It’s really hard to decide on one’s favorite places in such a huge and culture rich city like Seoul. There are a lot of places which totally swept my heart and made me fall in love with the country all over again. I still tried to compose my ten most liked places where I usually spend most of my time.
1. Namsan Tower
So well, what would be such a huge list without the landmark of Seoul: The Namsan Tower. It is located on the Namsan hill and is the highest point of the city, meaning you will have a stunning view all over Seoul. This sight is beautiful by day and incredibly mesmerizing by night. You should try to see the sunset fromabove the city as well. You can walk all the way up if you want, there’s an easy railway leading you up but it will take you some time. You can also take the cable car for around 8€ (two ways ticket).
You should be prepared for seeing a looooot of couples on the top of the Namsan Tower (as well as everywhere in Seoul, I swear). They hang their locks on the side framings or on especially designed trees and figures for that matter. But you better don’t by any souvenirs up there, it’s way more expensive on the top than it is at the bottom of the hill.
2. Han River
I really fell in love with the Han River (Han Gang), which divides Seoul into two halves. The River is very broad and a lot of themed ships are frequenting on it (A Cherry Blossom one, A movie theatre one etc.). My favorite spot at the very long river is the Yeouido Park. There are some water parks in the middle of that area which are incredibly crowded on hot summer days. In the evening you can also usually find some
bazaars and a lot of amateur singers and bands standing near the river serenading Korean ballads. In short: The ambience is almost magical and you won’t get bored here, no matter how much time you’ll spend. In addition there are a lot of walking side tracks where you can pass hours of admiring the beautiful nature, playing sports games. And if you get hungry just order some cheap food per app and you will get it delivered directly to the park within 20 minutes. (Special Advice: A very convenient app is “Yogiyo” where you don’t have to be able to read Korean, just click on the pictures of what you want to eat and enable the GPS button on your phone)
Another great location at the Han River is the “Ttukseom Resort”. It has a waterpark which is really crowded in summer, but now that it got colder it’s calmer than the Yeouido Park. A perfect location to just let your thoughts wander and take long walks, looking at the Namsan Tower from the riverside or the skyline of Seoul. You can take a lot of beautiful pictures at this location!
3. Lotte World
Koreans love cute and fluffy stuff, but Koreans also love some adrenaline. The result? Lotte World, the biggest indoor amusement park of the world which looks almost a bit like Disney World. It has many cute rides directed towards younger visitors or special parades with cute costumes, but also a Gyro Drop or an area called Adventure world with more adrenaline inducing rides.
I totally loved the rides that were outside, they are more exciting to do, but you have to be prepared for long waiting hours (up to 3 hours if you go there on a bad day). Still, it’s totally worth the money and definitely one location you have to visit once.Special Advice: If you plan the trip beforehand, you can register yourself online as a VIP to get the Magic Pass – you will be able to pass by the long line and it will be your turn immediately.
Another thing you should remember: Try to get on the big balloon or the train in the beginning, they surround Lotte World on the inside and outside once so that you get a better overview on which rides it has to offer and where are standing the most people at the moment.
4. Hanok Village
Surrounded by skyscrapers in Seoul are many so called “Hanoks”. They are traditional Korean houses which are around 600 years old. Hundreds of them form a small village in the heart of Seoul called Hanok village.
Typical for Korean architecture is that they all have elaborate decorated roofs and old doors out of wood. Even nowadays there are still some people living inside of them, so when you go through the streets and take pictures you should try to keep as quite as possible. Korean houses usually have thin walls out of paper, so the residents hear what happens outside.
Special Tipp: If you ever want to experience the traditional way of Korean Lifestyle, you can go to a Hanok Hotel where you can sleep in such a room on korean futons. If you are lucky you even get the chance to be part of a traditional Korean tea ceremony.
5. Dog Café
The first thing you will see in Korea are Cafés everywhere. I tried all kinds of cafes since they are the best study location: cat cafes, manga cafes, game cafes, raccoon cafes, sheep cafes, hello kitty cafes, one piece café… But what I liked the most is the good old dog café. There is a very big one called Bau House with a variety of small and big dogs, even some puppies. You don’t have to pay an entrance fee, you just have to order at least one drink.
Also different than other cafes you can spend the whole day there without being afraid of getting kicked out or having to order something else.The dogs are raised really well and they aren’t spoiled at all (in most other cafés the dogs are getting used to being fed by the customers which is why most of them eat way too much and only come to you when you just arrived and have gotten some food by the staff). But it’s totally different in Bau House. Also the area around it (There are different Bau Houses all over Seoul) is very lively and worth the visit.
Special Advice: Bring a cardigan or a jacket with you because the smaller dogs love hiding inside of them and cuddling against you from inside.
6. Korean Palaces
There are five huge palace complexes in Seoul, but except for the Doksugung Palace all of them were originally burnt down during the Imjin War, partly by slaves who wanted to destroy evidence for their status. Complexes that were rebuilt after were inhabited by Korean Royalty until the 20th century and are now open to the public. You should get a ticket for all the Palaces at the same time, it costs only 8€ and is valuable for a few weeks.
You can see the houses and gardens that were used by the Korean Kings and Queens. In some complexes you can even enter and admire the inner architecture which is very different from Korean inside architecture nowadays. And if you want to totally dive into the flair, you should rent a Hanbok, the Korean traditional clothing, and take pictures inside of the palace as if you would have lived there in earlier times.
Secret Advice: Don’t miss out on a walk through the Secret Garden next to the Changdeokgung Palace. In the past it was only accessible to royal members, but a few years ago it was opened for the public. The Garden is of mesmerizing beauty.
Now that I told you a lot about specific places, I want to tell you more generally about areas that you totally have to explore. The most popular one is definitely Hongdae. It is the typical student area with a lot of cheap shopping places, cafes, karaoke rooms, restaurants, street food and so on. Hongdae is awesome to hang around during the day, but Hongdae is even better by night.
The shops are still open, it is super lively and the ambience is great. You can stay there the whole night without being afraid of shops closing down. There are usually dance crews and singers performing, street art is being made on the spot, young people are everywhere, it’s easy to meet new friends. Definitely a spot to spend hours at.
Special Advice: In Hongdae is the Trick Art Museum with a lot of 2D art pieces that give you the illusion of being part of a 3D art piece. A lot of them are really well made.
Oppa Gangnam Style – the song is the reason why almost everyone knows the area Gangnam. It is known as one of the wealthiest quarters in Seoul which is visible in the architecture, the brand shops, the fashion of the people
frequenting the streets and of course the prices. Still it is absolutely worth the visit, the big boulevard at the Gangnam Station is stunningly beautiful with all the skyscrapers and huge displays. Which is another thing you have to get used to here, there are huge displays with advertisements, the news and show clips everywhere.
In Gangnam I love going to the COEX Complex: It has a lot of nice small shops inside and the highlight is COEX Aquarium which is like the Korean SeaLife. The tunnel inside where you are walking beneath all kinds of fishes and sharks and turtles has been used as a film and series location really often and it is really worth the visit.
You should check out the small side streets as well, there are a lot of exotic and super delicious street foods and smaller souvenir shops which are way cheaper than the ones in the main street.
Special Advice: Korea is the country which has designed the first 4D cinema- it is located in Gangnam, so if you have the time you should check the cinema out.
Myeongdong is the first place to go to for most people arriving in Seoul – you will see a lot of people with their luggage around that area who headed there straight from the airport. It is the main shopping area in Seoul with a lot of side streets for everything your heart desires: Cosmetics, Clothes, Accessories, Cafés, Restaurants, Karaoke Rooms, Game Rooms, Cinemas, Theatres, and huge Shopping Malls.
You should definitely try out the Chicken and Ddeokbokki (=Rice Cake) Street Food Places. It has an awesome seasoning and keeps you full for the rest of the day.
Special Advice: There is the Nanta Theatre a few minutes away from the subway station. It offers daily presentations of an interactive Korean Drumming Show which is called “Cooking Show”. May sound a bit weird in the beginning but is very well made, they have a fun story, the performers sing, dance, and use cooking utensils as their drums which is why they call it cooking show. Incredibly entertaining and memorable!
The area that is the most popular among foreigners is Itaewon. A few years ago it was almost exclusively the area of US soldiers, but by now it is also frequented by Koreans. There are a lot of cheap souvenir shops, so definitely buy your souvenirs here and not in Myeongdong or near Seoul Station. Also many foreign restaurants can be found here, even German ones (“Glücksschwein” and “Ach so…”). If you ever miss bread (you won’t find any normal bread in Korea) come to Itaewon.
The area may be not as fancy as Gangnam or Apgujeongrodeo, but it has its own multicultural flair. You should totally check out the Bob Marley Café if you have some time or go to the Turkish restaurants in the side streets.
Special Advice: In Itaewon is the Samsung Museum of Arts – you should definitely give it a visit when you pass by.
Bonus: Midterm Exams
In Korea, they have a different education system than us. In every class you take, you will have to take Midterm Exams as well. There are closed books and open books exams (in which you can take all your notes and your laptop with you). Some of them are oral exams in which you have to have a simple discussion with your professor or hold a class on your own. Exams in general take place during 2 weeks and last around 1-3 hours. Since usually you did a lot of homework and presentations in the classes, it’s easier to study for the exams since you researched deeply into the topics before already. The Midterm exam usually is worth 20-30% of your total grade.
If you have any questions about living in Korea, you can always ask me. (Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)