Let’s set the scenario: it’s your first time in Seoul and you’re looking for somewhere to go that really shows you a little bit of everything that this city has to offer. Or maybe you’ve been living in Korea for some time, and you’re after finding a concise plan of what to do when you take the train or bus up to Seoul at the weekend. Sometimes, it can be a little overwhelming trying to plan a day out when you’re not familiar with the area, but you needn’t worry. We’ve created a 1-day itinerary for the popular, central area surrounding the palaces and the traditional neighbourhood of Insadong – perfect for people searching for both tradition and a mooch around the shops.
*Note: This is not a fully accessible itinerary, and requires walking fairly long distances.*
Please keep an eye out for our accessible itineraries that we will be sharing soon.
Download Kakao Maps and the Seoul Subway app for your phone to find the best route to the starting location. Put a bottle of water in your bag, charge up your camera, don your best pair of shoes for walking, and let’s go!
1. Gwanghwamun Plaza
Make sure you get up early! We’re getting here for opening time: 9:00am. Take the subway to Gwanghwamun Station (line 5) and leave by exit 9. This will take you directly onto Gwanghwamun Plaza, where you’ll find the statues of Admiral Yin Sun Shin – famous for defeating the Japanese in the Imjin War during the Joseon Dynasty – and King Sejong the Great – the superfamous creator of Hangeul (the Korean alphabet). Here, you’ll also often find flea markets, demonstrations and protests, or other public events and festivals.
2. Gyeongbokgung Palace
The most famous of Korea’s palaces, Gyeongbokgung sits directly north of Gwanghwamun Plaza. In fact, the palace’s front gate – Gwanghwamun – is what gives the plaza its name. Inside Gyeongbokgung you’ll find many well-known sights and historical locations, including the Hyangwonjeong Pavilion and mini-palace Geoncheonggung. Follow our tour of the best unknown spots inside Gyeongbokgung Palace, and learn about its lengthy history as you walk the grounds.
3. Lunch: Patjuk at 서울에서 둘째로 잘 하는 집
Try something totally new and eat patjuk – red bean porridge – at so-named the ‘second best place in Seoul’. Whether that’s about the porridge or not, we’re not sure, but we can say that they make a mean bowl! Along with all the other items on the menu it’s healthy, full of goodness, and is perfect on a cold day…or a hot one. Just all the time, really.
4. Bukchon Hanok Village
Next up is one of the most famous spots in Seoul. Known for its beautiful traditional hanok houses, it offers a great view of the city and a chance to try traditional crafts. *Note: Bukchon Hanok Village is a residential area. Tourist visits are restricted to certain times, particularly on the weekends. If you do visit here, please be quiet and respectful of the residents when walking around and taking photos.*
Just south of Bukchon Hanok Village you’ll find Samcheongdong. Known also for its shopping and eating opportunities, Samcheongdong is a popular spot for trying on hanbok and visiting small galleries. On the walk down towards Insadong, you can also see lots of street performers, and on the weekend you’ll often find handmade flea markets set up here for shoppers to peruse.
6. Insadong Street
The neighbourhood of Insadong is famous for its antiques and art, and is the home of many galleries and art stores. Here is where you can find all variety of souvenirs, both cheesy and tasteful, cheap and expensive. It’s also where you can visit the popular Ssamjigil (often written Ssamziegil), an open-air shopping mall featuring mainly independent artist and handmade goods. There are even opportunities to take craft workshops in the basement, and the rooftop houses the infamous Ddo-ong Café…the poop café!
7. Dinner:Jeon (savoury pancakes) at The Story of the Blue Star
Forget everything you know about pancakes – Korea’s savoury pancakes, called jeon are the best. Order gamjajeon (potato pancake), kimchijeon (kimchi pancake) or haemulpajeon (seafood pancake), and wash it all down with a golden teapot (yes really!) full of makgeolli; Korea’s fermented rice wine.
*Vegan alternative for dinner: Osegyehyang is an all-vegan restaurant serving fully vegan versions of popular Korean foods.*
8. Post dinner café stop: O’sulloc Tea House
You won’t find many chain café recommendations on this website since Seoul is full of amazing independent coffee shops, but O’sulloc isn’t a chain to miss. O’sulloc Tea House in Insadong is one of the official cafés supplied with green tea and other products from Jeju Island. It’s perfect to stop in for a post-dinner tea and/or dessert, as well as for buying gifts.
There are so many places to visit and things to do in Seoul, but the traditional district is definitely the best place to start. While this doesn’t show you everything Seoul has to offer, it’s a perfect way to dip your toes into the history, traditions and culture of this wonderful city and country.