15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Seoul
Seoul, South Korea is a vibrant and exciting city, one that deftly combines ancient history with ultra-modern design and technology. The city is filled with a wide range of tourist attractions of all types, from outdoor adventures like exploring Mount Namsan and its surrounding park to indoor fun like visiting one of Seoul's many museums.
Seoul is also a city of palaces, with five huge palace complexes located throughout the city and now restored to their former glory. Of course it's also known for its food, with a mouthwatering array of street food, Korean specialties like barbecue, and fine-dining options. Discover the best things to do in this exciting city with our list of the top tourist attractions in Seoul.
1. Seoul Tower
Rising almost 500 meters above the city, this communications and observation tower provides dramatic views of the city from its perch on the side of Mount Namsan. A cable car whisks you up the side of the mountain to the base of the tower. From here, you can go up in the tower and visit any one of four observation decks, one of which is a rotating restaurant.
There are two restaurants at the tower and, of course, several gift shops. There's even a digital observatory, where people with height issues can experience a live, 360-degree view through the use of 32 LED screens and cameras mounted at the tower's top.
The views from the tower are great, but so are the views of the tower from most parts of the city. Computer-controlled LED lighting on the exterior of the tower provides a digital, visual cultural experience of Seoul with themed lighting presentations.
Address: 105 Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Official site: http://www.nseoultower.co.kr/eng/
2. Bukchon Hanok Village
For a taste of Korean traditional culture and architecture, head over to the Bukchon Hanok Village. This preserved area of several ancient neighborhoods gives you a feel for what it was like to live in Korea 600 years ago. It's right in central Seoul, in the area between the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Changdeokgung Palace.
The neighborhoods feature hanoks or traditional Korean houses. It's a unique place, as it's a historic area, very popular with tourists, but it's also a real neighborhood because the houses are all occupied. Some of the hanoks are now guesthouses and bed-and-breakfasts, and a few are museums and can be toured. Others are cultural centers showcasing traditional crafts and other historic aspects of Korean life.
This is a fun place to spend an afternoon and really gives visitors the feeling of being in ancient Korea due to the historic architecture and narrow streets.
3. National Museum of Korea
This must-see attraction in Seoul showcases the incredible history and artwork of Korea and the Korean people. The museum, one of the largest in Asia, is in the city's Yongsan District (close to Itaewon). It focuses on archeology, history, and art and includes a vast collection of works and objects going back more than a million years. There are ancient and prehistoric artifacts, sculpture, paintings, and other artwork along with a large collection of objects and antiques.
Before or after your museum visit, head down the street to Yongsan Family Park, a nice outdoor space to relax. Another important museum, The War Memorial of Korea, is also close by.
Address: 137 Seobinggo-ro, Seobinggo-dong, Yongsan-gu
Official site: https://www.museum.go.kr/site/eng/home
4. Lotte World Tower
One of the newest attractions in Seoul is the Lotte World Tower skyscraper. It's 500 meters above the ground and one of the world's tallest (currently fifth) buildings. There are several indoor and outdoor observation areas (called Seoul Sky) at the top on the 123rd floor. Views are spectacular both during the day and at night, and you can see 360-degrees around the city.
On the 118th floor, there's the Sky Deck with the world's highest glass floor. Like magic, the floor changes from opaque to clear, terrifying unsuspecting visitors. Even getting to the top is fun, and the journey is done via super fast, double-decker elevators, with windows on one side and LED screens on the other three and the ceiling.
Inside the tower are offices, luxury residences, and a hotel. There's also an aquarium and a large shopping mall. The tower is home to a concert hall and a state-of-the-art, 21-screen MoviePlex.
Address: Songpa-gu, Jamsil 6(yuk)-dong, Olympic-ro, 300, Seoul
Official site: https://www.lwt.co.kr/tower/en/main/main.do#sec01
5. Gyeongbokgung Palace
First built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest of Seoul's five grand palaces built during the powerful Joseon dynasty. Destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries, it was restored to its original glory after the Second World War and totally restored in the 1990s.
Within the palace grounds, you can also find the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum, and both are worth a visit. The palace museum is especially fascinating as it presents items from the palaces of the Joseon Dynasty. This includes priceless antiques and artwork, as well as everyday items for cooking, cleaning, and daily life. The National Folk Museum focuses on items from daily life, as well as clothing and dioramas, to tell the story of the Korean people since prehistoric times.
Address: 161 Sajik-ro, Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul
6. Seoul Museum of Art
Located behind the Deoksugung Palace, SeMa as it's known to locals, has a large collection of artwork, mainly from the modern era. The art museum focuses on Korean art and Korean artists but has a decent selection of international works and creators. Changing temporary and visiting exhibitions also showcase unique collections and artwork.
The collection is displayed over three floors in a large building that was formerly the home of the Korean Supreme Court. The museum has two additional satellite locations in other parts of Seoul, and these feature rotating exhibits from the museum's main collection, as well as special exhibitions.
Address: 61, Deoksugung-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
Official site: https://sema.seoul.go.kr/?language=EN
7. Blue House
The Blue House is Korea's version of the White House. It's the official residence of the Korean president, as well as the location of his and related executive offices of state. The Blue House isn't really a single building, it's an entire campus of buildings, all built in the traditional Korean style and all featuring the distinctive blue tile roofs where it gets its name.
Hour-long tours are given, but participants must apply and schedule their tour in advance, online. The tour takes you to many parts of the palace complex including meeting rooms, reception rooms, and the Korean version of the Rose Garden, where the Korean president holds press conferences.
Address: 1 Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Official site: https://english1.president.go.kr/Contact/Tours
Bongeunsa is one of many Buddhist temples in and around Seoul. It first opened in the year 794 and is a complex of multiple buildings and shrines. It's easy to visit, as it's centrally located in the exciting Gangnam area.
The temple is on the side of a low mountain, directly across the street from the massive COEX convention center and mall. It's a popular spot for convention-goers to take a break and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Visitors are welcome, and the temple even has a program that allows guests to experience the daily life of a monk for a few hours.
Address: 531 Bongeunsa-ro, Samseong 1(il)-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
9. Gwanghwamun Gate
The largest and main gate to Seoul's Gyeongbokgung Palace, Gwanghwamun Gate is home to the changing of the guards ceremony (performed since 1469), which happens daily (except Tuesdays) at 10am and 2pm. The gate has undergone many renovations and rebuilding, most recently in 2010, when it was restored to its original location and reconstructed with native materials.
There's a large plaza in front, and the gate sits in front of the vast Gwanghwamun Square, home to frequent political demonstrations, a large subway station, giant fountain, and some huge statues of Joseon-era leaders.
Address: 161 Sajik-ro, Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul
This natural creek that flows through central Seoul was covered over by highways in the post-Korean War economic boom. Seven miles of the creek were uncovered as part of an urban revitalization project and turned into an outdoor recreation area, opening in 2005.
There are now seven miles of creek-side hiking, walking and biking trails. It really has changed the CBD of Seoul by bringing an artery of green into what was a very urbanized, crowded area. The creek is also home to the spectacular Seoul lantern festival, held each November. Ornate, lighted paper lanterns are displayed in and along the creek and each night thousands of people line the creek and view the floating artwork.
11. Jingwansa Temple, Bukhansan National Park
Set within the strikingly beautiful landscape of the Bukhansan National Park, Jingwansa is an ancient temple complex offering many ways to experience and learn about Buddhism. The traditional buildings are surrounded by miles of hiking trails (you can come here just to hike) snaking through the mountains.
The temple, which grows most of its own food (and ferments its own kimchee), has a range of public programs. There's a temple stay program, which includes an overnight visit, plus there are cultural and learning programs. They also offer foodie experiences like a traditional vegetarian temple meal, as eaten by the monks. Jingwansa is on the far west side of the city, one of the four major temples of Seoul first built around 1,000 BC.
Address: 73 Jingwan-gil, Jingwan-dong, Eunpyeong-gu, Seoul
Itaewon is a bustling neighborhood of Seoul focused on a few pedestrian streets filled with shops, cafés, and other consumer businesses. If you have limited time in the city, it's one of the those places that can give you a real feel for Korean retail culture in a short time period. There are food carts, street performers, and some of the side streets are filled with restaurants.
This is an excellent place to wander around and just lose yourself in the energy of the city. Be sure to wander down Gyeongnidan Street, as it's lined with all kinds of restaurants and is a place to buy many international foods not easily available in Korea (like pizza and American-style barbecue). Another street is filled with antique shops, and this is always an excellent place to buy gifts.
13. Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Known by its initials, the DDP is a very cool design center in Seoul's Dongdaemun area. Dongdaemun is also known for its shopping, there are a lot of department stores and discount stores in the area. The silver, orb-like flowing DDP building looks like something from outer space. It was designed by the late, great architect Zaha Hadid.
The complex is filled with showrooms, work spaces, offices, and design studios. There is also what has to be Seoul's coolest shop, selling all kinds of interesting items showcasing contemporary design. The building is also very popular as a photo subject, both during the day and night.
At night, the design center comes alive, the highlight being 25,550 white, LED roses that light up. In perhaps Seoul's ultimate contrast, there are ruins of the ancient city fortress preserved just outside the front entrance of the design center.
Address: 281 Eulji-ro, Euljiro 7(chil)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
14. Gwangjang Market
Seoul's best food market combines a taste-bud tempting array of street food vendors under one large roof. The market features rows of food stalls, offering every kind of Korean food you can imagine. Most have small chairs in front of them, creating tiny restaurants, where you can sit and have a meal. It's all about tasting things here, and a smile and request will get you a sample of most of the things on offer.
The market is in central Seoul, and it's open from 9am to 10pm. The most popular things sold here are bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), bibimbap (rice mixed with sauteed beef, vegetables, and gochujang red chili paste), gimbap (Korean sushi), sundae (blood sausage), tteokbokki (stir-fried spicy rice cakes), and various types of noodles. Other parts of the market have vendors selling clothes and household items.
Address: 88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno 4(sa)-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul
This unique neighborhood is filled with stores that sell Korean traditional folk and handicrafts along with art galleries. Stores sell things like hanji (traditional, hand-made paper), hanbok (traditional clothing), teas, pottery, and unique artwork. The galleries in Insadong feature Korean fine art of all types. There are also a lot of tea houses and small cafes, perfect for a break during shopping adventures.
The Insadong area really comes alive on Sundays, when it's closed to traffic and becomes a giant craft and culture fair. Aside from vendors, there are traditional music and dance performances and other cultural exhibits.
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Where to Stay in Seoul: This city has a variety of accommodation options, from bed and breakfasts to luxury hotels. To have a look at some of the best options, see our article on the Best Hotels in Seoul.
Beyond Seoul: While many of the country's highlights are in Seoul, have a look at our article on the top attractions in South Korea for ideas on places to visit throughout the country.