Bringing to you a mini travel guide on Seoul, South Korea today! If you’re looking to do a lot of good eating and shopping during your trip to Seoul, this is the guide for you.
THINGS TO DO:
Rent traditional Korean attire (called ‘hanbok’) and visit Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 as the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. It’s the largest of the 5 remaining palaces and arguably the most beautiful. You can heighten the experience by renting a traditional hanbok and get free admission by wearing it to the palace! I got my hanbok from ABC Hanbok Rental (located across the street from the palace on the Geonchunmun Gate side). It was relatively inexpensive compared to renting a kimono in Tokyo, Japan. Since I chose a premium hanbok design, I believe I paid a little less than 20,000 won (roughly $18 USD) for a 2-hour rental. It was especially beautiful to visit the palace during the autumn season with the beautiful yellow foliage. There is a Changing of the Guard Ceremony at 1pm and 2pm inside the palace, although we weren’t able to make it to this. The National Palace Museum of Korea and National Folk Museum are also both located inside the palace grounds.
ABC Hanbok Rental Address:
4 Samcheong-ro, Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Gyeongbokgung Palace Address:
161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Visit the Trick Eye AR Museum!
The Trick Eye Museum is an Augmented Reality exhibition space where paintings come to life! They claim to be the world’s first museum to apply AR technology on artwork, and utilize optical illusions to turn 2D paintings into 3D ones. While we were here, we also visited the Ice Museum (which is located in the same space and included in your ticket admission for a total of 15,000 won). Even though the Ice Museum was freezing cold inside and quite small, it was my favorite part of the museum experience! It included gigantic ice sculptures like in the image below, an ice hotel setup, and a super fun 10 meter ice slide.
Address: #B2 Seogyo Plaza 20 Hongikro 3gil, Mapogu, Seoul, South Korea
Autumn Season Only: Experience the Autumn Chrysanthemum Festival at Jogyesa Temple.
This one was not on my original agenda, but when we stumbled across the ginormous colorful chrysanthemum flower tree in the photo below, we just had to check it out. Jogyesa Temple is a small temple ground and community center where Korean Buddhists come to visit and pray. During the Autumn season, they hold month-long Chrysanthemum festivals all throughout different parts of Seoul, including at Jogyesa Temple. Adorning the clean temple grounds were beautiful chrysanthemum flower displays. It was free to enter and look around. If you plan to visit during the Autumn season, please be mindful of the visitors who are there to pray at the temple.
Address: 45 Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-170, South Korea
District: Jongno (near Insadong)
WHERE TO SHOP:
Shop at Starfield COEX Mall and visit the famous library while you’re there!
Starfield COEX Mall is known to be the largest underground shopping mall in Asia and is considered one of the best shopping malls in Seoul, Korea. Located in the Gangnam district, the mall has over 200 stores with both local and international brands, endless dining options, a movie theater (The Megabox Cineplex), the Kimchi Museum (where you can learn more about the history of Kimchi), the COEX Aquarium, and the famous Starfield Library located in the center of the mall. The library was my favorite part of COEX Mall - it has over 50,000 books that visitors can check out. I wish we had something like this back in San Francisco!
513, Yeongdong-daero, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Shop for Korean beauty products in Myeongdong District.
If you love Korean beauty, Myeongdong shopping district in Seoul, Korea is the place for you. With endless skincare and cosmetic shops all around, it is truly a beauty lover’s paradise with popular brands including Innisfree, Skinfood, Etude House, Too Cool for School, Olive Young, and Missha. Myeongdong also has some clothing shops, restaurants, cafes, and a street food market with most stalls opening when evening hits. The streets of Myeongdong are filled with many tourists, so you’ll see street guides (usually wearing red) who can help you if you have questions. Pro Tip: Bring your passport - if you spend over a certain amount (usually around 30,000 won), the shops will exempt you from tax! Also, be sure to wear comfortable shoes if you plan to be there for a while.
Myeongdong-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Visit one of Seoul’s Gentle Monster shops, if you’re in the market for luxury sunglasses!
Gentle Monster is an iconic South Korean luxury eyewear brand, popularized by Korean celebrities and growing in reputation for its functional and extremely experimental designs. They have a handful of showrooms throughout Seoul, Korea, each with its own unique gallery-style concept and art installations. The one I went to was Gentle Monster’s 4th flagship store in Bukchon Hanok Village and it had a ‘Bathhouse’ theme. Most of their sunglasses are under $300, which is not cheap, but still quite decently priced for luxury sunglasses. In my opinion, they have iconic designs, are very sturdy and well-made, and worth the price tag. After selecting and purchasing my eyewear, the Gentle Monster worker adjusted the piece with a tool so the nose pads securely hug my nose bridge - done so that the sunglasses don’t slip off my face. Be sure to visit one of Gentle Monster’s showrooms for a unique shopping experience!
92, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
District: Bukchon (Bukchon Hanok Village)
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK:
Eat at Janchijib (잔치집 ).
Insadong district is filled with traditional ‘Hanok’ style restaurants and tea houses, including Janchijib. This restaurant wasn’t on my original agenda, but a family friend who lives in Seoul took me and my family here, and we loved it! Inside, there are a handful of traditional Korean style rooms with sliding doors for privacy. Similar to a Japanese tatami room, you must take off your shoes before entering and you dine sitting on the floor with seat cushions. They give you a ton of side dishes (called ‘ban-chan’) with your order and have a wide variety of your typical Korean dishes on the menu, each of them beautifully plated. We left with happy and full bellies from eating lunch at Janchijib.
12-3 Insadong 12-gil, Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Have desserts and drinks at the Poop Cafe in Ssamzie-gil Market.
Located on the main road in Insadong district, Ssamzie-gil Market is an indoor/outdoor shopping venue with over 70 unique shops filled with fashion, beauty, and souvenir-related shops. Located at the very top floor of the mall is the Poop Cafe. You’ll find poop-themed food (some of which are served in mini toilet bowl dishware) and beautiful flower ade drinks here. In addition to the pretty, sparkling sodas, I opted to try their hotteok (호떡) from a booth right outside the cafe. Hotteok is a popular street food item in Korea, and is best described as a pancake filled with a sweet mixture, usually including honey and brown sugar. My poop-shaped hotteok waffle had a yummy chocolate filling. Although I really enjoyed my hotteok and flower ade, I heard not to expect too much from the other food items here. It’s an Instagram worthy tourist attraction and great for photos, though I think a one-time visit is enough for me.
67 Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Try the delicious garlic dduk-bokki (spicy rice cakes) from Hong-Ma-Dduk (홍마떡).
Given that dduk-bokki (Korean spicy rice cakes) is one of my favorite Korean dishes, I’ve eaten a lot of it ever since I was a little girl. Hong-Ma-Dduk has the best dduk-bokki I’ve ever tried! We came here for the garlic dduk-bokki and we were not disappointed by the flavorful sauce loaded with garlic and the chewy and soft rice cakes. They sell the ingredients and sauce as well, so you can bring it home and make it in your own kitchen (which is what we ended up doing).
3-43번지 Hwayang-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Feast on garlic jokbal (pig’s trotters) at Myth Jokbal in Hongdae district.
Note: This one is not for everyone, especially if you’ve never had jokbal before. Jokbal is essentially pig’s trotters braised in a mix of sauces including black pepper, soy sauce, rice wine, and ginger. The garlic jokbal at Myth Jokbal was so tasty and ended up being our favorite thing we ordered here (can you tell we really like garlic? :). The restaurant serves ginormous portions of jokbal along with a ton of Korean side dishes.
123-1 Eoulmadang-ro, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Enjoy a beverage at a number of Instagrammable themed cafes!
Seoul has a plethora of adorable and photo-worthy themed cafes all throughout the city. A few of the ones I checked out and loved include the Dog Cafe (in Myeongdong district), the Pink Pool Cafe within Style Nanda (also in Myeongdong district), Carin Hongdae Lounge, Kukka Gwanghwamun Flower Cafe, and Flower Cafe - Lovin’ Her. I didn’t list the Poop Cafe here since I talked about it already above!
Carin Hongdae Lounge
Address: 7 Hongik-ro 2-gil, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Flower Cafe - Lovin’ Her
Address: Subway Hongik univ. stn. Exit 6, Seoul, South Korea
Kukka Gwanghwamun Flower Cafe
Address: Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu | 2f, Seoul 03062, South Korea
Hope you enjoyed this mini travel guide! Comment below if you’ve been to any of these spots and any other recommendations you have for Seoul :)