleys for artists’ shoppes and creative concept stores. Hongik also offers shopping similar to the ones in Edae. Check out Style Nanda as well and Gentle Monster, both concept stores perfect for oohing and aahing.
- Food: Whenever we got tired of the food around school at Yonsei, we would come to Hongdae for more food options. The alley behind the ₩10,000 clothing street in Hongdae offers lots of unique street foods whereas the area as a whole offers a lot of cuisines and restaurants to choose from.From tradtional Korean fare to falafel, Hongdae has it all. Recommendations include The Beastro, The Ugly Stove, MomiMomi (and any restaurant near it), and 나물 먹는 곰.
- Busking: Since Hongik is an art university, the area also boasts a large amount of buskers, especially at night. It’s a great place to enjoy music and immerse in the local culture.
- Clubs: At night, Hongdae comes to life with clubs. A great place to start your club life is NB2 (started by YG).
How to get there: Subway Line 2 Hongdae (Hongik U. 홍대입구) stop
Hapjeong is famed for its numerous cafes and it also offers up a lot of tasty international cuisines. During our stay at Yonsei, we would often come here before class to drink coffee, try delicious desserts, or grab a quick lunch. Also, this is near where YG Entertainment is located. Sansu-dong is a continuation of this with lots of nice and cheap restaurants to choose from!
How to get there: Subway Line 2 Hapjeong (합정) stop, Exit 5
Jongno-gu can be referred to as ‘old’ Seoul. This was (and basically still is) the center of the city before it expanded into Gangnam starting in the late 1970s. Here, you’ll find most of the most famous tourist spots and shopping centers.
Everyone knows Myeongdong. It’s known as THE place to shop when in Seoul. Personally…it’s a little too crowded. However there’s an excitement to the crush of people and the endless line of street food (overpriced but hey, when you gotta eat, you gotta eat). Check out the large Lotte Department Store, especially the bottom floor where there’s tons of food to choose from, and the Lotte Young Plaza for trendier products. Sit down at the Innisfree Cafe for some aesthetic and refreshing drinks. Style Nanda’s Pink Hotel is also a must see and conveniently located in a less crowded alleyway. Looking for K-pop goods? Check out the underground shopping mall at Myeongdong Station. There’s about three in there, selling official lightsticks and all the goods you need. Want more? There’s also another store above ground on the third level of the large, vine covered Nature Republic.
How to get there: Subway Line 2 Euljiro 3-ga (을지로3가역) stop
- Gyeongbok Palace/Gwanghwamun
The traditional residence of the royal family of Korea, Gyeongbok Palace (Gwanghwamun is the main entrance) is a must visit for first time visitors to Seoul. I recommend not following the guided tour because there’s just so many people and it takes up too much time, but rather to just read up on the facts before you go. It’s better to explore on your own. The palace is currently under reconstruction (after much of it was burned down during Japanese occupation) though it has been steadily expanding over the years. The next door folk museum is also something to check out.
How to get there: Subway Line 3 Gyeongbukgung (경복궁) stop
Note: Wearing a hanbok will allow you free entry into the palace. Hanbok rental is available all around the palace. Alternatively, you can look up online where to rent!
- Changdeokgung Palace
I recommend going to the palace in the warmer months since it is famed for its gardens. The palace was a favorite of the royal family and its layout is a lot more with nature as compared to the main Gyeongbok Palace. This is the second main palace in Seoul and was home to much of the royal family during Japanese occupation.
- Deoksu Palace
Although most of Deoksu Palace’s original buildings are gone, the large forest within the palace grounds are a thing of awe-as is the walkway along the side of the palace, especially in the autumn. Today, the palace is a mix of the Eastern and the Western architecture, housing the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Deoksugung Branch and Seokeodang. Entry to Jeonggwanheon (King’s Lounge and open Saturdays) and Seokjojeon Hall may require reservations so make sure to sign up! After the Palace, you can also head across the street to City Hall where the older building has now been converted into a library.
How to get there: Subway Line 1 or 2 City Hall (시창) stop
- Seoul Museum of History
For all the history-junkies out there, Seoul Museum of History is the place to go. This museum brings you through Korea and Seoul’s history and development and also introduces you to the culture. Admissions are free unless otherwise specified (ex: special exhibits).
- Kyobo Bookstore Gwanghwamun
The flagship of Kyobo Book Centre, the largest bookstore chain in Korea, is located in Gwanghwamun…on the right side of the main plaza specifically. It’s located slightly underground if you’re having trouble finding it. Come here for all your stationary needs.
Address: 1, Jongno 1-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea // 서울특별시 종로구 종로 1 (종로1가)
- Bukchon Hanok Village
Right beside Gyeongbuk Palace is the Bukchon Hanok Village, home to hundreds of well preserved traditional houses. Remember that although it is a tourist spot, many of these houses are private residences and to be respectful. Keep you noise level down in quieter alleyways! The area also features tons of cafes, stores selling knick knacks, and more traditional food fares. Bukchon is the perfect place to experience all the sides of traditional Korean culture.
Insadong is where you get all your tourist souvenirs. The streets are lined with them. Pick up some cute postcards or sit down at one of the many traditional tea houses to pass the day away.
Points of Interests:
- Ssamzie-gil Road (쌈지길): The main mall here in Insadong, Ssamzie offers a wide selection of artsy goods and exhibits.
- Osulloc (오설록): A store selling green tea from Jeju. I really like their green tea milk spread and green tea cake. This store also offers a sit down cafe on the upper levels.
How to get there: Subway Line 3 Anguk Station (안국역) Exit 6
- Cheonggyecheon Stream
Restored in 2005 to this new scenic spot in the middle of Seoul, Cheonggyecheon is a nice place to take a walk and during early winter, to enjoy the lantern festival. It’s also close to other landmarks such as Insadong and Deoksu Palace, as well as Kyobo.
How to get there: Subway Line 2, 4, or 5 Dongdaemun History & Culture Park (동대문역사문화공원) stop
- Blue House
The presidential residence of Korea and also where many of government officials work. Reservations are required for entry but you can just take pictures from outside as well.
- Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Shopping
DDP is well known for being the location of Seoul Fashion Week and around this area, you can find all types of things to buy, from clothing to food, to toys. Named after the city gate, Dongdaemun, This place is really popular with tourists and locals alike.
How to get there: Subway Line 2, 4, or 5 Dongdaemun History & Culture Park (동대문역사문화공원) stop
- Gwangjang Market
Nearby DDP is Gwangjang Market, a semi-traditional market where you can try Korean pancakes, live octopus, and raw beef (check out the Yukhoe alley), all local delicacies and totally delicious!
How to get there: Subway Line 1 Jongno 5-ga (종로5가) stop
Made even more famous than it had been before by ‘Gangnam Style’, this part of town features a lot of international offerings, including Shake Shack.
The balling-est place to shop in Korea…okay that’s basically the entire Gangnam area maybe, but Garosugil offers both the shops and the trendiest cafes. Check out Remicone and Dore Dore, or and if you don’t have one in your area, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse.
- Apgujeong Rodeo
Another posh shopping area in Gangnam…and you’re up for it, a prime spot to accidentally spot celebs (cue certain celebrity saying: why don’t they recognize me). Also the large amount of plastic surgery ads and clinics can be found here.
Perhaps the most affluent area of the most affluent district in Seoul, Cheongdamdong is where all the rich and of course, most of the entertainment companies live. Walk along K-Star Road and into the alleys to look for JYP or FNC and maybe you might spot a K-pop band or two. Also a good place to eat high-end, delicious dim sum if you’re suddenly craving some.
- COEX Mall
Another large shopping area, COEX Mall’s main highlight is the SMTOWN Atrium located right next to it.
How to get there: Subway Line 2 Samseong (삼성) stop or Subway Line 9 Bongeunsa (봉은사) stop
- Jamsil and Lotte World
Stepping out of Jamsil Station, you’ll enter Lotte World…quite literally besides the theme park because everything is Lotte here…including that very tall pinnacle glass skyscraper that you keep on craning your neck to see.
Points of Interests:
- Lotte World: A famous theme park in Korea. Tickets: ☆
- Lotte World Mall: Perhaps our favorite part of the Lotte monopoly is Lotte World Mall because of the two floors of food, food, and more food. Make sure you’re on the right side of the mall though. If you’re on the fifth floor, starving, and not seeing any signs of food, make sure to cross the sky bridge to the other side. You’re welcome.
- Team Lab World: Want to feel like a kid again? Want to do arts and crafts while interacting with modern art created by light technology? Come to Team Lab World! Tickets: ☆
How to get there: Subway Station Line 2 or Line 8 Jamsil (잠실) stop
The new central business district of Seoul
Modern buildings galore and home to IFC Mall. Visit Yeouido Hangang Park for the annual fireworks festival in the autumn, Yeouido Park for ice skating in the winter, and Yeouido in the general in the spring for cherry blossoms.
How to get there: Subway Line 5 or 9 Yeouido (여의도) stop.
- Times Square
Outside of Times Square, there are lots of street foods to choose from. Inside of Times Square, one of Korea’s largest malls, visit CGV Starium, one of the world’s largest movie theatres. Maybe you’ll be lucky and catch a movie premier! Other than that, Times Square also features many restaurants to choose from and also an E-Mart where you can purchase all your daily necessities.
How to get there: Subway Line 1 Yeongdeong-po (영등포) stop
Personally, I don’t like the main road of Itaewon, which is where the United States army base is. Rather, we usually go to the smaller streets near residences which are part of Itaewon’s cafe streets. There, you can find a lot of unique, small restaurants and cafes.
How to get there: I don’t remember what bus we take but here is the address for one of the cool restaurants we once visited called ‘Cha Chaan Teng’ (차찬텡): 346-9, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu (서울 용산구 이태원동 346-9). The streets that head upward in the surrounding areas will all have something to offer so explore around a bit!
I actually never went up to the Namsan Tower (how scandalous) but this is the place to go if you want a sweeping view of Seoul or in the winter, a cold blast of wind in your face.
How to get there: Subway Line 4 or 3 Chungmuro (충무로) stop, Exit 2
- Olympic Park (Songpa-gu)
A little ways out of city center is the Olympic Park-an ideal place for photoshoots and Instagram posting. Featuring extensive woodland which turns into beautiful colors in the autumn and fields of blossoming flowers in the spring (there are beautiful orange ones in the summer and autumn too), come here to experience a little nature after spending time in metropolitan Seoul. There are also statues found inside the park from each of the countries that participated in the event.
How to get there: Subway Line 5 Olympic Park Station (올림픽공원)
For directions on how to use Naver Maps (Google Maps doesn’t really work in Korea), check out this post: ☆