Michael and I just got back from a weeklong trip to South Korea to visit my best friend and we had a fantastic time. My friend and her husband were lovely enough to show us all around the area they live and around Seoul. I highly recommend visiting Seoul as it is unlike anywhere I have ever been before and it is a really great introduction to the vast differences between Asian and American culture. I think one lesson we learned while we were visiting Asia is “you snooze, you lose” and this can apply to just about everything there. So don’t be afraid to take a chance on what you want. I made a list of my favorite places we visited and where I think you should go if you ever have the chance to visit!
Ihwa Mural Village
This is my top pick for where to go when you’re in Seoul, especially if you go during the infamous “golden hour” aka 1 hour before sunset.
The ascent to the top of the village is pretty steep but it is definitely doable. The views are gorgeous and there is incredible street art all the way up the inclining village. Take your time as you walk around to spot all of the cute murals and take in the view of the sprawling city below you.
We went at the end of a long day and slowly strolling around this part of the city really made me feel relaxed and ready for whatever else was coming next.
Seoul Tower is located on Namsam Mountain right in the heart of Seoul, which gives it panoramic views of the city. To get to the top of the mountain I highly recommend taking the cable car and while you’re up there you can add a lovelock to the fences that surround the tower.
Within the tower there is even a revolving restaurant in the tower if you haven’t grabbed a meal yet. An elevator that takes you to the top of the tower and from there you can walk around the circumference of the tower and take the views in.
I recommend visiting during the day as at night the tower doesn’t turn its lights off and there is a bit of a glare on the windows.
Bonita Di Café – Raccoon Café
Bonita Di Café is located about an hour by subway outside of Seoul, but it is definitely worth the trip. Located in the town of Bucheon, the Bonita Di Café is home to 8 raccoons and 5 dogs who roam the café floors and occasionally tables.
The raccoons are so funny to watch and they’re really tame so they’re safe to pet and play with. You have to pay an entrance fee and then you can purchase drinks and treats for the animals.
We stayed at the café for about an hour watching the raccoons and interacting with them and I have to say it is one of the most unique experiences I have ever had.
Myeongdong is everything I thought Seoul would be. It was full of enticing Korean beauty stores, fun street food stalls, and of course packed with people (but in a way that adds to the atmosphere not a claustrophobic way).
As you walk around the crowded streets women from the storefronts beckon you to come in and try their products and your nose fills with the scents of some traditional and some not so traditional foods.
We went around dusk so the lights were just turning on and it looked so incredible.
Gangnam was the most Westernized of all of the neighborhoods in Seoul, it looked like it could have been picked up and moved to a neighborhood like Chelsea in London seamlessly.That, however, doesn’t subtract from its uniquely Korean charm. As we wandered through the neighborhood, I loved window shopping and people watching, as it seems everything there and everyone there expertly curates what they sell and what they wear.
It’s a great little spot to get some inspiration for home and style and I absolutely recommend checking it out because it’s unlike any other part of Seoul.
Mr Holmes Bakeshop
While you’re in Gangnam, make a stop over at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, a boutique bakery, which originated in San Francisco and is home to the famous “cruffin” (croissant muffin hybrid). The cruffins come out daily at 12:30pm and 6:30pm and the flavor changes daily (you can check the flavors on their Instagram, but you have to translate it from Korean first).
They also have many other delicious pastries such as their choux bomb and filled doughnuts (flavors also change daily). This storefront is so cute and unlike the San Francisco store, actually has plenty of room for you to stop and enjoy your pastry and coffee.
I should add that it is way easier to get a cruffin here than it is in San Francisco, where you have to cue before the cruffins even come out to be able to maybe snag one.
The atmosphere here was much more laid back and the fact they release them twice per day increases your odds even more. I highly recommend trying them out, as they are so delicious.
Insadong is the perfect balance of old meets new. You can wander alleyways where locals go, or take a stroll down the main street and stop and admire small trinkets and souvenirs that are for sale here.
Actually, if you have anything on your wish list to buy from Seoul, you can probably find it here, if not on the main street then within the four story shopping “mall” that is full of artisan crafts and other knick-knacks. I bought a beautiful fan and hand made painting from a store on the main street and I am so happy with them.
Bukchon Son Mandu
While you’re in Insadong make your way down one of the alleyways to Bukchon Son Mandu, a delicious mandu restaurant. Mandu is a traditional Korean dish that is essentially a filled dumpling. The seating is limited but the mandu are easy enough to eat on the go as they are self-contained. Eating here made me feel like I was having a real Korean dining experience and as I sat cramped with the other diners fiddling with my chopsticks, I was so happy we stopped in at this little hole in the wall.
If you’re visiting with a friend I recommend trying out one of the combination platters, or getting two different dishes to split between yourselves and service is super quick so it won’t take too much time.
If you’re interested in learning a little bit more about the traditional Korean culture I recommend visiting one of the two palaces located in Seoul. We decided to visit Gyeongbokgung because our friends had already been to the other and we wanted them to see something new as well.
The buildings are really colorful and beautiful, and you can walk throughout all of the grounds taking it in. We went in April so all of the cherry blossoms were blooming and it added a little touch of magic to the palaces, which I loved.
There are also two culture museums around this palace that we didn’t visit on account of time, but I have read that they are really great as well.
Bukhasan National Park
We never actually made it up to Bukhasan due to time and other circumstances, but if I ended up in Seoul again I would definitely make the trip out. Seoul is built within a steep valley and all around you can see mountains in the distance, which gives the city really interesting topography.
You can visit Bukhasan National Park and take a half-day or whole-day hike to get some really spectacular views of the city. It is recommended to plan your hikes before arriving to figure out the quickest way to get to the peak of your choice.
Ok, so that about wraps up our top recommendations on things to do in Seoul. I really loved Seoul and I highly recommend adding it to your bucket-list if you haven’t visited yet. It has really inspired me to want to travel to more Asian cities, as they are so different to the America’s and Europe. Let me know if you have any suggestions on places to visit in Seoul and share this with someone you want to visit Seoul with!