The bustling capital of South Korea, Seoul, is a major hub for Korean fashion, technology, youth and culture. Over the last two decades, Seoul has been revitalised and transformed into an all-immersive experience for visitors. Whether it’s going midnight shopping, watching street performers or trying out their famous bibimbap – there’s always something on offer in this city, even if you only have just one day in Seoul.
Plan your trip to Seoul
1. What’s the best time to visit Seoul?
2. A few facts about Seoul
3. One Day in Seoul Itinerary
3.1. Start your crash course into Seoul by walking around Myeongdong
3.2. Try tasty Korean snacks
3.3. Take a history lesson at Gwanghwamun Square and Gyeongbokgung Palace
3.4. Stroll through Insadong
3.5. Imagine how locals lived at Bukchon Hanok Village
3.6. Marvel at Seoul’s skyline on top of the N Seoul Tower and Namsan Park
3.7. Soak in the madness at Hongdae
3.8. Indulge in KFC: Korean Fried Chicken
3.9. Shop ‘til you drop at Dongdaemun
4. Where to stay in Seoul, South Korea?
5. Day Trips from Seoul
6. Extra tips for visiting Seoul
Most visitors agree that the best time to visit Seoul are the milder months of April to May and October to November. However, this all depends on what your interests are.
The cherry blossom season lasts from around early April to the middle of April, and is possibly when Seoul is at its prettiest. During this time, Seoul’s sakura will be in full bloom, and the city’s many parks will be covered in pink hues. The temperatures are mild, averaging at about 53°F or 11 – 12°C. The good weather will continue into May, which is also a popular time to visit the South Korean capital – although the temperatures will be a little warmer during this month. March may be a good time to visit as well. Although the weather will be slightly colder, at around 40°F or around 4°C, Seoul will be much less crowded with visitors in March.
Similarly, the autumn months of October and November are also extremely popular. Not without reason – as the foliage season begins around early October and quickly covers Korean’s soaring mountains in beautiful shades of brown, red, yellow and orange. These months are also suitable for hiking, as the weather will range from about 44°F (6.5°C) to 56.5°F (13.5°C). October is also the month when Seoul Fashion Week takes place, which could be a point of interest for fashionistas. November is also packed with important events, such as the stunning Seoul Lantern Festival.
Although January, February and December are subject to freezing temperatures, you can take advantage of this quieter time by experiencing less crowded shopping malls, public transport and hiking trails. Eating South Korea’s spicy food is also a great way to warm yourself during these colder months. If you also want to see snow in Seoul, your best bet is to visit in January.
Not many people know this, but Seoul is surrounded by eight towering mountains. Locals have long taken advantage of Seoul’s beautiful hiking trails, but somehow this fact has remained a hidden secret to tourists. Examples of Seoul’s striking mountains include Bukhansan, Inwangsan and Bugaksan.
Interestingly, Seoul is located only 24km away from the DMZ – the ‘middle ground’ between South Korea and North Korea. The city has undergone a fairly recent revitalisation, essentially making it a reborn metropolis. In 1910, the majority of Seoul’s cultural artefacts and buildings were destroyed when the Japanese empire occupied Korea. It wasn’t until the end of World War II in 1945, when Seoul started to rebuild itself. In the 1970s, South Korea’s GDP was even lower than North Korea’s – a truly astonishing fact given how affluent and built-up the country is now.
In the last two decades, South Korea has been one of the world’s most prominent exporters of technology, music, fashion and beauty – and Seoul is right at the centre of that movement.
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Seoul.
The busy shopping area of Myeongdong is the perfect place to start your day because it offers everything quintessentially ‘Seoul’ in a nutshell. This is the place where you can witness the intersection of all things Seoul.
Check out chic, novel South Korean stores such as the Line Friends store or Style Nanda. Explore the massive Lotte Department Store, with over 20 floors of items. Are you a fan of K-Pop? Head to the Myeongdong Underground Shopping Center to buy memorabilia items such as light sticks, stickers or a poster of your bias.
For a quick meal, try the famous Korean street food on offer in Myeongdong. Popular dishes include tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), Korean cheese corn dogs and fish cakes.
From Myeongdong Station, take the metro on Line 3 to Gwanghwamun Station, Exit 2. Gwanghwamun Square is a huge space in the middle of the city, and an important piece of Seoul’s puzzle. At this square, you will be acquainted with important historical figures such as Admiral Yi Sun-Shin and Sejong the Great as their statues stand proudly in the center.
The impressive Gyeongbokgung Palace is an absolute must-do in Seoul. Right at the end of Gwanghwamun Square, Gyeongbokgung was originally built in 1395, but was destroyed during Japanese invasions in the late 1500s.
The palace has since been restored, and is now a prevailing symbol of Seoul’s perseverance. Gyeongbokgung Palace is also an excellent place to see traditional Korean architecture and the hanbok (traditional Korean attire). The palace is open from 9:00am – 6:00pm every day except Tuesday. Entrance costs 3,000 KRW for adults and 1,500 KRW for children, but is free every last Wednesday of each month.
The tranquil area of Insadong is perfect for art-lovers or tea connoisseurs. Insadong is famous for its crafts, souvenirs and teahouses. This is also the perfect time to sit down at one of Seoul’s many cute cafés for a coffee or tea break. You can reach Insadong by walking for about 15-20 minutes from the Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Insadong is also a good place to rent a hanbok. Visitors commonly hire hanbok garments for a few hours to take pictures in, and to experience what traditional Korean garments feel like.
From Insadong, Bukchon Hanok Village is about another 15-20-minute walk. Bukchon Hanok Village is a great example of what Korean houses used to look like centuries ago. With its elevated vantage point, it’s also a nice place to catch a glimpse of Seoul’s skyline.
This Hanok Village is still an active residential complex, so it’s important to remain quiet and respectful during your visit.
To witness a beautiful, wide panorama of the Seoul skyline, head to the N Seoul Tower by taking one of the many Namsan Circular Shuttle Busses going around the city. You can take either Bus No. 2 or 5, and they will both take you to the tower. You can ride the busses from either Chungmoro Station or Myeongdong Station. These stations are easily accessible from Anguk Station, which is just a few minutes’ walk from Bukchon Hanok Village.
N Seoul Tower stands at 480m above sea level, and is one of the tallest and most recognisable towers in Asia. Entrance to N Seoul Tower is 11,000 KRW for adults and 9,000 for children. It’s best to go during sunset or at night, when you can see Seoul’s many skyscrapers lit up.
Namsan Park is the area that surrounds N Seoul Tower and is well-known for its love locks, where lovers leave heart-shaped locks on a long-stretching wall.
From Namsan Park, head to Hongik University Station on Line 2 of the Metro, and take Exit 8 or 9. Here you’ll arrive at Hongdae, the centre of South Korean music, fashion and sub-culture. This is where Seoul’s trendiest people hang out.
Wandering around, you’ll find yourself immersed in quirky restaurants, street markets and cheap food. One café you should check out is the Thanks Nature Sheep Café, where you can indulge in an Iced Matcha Latte while petting sheep. Another novel café worth passing by is the Hello Kitty Café.
If you visit on Saturday during 1:00pm – 6:00pm from March to November, you should also check out the Hongdae Free Market. The Hongdae Free Market is essentially a hipster flea market with all sorts of things on sale at an affordable price.
The best thing to do at Hongdae is to simply soak in the vibe. At Hongdae, you’ll see dance groups performing, artists singing and the most in-fashion threads on display. Your senses will be working overtime, but in the best way possible.
For dinner, head on over to Kychon. You can find Kyochon branches everywhere in Seoul, but your closest one will be the one in Hongdae. At Kyochon, you can try Korea’s famous crispy fried chicken.
For your final stop, it’s time to have one last shopping experience. Dongdaemun is Seoul’s most prolific fashion district, with a plethora of stores selling items made by local designers at affordable prices. The best part? Most of the shopping malls here are open until 3:00am, 4:00am, and sometimes 5:00am. The malls you should check out here are hello apM, Migliore, Doota and Lotte FITIN. Prices are often negotiable. Note that a lot of stores will only accept cash.
Once you’re done shopping, walk by the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DPP) to see another example of Seoul’s futuristic architecture.
The best neighbourhoods to stay in Seoul are Myeongdong, Hongdae and Gangnam.
Staying in Myeongdong is an excellent choice because of its proximity to the main attractions in Seoul.
Lotte City Hotel Myeongdong
362, Samil-daero, Jung-gu, Jung-Gu, 04542 Seoul
Lotte City Seoul Hotel is a contemporary accommodation choice that caters to all types of people. Located next to a central metro station, this hotel is a convenient option for those looking to use Myeongdong as a base.
Air Hostel Myeongdong
4, 5F, 35-20, Myeongdong 10-gil, Jung-Gu, 04537 Seoul
Centrally located in the heart of Myeongdong, Air Hostel Myeongdong is a new, trendy hostel with options to have your own private room and bathroom. Also featuring family rooms and an optional breakfast, this hostel is a great choice in Myeongdong.
Staying in Hongdae is another good option if you want to be in the center of the action, and amongst all the commotion Seoul has to offer.
Hongdae Pencil Guesthouse
Just a one-minute walk away from Hongik University Station, Hongdae Pencil Guesthouse is a suitable choice for budget travellers looking to maximise their stay in Hongdae. The rooms here are compact, clean and convenient.
Gangnam is a more upscale area, close to Seoul’s business district and multiple luxury shopping complexes. It was also made famous to the Western world by K-Pop artist, Psy, who’s hit song Gangnam Style went viral in 2012. This is a good area to stay in if you want to be surrounded by malls, skyscrapers and designer stores.
20, Samseong-ro 96-gil, Gangnam-gu, Gangnam-Gu, 06169 Seoul
Beautifully finished with wooden flooring and stylish furniture, Hotel Uri will please the modern traveller. Located only a 5-minute walk from COEX Mall, this hotel features a fitness centre, several dining options and free Wi-Fi for all guests.
Stay Hotel Gangnam
15-4, Nonhyeon-ro 87-gil, Gangnam-gu, Gangnam-Gu, 06236 Seoul
Featuring chic marble walls and curated decorative pieces, Stay Hotel Gangnam embodies what makes Gangnam so fashionable. Also conveniently located just a block away from Gangnam Financial Center, this hotel will suit both the business and leisure traveller.
As great as Seoul is, there are also some great day trips you can take from the South Korean capital.
Visit the breathtaking Seoraksan National Park
Featuring some of the country’s most beautiful mountains, Seoraksan National Park is South Korea’s most recognised national park and only a few hours away from Seoul. Seoraksan is especially beautiful during the autumn months. You can read more about this stunning national park here.
Go skiing in snowy Pyeongchang County
Located only about a 90-minute drive away from Seoul, Pyeongchang County is a good destination to witness South Korea’s soft, powdery snow in the winter. Pyeongchang famously hosted the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Many day trippers head out to ski resorts such as Alpensia Resort and Yongpyong Resort to go skiing for the day. For more information on how to get there and rental prices, check out this guide.
Complete an inner-city hike at Inwangsan or Bukhansan
If you’re interested in completing a hike during your trip, you can take on several trails at Bukhansan National Park. There’s also the well-marked Inwangsan Trail, which will take you through a picturesque fortress. You can find out more about the Inwangsan hike here.
Immerse yourself in nature at Nami Island
Nami Island is famous for being the location where the popular K-Drama television show ‘Winter Sonata’ was shot. It is a frequently visited day trip option due to its scenic redwood and pine trees, and is particularly stunning in the autumn.
In South Korea, popular apps like Google Maps or Apple Maps don’t work like they do in most countries. While you can still get reliable public transport information with Google Maps, you won’t be able to get information on walking or driving distances. That’s why you should download and use local map apps such as Naver Maps or Kakao Maps instead in Seoul.
Seoul’s metro system is one of the most renowned in the world. Trains are clean, punctual and frequently departing. It’s best to avoid taxis in Seoul as the metro system will most likely get you to your destination perfectly fine, at just a fraction of the price.
If you’re a shopping hound and you’re looking to buy more fashionable items, you should check out popular shopping sites such as Common Ground, Ehwa Women’s University Shopping Street and the Gangnam Underground Bus Terminal. For an outlet shopping experience, head to Hyundai Premium Outlet, Paju Premium Outlet or Mario Outlet.
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Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
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Avid writer, hiking enthusiast, daydreaming lyricist and perennial traveller with chronic wanderlust. Fred is a lawyer, who traded writing contracts for crafting travel guides and itineraries. Having been featured on travel websites and with a hotel management background under his belt, he’s now dedicated to running his travel blog, Beyond The Bay, which focuses on making travel easier for those on a busy schedule. When he’s not blogging, you can probably find him chilling on a tropical beach or writing a song - or both!