- Bukchon Hanok Village
With travel restrictions easing, visiting Seoul is becoming more and more popular. But Seoul is such a big city, so it’s hard to know where exactly you should start. There are so many things to do in Seoul, and narrowing them down is hard. Therefore, we’ve picked the top 10 must-visit Seoul neighborhoods so you can see all sides of this city on your trip.
This famous neighborhood sometimes doesn’t even feel like Seoul. Itaewon, located east of the former U.S. military base in Yongsan, is a multicultural hub for foreigners and ex-pats. Although Itaewon was already a popular neighborhood, it recently gained even more attention thanks to the 2020 K-drama “Itaewon Class,” starring Park Seo-Jun and Kim Dami. If you’re feeling homesick during your visit to Seoul, come to Itaewon to find a little piece of home.
What to do in Itaewon
Eat! Eat! Eat!
Itaewon is famous for its global range of cuisines. You can find Indian, Thai, Mediterranean, Mexican, and more. You can also find restaurants that accommodate dietary restrictions if you eat halal or vegetarian. If you want a lighter meal, there are plenty of Itaewon cafes to visit. Eat to your stomach’s content in Itaewon.
Visit the Leeum Art Museum
If you’re looking for a more lowkey Itaewon visit, try visiting the Leeum Art Museum. The museum has a collection of traditional Korean art as well as contemporary art. The museum itself is also a sight to see. Its rotunda, designed by architect Mario Botta, is a popular Instagram photo spot.
If you’re under a time crunch when visiting Seoul, Dongdaemun is the place to go because it has a little bit of everything. There’s the iconic Dongdaemun Design Plaza with the surrounding shopping centers and eateries. Down the street from the DDP, you’ll find the historic Heunginji Gate, from which this area of Seoul gets its name. If you follow Cheonggyecheon, which runs through Dongdaemun, you’ll end up at the famous Gwangjang Market, where you can get delicious street food. Everything great about Seoul is right here in this neighborhood.
What to do in Dongdaemun
Walk along Seoul’s Fortress Wall
One of the best examples of Seoul’s blend of old and new is Heungiinji Park, which runs along the Seoul fortress wall. While the park is great during the day, the night view of Seoul from the park is unbeatable. The climb can get steep in some parts of the park, so wear good walking shoes and take it slow.
View an art exhibition at the DDP
While Dongdaemun Design Plaza is well-regarded for its innovative and futuristic architecture, the building is host to exhibitions showing equally impressive art. Currently, a Tim Burton exhibit runs until September 12, 2022. Take a break from shopping at Dongdaemun’s department stores, and visit an art exhibition at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
For more tips on what to do in Dongdaemun, check out Seoulspace’s article on 10 things to do in Dongdaemun.
Seoul’s Myeongdong neighborhood is a shopper’s heaven. The famed shopping district couldn’t escape the pandemic’s impact and has seen business wane in the past few years. But with restrictions easing, the area is already bouncing back. With major Korean and international brands located along the main shopping strip, you’ll have plenty of browsing options.
What to do in Myeongdong
Stock up on K-beauty and skincare products
The best thing to shop for in Myeongdong is K-beauty and skincare products. Olive Young has multiple Myeongdong locations, but many brands also have their own store locations. Korean skincare brands such as Skinfood, Innisfree, and Holika Holika have Myeongdong locations, and their stores carry a wide range of skincare and makeup products.
Visit Myeongdong Cathedral
Myeongdong Cathedral was the first Roman Catholic church built in South Korea, making it an important place for Korean Catholics. Located in busy Myeongdong, this cathedral is a space of peace. Even if you’re not religious, visiting the cathedral can offer a moment of calm during your time in Seoul. The church also holds an English language mass for foreigners on Sunday mornings.
As one of the most popular neighborhoods of Seoul, Hongdae is filled with people 24/7. During the day, it’s filled with university students of nearby universities and shoppers looking for trendy and cheap clothes. At night, even more, people flood into Hongdae for the lively clubbing scene. With something happening in Hongdae at all times, you’ll never get bored.
What to do in Hongdae
Cafes are a big part of Korean youth culture. They serve as places to rest and to meet friends. It’s no wonder why there are so many independent cafes in the Hongdae area, each having its unique themes and aesthetics. You could spend a whole day in Hongdae, moving from one cafe to another.
Take photos at a photo booth.
Between the many Hongdae stores, you’ll find plenty of self-operated photobooths. Going to photobooths is such a popular activity among young Koreans that you may find people waiting for a free booth. Popping into a photo booth to take photos with fun headbands or glasses is a great way to commemorate your time in Seoul.
Are you looking to get away? Namsan offers a refreshing break from the city with its lush trees and walking trails. If you’re not up for climbing the mountain, you can take the cable car to the top of Namsan Tower. The tower is featured in many K-dramas and is a popular date spot because of the love lock bridge.
What to do in Namsan
Hike up to Namsan Tower
Hiking up to the top of Namsan is a popular activity for Seoulites who need a dose of nature. This hike is especially popular in the fall when the leaves turn. The paths are well-maintained, and the view of Seoul from the top is well worth the trek. The tower is also accessible by cable car.
If you’re not keen on hiking, you can still enjoy the view of Namsan from the hanok village at the foot of the mountain, Namsangol. Five hanok of prominent Joseon Dynasty figures make up this village. The hanok were recovered and brought together from all around Seoul. You can also enjoy theater performances at Namsamgol.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Sitting to the east of Gwanghwamun and Gyeongukgung Palace, picturesque hanoks (한옥) fill this Seoul neighborhood, showing the city’s history and youth. Bukchon is Seoul’s representative hanok village. Many hanok in the area have been converted into trendy cafes and stores, but Bukchon Village is still a residential area. Be mindful of the people living in the area while exploring this historic area of Seoul.
What to do in Bukchon
Visit a hanok cafe
Coffee and cafe culture is big in South Korea so going to a hanok cafe is a must when visiting. Bukchon is filled with them, so take your pick. The atmosphere of a hanok cafe paired with the nation’s favorite coffee drink, Americano, or a sweet dessert makes for a great break from sightseeing.
Rent hanbok and take pictures
If you walk around the Bukchon Hanok Village, you’re sure to run into a few people wearing traditional Korean clothing wearing beautiful hanbok (한복). One of the most popular activities in this area is renting a hanbok and doing a photo shoot. Feel like a princess or prince for a day and rent a hanbok to wear while exploring the historical center of Seoul.
Introduced to the world by Psy’s song “Gangnam Style,” the Gangnam area is home to some of Seoul’s wealthiest and is a premier place for all things luxury. Here you’ll find designer brands and beauty treatment centers galore. At night, Gangnam also becomes a popular destination for those looking for a drink at a nightclub or bar. Whether you’re looking to have a pampered day out or to dance the night away, Gangnam is sure to have what you need.
What to do in Gangnam
Shop on Apgujeong Rodeo
Compared to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California, Apgujeong Rodeo is the place to shop luxury brands in Seoul. In this area, you can browse international brands, such as Louis Vuitton and Celine, and Korean designer brands, such as Gentle Monster.
Get a beauty treatment.
South Korea’s cosmetic surgery and beauty industry are well-known worldwide, so it’s no surprise that in 2019, nearly 50,000 medical tourists came seeking out beauty services. Many clinics, like Lienjang and Wonjin Plastic Surgery, cater to foreigners with consultations in different languages. Whether it’s cosmetic surgery or a facial, getting a beauty treatment from Seoul’s best will ensure you leave South Korea looking your best.
Some of Seoul’s biggest universities surround Sinchon. Yonsei University, Ewha Womans University, Hongik University, and Sogang University are all right in the area. This Seoul neighborhood rivals Hongdae with its youthful and lively energy. Sinchon is most famous for its summer water festival but was canceled for the past few years due to the pandemic. However, there is still plenty to do in Sinchon. Like Hongdae, trendy clothing shops and cafes catering to the young crowd line Sinchon’s streets.
What to do in Sinchon
Tour nearby university campuses
The universities in this area are popular sightseeing spots for tourists. Yonsei University is probably the most visited one, one of the most prestigious universities in Seoul. Yonsei’s ivy-covered buildings have also been featured in various K-Dramas. With four top university campuses concentrated in one area, it’s easy to knock out seeing these universities in a day.
Shop for trendy clothes
Catering to the neighborhood’s young crowd, Sinchon’s shops are always stocked with affordable, on-trend clothes and accessories. The popular shopping areas in Sinchon are located around Sinchon Station and Ewha Woman’s University Station. Many streets are pedestrian-only streets, so you’ll have a comfortable shopping experience when in Sinchon.
Home to the National Department of Painting during the Joseon era, Insadong’s past and present are defined by arts and crafts. Here you’ll find plenty of art galleries to browse and shops selling traditional Korean crafts such as bronzeware, hanbok, and calligraphy supplies. Insadong, popular with tourists and locals, is the perfect place for a dose of Korean art culture and souvenir shopping.
What to do in Insadong
Attend a workshop at Ssamziegil
This mall is made up of four stories and 70 stores selling crafts, both modern and traditional. The mall’s fourth floor features a Sky Garden, an exhibition hall, and a trendy poop-themed cafe. You can not only shop at Ssamziegil but also participate in workshops to make your crafts. What’s a better souvenir than the one you made yourself?
Learn about kimchi at the Museum Kimchikan
Making kimchi can be argued to be its art form, and you can learn all about the fermented side dish at the Museum Kimchikan in Insadong. Admission is only 5000 won for adults. If you love kimchi, you can also sign up for a kimchi-making class on Wednesdays and Thursdays. You even get to take your kimchi home with you!
This Seoul neighborhood is a little far from the city center, but it still attracts plenty of people looking for some fun. Families and young people come to Jamsil for Lotte World, the indoor amusement park inside Lotte Tower. Sports fans flock to Jamsil for baseball games at the Jamsil Baseball Stadium. Right next to the baseball stadium is Seoul Olympic Stadium, or Jamsil Sports Complex, which hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics.
What to do in Jamsil
Ride amusement rides at Lotte World.
With tons of thrilling rides to try, Lotte World is the perfect place for anyone looking for an exciting day out. A popular activity that people do when visiting the amusement park is renting school uniforms to wear. The combination of school uniforms and the amusement park atmosphere will bring out the kid in you.
Visit Olympic Park
A few subway stops from Olympic Stadium is Olympic Park, also built to host the 1988 Summer Olympics. This park goes on for blocks and still has structures from the 1988 Olympics at the west gate. This is an excellent place for a stroll or picnic. If you’re up for a challenge, you can complete the stamp tour of the park’s top nine attractions to get a completion gift.