Discover more essentials about South Korea including capital, population, languages, and travel practicalities.
Recently took a trip to the capital of South Korea. Learned a lot from walking around museums, universities, markets, and random streets. It's a great metropolis, and I'm excited to go back (probably Autumn again because it was beautiful—10/10 would recommend) to explore even more.
Our Airbnb was in Hongdae, a young, hip area that's alive every night. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and places to grab a casual drink. I loved just strolling around—you're bound to discover some aspiring artists busking along the way. PS Don't sleep on the street food carts. We stopped at one as soon as we arrived from the airport (luggage and all), and it was one of my best meals of the trip.
Hongik-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
서울특별시 마포구 홍익로 (서교동)
One of the first specialty coffee shops in Seoul, set in a traditional Korean house. The owners maintain great relationships with their farmers; and you can taste it in each cup. They have their own blends, plus rare beans on sale. Pro tip: order the croissant.
21, Sajik-ro 8-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
서울시 사직로 8길 21
We didn't really go into the palace grounds. (I was more interested in other palaces tbh.) But if I had the time and energy, I'd probably stick it into my itinerary. Nonetheless, it looked pretty great even on the outside. And there's a nice garden at the side.
161 Sajik-ro, Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
서울특별시 종로구 사직로 161 (세종로)
One of the city's longest-standing traditional markets. You can get a dosirak (lunchbox) then just fill it up with food from the different stalls, paid using old brass coins. Everything was delicious.
18, Jahamun-ro 15-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 종로구 자하문로15길 18 (통인동)
The Eastern Palace was the longest-serving royal residential palace. A lot of its features are well preserved, and it was even proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. Great stop to learn about the domestic life of Korean royals. There's a beautiful garden at the rear end, but we weren't able to visit. The complex is huge so be prepared to walk. (Oh and there's an entrance fee, I think it was KRW3000.)
99 Yulgok-ro, Waryong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
An old-school teahouse set in a hanok (traditional Korean home). It's at the top of a hill so be prepared for a climb, but the views from the place are well worth it. They have a varied tea selection. I discovered omija tea here, which very well may have become my new favorite tea.
26 Bukchon-ro 11na-gil, Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
An entire stretch of stores hawking traditional Korean souvenirs, from tableware to antiques. They also have typical "I love Korea" type stuff such as keychains and t-shirts. There's an interesting mall called Ssamziegil in the area, which is designed in such a way that going through the halls takes you to the top floor without climbing any stairs.
Insa-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Oldest restaurant in South Korea (est. 1904). They specialize in Seolnongtang (ox bone soup), made by boiling beef shanks for several hours then adding beef to the broth with rice and noodles. At first sip, it tasted like the water you cook rice in. But after a few mods (aka adding scallions), it got better, and you could taste the depth that came from the broth. The pieces of beef were very tender, plus the hot soup was refuge from the cold.
38-13 Ujeongguk-ro, Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Similar to Japan's Tsukiji Market. You can buy fresh seafood from the vendors downstairs, then take them to one of the restaurants on the second floor. They cook it the way you want (for a fee, of course). We tried sannakji, Korea's famous octopus sashimi. Not gonna lie, it tasted pretty good—once you get past all that squirming. Be ready to shell out some cash; getting enough for an entire meal here is gonna burn a hole in your pocket. There are also a bunch of shops where you can buy knives, dried seafood, Korean condiments, etc. Worth a trip.
13-6, Noryangjin 1-Dong, Dongzak-gu, Seoul, South Korea
서울특별시 동작구 노들로 674
Beautiful campus. Great place to just hang around; there's even a few museums you can wander into. I was particularly impressed by the architecture of the "underground" campus. I took a peek at their academic program, and it just made my list of possible schools to take my masters degree in. Right outside the university, there's a stretch of shops and restaurants which I really liked (I bought two giant boxes of Oreo-o's for cheap!!!).
52 Ewhayeodae-gil, Chunghyeon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Traditional Korean restaurant with old-school charm. Serves more than 15 different ban chan's (with soup and rice) for only KRW 9000! At the time, we were the only ones there, and the ladies running the restaurant were watching a football game on TV (yes, they were cheering). So cute and quaint!
235 Itaewon-ro, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
HUGE museum. They also have large antique collections from different countries at the top floor. If you're into museums, you can easily spend an entire day (or two) here. Trust me, a few hours isn't enough. Side-note: I'm such a sucker for gift/souvenir shops, and they have some great stuff here.
137 Seobinggo-ro, Seobinggo-dong, Yongsan-gu, 서울특별시 South Korea
An area filled with Korean cosmetics, and other local retail shops. Best to go at night for the street food. The grilled haloumi cheese was my favorite. I would've eaten much more if I weren't already full. 😩 I'll definitely come back for this one!
83-9 Myeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
No photos, but I highly recommend watching the NANTA cooking show. It was seriously impressive and loaaads of fun! Easily one of the highlights of my trip. I was smiling from ear-to-ear the entire hour and a half of the show (and at times, in tears from laughing so much. 🥁🍳
South Korea, Seoul, Jung-gu, Myeong-dong, Myeongdong-gil, 26 유네스코회관
Typical chain coffee shop. Reliable, but forgettable. It's right outside Bongeunsa Temple, so it's a convenient stop before exploring the area.
172-113 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Beautiful temple complex. I wish I had more time to explore the area. I originally wanted to book a temple stay here, but they only held the one-day ones on Thursdays, and they cancelled the one on the week were in Seoul for an event. Definitely coming back for that one though. Check out the gift shop before you go. They have great Buddhist-related stuff, like lucky bracelets. (I got one and I wear it everyday.)
531 Bongeunsa-ro, Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Korea's best restaurant for four years in a row (#13 in the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2019), two Michelin-starred. Reimagined Korean cuisine the genius that is Mingoo Kang. The Nobu-trained chef melds Korean ingredients with western techniques, reimagining Korean cuisine. Great service, beautiful space (in a posh location), superb food. Had the Autumn menu, so would definitely visit again at another season.
19 Dosan-daero 67-gil, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Great strip of boutique shops, high-end retail stores, and cutesy cafes. I love the atmosphere here; great place to just hang around and feel like you have all the time in the world. I may stay in this area next time around.
Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
One of the best KFC+Beer places in Seoul. We missed it the first time because it looked like it was closed (so double check, especially if you're arriving at twilight), but I'm glad we went back after about half an hour of trying to look for another place. This is supposedly popular with Korean celebrities—by virtue of its address. If there were any during our visit, I wouldn't know though. The KFC was delish; we got both the regular and the spicy one and I loved them both. One plate is good for two (we didn't know) so maybe just get one (unless you're really hungry), then order the deep-fried green peppers, which I've heard were also good.
68 Nonhyeon-ro 175-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Award-winning baristas. Coffee beans imported directly from growers around the world, then roasted in-house. Freshly baked breads and pastries by famed baker Minsu Heo. Loved everything—the vibe was fun, casual, and welcoming. Definitely one of my favorite stops. Highly recommend their cold brew and their Everything Good coffee, both of which they sell for retail.
17 Saechang-ro 2-gil, Dohwa-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
We wanted samgyeopsal, but we really couldn't tell which ones were great. We went to this one because it had a sign that said it was recommended by Gordon Ramsay (with photos posted as proof). No complaints, food was great; sides were delicious and the meat was satisfying.
348-77 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
The very first Roman Catholic church in Korea. If you're going just to see it, I suggest maybe visiting on a weekday. They close the church to sightseers during mass times on Sundays, which is practically almost ever hour. PSA—if you're late for the 9am English mass, you can't get in anymore, so be early!!! Or actually, there might be a way to go in but we didn't try hard enough.
74 Myeongdong-gil, Jeodong 1(il)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
서울특별시 중구 명동길 74 (명동2가)
We caught the 11am mass here at St. Francis Chapel because we missed the 9am English mass at Myeongdong Cathedral 😂 It was better though. The service was great, everything was in English (because it's an international church with expat members), and they served food after 🤪 The members are a very tight-knit community, and they were all very nice and warm.
Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
서울시 용산구 한남대로 90
Great stop for a casual lunch. Everything was pretty cheap, and the food was standardized so you could really just pull up a chair anywhere. All the stall ladies are nice, anyway. We tried kalguksu, soondae, and binddaetteok—enjoyed everything. Dongdaemun Market also had lots of stores that sell Korean snacks.
88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
서울특별시 종로구 창경궁로 88
Beautiful piece of atypical architecture by architect Zaha Hadid. There are no corner surfaces or straight walls. It's a huge place but points of interest are the Design Market, where you can buy different creative trinkets (I got a bunch of stuff, and I love them all); or the Art Hall, Museum, and Dongdaemun History and Culture Park to learn about Korea. We went during the afternoon, but I've heard it looks even better at night... or when it's not so gloomy.
281, Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
서울특별시 중구 을지로 281 (을지로7가)
A micro-roastery in Hongdae. Small space with a very quiet, relaxed atmosphere. Their coffee's really good—so much so that I didn't even get to buy beans because everything (as in all of their products, not just the beans) were sold out. Order their Mont Blanc, which is espresso + cream served in a cute mug from the owner's (who's always there, btw) personal collection.
36 Yanghwa-ro 18an-gil, Donggyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Discover more essentials about South Korea including capital, population, languages, and travel practicalities.