Seoul is a city of contrasts where you will find centuries-old temples tucked in between major shopping districts and hanoks (traditional one-story homes) just down the street from cosmopolitan bars and restaurants. Below, find how you can spend a few days exploring the city -- whether it be indulging in Korean BBQ or jamming out to K-Pop in one of Gangnam's glitzy clubs. While there is much more to see and do than what is listed in this guide, the itinerary below is a great way to familiarize yourself with this bustling city. Check out this Thrillist post to learn a bit more about the city and why you should visit!

4 DAY ITINERARY

DAY 1

  • Gyeongbok-gung Palace - head here early in the morning to avoid crowds as it is one of the more popular tourist attractions
  • Tosokchon Restaurant - grab lunch here and be sure to try the ginseng chicken soup and pancake with kimchi!
  • Bukchon Hanok Village - a traditional hilltop village preserved to show a 600-year-old urban environment
  • Jogyesa Temple - a 14th century temple that plays a leading role in the current state of Seon Buddhism in South Korea
  • Insadong - a neighborhood lined with shops, teahouses, temples, and restaurants
  • Myeong-dong - a bustling shopping area packed with luxury shops, casual eateries, and street vendors

DAY 2

  • Changdeok-gung Palace - explore another one of the five grand palaces in Seoul built during the Joseon Dynasty
  • Ihwa Mural Village - revitalized neighborhood lined with murals and paintings by over 70 artists
  • Gwangjang Market - one of the oldest traditional street markets in South Korea, with over 5000 shops
  • Dongdaemun Design Plaza - an urban landmark designed by Zaha Hadid and known for its neofuturistic design
  • Itaewon - a must-visit neighborhood known for its Korean BBQ restaurants, cosmopolitan bistros, indie stores, and nightlife
  • Maple Tree Restaurant - I highly recommend this Korean BBQ restaurant that is popular with locals

DAY 3

  • DMZ & JSA Day Trip - explore the border between North and South Korea on a day trip (details below)
  • Gangnam - an upscale neighborhood made famous by Psy's catchy song that boasts high-end nightclubs, bars, restaurants, and shops
  • Nightlife - see what nightclubs you should check out during your visit - more information below

DAY 4

  • National Museum of Korea - a history and art museum highlighting Korean culture through artifacts
  • Yeonnam-dong 223-14 - a cool cartoon café where you can grab coffee or breakfast and take some Instagram-worthy photos
  • Hongdae Street - located in the western end of the city, this street is known for its urban arts and indie music culture

LOGISTICS

VISA REQUIREMENTS

US citizens do not require a visa for South Korea if they are staying in the country for 90 days or less. They must have valid passports at the time of entry. For citizens of other nationalities, please refer to your country’s official resources to determine your visa requirements.

GETTING AROUND

Getting around Seoul was easy using public transportation and taxis. The subway system here is fairly easy to use once you are somewhat familiar with the neighborhoods. It was our primary mode of transportation. Taxis were easy to find and hail in the more happening parts of the city. We also walked around a lot within each neighborhood.

CURRENCY

South Korea’s currency is called the won. As of December 2020, $1 USD is equal to roughly 1091 won. We found that most urban retail locations accepted major credit cards. Take out some cash in case you want to do some souvenir shopping or if you would like to try out street food.

TRANSPORTATION

Getting around Seoul was fairly easy. We had our hotel arrange a pickup from Incheon airport. The public transportation system is a great way to get around and many sites on Days 1 and 2 were walking distance from each other. Be sure to book a DMZ/JSA tour in advance. These are usually bus tours with a driver and guide, and they offer hotel pickup. We arranged our tour with our hotel, but there are a few options on Viator.

WHERE TO STAY

There are plenty of options for all budgets when it comes to lodging, ranging from hotels and hostels to Airbnbs and guesthouses. You can find both "Western" style accommodations with beds and "Korean" style, with sleeping mats on the floor. We stayed at The Plaza (Autograph Collection) and would recommend it to others. It was very centrally located and near many major attractions.

HIGHLIGHTS

GYEONGBUK-GUNG PALACE

Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace served as the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty until it was destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-98). After two centuries, the palace was restored only to be destroyed by Imperial Japan in the early 1900s. Since 1989, the government has been working to restore hundreds of buildings, including the palace. Gyeongbokgung is one of the top tourist sites to visit in Seoul. The complex also houses the National Palace Museum and National Folk Museum.

KOREAN DEMILITARIZED ZONE

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) serves as a buffer zone and border barrier between North Korea and South Korea. It runs across the width of the Korean Peninsula. Within the DMZ lies the Joint Security Area (JSA) which serves as a meeting point for negotiations between the two nations. I highly recommend taking a tour of the DMZ to learn about the history of the two countries. Many tours take you to one of the tunnels where you are 10 meters from North Korea. You are also given the chance to look across the border via binoculars.

MYEONG-DONG

The bustling Myeong-dong neighborhood is one of Seoul’s main shopping areas. The main street is lined with luxury fashion brands, department stores, local cosmetics shops, and many casual restaurants, cafés, and street vendors. Two of the main sites are the 19th century Myeong-dong Cathedral and the Myeong-dong Nanta Theatre.

Myeong-dong Kyoja is a low-key, family-owned restaurant that is known for its knife-cut kalguksu noodle soup served with meat and vegetables. Other popular items include mandu (dumplings), bibim guksu (spicy noodles), and kongguksu (noodles in cold soybean soup). We loved the food there so much and highly recommend to anyone visiting Seoul!

GANGNAM NIGHTLIFE

Seoul is consistently ranked as one of the best cities for nightlife and is definitely something you should experience during your visit. Many popular nightclubs are located in Gangnam including Mass, Octagon, Answer, Syndrome, and Arena. All of these clubs are outfitted with famous DJs and luxurious facilities.

SEOUL CAFÉS

Seoul is filled with several creative cafés and pastry shops. One of my favorites is Yeonnam-dong 223-14. This is a whimsical café in Mapo-Gu where all the furniture is black and white, making visitors feel like they have walked straight into a cartoon. This is a must-visit while in Seoul! Try to get there 5-10 minutes before they open as it can get crowded really fast. But do note that anyone who visits must make a purchase in order to take pictures.

Some other fun cafés in the city include the Hello Kitty Cafe, C. Through Cafe, May Island, Banana Tree Cafe, Ddo-Ong Cafe, Style Nanda Hotel & Pink Pool Cafe, and BauHouse Dog Cafe.

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