Visiting museums while traveling can be tricky. While they are frequently a great way to learn about the country or city you are visiting, some are overwhelming or just not so great. Luckily, Korea has some of the best museums in the world – so here’s a list of the best museums in Seoul!
National Museum of Korea – Best Museums in Seoul
Of course, this is the first museum that is going to be on anybody’s list – The National Museum of Korea. It’s completely free to visit, the largest in Korea, and provides a fantastic overview of Korea’s history. I will say, if you have explored a lot outside of Seoul already, it’s not going to have anything particularly groundbreaking.
The same goes if you’ve studied a lot of Korean history. You’re much better off going to the area-specific museums in different cities around Korea. But don’t let this deter you! This museum should be fantastic for 95% of visitors to Seoul.
One thing that I think is totally underrated about this museum are its non-Korean exhibits. They are shockingly well done and generally ignored. Their Egyptian exhibit was so good it sent me into an ongoing two year obsession with Egypt.
It’s also a beautiful museum that is pretty well laid out and easy to get around. Definitely one of the best museums in Seoul!
Seoul Museum of History
This museum is filled with a simply staggering amount of information. It’s also shockingly huge. A word to the wise – pace yourself in this museum. Don’t try to read every sign or see every exhibit in the earlier sections or you will be too tired by the time you get to later sections.
It is very well laid out with a fantastic way of making your way through the various time periods in order. The use of dioramas helped to picture the history being described.
Make sure you don’t skip the rotating exhibits – I found these gave me real insight into Korean culture even after having lived in the country for two years.
This museum is also free! Looking for more free experiences in Seoul? Check out my list of Top Free Things To Do in Seoul!
National Maritime Museum
I think a lot of people picture a maritime museum as being boring. You couldn’t be more wrong. At least when it comes to Korean maritime museums, they’ve been some of my favorite in Korea. If you can make it all the way down to Mokpo, their Maritime museum is my favorite because of their shipwreck exhibits.
But the Seoul one is very similar, with fantastic large ship replicas, beautiful aquariums, and tons of historical information. Given Korea is a peninsula, so much of its history involves the ocean. One of Korea’s most famous historical figures, Yi Sun Shin, was the inventor and commander of a fleet of turtle ships. One of the coolest moments in Korean history!
If you want to experience an actual turtle ship in real life (along with endangered marshes, fabulous gardens, and fun island hopping) check out my Guide to Yeosu: Korea’s Flower Explosion.
The National Maritime Museum is also completely free.
Korean Folk Village – Best Museums in Seoul
This is not actually in Seoul, but just outside of it by about 30 minutes via train. And it’s definitely worth it! The entire village is an open-air museum dedicated to Korean history and culture. If you don’t have time to travel the country further than Seoul, this is a must.
Expect to see replica housing from Korean locations as far as Ulleungdo (which requires a 3 hour train followed by a 3 hour ferry to reach), traditional crafts and sculptures, and great informative displays about Korean historical life. Even more exciting are the performances. Watch as brightly colored dancers twirl, wave fans, beat drums, perform acrobatics, and swing alluring streamers from their heads.
Finally, this is one of the best locations for buying souvenirs. There is a huge variety, generally quite reasonably priced, and showcasing true Korean craftsmanship.
The prices are, well, pricey at 18,000krw. But picture it as a complete daytrip experience of Korean culture and fun!
Best Museum Outside of Seoul: Gyeongju National Museum
Looking to extend your trip? Gyeongju is not only my favorite place in Korea, it’s one of my favorite places on earth and it just so happens to be home to fantastic museum!
Gyeongju National Museum holds many of the artifacts from the Silla dynasty, the most intriguing group of people in Korean history (imo). To learn more about a trip to Gyeongju, check out my Guide to Gyeongju: Korea’s Pyramids.