An exotic blend of modern skyscrapers, historic palaces and picturesque alleys, Seoul is unlike any other city. With a wide array of travel experiences over Seoul, what are the activities a first time traveller with limited time should strike off? If you’re looking for an itinerary to satisfy all personalities within your clique of friends — adrenaline junkie, cultural lover, crazy shopaholic, hopeless romantic — we’ve got you all covered with 10 things to do in Seoul that will complete your first trip there.
1. Time travel with Gyeongbokgung Palace to Joseon Dynasty
Just like how tourists flock to Merlion in Singapore, first time travellers to Seoul should take some time to explore Gyeongbokgung Palace — a definite to-do in Seoul. Blessed with rich history, you’ll travel back in time as you set foot in Gyeongbokgung Palace, strolling along the very path taken by former Korean royalties. Spend about an hour or so to walk around the pavilions and halls within Gyeongbokgung Palace to soak in all of Korea‘s culture.
Snap some photos during Gyeongbokgung Palace‘s glamorous guard changing ceremony taking place outside the palace’s main entrance (Gwanghwamun) everyday except Monday, at 11am, 2pm and 3.30pm.
Take subway line 3 to Gyeongbokgung station (Exit 5)
9am to 6pm daily
9am to 5pm in November to February
Closed on Tuesdays
3,000 KRW (approx. SGD $3.62)
2. Live life the Korean way at Noryangjin Fish Market
Known for its fresh seafood, Noryangjin Fish Market is a beloved 24-hour market situated in the local neighbourhood of Noryangjin-dong. The areas in the vicinity of Noryangjin Fish Market maintains Korea’s local ambience — a vast difference from other over-commercialised parts of Seoul.
After you wandering through Noryangjin Fish Market and purchasing your seafood, you can make your way to restaurants in the vicinity, where chefs will whip up a delightful meal for you at a nominal price.
Take subway line 1 to Noryangjin station (Exit 1) then walk across the overhead bridge to Noryangjin Fish Market
3. Satisfy your inner Foodie and Shopaholic at Myeong-Dong
Famous Korean cosmetic brands like The Face Shop, Etude House and Tony Moly flood the streets of Myeong-Dong; it’s no wonder Myeong-Dong is known as a shopping heaven for the ladies, especially beauty junkies.
With abundant discounts and samples given out and cosmetics sold at a reasonable prices, it’s impossible for the kiasu Singaporeans within us to say no. Ladies, for once, you won’t be nagged for satisfying your never-ending needs for cosmetics!
Gentlemen, don’t despair! Food stalls line along the streets of Myeong-Dong, selling local delights such as ddeokbokki (spicy rice cakes), samgyupsal (grilled pork belly) and eomuk guk (fish cake soup). You can go take the time to go fill your stomach while your girlfriend hunts down her favourite beauty products.
Take subway line 4 to Myeong-Dong Station
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4. Get your adrenaline going at Lotte World
No holiday is complete without some heart-stopping moments, and Lotte World is the best place to fulfil your adrenaline craving! An extensive entertainment compound, Lotte World houses the world’s largest indoor theme park.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, be prepared to go all out on their wide range of thrilling rides. Keep an eye out for Gyro Drop and Gyro Swing, both Lotte World’s top attractions in their own rights. From free falling from 70 metres to being spun around like being in a whirlwind, Lotte World offers visitors breathtaking rides bound to get your adrenaline pumped!
Take subway line 2, 8 to Jamsil Station (Exit 4)
9.30am to 10pm
5. Catch the glorious sunset atop Namsan
N Seoul Tower — located at Namsan and home to a viewing gallery, restaurants and cafes — dominates Seoul’s skyline at 262 metres high, making it the perfect place to catch Seoul‘s sunset. Although there’s an admission fee to access the top of N Seoul Tower, the chance to make your Instagram followers jealous with picturesque views of Seoul at sunset is priceless.
Akin to Pont de l’Archevêché in Paris, N Seoul Tower is a pilgrimage to couples declaring their eternal love. The padlocks secured against the railings of Namsan are left behind by couples who travelled to Namsan together, and you may wish to “lock your love” as well if you’re travelling with your significant other.
Although you can get to the top of Namsan via cable car, those seeking an adventure may wish to climb up. It’s not the easiest journey, but the view atop Namsan would be better enjoyed when you actually work for it.Getting there: Nearest subway station is Myeong-Dong station (Line 4)
6. Cycling along Han River for a sweet surprise in Korea
The ever-growing food baby after a good few days of savouring Seoul‘s delicious food is reminder that you should add a little bit of exercise to your itinerary to lessen all that guilt from the sinful snacks and meals!
Cycling along Han River is far from the arduous and banal runs you’re used to in Singapore. Away from Seoul‘s bustling city life, Han River gives you the peace and serenity not commonly found in Singapore — perfect for first time Seoul travellers seeking time off on your holidays.
With bike rental kiosks located comfortably along the riverbank and reasonably priced at 3,000 KRW (approx. S$3.62) per hour, it’s common to spot other travellers enjoying Han River‘s scenic views on a bike. For the hopeless romantics, you may choose to rent a tandem bike instead and cycle along Han River, admiring Seoul‘s sunset with your other half! At 494 kilometres long, Han River is not easily missed so you don’t have to worry about getting lost on your way to the picturesque river.
- Take subway line 7 to Ttukseom Resort Station (Exit 2, 3)
- Take subway line 5, 8 to Cheonho Station (Exit 1) [includes a 20 minute walk]
- Take subway line 5 to Yeouinaru Station (Exit 2, 3)
- Take subway line 2 to Dangsan Station (Exit 4) [includes a 10 minute walk]
7. Take a peek at North Korea through DMZ
Is ghost busting in Singapore not thrilling enough for your brave soul? If being surrounded by tank traps, land mines, electrical fences, at the world’s most heavily guarded border sounds appealing, the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) is just the place for you. One of the most intimidating and tense places in the world, DMZ slashes across the Korean Peninsula, separating North and South Korea.
Although a restricted area, DMZ is opened to tourists via day tours organised by selected travel agencies, however, documents are required for identity checks and photography is only allowed at certain locations. It’s important for you to follow the regulations or you may risk legislation. It may be intimidating to be in a place with extreme security measures, but DMZ will definitely be an experience of the lifetime. Other than learning more about Korea‘s rich history, you earned boasting rights about peeking into the secluded nation in the world, North Korea.
8. Live like a local and dine at a Pojangmacha (Roadside Tent)
Pojangmacha are roadside tents in Korea — similar to pasar malam in Singapore — selling mainly street food and soju. If you’re an ardent fan of the ever popular Korean dramas, you may recognise Pojangmacha from scenes where the characters drown their sorrows (and instigate trouble 99% of the time).Pojangmacha attracts a wide range of crowd, from lovey-dovey couples on dates to employees looking to unwind after a long harsh day. Of course, there are always those looking to get drunk just for the fun of it; you’ll definitely spot different kinds of Koreans in a Pojangmacha.
Although there’s a significant decrease in the number of operators in Pojangmacha due to recent government intervention, Pojangmacha can still be found easily around Seoul — namely Jongno, Nam Dae Mun Market, Shinchon, and Hong Dae. Include this in your Seoul checklist if you’re interested to experience living life like a true-blue Korean. (Go easy on the soju, or you might the one wrecking the area!)
Tips on Korea‘s drinking etiquette:
- Koreans only refill their drinking cup when it’s totally empty.
- The cup should be held with both hands, and your head should be turned away, when an elder pours you drinks.
- When pouring drinks for an elder, both hands should be used to hold the bottle.
9. Unwind in a Jimjilbang (Korean Bath House)
Jimjilbang is a 24-hour, gender-separated bath house with hot and cold soaking pools, showers and massage tables, and traditional Korean kiln saunas. Still not impressed? Explore other parts of jimjilbang to discover unisex areas with facilities such as communal sleeping rooms and entertainment lounges (coming with a snack bar!), wide screen TVs, noraebang (area for singing) and more.Only have 24 hours in Korea? No problem — just spend your entire day in a jimjilbang. With accommodation cheaper than most hotels, it’s no surprise that jimjilbangs are popular with tourists. Even Koreans looking for a short weekend getaway with their families flock to them!
Word of warning though, it’s compulsory to strip completely naked before entering the tubs. If it’s your first time, don’t be caught off-guard as you’re exposed to full nudity. Jimjilbang may be a slightly awkward experience at first if you’re visiting with a friend, but friendship level up, right?
You’ll be spoilt for choices with many jimjilbangs in Seoul, but one of the most well-known jimjilbang is Dragon Hill Spa in Yong-San as it’s more tourist-friendly.
Dragon Hill Spa Address: 40, Hangang-daero 21 na-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
10. Rampaging On Groceries at Lotte Mart
Before returning from your first holiday to Seoul, remember to make a trip down Lotte Mart for some Korean snacks to bring back as souvenirs for your loved ones. Lotte Mart is said to be Korea‘s equivalent of Mustafa Centre in Singapore. One of Korea’s leading departmental stores, you can find almost anything you need from household appliances to groceries within Lotte Mart.
For the foodies, replenish your pantry stash with snacks like Crown Butter Waffles, Market O Brownies, Choco Pies, Korean Seaweed and Ramyun at a fraction of the price back in Singapore! For the secret chefs at home, be sure to add the contemporary frying pan — HappyCall — onto your never-ending shopping list!
- Request for a reimbursement slip at the help desk if you’d like to qualify for the 8% tax refund before you leave Seoul.
- Bring your own recycle bags as Lotte Mart doesn’t provide plastic bags.
Take subway line 1, 4 to Seoul Station (Exit 1)
10am to 12am
You might want to look for these in Lotte Mart
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With so many reasons to love this city, why not make Seoul your next holiday destination? A gorgeous city with the perfect mix of historical culture, interesting activities and delectable delicacies, you won’t regret going on a holiday in Seoul!
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