I arrived in Seoul originally planning to spend 5 days exploring the city. However when shitty weather prevented us from going to Sokcho to climb Mt Seoraksan, my stay extended to a whole week in Seoul.
Whilst this might seem like a lot of time to spend in the one city, I still only felt like I only scratched the surface of what Seoul and its surroundings have to offer.
I can imagine spending months here and still finding new things to do, new places to eat, new people to meet and new experiences.
Here are some of the things I got up to in my ‘short’ stay in Seoul…
Explore Seoul Neighbourhoods
Seoul is a massive city and it is also extremely spread out. There is no one district or neighbourhood of Seoul you can point to as a must visit, no district that is saturated with all of the tourists sites.
From the tourist hub of Itaweon, the food hub of City Hall, to the magic nightlife of Hongdae- every part of Seoul has something to offer.
We stayed in Hongdae and this was definitely my favourite part of Seoul. There is a great mix of local university students and tourists.
There are also some amazing restaurants, bars and shops. The highlight for us was Reggae Chicken- an amazing Jamaican themed place serving awesome Korean Fried Chicken.
Ride the Subway
Given how huge and spread out Seoul is the only real way to travel is via the modern subway system. The subway system in Seoul is huge and will get you pretty much anywhere.
At $1.50 a ride it is also the cheapest way to get around. Invest in a T-Money card, purchasable from the local 7/11 or similar, to save some money and make taking the subway easier.
But the subway isn’t just a way to get around. The different characters you will meet on the trains, and more importantly the amazing subway music played at every station before the train arrives makes this is a quintessential Korean experience.
Visit the DMZ and JSA
A trip to Seoul is incomplete without a journey to the nearby border with North Korea. Read about my amazing experience at the Demilitarised Zone here.
Visit Seoul’s UNESCO Sites
Seoul is home to some unique UNESCO sites, all of them created during the famous Joseon Dynasty.
I visited both Changdeokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine.
Changdeokgung Palace is home to some amazing buildings that are unfortunately not the originals.
You’ll find most of Seoul’s historic relies have been rebuilt following Japanese occupation. The Japanese sought to exert their power over the Korean through the destruction of their history. It reminded me of one of my favourite George Orwell quotes:
‘The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history”.
However the highlight of Changdeokgung Palace for me wasn’t the buildings but the gardens attached to them. They were extremely beautiful, probably due to the hard work of the many gardeners I spotted throughout my walk around the grounds of the palace.
There were little ruins sprinkled through the park in which you could find little pieces of Seoul’s history.
I just loved chilling out by this lake, walking around aimlessly and even sitting down with my kindle at one point.
Fortunately for me, there weren’t a lot of tourists around because of MERS so the grounds were also unusually quiet.
Jongmyo Shrine is the only remaining confucian temple that still practices rites twice a year. The Shrine itself is home to the spirit tablets of the Kings and Queens of the Joseon dynasty.
You can’t see the real spirit tablets except for the two days a year the shrine is open for a ceremony. During this ceremony the spirit tablets are re-blessed and food is replenished for the spirits.
The tour guide was really informative and I found it very fascinating, especially because I didn’t really know much about confucianism.
Visit Seoul’s Museums
Faced with a rainy day there is no better way to escape the bad weather than by exploring some of Seoul’s Museums.
I visited the War Memorial of Korea which provides a very informative recount of the events leading up, during and after the Korean war, along with some interesting artefacts and interactive exhibits such as 4D movies.
“As expected there was a bit of propaganda and I have no doubt we only got one side of the story but for a history buff like myself this in itself is interesting evidence for me to process.”
We also visited the Museum of Contemporary History and I heard amazing things about the Art Museums’ from some of my friends. They especially recommend the Samsung Art Museum.
Eat Lots of Delicious South Korean Food
Seoul is home to lots of amazing restaurants and the eating opportunities are endless. From the cafes of Hongdae to the bustle of the Noryangjin Fish Market and the Gwangjang Food Market, you will definitely eat well in Seoul!
You’ll find a more extensive summary of what to eat Korea in this post.
Climb Mt Bukhansan
Koreans love to climb their mountains and Mt Bukhansan, located just on the outskirts of Seoul is no exception.
I was suffering from some pretty serious blisters so I skipped this experience but two of my friends got to the top. It’s not for the faint hearted- it took them about 7 hours return. But for these views I think it might just be worth it.
Take a Day Trip
There a few day trip options from Seoul. We made a trip to nearby Suwon to climb the fortress which I think is the perfect day trip. Read more here.
Cycle Along the Hangang River
You can hire bikes all along the river and spend an hour or so riding along. This is a great way to relax and soak up the quirkiness of Seoul and South Korean people.
People watching was the best part about cycling along the river, especially the group of old Korean men that have K-pop blasting from speakers on their bikes!
We easily accessed the river and a bike hire place from Ichon station.
Seoul is home to some great shopping. I must have bought at least 30 pairs of weird and whacky socks including Batman and Ironman socks, ‘Despicable Me’ Minion socks and socks with all kinds of animals on them (my favourite being the cats).
We explored the Myeongdong area that had some great shops. In terms of sizing, I’m not exactly typical Korean size but I found places like H & M were still accessible. Uniqlo barely had anything above an Australian size 8 though!
Club and Bar Hop
This is something I wanted to do in Seoul but I didn’t quite get there. Soju destroyed me our third night in Seoul and none of us were making it out to the club that night! Needless to say, we all needed a bit of a break from drinking after that.
All of these places are accessible via the subway system that will cost you $1.50 a ride.
We stayed at Pencil Guesthouse in Hongdae which was super cute and comfortable. We loved the staff here! It cost us on average around $20 a night for a dorm bed, but that price fluctuates depending on whether it’s the weekend or not.