Asia,  Korea

First time in Seoul: Where to go

Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a city that is filled with history, culture, and fun. Debating about where to go during your first time in Seoul? As a first-time visitor, deciding where to go and what to see can be overwhelming. Here are some must-see places in Seoul that will give you a good taste of Seoul’s unique blend of past and present.

Seoul tips:

  • If you have a lot of luggage and want to start exploring the city the moment you land, I recommend using a luggage service that allows you to transport your suitcase from the airport to your hotel in a safe and cost-effective way, like Seoul Luggage Services by LuggAgent.
  • Get free access and discounts to more than 65 attractions all over Seoul through the Discover Seoul Pass. It was created by the Seoul Tourism Organization and Seoul Metropolitan Government for tourists to easily access popular attractions like N Seoul Tower, COEX Aquarium, Seoul Zoo, Palaces, Lotte World, Museums, Free Hanbok Rentals, airport railway express and more! The full list can be found here.
  • Check out Skyscanner for the best deals on flights/hotels to Seoul!
  • Planning to travel out of Seoul? The Korea Rail Pass (2, 3, 4, or 5 Days) allows tourists to travel on the Korea Train Express (KTX) and other trains operated by Korail, the national railway of South Korea. The KR Pass is a convenient, cost-effective, and flexible way to travel around South Korea.ry.
  • The AREX Incheon Airport Express Train One Way Ticket in Seoul This is the fastest way to get to the city from the airport, it’ll get you to Seoul Station in exactly 43 minutes.
  • If you are looking for an affordable hotel, I recommend looking at Agoda. Agoda has a very strong market in Asia and is a popular booking website to make bookings on. Agoda allows users to leave reviews of hotels, which can be helpful in making a decision about where to stay, and also allows for easy cancellations and changes. They also have a good rewards program in which you can earn points and use them for future bookings, discounts, or even free stays.
  • Check out Trip Advisor for the best user-based reviews and ratings, helping you make informed decisions and plan your trips more effectively! It offers a convenient platform to search for accommodations, restaurants, and attractions, making it easier to find the best options that suit your preferences and budget.
  • Don’t lose time upon arrival at the airport and order your E-SIM or  4G Pocket WiFi portable WIFI device in advance so that it’s ready and installed on your phone, waiting for you at the airport when you arrive.
  • If you want to do kpop related activities during your trip, check out my blog post, 5 Kpop tour packages in Korea for all Kpop fans!
  • Be sure to bring the right power adapters for your devices. Electrical outlets in Korea are type C or Type F. Electrical voltage is 220/230V. Get an E/F adapter on Amazon!
  • Google maps mostly do not work, and you should use KakaoMap or Naver Maps instead.

First time in Seoul: Where to go

Namsam Tower

Namsam Tower, or N Seoul Tower is a communication and observation tower located on Namsan Mountain in the central part of Seoul, South Korea. It is 236 meters high, making it one of the tallest observation towers in Asia, and is an iconic landmark in the city. The observatory offers 360-degree panoramic views of Seoul, and is the best place to get bird’s eye views of the city. There are also several shops and restaurants located near the tower where you can buy souvenirs or grab a bite to eat. If you are debating on where to go during your first time in Seoul, you definitely need to go to N Seoul Tower! Once the sun sets, the tower gets colorfully illuminated and changes color depending on the air quality in the city. Green is Good air quality, yellow is Moderate air quality, orange is Bad air quality, and red is very bad air quality. You can buy N Seoul Tower Ticket here!

A lot of kdramas have scenes here as it’s a popular spot for couples to buy love locks and write their names on the lock, and lock it to the fence as a symbol of their love and commitment. Some shows that were filmed here include My Love from the Star, Legend of the Blue Sea, Boys Over Flowers, My ID is Gangnam Beauty, Cinderella and Four Knights, and XO Kitty.

Since the tower is on top of a mountain, there are multiple ways to get there, but the easiest is using the Namsan Cable Car which operates from 06:00am to 11:00pm. The easiest way to get to the cable car is by taking bus No. 03, 05, 06, 10, or 12 to the Namsan Cable Car station. If you are up for the challenge, you can also hike to the top of the mountain as well.

Namsan tower Where to go First time in Seoul
Namsan tower

Essential first time in Seoul location:
Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest and most visited palace in South Korea. It is free entrance to the palace with the discover Seoul pass or if you wear a Hanbok. The best time to visit is during the changing of guard ceremony. During the summer, they have it at 10:00 AM, 2:00 PM, and 3:30 PM and in the winter, at 10:00am and 2:00pm. The ceremony schedule can be subject to change and may be cancelled due to inclement weather or other factors, so it’s always a good idea to check the official website of Gyeongbokgung Palace or call customer service before you plan your visit. Within the palace grounds, you can also find the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea, and both are worth a visit. Or if you want to see everything, join a guided tour to learn the history of the Gyeongbokgung Palace and explore every corner of it.

Nearest subway station: Gyeongbokgung Station, Exit #5. 

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Where to go First time in Seoul
Gyeongbokgung Palace

Hongdae

Hongdae is right near Hongik University, making it very a popular and vibrant neighborhood for young people. Along with many places to karaoke and eat, this is a great place to shop on a budget for anything, especially clothes. There are often many students and young adults doing performances on the streets from dancing and singing. Hongdae is also home to the Trick Eye Museum, a fun and interactive museum with lots of 3D optical illusions, a popular for taking selfies and pictures. Free admission to the Trickeye museum with the Discover Seoul Pass or you can buy discounted tickets on Klook. After dark, it is a popular place to go clubbing and to find cool pubs or bars to spend the night at. If you are struggling on your first time in Seoul in search of shopping, go to Hongdae!

Nearest subway station: Hongik University Station, Exit #9

Hongdae 
Where to go First time in Seoul
Hongdae

Myeongdong

If you love shopping, Myeongdong is also the place to go. You can buy anything and everything from skincare, clothes, accessories, and gadgets for a great price. What I love about Myeongdong is their street food that starts lining up at around 4pm. The street food is cheap and delicious here! Myeongdong also has many cafes and restaurants, and most places have English menus!

Nearest subway station: Myeongdong Station

Myeongdong First time in Seoul
Myeongdong 

Han River/Banpo Bridge

Han River is a great place to rest or to take a walk while enjoying food with an amazing view of the river and Seoul’s skyline. The riverbank is a popular spot for outdoor activities, like jogging, cycling, and rollerblading. There are always many cultural events, including music and food festivals, concerts, and art exhibitions happening at most times in the area.

The Han River is mostly known for its nightlife activities with many people sitting, enjoying the city lights while having a meal or a drink by the river. During the spring and summer time, from around 8pm to 11pm, several times a day, Banpo bridge holds the Han River Night Water Show, also known as the Banpo Moonlight Rainbow Fountain, in which they hold a beautiful display of water that shoots into the air in a rainbow of colors on the Banpo Bridge above Han River. This is a great place to visit for your First time in Seoul!

Banpo Bridge on Han River
First time in Seoul
Banpo Bridge on Han River

DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza)

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a beautiful building that features large global exhibition spaces, futuristic retail stores made from restored parts of the Seoul fortress, and a walkable park on the roof. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is also the host of the Seoul Fashion Week. It is especially beautiful at night, with the whole building being beautifully illuminated, and there being a permanent LED rose exhibition that is popular with couples and friends, and a great photo spot. The roses automatically light up as soon as the sun sets.

Nearest subway station: Dongdaemun Station Exit 8 or Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station Exit #1 or #14.

DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza)
DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza)

COEX Mall

Coex mall in Gangnam is the largest underground mall in Asia! In total, there are 6 floors, 830,000 square meters, with over with 250 stores, 800 restaurants, a museum, a theatre, and an aquarium. The aquarium has over 40,000 animals including the largest number of shark species in Korea. You can buy discount admission tickets to Coex Aquarium on klook.

One of the most Insta-worthy locations in Seoul is Starfield Mall, an open-air public library right inside COEX Mall! If you are debating on where to go for the first time in Seoul for Instagram worthy photos, this place is for you!

Nearest subway station: Samseong Station Exit #6

Starfield Library in Coex Mall
First time in Seoul
Starfield Library in Coex Mall

Bukchon Hanok Village

A popular spot for people to visit to take a look at traditional houses. Take your time to wander around and discover Bukchon Hanok Village. In total, there are about 900 traditional houses, called hanoks, elaborately placed on narrow alleyways like a labyrinth. It gives us a glimpse of what Seoul looked like 600 years ago. If you walk all the way to the top, you can see all the hanoks and modern buildings in the distance. It is a great spot to take beautiful photos, but be aware, that it is a residential area. Please be respectful of locals of their spaces and time. There are also delicious restaurants and street food with traditional Korean food around this area.

Nearest subway station: Anguk Station, Exit #2

Bukchon Hanok Village
First time in Seoul
Bukchon Hanok Village

Cheonggyecheon

Cheonggyecheon has a huge stream of water that starts from Cheongye Plaza and flows into Han River. The stream has a boardwalk that almost 11km long and is a popular hangout spot for locals to relax and dip their feet into the water. There are also frequent street performances along the river banks and at Cheongye Plaza.

During the weekend from around 4pm-5pm, there is a market that runs along the river banks off of Gwangtongyo Bridge. You can get street food, as well as local handicrafts here. It is also home to the Seoul Lantern Festival which is held in November with paper lanterns being displayed in and along the creek.

Nearest subway station: Gwanghwamun Station Exit #5.

Cheonggyecheon
First time in Seoul
Cheonggyecheon

Common Ground

Common Ground is a very trendy shopping mall with about 200 stores, restaurants, and a food court near Konkuk University that has been growing in popularity recently. What makes it so unique is that it is a mall made from containers. There is a beautiful rooftop terrace people can relax on, and at night, it becomes atmospherically lit.

Nearest subway station: Konkuk University Station Exit #6

Common Ground Seoul, Cafe
Common Ground Seoul, Cafe

Gwangjang Market

Gwangjang Market is the perfect street to try local street food and to mingle with Koreans while you are in Seoul. You can try things like Kimbap, Tornado Potato, Fried Chicken, and Hotteok. One of the craziest things you can try here is San-nakji, a Korean delicacy that is basically a raw octopus that is cut into pieces and served while the tentacles are still writhing.

Nearest subway station: Anguk Station, Exit #6

Gwangjang Market Street Food
Gwangjang Market Street Food

Jogyesa Temple

The Jogyesa Temple dates from the Joseon era and is a beautiful temple in the middle of Seoul. Due to the contrast of an authentic temple and skyscrapers around, it makes it for a beautiful juxtaposition. It is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Korea, and it serves as the main venue for many Buddhist events, rituals, lectures, and ceremonies. Thousands of colorful paper lanterns are on display, and is a beautiful sight to see. If you want to go to one Temple during your first time in Seoul, it should be Jogyesa Temple.

Nearest subway station: Jonggak Station, Exit #1

Jogyesa Temple, Seoul
Jogyesa Temple

First time in Seoul for Artsy people:
Insadong

Insadong is a colorful neighborhood full of shops, art galleries, and restaurants. It’s a great place to buy local Korean handcrafted souvenirs and feast on Korean street food and snacks. The main road is lined with many restaurants and teahouses and is a great place to relax with friends. If you are artsy, Insadong is the perfect neighborhood for your first time in Seoul.

Nearest subway station: Anguk Station, Exit #6

Insadong Seoul
Insadong

Naksan Park

Naksan Park is a popular park located on Naksan Mountain and provides great views of the city at day and night. The park has many outdoor activities that can be done from hiking, biking, and picnicking. The hiking trails are a workout, so be sure to be prepared. During the hike, many historical sites can be seen such as the remains of the city wall, street art, a pagoda, and a confucian school. Additionally, the park offers several cultural activities such as traditional Korean music performances, traditional Korean games like jegi-chagi (Korean-style hacky sack).

Naksan Park first time in Seoul
Naksan Park first time in Seoul

Lotte World

Lotte World Adventure is the world’s largest indoor amusement park and is perfect for families, couples, and tourists fun a fun day. They have a very good variety of attractions, including thrilling roller coasters, gentle rides for children, parades, live performances, and more. The park also includes a shopping center, a hotel, and a variety of restaurants and cafes, making it a great place to spend a whole day. Lotte World has also been featured in several Korean variety shows like Running Man, Infinite Challenge, 2 days & 1 Night, Weekly Idol, and Knowing Bros. Get Lotte World Discount Ticket on Klook!

Did you know that a lot of Koreans wear their school uniform to Lotte World? Wearing a school uniform is a popular trend in South Korea since they see it as a way to relive one’s childhood and experience a sense of nostalgia. You can experience this too on klook, through Korean School Uniform Rental near Lotte World.

Lotte World First time in Seoul
Lotte world

Seoul Sky Tower

Seoul Sky is the world’s highest glass-floored observation deck and the world’s third-highest observation deck overall. The observation platform has floor-to-ceiling windows all around so you get a breathtaking 360-degree view of Seoul. Would you be able to stand on their glass floor which is 555 meters above the ground? The building is designed to mimic traditional Korean ceramic pieces! Get Tickets to Seoul Sky Tower on Klook!

Seoul Sky Tower great for first time in Seoul
Seoul Sky Tower

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Any questions/concerns/help on anything or on your first time in Seoul?

Email me at pennylesstravels@gmail.com for consultations to plan your trip to Korea!

Some Useful Sources when traveling to Korea:

My Korea posts: Pennyless Travels Korea posts
Youtube Channel: Just Coneys Corner
Instagram: @coneychiiwa
General Tourism information: Vist Korea
Korea subway Map: Seoul Metro
Best E-sim for travel in Korea: Airalo
Airport pickup pocket wifi: 4G Pocket WiFi

Discount on Admissions in Korea:

Klook.com
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