Steeped in history and futuristic wonder
South Korea’s capital is a K-popping combination of booming high-tech and gleaming skyscrapers that blends seamlessly with considered green spaces and calming Buddhist temples. It’s a city where new and old collide creating an alluring medley of contemporary and traditional art, food and experiences.
For all its sophisticated attractions – including palaces, cutting-edge design, cool inner-city culture and high-end shopping – it’s also a lovely, outdoorsy place. You can cycle along the Han River or go hiking on one of the four ‘guardian’ mountains that surround the city. And as well as being a global leader in technology and innovation, Seoul is very much about honouring its past. With villages of hanoks (wooden houses), gugak (music) performances, teahouses and Joseon Dynasty palaces and temples, a visit to Seoul is a journey through 15th-century traditions.
Things to do: Seoul
Visit a traditional village
With Seoul being on the cutting edge of technology, a visit to Bukchon Hanok Village gives you the chance to time travel back to a simpler time. Here you’ll find a hilltop village of alleys and traditional Korean homes (hanoks), many of which open their doors as teahouses or cultural centres. It is still a genuine, residential area that hasn’t changed in centuries and a great way to glimpse historic Korean culture.
Eat up (and shop up) at the market
The sprawling Gwangjang Market is one of South Korea’s biggest and oldest traditional street markets, with thousands of vendors selling everything from fabrics and handicrafts to every kind of Korean ingredient and street food imaginable. It’s famous for its food stalls, so make like a local and order up some bibimbap or signature golden-fried mung bean pancakes washed down with makegoli (milky rice wine). Then wedge yourself onto a bench seat amid all the sizzle and aroma of this genuine foodie hub. Namdaemun Market is Seoul's largest market and while it's good for street food too, it's even better for cheap clothing and souvenirs. The sprawling Dongdaemun Market is also good for clothes, while Seoul Folk Flea Market is a must for bric-a-brac.
Take a cable car to N Seoul Tower
For some of the best views in town, head to the observation deck of the landmark N Seoul Tower, which sits at the summit of Namsan Mountain in the city centre. You can walk up, but there’s a cable car which gives you even more scenic views. It’s a romantic spot, and you’ll see lots of colourful padlocks engraved with couples’ names fixed on the railings. Aim for sunset and dusk for the prettiest views of the city’s lights.
Explore Seoul’s neighbourhoods
Seoul’s distinct neighbourhoods each have their own flavour and feel. In arty areas like Hongdae, Hapjeong-dong and Itaewon, you’ll find bars, stylish cafes, record stores, coffee roasters, craft beer, indie music venues and boutique shops. For more mainstream shopping and restaurants head to the neon-lit districts of Myeong-dong or swanky Gangnam. If you’re after street art, don’t miss Ihwa Mural Village or Mullae Art Village. For tradition, Insa-dong is known for its elegant teahouses and galleries set within centuries-old hanoks.
Spend days sightseeing
Whether you’re into K-pop or 7th-century Buddhas, rollercoasters or Joseon-era palaces, days spent in Seoul are jam-packed with all manner of sights, attractions and experiences. Seoul’s Five Grand Palaces are the city’s main attraction, of which Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung are the standouts. The National Museum of Korea is another must-see sight with its huge collection of Korean art and treasures. The Leeum Museum of Art is the city’s premier modern art gallery and features outstanding works by local and international artists, as well some beautiful traditional art.
Distance to central Seoul 48kms
Train The AREX (Railroad Express) is the quickest option. Express trains (adult/child KRW ₩9500/7500) take around 45 minutes to downtown Seoul; All Stop trains (from KRW ₩4150) take around an hour. Trains depart from International Terminals 1 and 2.
Bus Buses run from Incheon Airport to downtown Seoul. Deluxe Limousine Buses are more expensive but make fewer stops and go to major hotels. Standard Limousine Buses are cheaper but make more stops and are therefore more crowded.
Taxi and car rental Both options are available. Taking a taxi is the most expensive way to get into Seoul. The ride will take approximately 60 minutes and cost around KRW ₩70,000–80,000. There's a 20% surcharge between midnight and 4am.Back to top
When to go
Weather-wise, it’s best to aim for spring and autumn in Seoul – summers can be stifling and unpleasant, and winter can be harsh (unless you’re planning to hit the ski slopes). Autumn brings with it a variety of traditional festivals and seasonal food highlights.Back to top
Seoul is a big city (its population is around 10 million) so it has an excellent public transport system. There’s a comprehensive bike-share program, and a wide range of buses and subway routes that run from 5:30am until midnight. Get a T-Money card to use on all transport forms. The roads are hectic so taxis or rental cars might not be the most efficient option.Back to top
Seoul travel tips and inspiration
The best things to do in Seoul
An intriguing mix of 21st-century innovation and traditional culture, Seoul is as much about contemporary living and K-pop as centuries-old palaces and temples.