Seoul travel guide hand drawn map of Korea in purple. Seoul is marked with a red dot.

Seoul Travel Guide, South Korea. It’s like nowhere else. At times it’s peaceful, the city noise fading away. At others, it’s blaring music from every shop, never ceasing except from 8-9AM. Where temples and palaces collide with skyscrapers. Seoul is a place everyone should go to at least once.

Index

Seoul is a city you simply cannot miss. Any trip to Korea without a stop in Seoul would simply be…wrong. Check out the details to plan your trip in the Seoul Travel Guide.

Top 5 Things to Do

1. Any Palace (3,000)

A palace building outlined against a huge blue sky in Seoul travel guide. Mountains are behind the palace, and the courtyard is sparsely populated with tourists. The courtyard is paved with cream colored stones.
Even with the crowds, Gyeongbokgung still offers stellar views.

Depending on how much time you have I would actually go to two palaces. But, if you can only make it to one, choose between Gyeongbokgung or Changdeokgung. Gyeongbokgung is the most famous and if you get there early it’s very easy to distance yourself from the crowds because it’s so large. Changdeokgung has the “secret garden” which you can generally only enter on a tour for an extra 5,000won. I like both palaces equally, and I think the secret garden tour is worth it.

Unless you are in the off season I would recommend not going on the “Free day.” Every last Wednesday of a month is “culture day” and you can get in free. But it will likely be very crowded. If you’re already planning to wear a hanbok, make sure you rent it on the day you’re visiting palaces, as you’ll get in free!

2. Insadong (Free!)

A view down a stone paved alleyway with a lantern hanging in an entrance. The buildings are mostly brick. A sign for a traditional restaurant is written vertically on a white background.
Just one of the many little side streets in Itaewon, full of traditional shops!

This is simply an area in Seoul. They have great shopping, the best dumplings, the best streetfood, and it’s a nice historical experience. In the last couple of years its become increasingly tourist-oriented but it’s still a good experience. It’s also the only place in the world where Starbucks is written in another language πŸ˜€ The requirement to have a shop on Insadong’s main street is that the main name must be written in Korean! It’s one of my favorite areas in Korea but I hope the authenticity doesn’t continue to fade.

3. Hongdae Nightlife (Free!)

hongdae in the early morning, taken down a street with buildings on either side. Grimy, telephone wires crisscross overhead
Doesn’t look like much in the morning, does it? Ha!

You will experience the real young Korea in Hongdae. No Seoul travel guide would be complete without a recommendation to head out to Hongdae at night. And when I say “at night” I mean after 10PM. Seoul is the real city that never sleeps. Except in the mid-morning! From from 4AM to 9 you’ll see the last stragglers stumbling out of clubs or bars, and by then the streets will be deserted. And next to nothing will be open until 11 or later! But until the morning expect restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes, and more to be open to the wee hours of the morning.

4. Cheonggyecheong Stream (Free!)

The sun is setting on a dark, calm stream set down from the street with a walking path on the right. Seoul travel guide there are trees and plants along the left side.
A beautiful evening view

This is my favorite spot in Seoul. Absolutely every trip I take to this city, I just have to walk along this stream. Whether it’s during the blazing heat of the summer, a cool winter’s night, or a spring evening, Cheonggyecheong is an escape from the city while being in the city. All the noise fades away, locals walk about, sitting on rocks – maybe daring to dip a toe in. Exclaim over the fish that roam the stream and take in what I consider the “real” Seoul.

5. Han River Cruise (15,000krw)

The Han River looks like an ocean from the back of a boat. A bridge stretches across in the distances like a golden wire to a small section of skyscrapers on the left.
A view from the evening cruise

River cruises are a great way to get a feel for a city. The Han River cruise leaves from Yeouido Island. Which is honestly worth a wander around as well. It’s not really an island as it’s pretty firmly attached to the mainland, but it is very nice. Often people are day camping, there’s open air convenience stores, and music. The cruise itself is a nice addition to all of this, with various options ranging from dinner cruises (which seem really overpriced for Korea at around 75,000) to fireworks, to music. Or just a plain cruse! I opted for the evening music cruise for 20,000 and fully enjoyed myself.

Other Things to See and Do

  1. Bukcheon Hanok Village This will show up on most recommend lists, and for good reasons πŸ™‚ Bukchon, while very busy, is a great traditional village in Seoul. There are many rules about noise so people are generally very quiet. The views of Seoul are also pretty spectacular as it’s set in a high up point.
  2. Seoullo7017 This isn’t something that’s often on a recommended list, but this Seoul travel guide has all the details! If you are familiar with the Highline in NYC, a walking path that runs over and through the city, Seoullo7017 is similar. It’s a nice way of seeing the city from a different perspective!
  3. Myeongdong Shopping If you’re wanting to see the flagship stores for some of Korea’s most famous brands, this is the place to go! The Chuu and StyleNanda flagship stores are the cutest, with Style Nanda having a cafe with awesome drinks~
  4. Siloam Sauna This is my favorite spa in Seoul. It’s big, but not insane like the more popular Dragon Hill Spa. If you’ve never experienced a Korean spa – you need to! It’s one of the most body positive experiences a person can have. Everyone is simply existing in their own skin and no one cares what you look like. Also, soaking in a hot spa is just incredible.
  5. Temples! Jogyesa and Bongeunsa. These are the two main temples to see in Seoul. This Seoul Travel Guide wouldn’t necessarily recommend them if you’re planning to visit temples outside of Seoul. Jogyesa in particular is kinda just like everywhere else (but they have an excellent “introduction” temple stay where you get to chat with a monk over tea and learn about Buddhism). Bongeunsa is really lovely on a summer evening in Gangnam, when the monk comes out to bang the drum in the setting sun.
  6. Coex Mall and Library This is where that famous library picture is from. Coex mall actually has some great quick food options, but the library is by far the most interesting part.
rows and rows of bookshelves going up to a towering ceiling, an escalator giving an idea of the scale. The bookshelves are curved and outlined with white lights,
Certainly Seoul’s most impressive bookstore!
  1. Hiking There are many options for a range of out-doorsy activities. If you just want something short, hiking Namsan is quick and easy. If you’re wanting something more difficult, hiking the walls around Seoul or heading up to the sacred rock on Inwangsan are all worth it.
hanok village street with traditional houses seoul travel gudie. The base of the building is in stone with brick runners. The sky is filled with white clouds.
A street from the Bukchon hanok village – another peaceful spot in Seoul!

Best Daytrips from Seoul

  • Suwon! Suwon is your best option for a daytrip. It’s cheap to get to, a 30 minute train ride costing around 4,000 won each way. The attractions are great and perfectly do-able within a day. Walk the walls of the city, eat at a great restaurant, explore the temporary palace, and more. Check out my guide to Suwon!
  • Nami Island: This is probably best explored on a guided tour. It’s worth a trip if you have the time, as the park and the gardens are very beautiful. However, getting there can be rather confusing, involving changing transportation. I went on a tour with my hostel, Bunk Hostel, and it was great and very personalized!
  • Paju: This Seoul Travel Guide doesn’t necessarily recommend Paju but some people seem to enjoy it so here it is! Paju is three small tourist towns that are not too far from each other and only an hour outside of Seoul by bus. The Haeri Art Village is primarily cafes which have a gallery component. The Provence Village is more of an Instagram spot. And Book Town is just that – but all the books will likely be in Korean (even if it is really nice, there are libraries that are just as good in Seoul). You can visit all three towns in a day πŸ™‚

Seoul Basic Costs

  • Local Bus: 1,350 (most common)
  • Subway Ride: 1,350
  • 10 Minute Taxi Ride: Around 5,500
  • Entrance Fees: 3,000

  • Coffee: 5,000
  • Meal: 6,500 and up
  • Hostel Room: 10,000
a monk in grey robes rings a large bell under a traditional building with open sides. Steps lead up to the building, with large lotus bowls surrounding the front of the building.
One of the most peaceful moments in Seoul at Bongeunsa Temple

Budgeting

Estimates are for 6 days in Seoul, the minimum the Seoul Travel Guide recommends for seeing Seoul. The Korean exchange rate is currently around 1,150krw to 1usd.

Backpacker (169,000krw)

  • Hostel: 10,000 a night (60,000)
  • 20 Subway Rides: 26,000
  • Food: 80,000
  • Activities: 3,000

Explorer (382,000)

  • Guesthouse: 40,000 a night (240,000)
  • 18 Subway Rides: 24,000
  • 2 Taxis: 15,000
  • Food: 100,000
  • Activities: 3,000

Splurger (706,000)

  • Hotel: 80,000 a night (480,000)
  • 10 Subway Rides: 13,000
  • 10 Taxi Rides: 60,000
  • Food: 150,000
  • Activities: 3,000

Where to Stay

Most Koreans use Booking.com for booking their stays so all of the links are through that site. If you sign up for an account, you can earn Level 2 Genius status after only a few bookings and receive discounts. It’s saved me over $100 so far! The Tiny Tumbleweed Seoul Travel Guide recommends, generally, that you stay in Hongdae or a more traditional area. Hongdae will offer the best nightlife while staying in Insadong or the Bukcheon Hanok Area will offer peaceful nights and great experiences.

Hostel

This is where I stayed. It is not the cheapest hostel in Seoul but it is one of the best. The owner is super nice and the people you encounter are some of the absolute best of any hostel I’ve been to. The host also offers daytrips to Nami Island occasionally so ask him!

Obviously a much cheaper option, but be aware that it is basic. It doesn’t have as good a scene, it is louder, and the host is nice but absent. But, for the price, it’s great! Having stayed at both I would choose Bunk Guesthouse if I wanted to meet people, and Cocoa if I was simply focused on my plans!

Guesthouse

Glue Hotel is your best option for price. It’s not the most ideal location for seeing most sights in Korea, but it’s certainly not a bad location. Everything in Seoul is super close to a subway and Glue Hotel is near some of the best shopping markets in Korea and one of the original Seoul Gates (Dongdaemun).

If you’re looking for a happening location for only a little more money, you can’t get much better than Hongdae. And Aiola is right in the thick of it. It’s very clean and surprisingly quiet for it’s location, but you won’t be able to miss the action!

Hotel

This is probably the best hanok option for the price in Seoul. If you’re going to splurge you might as well go for a unique stay! Hanoks are the traditional housing of bygone Korea. Often you will sleep on the floor in a futon-like bed (which are generally way more comfy than you might think!) in small rooms that have sliding doors. They’ll have nice garden areas and hosts that are super sweet! Of course, if you’re heading to Jeonju, land of the best hanoks, you would be much better off having your hanok experience there. Check out the Jeonju Guide!

If you are wanting the most central location for seeing everything in Seoul, this is it. Great clean rooms within a minute of the subway you can see everything without too much travel time! I wouldn’t stay here if you’re only in Seoul for a few nights as staying in Hongdae or a hanok would be more of an experience, but if you’ve got more time this could be ideal!


Where to Eat

Yun Ssi Milbang (Hongdae)

an orange stew with green onions on top simmers in a black bowl over a candle. Dishes with rice with an egg on top and kimchi. The table is brown.
It may not look spicy but it is!

Open: 11~22:00

Average $: 10,000w

If you’re looking for someplace fun and spicy, I recommend this restaurant. It’s a little pricey but the portions are huge. Order a Coke and keep some tissues handy! If you want a more traditional version of this style (AKA, minus the hamburger in the soup) look for λΆ€λŒ€μ°Œκ²Œ in KakaoMaps. But imo it’s very faithful to the original concept of this soup, which is simply throwing in all the random stuff you have in your house. So noodles, spices, cream, cheese, spam, rice, egg, rice cake, and maybe hamburgers πŸ˜›

Bukchon Sonmandu (Insadong)

A red sign at the beginning of an alleyway with a drawing of a Korean woman's face. Above is a round sign with Bukchon Sonmandu and a picture of the dumplings. Seoul Travel guide.
Look for this sign at the entrance to an alleyway!

Open: 11~22:00

Average $: 4,000won

These are simply the best mandu (or dumplings) I’ve ever had. Make sure to opt for the fried version (νŠ€κΉ€λ§Œλ‘), it’s crispy and huge (and cheap!). They are a chain but I think the ones here are better than anywhere else.

Samgyetang

a cloudy white broth with chopped green onions inside. The bowl is a traditional black cast iron bowl. A whole small chicken is inside the bowl.
A slightly strange flavor but incredibly addictive

Average $: 16,000+

This is one of the more expensive meal options in Seoul because it uses ginseng, which is an expensive and important ingredient in Korea. I don’t remember where I took this picture but it was fantastic – don’t worry! There are many great options for where to get the best Samgyetang in Seoul, this website has an excellent list.

Sulbing

A large bowl on a brown tray in front of a window at night in the city. The bowl is filled with a towering mass of chocolate powdered ice flakes with lots of chocolate-sauce covered whipped cream on top.
Just look at that bowl of yummmm

Open: 10:30~22:30

Average $: 10,000w per dish

The best chain for this Korean dessert. Split it with your two closest friends (or more!) and enjoy in the sweaty Korean summer.


General Korea Tips

Getting Around

There are two main apps for getting around Korea; Naver and Kakao. Google Maps does not work. I recommend Kakao as the romanization spellings are more consistent and the features are generally better in my opinion.

You may need to type in Korean to find some destinations so make sure you download a Korean keyboard.

Kakao app bus schedule. Shows 16 stops, estimated time before the bus comes, and what the estimated arrival time will be.

When you go to catch a bus, it will tell you when the bus is arriving and how many stops you have. If you hit the bell icon in the upper right hand corner it will highlight which bus stop you’re currently at, and it will alert you when you need to get off. It’s amazing.

What to Pack

Depending on the season, Korea is either hot and humid or chilly and humid. In general, just take out the winter clothes for summer and add some leggings and a coat for winter.

  • 2 pair shorts or skirts
  • 1 pair jeans or comfortable trousers
  • 1 pair leggings
  • 4 shirts (crop tops are not a common sight in Korea, I would avoid outside of Seoul)
  • 1 dress or nice shirt for going out
  • 1 swimsuit (bikinis are basically unheard of but foreigners wear them frequently – just accept the stares :P)
  • 6 pair socks (fresh socks are the best)
  • 1 pair sneakers
  • 1 pair flip flops/slides for showers and out and about
  • 5 pair underwear
  • 1 travel towel
  • Toothbrush
  • Deodorant (it can be difficult to find and expensive)
  • Small lock for lockers
  • Universal plug adapter
  • Period products – if you prefer an option besides pads they can be difficult to find
  • Tissue packs – surprisingly difficult to find
  • General pain killers/common over the counter medicines – also can be a little hard to find depending on what you’re looking for. Not all pharmacists speak English and it can be very trying to attempt to communicate about medicine when you’re in pain.

Just about everything else is very easy to find, there is no need to buy shampoo, toothpaste, etc. It’s all right there in a Daiso or supermarket for reasonable prices. Of course, if you have a preference, that’s something you should bring as well.

Safety

Korea is an incredibly safe country. Women often walk alone late at night and theft is almost unheard of. You should always be cautious, but in general Korea is one of the safest countries in the world.

Basic Korean Seoul Travel Guide

Hello: an-yawss-ay-yo (μ•ˆλ…•ν•˜μ„Έμš”)

Where is: awdi-ay _______ (어디에)

Thanks: kam-sam-nida (κ°μ‚¬ν•©λ‹ˆλ‹€)

Goodbye: an-yeong-i-kay-sayo (μ•ˆλ…•νžˆ κ³„μ„Έμš”)

Alphabet

Korean is a very easy language to read. It is almost entirely phonetic so each symbol equals one sound. It’s good to learn because many things are English words just written in Korean. Like 컀 is a very easy language to read. It is almost entirely phonetic so each symbol equals one sound. It’s good to learn because many things are English words just written in Korean. Like 컀피 “kawpi” is coffee.

Vowels

  • ㅏ “ah” cat
  • γ…“ “aw” sought
  • γ…£ “ee” me
  • γ…‘ good
  • γ…— “oh” boat
  • γ…œ “oo” you
  • γ…” “ay” May
  • ㅐ “eh” yes

Consonants

  • γ„± “g” get
  • γ…‹ “k” cat
  • γ„΄ “n” none
  • γ…… “s” snake
  • γ…ˆ “j” juice
  • γ…Š “ch” chase
  • γ…‚ “b” bus
  • ㅍ “p” pet
  • γ„· “d” dog
  • γ…Œ “t” test
  • γ…Ž “h” hat
  • ㅁ “m” mat
  • γ…‡ “ng” or silent*

Double/Y-Sound

  • γ„² Hard “k”**
  • γ…† tense “s”
  • γ…‰ “tch” tsunami
  • γ…ƒ tense “b”
  • γ…‘”yah”
  • γ…•”yaw”
  • γ…› “yoh”
  • γ…  “yoo”
  • γ…– “yay”
  • γ…’ “yeh”

*Korean is written in syllable blocks. When you start a syllable with a vowel, like μ•ˆ you put the γ…‡ symbol as a silent placeholder.

** Double vowels aren’t really important right now, people will know what you’re trying to say.


Other Korean Cities to Visit

If you enjoyed this Suwon Travel Guide, you should check out my other guides to cities in Korea!

Gyeongju Travel Guide: Korea’s Pyramids

Gyeongju Travel Guide photo of lotus covered pond in front of fall trees in front of a double tomb mound. The red trees reflect into the water.
A beautiful fall scene featuring the tomb mounds of Gyeongju!

Tongyeong Travel Guide: Seaside Bliss!

A view of Tongyeong through some winter trees. Bits of pastel buildings and the harbor with mountains in the background.
Tongyeong, a lovely casual sea town!

Boseong Travel Guide: The Little-Known Tea Fields of Korea

Rows of tea bushes with a pine tree forest in the background. A pink flower tree is on the right.
Also they’re some of the most beautiful tea fields ever!

~Seoul Travel Guide~

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