Wondering what Seoul is known for? You came to the right place.
South Korea’s capital city of Seoul is many things all at once. It is both ancient and modern. Fast-paced and contemplative. High-rises and underground markets. Usually, the word “Seoul” conjures up images of vaulting skyscrapers, tons of flashing neon lights, k-pop, and steamy street market food among tons of other things such as Gyeongbokgung Palace, Hongdae, and tons more.
But Seoul is so much more.
Today we will take a closer look at what Seoul is most known for.
So brew yourself a dalgona coffee and put on your favorite K-pop group (or trot singer) and get ready to discover some superb and stunning things about this world-class city.
- The best time to visit Seoul is in the months of April, May, September, and October.
- Since foreign credit and debit cards don’t always work, we advise you to bring some extra cash.
- Consider getting the discover Seoul pass which covers 35 of Seoul’s best tourist attractions. At the same time, it also functions as a T-money rechargeable card that can be used on public transport.
- The best place to stay in Seoul is Myeongdong or Insadong. Check out our guide about where to stay in Seoul. If you want to spoil yourself by staying in a boutique hotel in Seoul, click here. If you prefer Airbnbs, check out our overview of the best Airbnbs in Seoul. If you prefer a hanok stay in Seoul, click here.
- Don’t lose time upon arrival at the airport and order your Korea travel SIM or portable WIFI device in advance so that it’s ready and waiting for you at the airport when you arrive.
- Visiting the DMZ is on the bucket list of many travelers. Check out the best DMZ tours here.
- If you are short on time, you might prefer to go on a city tour of Seoul instead of exploring the city on your own.
- If you plan on visiting the rest of South Korea, we advise you to do this by car. Here you can find all info about driving in South Korea.
- Take out travel insurance. If you don’t have travel insurance, have a look at World Nomads travel insurance. Here you can find more info about World Nomads Travel Insurance.
- Here you can find all our posts about Korea. These will help you to plan an unforgettable trip.
- Tip: Be sure to become a member of our Korea Travel Planning and Tips Facebook group. The purpose of this group is to help you plan an amazing vacation to Korea. You can ask questions and exchange tips with fellow travelers.
Famous Seoul Landmarks
Seoul is an incredible city because much of its beauty is an amalgam of both luxurious buildings and natural wonders.
Namsan mountain, Seoul Tower, Jogyesa temple, Gyeongbokgung Palace, the Han River, and much, much more.
Here we share a list of the most famous landmarks in Seoul.
Seoul is home to no less than 5 palaces that are currently open to the public.
Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest and often considered the most beautiful palace of the Joseon dynasty. It’s therefore also the most popular. And we completely understand why.
The palace site houses more than 300 buildings and together they account for almost 6,000 rooms.
Don’t miss the changing of the guard ceremony. It’s free and occurs twice daily at 10 AM and 2 PM, except on Tuesdays.
There is also a free guided tour of the Palace building in English at 11.00 AM, 1.30 PM, and 3.30 PM. Check the schedule on the official website to make sure the hours are still correct.
Nearest subway station: Gyeongbokgung Station, Exit #5.
The North Seoul Tower is located on Seoul’s Namsan mountain (“San” means mountain in Korean, so sometimes it is just called “Nam Mountain”) which rises up from the center of the city like a splendid wedding cake.
It’s one of the most iconic buildings in Seoul and the first tower-type tourism spot in Korea. Rising at almost 480m above sea level, it is also one of the tallest towers in Asia.
The observatory offers 360-degree panoramic views of Seoul.
You can buy tickets for the observatory here.
The tower itself lights up at night and the colors change over time.
The tower also features restaurants and cafes to enjoy, too!
Breathtaking views, luxury restaurants, and cafes, and also a fulfilling hike up the mountainside.
From the tower, one can look down and see the splendor that is Seoul, any time of day and in any season.
Nearest subway station: Myeongdong Station, Exit #3. When leaving the exit head South.
Lotte World Tower
This is the tallest building in Korea and the 5th tallest building in the world.
The top floors of this 123-floor skyscraper house Seoul Sky. This is an observation platform with floor-to-ceiling windows all around so you get a breathtaking 360-degree view of Seoul.
Enjoy the city views from Seoul Sky, the world’s highest glass-floored observation deck, and the world’s third-highest observation deck overall.
Check prices and availability:
Lotte World Seoul Sky Tickets
Nearest subway station: Jamsil (Green Line 2, Pink Line 8) Exit #1, #2, #10, or #11
Seoul Coolest Neighborhoods
With the rise of Hallyu or the Korean Wave, the sense of Korean cool has come into the global consciousness.
To see Korean cool firsthand, check out some of these awesome neighborhoods.
They each have a distinct style and vibe to them and if you are out to see Korean street fashion, then these places have something cool to offer.
We all know Psy’s classic hit, but there is much more to Gangnam than viral videos (though there is an art installment in honor of the catchy hit!).
Gangnam is an interesting neighborhood in Seoul.
Being the most expensive neighborhood in Seoul, this area is known for hard partying, heavy drinking, fast-paced action, high costs, affluence, and a general pursuit of the high life.
If you want to come party and shop here, be sure to keep an eye on your bank account!
Check out COEX, Seoul Olympic Park, and of course the all-night party atmosphere that is unrivaled!
Nearest subway station: Gangnam (Green line 2)
Also sporting high-end luxury stores, Myeongdong has some different features to offer when compared to Gangnam.
A sprawling shopping street with all the K-beauty items one could imagine. Here is more info on shopping in Myeongdong.
The famed Nanta theater is in Myeongdong, too. Here is an overview of amazing shows you could attend.
Street food galore is to be found at Myeongdong as is the Line Friends store and most famously the Myeongdong Cathedral.
The Cathedral is a significant part of Korean history, especially in a country that hosts a large Catholic Christian population.
Certainly the Cathedral, but also Seoul City Hall, and the great selection of traditional Korean food.
Nearest subway station: Myeongdong Station
Galleries and teahouses are plentiful here in Insadong!
Insadong is home to art, tea, and the traditional here in Seoul.
If you are looking for souvenirs or goods to take home that speak to the traditional heart of Korean culture then come to Insadong.
Traditional masks, calligraphy and calligraphy brushes, pottery, and much more.
The alleyways hold tons of hidden and storied treasures ready to be found.
There’s also the entertaining Alive Museum, the largest 4D art museum in Korea. If you want something different, you should visit the Kimchi Museum where you can learn everything about this quintessential Korean dish.
Various trick-eye museums and kitschy places to visit help elevate Insadong and add some color to the superb galleries and teahouses.
Nearest subway station: Anguk Station, Exit #6
While K-pop and more typical aspects of Hallyu are on display in Gangnam and Myeongdong, Hongdae is the place for indie, rock, metal, punk, rap groups, and a great deal of youthful student culture.
Usually, when one thinks of the coolest of the cool in regards to street fashion in Korea, Hongdae is the real source of said coolly.
For the fast-paced night clubs check out Gangnam but for the underground music scenes, Hongdae is the place to be.
No visit to Hongdae is complete without taking a look at the colorful street art. It is also home to the interactive Trick Eye Museum.
Great bakeries can be found in Hongdae and so too can a youthful and energetic culture that may be hard to emulate in other neighborhoods in Seoul.
Nearest subway station: Hongik University Station, Exit #9
Buddhism has been a major religion in Korea for thousands of years.
Though Neo-Confucianism supplanted Buddhism in recent centuries, Korea’s Buddhist temples have still maintained a level of prestige and tranquility unmatched elsewhere.
Seoul’s Buddhist temples are definitely worth the visit to get a little bit of Zen on your trip!
Jogyesa Tempel is the head temple of Korea’s Jogye order of Buddhist monks.
Jogyesa is a beautiful temple complete with lotus water gardens, massive and serene golden Buddha statues, and incredible evening drumming from the monks.
The Jogye Order is a Seon (Zen) sect of Buddhism, and one can stay here for a day with Korea’s Templestay program.
This can allow one to recharge mentally and spiritually regardless of one’s religious beliefs as the program is open to everyone.
Jogyesa is also across the street from a Jogye-run restaurant where one can enjoy some of Korea’s renowned Buddhist cuisine, and a bookstore featuring spiritual and philosophical texts in several languages.
Evening drumming, lotus ponds, and the massive golden Buddhas are some of the key highlights of this magnificent temple.
55 Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
5 am to 9 pm
Nearest subway station: Gwanghwamun Station, Exit #2
Bongeunsa Temple’s location across from Seoul’s COEX shopping mall, the largest underground mall in Asia, forms an interesting juxtaposition.
The consumerism of the mall along with the detachment from desires featured at the temple.
But a philosophical conundrum isn’t the only thing to experience at Bongeunsa Temple.
Built during Korea’s Sila empire, the temple is lovely to behold with beautiful gardens and yards. Bongeunsa’s most famous feature is a massive standing buddha with a unique square headpiece that marks this buddha as Bongeunsa’s patron.
The winding and grandiose yards and gardens lead to the magnificent standing Buddha statue, which is certainly the main draw.
531, Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
3 am to 9 pm
Nearest subway station: Gangnam (Green line 2)
While Jogyesa is the head of the Jogye order of monks, Bongwonsa is the head temple for Korea’s Taego order.
The Taego order differs from the Jogye order in a few significant ways, including allowing their monks to marry.
The Taego order has also preserved some significant cultural rituals like the Yeongsanjae which is performed annually and features music and liturgical dance.
The temple was founded about a thousand years ago and is tucked away on Ansan mountain, giving it a more secluded vibe.
The Yeonsangjae, though only performed once per year, is definitely a reason to visit this temple. This ritual was once widely practiced but today mainly only Bongwonsa temple performs this dance-like ritual.
120, Bongwonsa-gil, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul
5 am to 9 pm
Nearest subway station: Samseong station ( Line 9)
Korean food is world renowned for being delicious. Spicy, savory, fresh, and often healthy.
Some of us have enjoyed Korean food or Hanshik back at home, but in Korea, the flavors, the aromas, and the overall experience, in general, are far more amplified for sure!
Here are some superb food dishes to sample when you come to Korea.
Korean cuisine is very diverse.
There is traditional food, much of which derives from royal court food, but also a vast selection of excellent street food.
Eomuk (fish cakes also known as Odeng), tteokbokki, tuigim (tempura), every manner of hot dog imaginable, and much more.
Don’t call it sushi! Though kimbap may have an appearance akin to some types of sushi rolls, it is its own delicacy that differs from sushi in many ways.
Kimbap is a whole category of dishes that comprises a layer of seaweed wrapped around a ring of rice which wraps around a selection of ingredients in the center which may include canned tuna, crab, radish, and other toppings and sauces.
Kimbap is quite diverse and can include bulgogi and other amazing ingredients, too.
It can also be cut into slices, hence the sushi-like appearance, or left as a whole roll and eaten like a burrito.
There is also a whole category of small kimbap which are eaten whole.
Kimbap can be found served up by street vendors or at restaurants.
Like kimbap, Korean BBQ is more of a catchphrase for a whole big category of dishes.
Korean barbecue can be found all over Korea at special barbecue restaurants.
It is served up on a hot grate or grill as well as a hot steel plate.
Korean BBQ places use a hot charcoal grill filled with hot logs that fits into a neat circular cut in Korean BBQ restaurant tables.
Some restaurants, especially ones that are indoor may use a gas stove or grill.
As for the meat? Usually beef or pork are the meats of choice, especially samgyapsal which is like a thick, flavorful cut of bacon, but better!
Seasoned and marinated meats will also be featured on the menu as well as veggies like onion, hot peppers, garlic, and mushroom to be thrown on the grill too.
Leafy greens like sesame leaves and lettuce are used to wrap up the meat along with some rice, sauces, and other accouterments and placed in the mouth like little special gifts!
The beverages of choice? Soft drinks but for the intrepid, soju and beer, sometimes mixed together to create “somek” (beer is “mekju” in Korean) can wash down that smoky meat exceptionally well.
Best Parks in Seoul
Want to get out and stretch your legs? Seoul’s parks are superb.
Here is a handy list of some of the best and most famous parks in Seoul you can check out!
This granite mountain in the shape of a camel’s hump has been enjoyed since Korea’s Joseon period.
Come and explore this scenic and beautiful park and you can hike alongside the historical walls that ridge the hills like a dragon’s majestic spine.
Not only that but once you reach the top of the mountain you can see the wondrous Seoul panorama.
As with most of these other attractions, come visit day or not for equally stunning views.
The winding walls that line the mountainside and the stunning scenes make this park unforgettable.
41 Naksan-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Nearest subway station: Hyehwa Station (line 4, exit 2)
Seoul Botanic Garden
Though much of Seoul’s beauty comes in the form of artifice, it also possesses a ton of natural beauty, much of which can be found on display at Seoul Botanical Garden.
This famous building is constructed of glass and bears a striking avant-garde design evocative of foliage.
Inside you will forget you are in one of the most thriving cities in the world because it is like walking into the rainforest or jungle.
The botanica is huge and it is easy to feel like you are in another world.
It has three major parts, the themed gardens which include gardens designed for different experiences like healing, meditation, and medicinal plant gardens.
The next wing is the Greenhouse which features gardens in the styles of famous gardens around the world like those found in Rome and Hanoi.
The third attraction is the Magok Cultural Hall which serves as a museum to feature the various techniques used to create the gardens and botanica.
This famous building in Seoul is a perfect way to rejuvenate yourself.
The themed gardens can cure any of your ills, whether they be mental, physical, or spiritual. The themed gardens can help lift your mood and make for great photo ops.
812 Magok-dong, Gangseo-gu, Seoul
March – October, Daily 9.30 AM – 6 PM(Last entry at 5 PM)
November – February, Daily 9:30 AM – 5 PM (Last entry at 4 PM)
Closed on Mondays
5,000 won for adults, 2,000 won for children, 3000 won for youth (13-18 years old)
Free for those under 6 and over 65
Nearest subway station: Magongnaru Station, Exit 3
Just like the Botanical Gardens, this famous site in Seoul gives you a bit of a break from the hustle and bustle of hyper-modern Seoul.
Seoul Forest is beautiful year-round but Spring and Autumn are two of the most popular times to visit.
Spring to see the cherry blossoms and Autumn to see the leaves change colors.
Seoul Forest also has a small zoo that has a host of amazing animals, especially the beautiful Korean Sika Deer who sport their distinct spotted coats and stately antlers.
The soothing sea of trees that meanders along languid canals cannot be beaten, but certainly, the small zoo with its bunnies and Sika deer should not be skipped!
273 Ttukseom-ro, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
Nearest subway station: Bundang Line, Seoul-forest station, exit 3
More Things Seoul is Famous For
Bukchon Hanok Village
Gyeongbokgung isn’t the only place to relive the glory of the Joseon dynasty.
Seoul’s Bukchon hanok (Korean traditional house) village takes you back in time and allows for some truly Instagrammable moments.
Wander around Bukchon’s winding streets and admire the lovely tiled roofs which feature traditional-style cafes, teahouses, restaurants, and shops.
The village is beautiful and makes for a striking juxtaposition with the hyper-modern city around it.
37, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Nearest subway station: Anguk Station, Exit #2
This could be a whole article on its own! Seoul is without a doubt the place to be if you love K-pop.
Every fandom has a place to explore and enjoy here in Seoul and you can even see the studios where acts like BTS, BlackPink, and others record and practice their dance moves.
Speaking of which, there are plenty of K-pop dance classes to join where you can learn the moves from some of the hottest acts in K-pop.
For those interested in a bit of research, BTS’s studio, HYBE even has a K-pop museum one can come and learn more about their beloved genre of music.
Love, betrayal, twists, turns, moving music, and breathtaking settings.
Oh, and of course, intense melodramatic and intense emotional events.
It must be a K-drama!
Along with K-pop, K-dramas have been a massive force in the Hallyu world.
Whether you prefer something a bit more light-hearted, or something darker and more intense, Seoul is the place to be to appreciate your favorite K-drama.
Come and see the shooting spots that made for amazing scenes and love stories or heart-breaking reveals and moments.
One, in particular, we would like to nominate? Cheongyecheon Stream.
That’s right, that famous little stream in Seoul that one can hop between as you take in the epic skyline and juxtaposition between the calm little stream and the thriving city around you.
This stream may display lanterns and floats during Buddha’s Birthday celebrations as well as other festivities and times of the year.
Parasite, Train to Busan, Old Boy, the list goes on and on.
As one can see the world of Korean film sort of predates the more “traditional” beginning of Hallyu with the advent of Psy’s Gangnam Style.
Korean films, like K-drama, and K-pop, have the ability to make us laugh, make us cry, make us feel fear and hope, and any and every emotion in between.
You can also visit some of the sites where these spectacular films were made. Iconic scenes can be visited all around the city.
Not only that but the Korean Film Museum can also be visited to learn more about K-film.
Seoul is often called the “24-hour city”.
This is for good reason for those who have been to Itaewon, Hongdae, Gangnam, or any other big party and clubbing area.
You don’t even have to hit up the biggest and brightest clubs to party all night, either!
The famous noraebang or singing rooms are usually open 24/7 and one can order drinks and food to snack on while you and your friends dance and sing until way after sunrise!
The surest way to party until dawn? Grab some friends, warm up with Korean BBQ, hit the clubs and bars, find a noraebang to settle down at, order more drinks (and hangover cure), and get ready to blow each other’s eardrums out belting out your favorite songs.
Asia’s largest underground mall
To call COEX a mall would be an understatement!
The sprawling shopping center and the famous scene in Seoul are like a city unto itself.
What other shopping center in the world sports its own aquarium? Or hotel?
COEX has something for everyone and features high-end shopping, food, entertainment, and even hosts concerts and conventions from time to time like the World Tea Expo!
The massive shopping complex has so many different highlights that it is hard to pin down just one or two. But certainly the aquarium is something that should not be missed!
513 Yeongdong-daero, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
10.30 Am to 10 PM
If you are looking for some exceptional shopping and an all-around consumerist experience, then you have come to the right country!
From the ubiquitous convenience stores to the massive shopping complexes like COEX, Seoul has every shopping venue one could ever want or need!
From luxury goods to hand-made crafts, Gucci and Armani, to Neo-Confucian prints and shamanic talismans, Seoul has got it all.
Here are some of the most famous in Seoul:
- Gwangjang market
- Ilhwa Mural Village
This indoor arcade-style market has all of your shopping and souvenir-related needs covered!
Visit COEX for the hyper-modern and high-end, but do not neglect Gwangjang because the color one can experience here in the form of tradition cannot be missed.
Market and street food at Gwangjang are world famous and the steam, sights, and sounds of the market make for an entertaining shopping experience for sure!
Sit at a stall, drink some soju or makgeolli, and choose the most exotic-looking food you can spot.
The live octopus is a fan favorite but we would suggest the mayak kimbap for the most squeamish!
88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
9 am to 11 pm
Nearest subway station: Anguk Station, Exit #6
Ihwa Mural Village
Seoul is very much a city of self-expression. This is made wildly apparent at Ihwa Mural Village!
The artwork in the village climbs up the hilly terrain making for a surreal experience for sure.
The artwork is beautiful and some of it is akin to something one would see at the various trick-eye and optical illusion museums that also dot Korea.
But why wander through a museum when you can stroll this scenic village?
One of the most iconic pieces is the pair of angel wings that leave a space between the wings so people can stand there for photo-ops where you can embrace your celestial side!
The painting of angel wings. Hands down. The photo-op from that spot are worth a thousand words!
49 Naksan 4-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Nearest subway station: Hyehwa Station, Exit #2
Seoul National University
In Korea, the three most prestigious universities are collectively referred to as “SKY”. This little acronym refers to Seoul National, Korea University, and Yonsei University. µ
Of the three, sometimes Seoul National is considered the most prestigious (Don’t tell the Korea National or Yonsei students and alum!).
So what is Seoul National University known for? Founded in 1946, Seoul National is known for producing global leaders not just in Korea but around the world, too.
The sciences, technology, and researcher positions are usually the top majors and avenues of study at Seoul National.
Not only is SNU an excellent place of education but it is also a lovely campus to visit, too.
SNU’s gate has an interesting metal work art installment based on the Hangul letters, the Korean-style Memorial Gate, and the Dongnimmum Gate also known as the Independence Gate which features a Western-style design.
The Korean word refers to large conglomerate companies, which usually have a main flagship company with several other smaller satellite companies and are family owned.
The chaebol in Korea are wealthy, powerful, and influential.
They helped pull South Korea out of poverty and into the modern era, being big players in contributing to the Miracle on the Han, and putting Korea on the map prior to the rise of Hallyu.
The Miracle on the Han was the economic boom that occurred post-Korean War and led the area around the Han River in Seoul, in particular, to go from wooden shacks constructed from mostly debris and flotsam and jetsom to the breathtaking modern skyline we can see today.
This change took place 50 years or so back when South Korea’s GDP was the lowest and smallest on the face of the Earth.
In Korea, chaebol rule, and just about everything is produced by them. Samsung, Lotte, Hyundai, LG, POSCO, and many more are ubiquitous in both Seoul and around the world.
For example, check around your house you probably have at least one or two items made by a chaebol!
The most fun aspect of the chaebol in Seoul? Certainly Lotte World amusement park!
Lotte World Amusement Park
Lotte World, the world’s largest indoor amusement park, was built by the famous Lotte confectionary chaebol.
The Lotte chaebol is also behind the famous Lotte Burger which we highly recommend wherever you are in Korea!
Lotte World has something for the whole family with fun and play zones for kids but also the famous Haunted House that is certainly not for kids but worth it if you think you are brave enough!
The Bungee Ride is another popular ride as well as the Gyro Swing.
But the park is jam-packed with rides, games, arcades, and things to see, do, and play!
The Bungee Ride and Gyro Swing are two of the most popular rides for sure, but how can you pass up those Disneyland “inspired” entrance gates in the form of a fairytale castle? Truly an Instagrammable spot at Lotte World.
240 Olympic-ro, Songpa-gu, Seoul
10 am to 9 pm
Buy your discounted tickets here:
Lotte World 1 Day Pass
Also known as “Korean Wave”, Hallyu has been a rising wave for sure for the past ten years or so.
Many say it all began with Psy’s Gangnam Style and didn’t stop there!
Here in Seoul all of Hallyu is on display and you can seek out some more (comparatively) retro modes of Hallyu as well as the most cutting-edge and fresh-on-the-scene Hallyu!
What’s Seoul’s Role in Korea
So what is Seoul’s role in Korea?
Well besides being the capital of South Korea it is also a microcosm of the country in many ways. It has everything imaginable and is also the main hub of the country.
Seoul is also the economic, political, entertainment, and cultural heart of the country.
If one was to look at a road map of Korea one would see the massive center that is Seoul and the many roads and train tracks that all lead directly there.
Interestingly enough some cities that are right next to one another geographically won’t even have subway or train routes to each other but just about every single city in Korea has a direct line to Seoul whether that is by KTX, standard train, or bus routes.
Then, of course, one can also fly to Seoul from elsewhere in Korea.
Seoul’s role is so colossal that somewhat recently some government officials floated the idea of moving the government and bureaucratic center from Seoul to the recently built Sejong City, which is situated in the very center of the country, as opposed to the far northwest corner near the border with North Korea.
This would effectively change the capital of South Korea from Seoul to Sejong City.
Needless to say, the decision was met with strong opposition with many posting on social media, “SEOUL FOREVER, SEJONG NEVER!” and Seoul remains the capital to this day.
Seoul is a real masterpiece of a city.
Delectable food, trendy and fun places to shop, party, and play, and breathtaking scenes and vistas.
If you are planning your next vacation or will be in the Asia-Pacific region then Seoul is a must-visit city.
It would be a lie to say you can see this city in a day and for sure Seoul is worth more than 24 hours despite being called the “24-hour city”!
Come visit the Land of Morning Calm and experience one of the most dynamic and incredible cities on earth.