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Seoul City Guide

Seoul City Guide

In this city guide, I've curated a list of what to eat, see, do, and where to shop. To see photos from my trip to Seoul, head over to my Seoul Travel Diary

Useful tips & resources

Familiarise yourself with all the major districts first with this useful map. You’ll probably spend most of your time in Samcheongdong, Insadong, Myeongdong and Gangnam. I’ve also mapped out all my recommendations on a Google Map - please do use it! Download it as an offline map so you can access it without Wifi.  

For transport, the subway is probably the cheapest and most convenient way of getting around Seoul. You have to purchase a ticket at vending machines and when you leave the station, return the ticket using the same machines to get back your ticket deposit. 

Suggested itinerary

Start your day in the north around Bukchon Village / Samcheongdong. Eat tteokbokki, rent hanboks, visit the royal palace, take a break in one of the many charming cafes or tea houses. Head to Insadong to do some shopping and end in Myeongdong. I'd dedicate an entirely separate day to Gangnam since it's on the other side of the Han River.  


Bibimbap

To eat

For traditional royal multi-course meals, go to Philkyungjaewhich is housed in an exquisite 500 year old building (pictured on the right) or Chaegundaam, the most famous vegetarian / temple food restaurant in Korea. The restaurant uses natural organic ingredients “to sooth the body and soul” (see photos from my dining experience here). 

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If you don't mind splurging, try book yourself a place at the acclaimed 3 Michelin star Korean-fusion restaurant Jungsik. Otherwise, equally as show-stopping is Sigol Bapsang, where you'll have the opportunity to dine on 20 types of side dishes (banchan). 

Jungsik.   Image source . 

Jungsik. Image source

SIgol Bapsang.   Image source.

SIgol Bapsang. Image source.

Eat dumplings (mandu) and chopped noodles (kalguksu) at Myeongdong Kyoja or HwangSaengGa Kalguksu.

If you want Korean fried chicken and beer (chimaek), order from Two Two Korean Fried Chicken or BBQ. Tip - if you can't order yourself because of the language barrier, you can ask friends / hotel concierge to order for you (which is what I did. Desperate times call for desperate measures!) 

    Dumplings and chopped noodles at  Myeongdong Kyoja. 

    Dumplings and chopped noodles at Myeongdong Kyoja. 

    Korean fried chicken / chimaek.

    Korean fried chicken / chimaek.

    Mukshidonna tteokbokki.   Image source.

    Mukshidonna tteokbokki. Image source.

    Mukshidonna tteokbokki is probably the most famous restaurant in Seoul for tteokbokki (rice cakes). I recommend having it for lunch before or after renting hanboks at Bukchon Village since it's in the area. You can choose what ingredients go into the tteokbokki stew e.g. cheese and spam.

    Try Tosokchon Samgyetang if you want to eat ginseng chicken soup (samgyetang), and if you're after BBQ meat (galbi), see this list of recommended places here!  

    For kimchi jiggae (kimchi stew) & samgyeopsal (BBQ pork belly), go to Eunjujeong. Only kimchi stew is served at lunch, both stew and pork belly are offered at dinner; go at 8:30pm to avoid queues. Guldari Sikdang is also very popular but is a bit isolated from major attractions. This restaurant has been operating for over 40 years. “A set of kimchi jjigae cost KRW 7,000 and comes with rice and assorted side dishes...Here at Guldari Sikdang, you can ask for both the rice AND the kimchi jjigae refill if you order the amount of food according to the number of the headcounts you have. There is no limit on free refills. It is really eat-all-you-can at KRW 7,000.” 

    Korean desserts

    Sobok soft serve.   Image source. 

    Sobok soft serve. Image source. 

    I have a huge soft spot for Korean desserts, namely shaved ice (bingsu). Head to Sojukdoo or Meal Top for more traditional bingsu with red bean, or give Cafe Bora a try if sweet potato bingsu interests you. Baekmidang 白味堂-1964-백미당 does an incredible organic milk soft serve - you've probably seen it in my Seoul Travel Diary. There are numerous branches dotted around Seoul and you'll often find them in the food basements of department stores. Sobok does very Instagram-worthy minimalist aesthetic soft serve (photo above).

    Osulloc  is South Korea’s premium green tea brand from Jeju island. Try their green tea drinks, desserts, and buy their green tea milk spread

    Osulloc.  Image source.

    Osulloc. Image source.

    Dior flagship store in Seoul.  Image source. 

    Dior flagship store in Seoul. Image source. 

    Additional ideas

    The Dior cafe is situated in Asia's largest Dior flagship store. With pastries and beverages from Pierre Hermé, this show-stopping cafe is worth visiting especially if you're a fan of high fashion. Go earlier during the day as they have limited stocks of sweets. Opening hours here

    Gwangjang Food Market is a traditional market with endless lines of small stalls and vendors selling everything from fresh vegetables and meats to kitchenware and even clothes. See here for 6 foods you should try at the market (including live octopus/squid!

     

    Naengmyun cold noodles

     

    Give this luxury high-end food court a try - it's where I had the best cold noodles (naengmyun) of my life. When you order food, you're handed a beeper that you place on a signal reader built into the table. You'll have your meal delivered to you when it's ready. By far the most high-tech food court I've ever visited! 

    Last but not least, if you're after street food, head straight to Myeongdong. See here for a comprehensive guide to over 50 different types of street food. Look out for foot-long ice creams & hotteok (dessert pancake made of sugar, honey, nuts and cinnamon). 


    To see & do

    Major sights & activities

    Hanbok

    Rent a hanbok at Hanboknam (opening hours 10am - 8pm everyday). You can rent the hanbok for 1.5, 2.5 or 4 hours. Go earlier in the day if you can as there is a larger range of hanbok designs to choose from and like their Facebook page before going as it gives you a discount. Stroll around Bukchon Village to see traditional houses called hanok and visit the royal Gyeongbokgung Palace.  

    Make sure you take time to amble around Samcheongdong as it’s a really charming area with lots of small boutique, art galleries and quaint cafes. 

    Samcheongdong.   Image source .

    Samcheongdong. Image source.

    If you're going to Seoul in the spring, you can see cherry blossoms at Yeongdeungpo Yeouido Park. Another very scenic area is Cheonggyecheon StreamThe Korean war left Cheonggyecheon surrounded by disintegrating squatters in the 1960s and 70s. It underwent mass renovation to become the charming recreational area it is today - think of it as the South Korean version of The High Line in New York. 

    Cherry blossoms in Seoul.   Image source .

    Cherry blossoms in Seoul. Image source.

    During evenings, see the LED rose garden at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) or stroll along Banpo Bridge (Moonlight Rainbow Fountain).  

    Visit N Seoul Tower at Namsan Park  for a commanding view of Seoul’s skyline. I’d recommending visiting later during the day to catch the sunset. It's a popular location with locals for dates and as you walk around, you might notice lots of “love locks” hanging from the fencing around this area. 

    N Seoul Tower.   Image source . 

    N Seoul Tower. Image source

    Banpo Bridge.   Image source .

    Banpo Bridge. Image source.

    Additional ideas

    Thanks Nature Sheep Cafe.   Image source . 

    Thanks Nature Sheep Cafe. Image source

    If Japan has owl cafes, then South Korea has sheep cafes. I didn't get the chance to go but I'm definitely visiting next time - the sheep are absolutely adorable!   

    Perhaps spend a day at one of the many amusement parks like Lotte World or  Everland. Visit water parks like Caribbean Bay during summer. 

    For design and art museums, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art and Museum SAN are very popular. Museum SAN particularly caught my attention as it is located on a serene rural mountainside surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery. 

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    To shop

    Ssamziegil shopping arcade.   Image source.  

    Ssamziegil shopping arcade. Image source. 

    South Korea is great for cosmetics shopping . In terms of clothes, for mid-high end brands you're better off shopping in Hong Kong / Japan because it's cheaper. For lower price ranges, visit boutiques in Myeongdong. I didn't get to do much shopping while in Seoul but you can see the following links for tips: (1) (2) (3) 

    Ssamziegil shopping arcade in Insadong has lots of boutique clothing shops, arts and crafts stores, restaurants. “One of the best places in Seoul to purchase traditional Korean art, products, and other souvenirs, as it is filled with antique shops, art galleries, traditional stationery shops, handicraft shops, pottery and porcelain shops, bookstores, and art supply stores. Insa-dong is also home to many traditional restaurants and tea houses.” 

    Korea is also well-known for grand department stores - the main branches are on the southern side of Han River in Gangnam or Apgujeong but they have multiple stores around the city. Big names include ShinsegaeHyundai (make sure you get bingsu at Meal Top), Lotte and Galleria department store (high-end; get Baekmidang 白味堂-1964-백미당 milk soft serve here!) COEX is both a shopping mall and an entertainment complex (there's an SM entertainment theme park here! FYI, SM is one of the big three entertainment (KPOP) agencies in South Korea, the other two being YG and JYP). 

    COEX shopping mall.   Image source. 

    COEX shopping mall. Image source. 

    I hope you find this guide useful - please sign up to the newsletter, like the Facebook page and share this post if you did! Let me know if you have recommendations for Seoul as I'll probably be visiting again soon. Thanks for reading. :) 


    Shout-out to Jae, Minji, June and Jun - thank you for checking my recommendations!