Hanyangdoseon is one of the top places to visit in Seoul Korea

Top Places To Visit In Seoul South Korea

Learn the top places to visit in Seoul, a megacity and the capital of South Korea. This bustling metropolis is a fascinating mix of modern skyscrapers, ancient Buddhist temples, centuries old traditional villages, Joseon Dynasty palaces, serene parks, interesting markets, amazing food, and much more.

It’s also surprisingly easy to navigate with an excellent subway system, even for those that do not speak Korean.

Top Places To Visit In Seoul Korea

Top Palaces

The palaces of the last dynastic kingdom of Korea, the Joseon Dynasty are definitely one of the top places to visit in Seoul. The Joseon Dynasty, which ruled here for 500 years, represented the height of classic Korean culture, literature, trade, and science.

There are 5 Joseon Dynasty Palaces in Seoul: Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Gyeonghuigung, Deoksugung, and Changgyeonggung. That’s not only a mouthful, it’s also a lot to see in one visit. If you want to narrow it down, the two most popular are Gyeongbokgung, the first and largest palace, and Changdeokgung, one of the best preserved.

If you wear South Korea’s traditional hanbok (which can be rented nearby), entrance for all 5 is free (although entry is only around 3,000 won, or $2.20 at time of writing). The hanbok, worn as recently as 100 years ago, is still worn today, however, only for special occasions (and, of course, to visit palaces and historical villages).

Gyeongbokgung palace is One of the top places to visit in Seoul Korea
Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

The name Gyeongbokgung Palace, means “Palace Greatly Blessed By Heaven”. It was the first palace built here, the largest, and main Joseon Dynasty palace. At one time it contained more than 300 buildings with almost 6,000 rooms on over 4 million square feet of land. It was completed in the late 14th century, soon after the capital was moved from Gaeseong (which is now part of southern North Korea).

Gyeongbokgung palace is One of the top places to visit in Seoul Korea
Geonjeongjeon Hall

Even though destroyed and rebuilt twice, it still showcases the architecture, lifestyle, and culture of the original palace. Key highlights for a visit include; the Throne Hall, where the King received important guests, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, used for important meetings and banquets (and a popular place for selfies), and the Royal living quarters.

Royal Quarters

Make sure to see the official changing of the guard ceremony near the main entrance at 10 AM and 2 PM. It lasts 20 minutes. Try to arrive early for a good viewing spot. If you miss this, there is also a 10-minute ceremony of guards at Gwanghwamun Gate at 11:00 and 1:00.

To get Gyeongbokgung Palace, take the subway (line 3) to Gyeongbokgung Station. Take exit 5 upon arrival.

The National Palace Museum and National Folk Museum are very close to Gyeongbokgung, and a perfect compliment to your visit.

Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung Palace, which means “Prospering Virtue Palace”, was the secondary palace and favorite of many kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Emperor Sunjong, the last Emperor of Korean, also lived here until he died in 1926. Built in the 15th century, this palace is popular as it’s one of the best preserved palaces in Seoul. It’s also loved because its architecture blends so harmoniously with the landscape.

Like Gyeongbokgung, this palace was burnt to the ground by the Japanese twice, and rebuilt following the original plan. There are several notable halls here, including the Injeongjeon, Daejojeon, Seonjeongjeon, and Nakseonjae Halls, as well as a 78 acre Secret Garden behind the inner hall, with a lotus pond, pavilions, and many flowers.

To get to Changdeokgung Palace, take subway (line 3) to Anguk. From there, it’s a 5-minute walk from exit 3.

The three other palace built during the reign of the Joseon Dynasty include: Gyeonghuigung, which served as a secondary palace in the latter Joseon period, Deoksugung, the smallest of the palaces, used when the other palaces were burnt down, and Changgyeonggung, used as a royal residence and secondary palace for queens and the king’s father.

Suwon Hwaseong Palace And Fortress

Suwon Hwaseong is a temporary palace located in Suwon, Korea, about 18 km south of Seoul. This important temporary palace was built by the 22nd Joseon Dynasty monarch, King Jeongjo.

He built it to honor the nearby tomb of his father, who died a grisly death when Jeongjo was just 9 years old. This UNESCO listed fortress is the largest Joseon Dynasty temporary palace and worth a day trip from Seoul to see.

Hwaseong Fortress Korea
Hwaseong Palace

To learn more about the palace and the well-maintained fortress walls, see my post on Hwaseong Fortress.


Top Temples

Although there are many temples in Seoul South Korea (more than 900!). If you search the web for the top temples to visit in Seoul, there are many lists with many temples that shift from list to list. To narrow it down, the two most popular are Bongeunsa and Jogyesa Temples.

Bongeunsa Temple Complex

Bongeunsa, Seoul’s oldest and most famous temple, was constructed in 8th century, during the reign of King Wongseong of Silla. This temple showcases the dichotomy of Seoul, as today it’s virtually surrounded by high rises and a shopping complex.

Bongeunsa Temple is one of the top places to visit in Seoul Korea
Bongeunsa

A unique feature here is the 91’ (28 m) statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha (below left).

Bongeunsa offers temple stays, to lean the life of a Buddhist monk. It also has festive celebrations, like the one for Buddha’s birthday in May.

To get to Bongeunsa take subway (line 9) to Bongeunsa, and take exit 1.

Jogyesa Temple

This is the main temple of the Jogya order of Buddhism. Built in the 14th century, it’s known for its 3 golden Buddha that site inside.

Jogyesa Temple

This temple also hosts the celebration of Buddha’s birthday in May with performances and brightly colored, lotus-shaped lanterns.

Jogyesa Temple

If you want to learn how to live like a Buddhist, you can also reserve a temple stay at Jogyesa. See the link at Jogyesa Temple for more details.

There are two subway stations close to Jogyesa, Jonggak and Anguk. It’s also a short walk south of Gyeongbokgung Palace and Bukchon Hanok Village.

Other Top Temples In Seoul

If you want to see more temples that showcase Buddhism in Korea, these are also noted as top places to visit in Seoul.

  • Suguska Temple – One of the prettiest, covered in gold paper
  • Doseonsa Temple – Famous for its rock-carved Buddha
  • Gagwonsa Temple – Known for its massive bronze Buddha statue
  • Daeseondgsa Temple – Buddhist temple with a nice view of Seoul
  • Bongwonsa – 1,000 year old temple in a beautiful setting
  • Jingwansa Temple – An old temple located in Bukhansan National Park
  • Myogaksa Temple – Small temple on the side of Mount Naksan

Top Historic Villages

There are several fascinating historic villages in Seoul, some dating back 600 years!

Bukchon Hanok Village

This village is a traditional neighborhood in Seoul, full of alleys (or hanok) representing Joseon dynasty architecture. Full of traditional Korean houses, this is definitely one of the top places to visit in Seoul.

Bukchon Village
Bukchon Hanok

Located near both the Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palace, high ranking Joseon Dynasty officials lived here from the 14th-19th century.

Cha teul Teahouse in Bukchon Village
Cha teul Teahouse

Although many homes were demolished as locals started moving to modern high rises, about 900 traditional homes have been preserved here. Many are set up as tea rooms, craft rooms, guest houses, restaurants, and art galleries, showcasing Korean life.

See my post on Bukchon Hanok learn how to get there and the best spots for photos, tea, and more.

To get to Bukchon Hanok, take subway (line 3) to Anguk Station, and take exit 3. Located near Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palace, it’s ideal to combine them if you can.

Similar to the palaces, it’s common to rent a hanbok (traditional dress) and come to Bukchon Hanok. You can find rental shops on the main street near the village.

Namsangol Hanok Village

Namsangol Hanok Village, on the north side of Namsan Mountain, features 5 traditional homes updated to look like they did during the Joseon Dynasty. There’s also a traditional Korean garden, a performance stage, where you can see a traditional wedding ceremony or a taekwondo performance, a plaza, and a pond.

To get to Namsangol Hanok, take the subway to Chungmuro Station and take exit 3 or 4. Because of its location near Seoul Tower, it’s ideal to pair the two.

Ihwa Mural Village

Ihwa Mural Village is one of the oldest villages in Seoul, this hilltop town, or moon village, is a different type of historic village.

Ihwa Mural Village view

In the 50’s near a section of Seoul’s old city wall, it was full of shacks for refugees of the Korean War. Later it became homes for working class citizens.

Ihwa Mural Village Angel Wings
Angel Wing Selfie Spot


Although planned for demolition over a decade ago, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism brought in local artists to revive it. Now it’s a tourist destination, with an official walking map detailing the various murals, sculptures, and mosaics.

Ihwa Mural Village is one of the top places to visit in Seoul Korea
Fish Steps

Art and tourism may have saved this village, however, did come at a cost. At several points the locals have become frustrated by the noise, people, and trash that tourism brings with it, painting over some of the art.

This is a reminder to be respectful of the people and property when visiting. Also, since this is free, please buy something at the local shops here, so money goes back into the community.

To get to Ihwa Mural Village, take the subway to Hyehwa Station, from there it’s about a 10-minute walk. Along the way, you’ll see a tourist center, where you can get detailed directions and a map of the village. For more details see my post on how to get to Ihwa Mural Village and what to see and do there.

Top Parks

Bukhansan National Park

Centrally located Bukhansen National Park is one of the most popular. Known for its granite peaks, forests, temples, and beautiful views it’s a great place to hike. It’s most popular trail is Dobongsan. This 4 mile (6.4 km) trail has a 4.6 star rating on AllTrails.

Namsan Park

You can walk up Namsan mountain for the best free view in Seoul, or you can ride the inexpensive cable car up. This park is particularly beautiful in spring when the cherry blossom peak. It’s also where N Seoul Tower is located.

Naksan Park

This lovely park is very close to Ihwa Mural Village. If you visit the village, continue walking up towards the park for a quick look before you leave.

Naksan Park is one of the top places to visit on Seoul Korea
Naksan Park Pavilion

It offers a beautiful view of Seoul’s skyline, especially at dusk as the lights from the buildings start to illuminate.

Other Top Places To Visit In Seoul Korea

Seoul Tower

Seoul Tower, one of the top landmarks in Seoul and one of the top places to visit in all of South Korea, is a communication tower that offers panoramic views of the city from multiple platforms. At night, digital art lights the tower and LCD screens showcase history. Seoul Tower also has several restaurants and is a superb place for a sunset.

Hanyangdoseong – Seoul City Wall 

Hanyangdoseon literally means Hanyang City Wall, which was the name of the city when it was built. The city was official renamed Seoul in 1948. Hanyangdoseong was built in the late 14th century by the Joseon Dynasty to protect the city. It runs along the inner ring of the 4 mountains here; Naksan, Namsan, Inwangsan, and Baegaksan (San means mountain).

Hanyangdoseon is one of the top places to visit in Seoul Korea
Hanyangdoseon

The wall is 11.5 miles (18.6) km long and hiking various sections of it is an event in itself. The section of wall in these photos is near Ihwa Mural Village and Naksan Park.

Hanyangdoseon is one of the top places to visit in Seoul Korea
Hanyangdoseon

I loved the contrast of the ancient wall with the modern city of Seoul in the distance.

Namdaemun Market

This is the largest traditional market in Korea. Here, you can find food, clothing, jewelry, flowers, and souvenirs, making it the perfect place to experience local culture. I look for, and walk down one of the food alleys to try a variety of foods.

This doesn’t happen every day, as they rotate the walking pattern, but when I was here the guards from a changing event at the palace were marching through. It was a nice surprise and perfect to see them without all the crowds of the palace! I had a front row spot, so close I could even see that their beards were fake (LOL).

Guards In Namdaemun Market

Top Museums

When you get tired of sightseeing, or it’s raining, visit one of the many museums in Seoul (there are over 100!). The following list is just a short overview.

History & Science Museums

  • National Palace Museum – Museum on the palaces, by Gyeongbokgung
  • National Museum of Korea – Top museum featuring Korean history and art
  • Seoul Museum of History – History of Seoul from prehistoric period to preset

Art & Design Museums

  • National Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art – Contemporary art
  • Hangaram Art Museum – Features large scale modern art and installations
  • Leeum Samsung Museum of Art – Traditional and contemporary Korean art
  • Trick Eye Museum – Optical illusion fun
  • Kukje Gallery – Showcases the most current and significant Korean contemporary artists

Culture & Food Museums

  • National Folk Museum of Korea – Korean culture through historical objects
  • Museum Kimchikan – All about Kimchee

Want More Of South Korea?

There are many fascinating cities and places to see in South Korea. From Seoul, great day trips include a tour and the DMZ, the most fortified border in the world, or a trip to Suwon, to see UNESCO listed Hwaeseong Fortress.

There’s also Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, also full of amazing sights and things to do including beaches, temples, charming villages, galleries, and more.

And a trip to South Korea is not complete without a trip to beautiful Jeju Island. Considered the Hawaii of Seoul, it’s only a ferry ride, or short flight away from either Seoul or Busan. This enchanting volcanic island is the perfect escape from South Korea’s busting cities, with epic Mount Hallasan, multiple waterfalls, scenic walks, unique parks, quirky museums, and much more.

To see them all and more, see my Ultimate South Korea Travel Guide, which will be posting soon.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Read my About Me page to learn more about my thoughts on travel.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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