Short on time but want to ensure you see as much as you can when visiting Seoul? Trippy users have the travel tips to help you get the most out of your time. Steven Huan from Kuala Lumpur had just five days and needed help. He asked:

Hi all! Will be in Seoul for 5 days next week staying in Gwanghamun and wanted to know what are the best places to eat and the must-sees for Seoul. If anybody has links to a good site or Google docs with reviews, please share 🙂 Thanks in advance!

More than just places to eat and must-dos, we have a list that will help you plan your trip, whether it’s for five days or two weeks.

1. Explore Hongdae

For a youthful, free-spirit and fashion-forward neighborhood, stay in Hongdae. There are cafés, restaurants, bars, galleries, clubs, and shops. Hongdae or Hongik University Street is located close to a few colleges.

Artsy cafes and restaurants

When in Hongdae, explore:

  • Picasso’s Street or Hongdae Mural Street (from Kanemaya to Four Seasons House) for underground culture and graffiti art
  • Hongdae Walking Street for outdoor performances
  • Hongdae Free Market is open every Saturday from March to November for handmade products and artistic works

2. Visit the palaces

A trippy user, Mary Kim from Seoul, wrote:

The palaces in Seoul are touristy spots but definitely worth visiting.

There are five main palaces in Seoul, but I highly recommend you these three.
1. Gyeongbokgung: The grandest of all, with its famous Gwanghwamun gate.
If you want more info, Gyeongbokgung
2. Changdeokgung: Listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. It’s especially known for its beautiful rear garden.
If you want more info, Changdeokgung
3. Changgyeonggung: A beautiful palace with a botanic garden and a large pond.
If you want more info, Changgyeongung
If you don’t have much time to visit all three, I guess Gyeongbokgung, which is the most famous yet popular palace, would be the final choice.

Changdeokgung Palace

You won’t have time to visit all the palaces if you have five days or even two weeks. If you need to choose, I suggest Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung and a short walk in the Secret Garden (Huwon).

Shauna Hellewell from Santa Monica added:

Make sure you see Changdeokgung. Known as the East Palace, this is some of the remaining architecture left at the palace. This is one of the five Grand Palaces in Korea. Due to Japanese occupation, only about 30% of the structures overall remain.

3. Take a walking tour of Bukchon Hanok Village

Walk through Samcheongdong alley to see a traditional Korean house or hanok village. Bukchon is an actual neighborhood and visitors are not allowed to peek in windows or doors or make too much noise. There are about 900 hanoks in Bukchon.

Besides the hanoks, the village has cultural and art centers, museums, craft workshops, restaurants, and cafés.

4. Visit National Folk Museum of Korea

The Folk Museum is inside Gyeongbokgung Palace. It’s best to combine your tour of Gyeongbokgung Palace with the Folk Museum. It’s free to visit the Folk Museum if you have the Gyeongbokgung Palace ticket. There are about 122,550 artifacts that tell the stories of the Korean people, life cycles of the Koreans and the Korean way of life.

Trippy user Leonard Lee wrote:

If you’re going to be there two weeks, a day trip to the Folk Museum is worthwhile. But bundle up if you’re going in February!

5. Explore Insadong

Insadong, a neighborhood close to the palaces is the place for traditional Korean goods, galleries, traditional teahouses, cafes, and shops. Explore the alleys with cafes, shops, and galleries. There are over 100 Korean traditional art galleries, and if you have time for one, check out Hakgojae Gallery.

Visit Seoul suggested the following things to do in Insadong:

  • Visit the galleries, teahouses, and restaurants
  • Go window shopping and stroll along the twisting alleyways
  • Browse through the pop up booths when the streets are blocked off from traffic every Saturday from 2 to 10 pm, and Sunday from 10 am to 10 pm.
  • Try the traditional pajeon (green onion pancake)

Trippy user Justin Schmid wrote:

Insadong is a fun neighborhood. There’s plenty to do there, from karaoke (not for me) to visiting palaces to eating roadside food. I wish I could recommend specific restaurants, but nearly every place I went had its name in the Hangul alphabet; I’d recommend just plunging into anyplace that looks good – be adventurous. We stayed at the Saerim Hotel, which was perfectly nice but nothing fancy. It was also reasonably priced.
Attractions? Just walk. Anyone can find something interesting to see or do in Seoul just by walking.

6. Eat street food

Join a street food tour or take your time to eat your way through the city. No matter where you go in Seoul, there are food stalls in almost every street corner. From Insadong to Myeong-dong and Namdaemun to Hongdae, you’ll find:

  • Gimbap
  • Kimchi
  • Tteokbokki or topokki
  • Bulgogi on skewers
  • Odeng or fishcakes
  • Korean hot dogs
  • Gyeran ppang or egg bread
  • Hotteok or sweet pancakes
  • Korean fried chicken
  • Twigim are deep fried Korean vegetables
  • Jjinppang mandu or Chinese steam buns
  • Bungeoppang ice cream or fish waffles filled with ice cream

7. Take a cooking class

A cooking class would be ideal for Korean food lovers. Throughout the city, there are cooking schools teaching locals and tourists the art of making kimchi, bibimbap, topokki, gimbap, and bulgogi.

Visit Korea recommends Food and Culture Academy, O’ngo Food Communications, Museum Kimchikan, TteokMuseum and OME Cooking Lab.

8. Stay in a hanok

Besides the famous Bukchon Hanok Village, in the historic Jongno-gu or Bell district, you’ll find clusters of Korean traditional houses or hanok hidden in narrow alleys. I stayed for three nights in one of the hanoks in Jongno-gu, located just a five-minute walk from Changdeokgung Palace and the Secret Garden.

Inside a hanok

The hanok stay gave me an opportunity to learn about Korean culture and traditional lifestyle. All guests have the chance to wear hanbok, traditional Korean clothing too.

9. Check Lotte Department Store

Leonard Lee suggested:

For a fun (and unique) experience go to the market/food court in the basement of Lotte Department Store. Find out what time they close, and go there right at closing time. The merchants shout through bullhorns to encourage people to buy and let them know that they are slashing prices. It is a cacophonous madhouse of nightly circus unlike anything you’ve ever experienced (and you can pick up cheap eats too!)

I agree with Leonard. I got to see the endless amount of food instead of going to waste were sold to locals and tourists at half the price.

Lotte Mart has the largest variations of Korean side dishes (banchan) I’ve ever seen. There were rows upon rows of mostly red pickled food including kimchi. Anyone can try them. You can potentially have a full meal at Lotte Mart by trying all the side dishes and cooked food.

10. Indulge in Korean BBQ

Meat lovers must try Korean BBQ in one of the many barbecue joints in Seoul. These barbecue restaurants have either a portable barbecue pan or a built-in barbecue pit on the table. Some restaurants have ventilation hoods on each table.

Ask for bulgogi (barbecued beef), galbi (beef ribs) and or samyeopsal (grilled pork belly).

11. Shop and eat in the markets

Namdaemun is my favorite market in Seoul. It’s the largest and the oldest; its history can be traced back to the 1400s. Namdaemun market is open 24/7, and each street and alley has specialized merchandise. There are shoes, clothing, electronic, traditional Korean crafts, jewelry, houseware and kids clothing alleys. And of course, street food too.

Michael Yu from Chicago suggested going to these markets to eat:

1. Heunginjimun market (past midnight on a weekday except for Mondays)
2. Namdaemun Market (during the day), make sure to try the galchi jorim (hairtail fish braised in spicy sauce)

If you have the time, go to Dongdaemun Market and Gwangjang Market.

Need more information about Seoul? Become a Trippy user and get your questions answered.

Photos and article by Claudia Looi

Mentioned in this post
  1. Hongdae shopping street
    Attraction in Seoul South Korea

    Seoul South Korea
  2. Changdeokgung Palace
    Attraction in South Korea

    South Korea
  3. Bukchon-ro
    South Korea

    South Korea
  4. Insadong
    Neighborhood in Seoul South Korea

    Seoul South Korea
  5. Namdaemun-ro
    South Korea

    South Korea
  6. Dongdaemun Market
    Attraction in South Korea

    South Korea