Is Seoul worth visiting? Seoul was the last stop on our extended 6-week trip in Asia (#DrJSabbatical) and South Korea was arguably the place we knew the least about before visiting. When we scheduled the visit, we looked at Seoul as a convenient airport with Star Alliance flights back to Europe with Lufthansa. Are you considering a trip to Seoul but aren't sure what reasons there are to visit South Korea? Read on to explore things to do in Seoul in 4 days. Discover why Seoul totally exceeded our expectations. Seoul is simply full of fun surprises and for this reason is a top city break destination in Asia in our view. If you visit, I recommend spending at least 3 days in Seoul.
Buildings Bathed in Golden Light
We arrived in Seoul from Xi'an China in the early evening. I knew that Seoul was a modern city with amazing skyscrapers. I wasn't prepared for the beauty of those buildings in the light of the golden hour. There was one skyscraper across the Han River that simply lit up in the dusky light.
Korean Street Food is Delicious
By the time we arrived in Seoul and got settled into our hotel (Lotte City Hotel Myeongdong), it was time to find some dinner. We spotted bright lights just across the Cheonggyecheon Stream and headed in that direction. We found ourselves in a neighborhood full of bars, restaurants, and street food stalls. We picked a place that didn't look too intimidating with fresh food cooking in the window. The no-nonsense lady running the place, I like to think of her as the matriarch of a family restaurant, ushered us to a small table at the back. We don't speak Korean and they didn't speak English but we were able to order with a mix of mime and pointing. We ended up with a plate of deep fried vegetables, tofu, and even spam! The meal was served with a variety of small dishes of spicy kimchee for flavor. We were loving Seoul already!
Eat All the Things on an O'ngo Street Food Tour
We knew that street food would definitely be a highlight of our visit to South Korea and we wanted to make sure we sampled all the best treats. We booked ourselves into an O'ngo Street Food Tour through the historic Insadong neighborhood of Seoul. Our guide, JS, an aspiring filmmaker, led us and a couple from London on our adventure. We stopped at seven places in the course of about 3 hours.
We also opted in for a real Korean BBQ at the end. It's a good thing O'ngo makes visitors decide if they want barbecue in advance of starting the food tour. We said "yes" when our stomachs were empty but eating more food seemed impossible after sampling all the savory and sweet treats earlier in the afternoon. We somehow found room for small morsels of meat wrapped in a variety of greens. The O'ngo street food and barbecue tour was one of the top culinary highlights of our visit to Seoul.
Seoul is Poop Obsessed!
Strolling around Insadong, we wandered into a boutique-y crafts market (Ssamziegil Mall). That's when I saw something a bit strange: a cartoon character with his pants down and an arrow pointing to simultaneously delicious looking and horrifying waffles...poop waffles! I was still full from the street food tour and was thus able to resist the allure of the poop waffle. Realizing that not trying a South Korean poop waffle would be one of my life's greatest regrets, we returned the next day with our appetites. It turns out that the waffles are chocolate-filled for that extra bit of realism.
Seoul City Hall Doubles as an Art Exhibit
If poop waffles aren't your thing, trust me, Seoul is full of more cultured surprises too. We visited Seoul City Hall and discovered a giant wall of greenery and a column of festive balloons. A basement art exhibit and citizens meeting area were fascinating to wander around and all the attractions were free.
Architecturally, City Hall is a hybrid. A modern glass dome erupts off the back of the historic facade, a convenient and artistic way to make more space.
History Comes to Life at the Changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung Palace is famous for the changing of the royal guard ceremony which takes place at 10 am every day. We awoke early and took the subway across town to witness the spectacle. Guards dressed in colorful uniforms and toting swords and shields marched into the palace courtyard to the beat of drums and other instruments.
Visit Seoullo, Seoul's Answer to New York City's High Line
We visited Seoul in May 2017 and our trip coincided with the launch of Seoullo, South Korea's answer to New York City's High Line Park. Seoul converted a disused overpass that was no longer safe for cars into a pedestrianized park.
To celebrate the grand opening, a huge exhibit of shoes was erected near the Central Station as a symbol of the rebirth of the area and commitment to walking instead of cars.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Interested in experiencing other Asian cities but not sure where to go? Check out:
Modern Art Prevails at Seoul's Citizen's Station
After walking on Seoullo, we were looking for the train to take us back to our hotel. We wandered into Seoul's old central station and discovered the coolest surprise of our trip, a modern art exhibit had taken over the halls of the station. A plexiglas forest and old-school CRT TVs greeted us.
Seoul's Citizen's Station was a fantastic stop and really fueled our imaginations and appreciation for modern, interactive art.
You Can Buy Anything at Namdaenum Market
Seoul is known for food and shopping markets. Namdaenum Market is probably the most impressive of them all. If you're looking for a bite to eat, housewares, beauty products, clothing, or pretty much anything else, Namdaenum Market is the place to go. We even discovered an, ahem, cheeky, bit of street art.
Experience Traditional Korean Life in Hanok Village
Seoul may be a sprawling metropolis but the city still harbors remnants of traditional Korean life. Hanok Village near Insadong features traditional houses with ornate tiled roofs. Narrow passageways connect homes, shops, and more. Taking a couple hours to stroll through Hanok Village is time well spent and helps visitors get in touch with a different side of South Korea.
Seoul has Great Craft Beer and Fried Chicken at CornerBe
We discovered that Seoul has a great craft beer scene. At CornerBe, we sampled top-notch brews served in small beakers. Fried chicken is the perfect accompaniment to a round of beer in South Korea.
South Korean Snow Dessert is Best Dessert
We were surprised and delighted by the wide array of frozen desserts available in Seoul. Snow dessert was my absolute favorite. Ice shaved thin to create the consistency of snow is covered with flavored syrup and fruit. You can get these frozen concoctions at various places around town. Make sure you bring your appetite though since the desserts can be huge!
K-Pop is No Joke in Seoul
Simply turn on the television in Seoul and you'll soon learn that K-Pop is no joke, it's big business. We watched at least two singing/talent competitions during our short stay. Shopping around town, we saw countless products being promoted by K-Pop favorites. If you're looking for a phone cover, calendar, or pretty much anything else stamped with your favorite cutie, Seoul is the place to look. We found the pop culture to be truly fascinating.
Get to Know Seoul's Line Friends
Who doesn't love a giant bear? Seoul's Line Friends are led by Brown, a big brown bear. The Line Friends store in Seoul lures you in with a giant huggable Brown just begging for a selfie. Inside, tons of other cute characters call-out to be picked up off the shelf. Popular with adults, with Line Friends, who says cuteness is just for kids.
Meet Seoul's Fat Cats
We couldn't spend 6 weeks in Asia without stopping at a cat cafe! In Seoul, we grabbed a flyer from a human in a cat suit. For a fixed price, we were able to visit the cafe, have a coffee, and stay as long as we wanted. This fat cat in the blue bandana may look no-nonsense but he took a real liking to Scott and sidled up next to him for a nap.
Visit a cat cafe in Seoul. It's good for the soul.
Jump in Where Martial Arts Meet Comedy Theatre
Seoul is known for a form of physical comedy theatre centered around martial arts. We went to see Jump, a performance featuring a slightly dysfunctional family with characters such as 'Drunken Uncle'. The characters performed a series of short vignettes showcasing mad physical ability in the process. Definitely take time to see one of the martial arts comedies in South Korea.
Escape the Fast-pace of Seoul with a Walk Along Cheonggyecheon Stream
Cheonggyecheon Stream runs for 15 km through the center of Seoul and is an idyllic spot for an early morning walk. The path is below street level and is super-effective at getting people away from the frenetic pace of the city.
Vegetation, flower boxes, and waterfalls line the path.
You May Even Meet a Robot!
You may even meet at robot along Cheonggyecheon Stream. We looked up from the path and saw a character that could have been out of a Marvel Comics movie. We climbed up to street level to investigate and discovered Seoul's robot super-hero on watch. Awesome!
Before visiting, we looked at Seoul simply as the gateway for our long-haul flight back to Europe. What we discovered was so much more. The capital of South Korea really is full of awesome surprises and deserves attention as an Asian city break destination in its own right even if you only have a single day to explore Seoul. I'd love to go back and spend even more time exploring the city, considering day trips to Gapyeong and beyond and steeping in Seoul's unique atmosphere budgeting a week in Korea (or more!) to see a bit of the rest of the country.