Travel

Things to do in Seoul: South Korea’s ultimate travel destination

An essential list of things to do and see before your trip to the South Korean capital.

Are you looking for a new travel destination? Perhaps it’s time to put Seoul, South Korea on your travel hit list. South Korea mixes rich history with modern technology to create a fantastic experience, wherever you go! Whether you are looking to live luxe, or keep things more affordable, here are some ideas about how to spend your time in the land of the morning calm.

How to get around Seoul

The city of Seoul is fast paced, and luckily, so are the trains. Trains are by far the easiest way to get around Seoul, and the underground subway system is fantastic. Easy to navigate and foreigner friendly, with lots of signage in English. However, if public transport isn’t for you, taxis are also a great option. They are inexpensive and quick to arrive if you download Kakao Taxi, which is the easiest way to book. If you are thinking of taking public transport, it is best to download the city subway app.

Seoul is such a beautiful city, with plenty to see and do during your stay. Despite not being an English speaking country, there are a large number of Koreans who do speak English. However, it will definitely still help to do some research into basic phrases such as hello (annyeonghaseyo) and thank you (gamsahabnida).

(Photo: Mondrian Seoul Itaewon)

Where to stay in Seoul

The Mondrian Seoul Itaewon is the perfect place to stay while in Seoul. Located in Itaewon, the hotel offers stylish and comfortable rooms, some even with exceptional views of N Seoul Tower. With hotspots like Myeongdong and Gangnam not far away, Itaewon is an ideal location. A stay at the Mondrian includes access to their fitness centre and indoor pool, as well as a gorgeous rooftop bar. The staff are very accommodating and speak multiple languages, so it makes for a wonderful experience overall.

If you’re looking for something south of the Han River, Aiden by Best Western Cheongdam is located in Apgujeong. Only a block away from Sinsa station and the flagship stores of Korean favourites Gentle Monster and Tamburins, Aiden by Best Western is another great option for your stay.

On the more western side of Seoul is the Fairmont Ambassador Seoul – the perfect place to splurge on your holiday. From the on site spa to the fantastic restaurant, the Fairmont Ambassador Seoul is also conveniently located above the Hyundai Seoul department store.

Gwangjang Market in Seoul.
(Photo: Maddy Wilson)

What to eat in Seoul

South Korea has some incredible food – think Korean BBQ, tteokbokki (rice cakes) and even Korean fried chicken. There are endless restaurants and markets to choose from, but if you want to get a taste of some traditional Korean meals, Gwangjang Market is the place to start. It is one of the oldest and largest markets in Seoul, filled with stalls offering food, fabrics and other small goods.

At Gwangjang Market you will find traditional street food such as mandu (dumplings), kalguksu (knife cut noodles), japchae (glass noodles) and endless other options. All the food within the market is relatively cheap, with most dishes coming in at less than 10,000 South Korean won, which is roughly $11 AUD.

If you’re hoping to try some Korean BBQ while in town, Hobak Sikdang (also known as Pumpkin Korean BBQ) is the place to start. They have plenty of delicious meat cuts to choose from, as well as amazing kimchi stew and steamed egg. Located in Hannam, it is easy to find right off the the main road.

Alternatively, Samyukga is located in Gangnam, just around the corner from Sinnonhyeon station. Known for their mouth-watering flower pork, the staff at Samyukga will also cook your meat and vegetables on the hot plate in front of you. Upon entry, a wall of signatures from varying celebrities is displayed. Clearly a local favourite, you might even see some of your favourite K-pop idols here!

If street food and BBQ aren’t for you, try heading slightly north of Dongdaemun to visit Woomoolzip. Perfect for private dining, each room is capped at six people. Woomoolzip features a beautiful round window to look out into the garden, as well as heated floors and cushions for the traditional floor seating. The individual hot pot is delectable, served on a miniature fireplace to keep the soup base warm.

Barboo brunch cafe and wine bar in Seoul.
(Photo: Maddy Wilson)

Seoul’s best bars & cafes to visit

Without a doubt, South Korea has some of the most beautiful and conceptual cafes and bars. Every element has an intentional aesthetic, and here are a few options.

Barboo, located in Itaewon is a brunch cafe and wine bar. Perfect for day or night, you can sit by the window and view cherry blossoms in Spring, or perhaps catch the snowfall in Winter. With a great range of wine to choose from, it’s the perfect stop for a bite to eat or a nightcap.

A great conceptual bar to visit is Zoo Sindang. Behind the hidden entrance is a whirlwind of colour and extraordinary creations. The bar hones in on lunar zodiac signs, with each animal of the zodiac corresponding to the name of a cocktail. The drinks have surprising combinations, but are absolutely delicious and well worth a try.

If you’re wanting to try a cafe with a twist, look no further than Osulloc. Offering tea from their tea farm on Jeju Island, Osulloc have an impressive range of beverages. Enjoy matcha, coffee, or one of their specialty teas like Korean pear or tangerine blossom, and enjoy the calming ambiance the Osulloc creates.

For a taste of home, try taking a trip to this Aussie cafe. Albert Park Bakery have an array of Australian and New Zealand bakery treats, including crowd favourites like lamingtons and ANZAC biscuits.

Seoul attractions to explore

Seoul has some incredible attractions, many of which are free! See thousands of padlocks symbolising eternal love around the base of N Seoul Tower, and head up to the top of the tower for panoramic views of Seoul. There are multiple ways to get to the tower, including a local bus route, cable car or – if you feel like the exercise – a 30 minute walk.

There are plenty of historical sites in Seoul that seamlessly intertwine with modern day life. One of them – Gyeongbokgung Palace – dates all the way back to 1395 when the Joseon Dynasty ruled. While it is only one of many palaces in Seoul, it certainly is one of the most famous and frequently visited. Entry is free if you are wearing a Korean Hanbok which can be rented from one of the stores around the palace, or alternatively entry is around 3,000 South Korean won. It is worth noting that Gyeongbokgung is closed on Tuesdays.

Cheonggyecheon is an almost 11km long stream that runs through Seoul. A beautifully restored waterway that offers a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, perfect for a stroll if you have some spare time.

Myeongdong shopping street at night.
(Photo: Getty)

Where to go shopping in Seoul

If you’re looking to do some shopping while in Seoul, it’s a good idea to leave plenty of space in your suitcase! There are places to shop wherever you go, whether they be large shopping malls, niche boutiques or streets jam-packed of all the on trend stores. For the latter, try heading to Myeongdong. Known to be one of the best shopping districts, Myeongdong has fashion, cosmetics and department stores all in the one shopping street.

Shopping for Korean beauty products is a must while overseas. Their biggest beauty store, Olive Young is a wonderland of all the best skincare and makeup products. If beauty is your thing, it is well worth a visit to their multi-storey stores in Myeongdong and Gangnam!

Hannam and Itaewon are full of new, trendy brands. Wandering the streets is the perfect way to find new brands and small goods. The area is particularly great if you want to find a new fragrance, with flagship stores for Korean brands like Pesade, Born to Stand Out and Nonfiction.

For a little bit of everything, try heading to Seongsu. You’ll find a vast range of pop up stores, as well as local favourites like Stand Oil and Fwee. Seongsu is also conveniently right next to Seoul Forest, so be sure to allow some time to wander the park and see the deer corral!

N Seoul Tower with cherry blossom or sakura flower with blue sky at Namsan Mountain in Seoul City, South Korea.

What beauty treatments to try in Seoul

There is an endless amount of beauty treatments available to try in Seoul. Everything from a Korean head spa, facials, colour analysis and even more invasive procedures if you feel inclined. If you want to limit travel around the city, try Eco Jardin. Here you can get your colour analysis done, and follow it up with a scalp treatment and haircut.

If you’re after a facial to make your skin glow, Muse Clinic in Gangnam is your go to. Offering facials, laser and even Botox if you wish, Muse is very foreigner friendly and will have you looking your best in no time!

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