Last Updated on 25.07.2023 by Iliyan
The history of Seoul is an incredible journey back into thousands of years. The city has managed to keep and preserve incredible architectural masterpieces although a large part of them have been torn to the ground and restored again. It is one of the most preferred tourism destinations because of its amazing mix of cultural and historical heritage, ancient architecture, towering skyscrapers, parks, delicious food and many more attractions in Seoul.
- 1 Attractions in Seoul
- 1.1 Gyeongbokgung
- 1.2 Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon Secret Garden
- 1.3 Changgyeonggung
- 1.4 Seoul City Wall
- 1.5 The Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty
- 1.6 Bukchon Hanok Village
- 1.7 N Seoul Tower
- 1.8 Myeongdong
- 1.9 Bukhansan National Park
- 1.10 Bongeunsa Temple
- 1.11 Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain
- 1.12 Statue of King Sejong
- 2 Best day trips from Seoul
Attractions in Seoul
Looking for the best attractions in Seoul? Great! In this post you will find some of the best attractions in Seoul and two of the best day trips from Seoul.
Gyeongbokgung is one of the best attractions in Seoul. It serves as the residence for the king and his family, as well as a seat of the government. It was built in 1395 in the beginning of the Joseon dynasty. Here you can enjoy the background of the majestic architecture and rich culture. It is amazing how Seoul has managed to keep this heritage. This huge complex looks like a little town with many buildings, small gardens and streets. It resembles the Forbidden City in Beijing in terms of architecture. During the time of the Japanese invasion, the palaces have been destroyed completely but it was fully renovated later on.
Inside the same complex can also be found the National Folklore Museum. It has two parts – an open one and closed one but I only saw the open one. The expositions show how the common people used to live and the traditions at the time when the country was an agricultural one.
Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon Secret Garden
The Changdeokgung Palace is one of the “five large palaces”, built by the kings of the Joseon dynasty. It was built as a second palace after the main one Gyeongbokgung. The main difference for Changdeokgung is that it has been built with the full intention to be integrated inside its natural environment. The buildings were meant to be in harmony with the landscape according to the baesanimsu principle. This means that the ideal house is built with a mountain behind it and a river in front. The palace structures are settled on the south with a huge “secret garden” in the back and in full harmony in the north with the surrounding environment.
Changdeokgung was loved more than any other palace by the kings of the Choson dynasty thanks to the spacious and beautiful garden. It has been used as a place for rest from by the members of the royal family. It is very picturesque and is suitable for a relaxing walk, taking almost 60% of the entire palace area. The garden preserves its original topography, including a couple of lotus lakes and a small stream.
Changdeokgung Palace is part of the world cultural heritage of UNESCO and it is one of the most remarkable palaces in Seoul.
Changgyeonggung is the third palace built by the Joseon dynasty. It is located nearby Changdeokgung, and also close to other landmarks in Seoul. Changgyeonggung, together with Changdeokgung Palace, are known also as “Donggwol” or the “Eastern palaces”. It has been built for the first time by the 4th ruler of the Joseon dynasty, King Sejong, for his father – King Taejong. In spite of that, the queen has also lived inside the complex and it is no coincidence that it was significantly smaller in size compared to the king’s one. The halls are also quite smaller and relatively less in count. Through the years, the palace has sheltered royal wives, as well as concubines, and it was also used for offices of the government departments.
In this palace you’ll see a greenhouse represents a closed botanical garden and it is the first one made in a western style in Korea. It is a beautiful mix of a stone frame and a tree, and its appearance has been covered with glass.
Seoul City Wall
The fortress wall of Seoul was built to protect the city of Seoul against invaders. The wall was first built in 1396 during the Joseon Dynasty to defend and show the boundaries of the city. Originally, the wall stretched 18.6 km along the ridge of Seoul’s four inner mountains – Bugaksan, Inwangsan, Naksan and Namsan. Initially, the stone sections of the wall were constructed on mountainous terrain, while the flat ground sections were built with rammed earth. During King Sejong the Great’s reign in the mid-15th century, these sections were replaced with rectangular stone sections. In the 18th century, the stones used in the rebuilding of the wall were shaped to standard dimensions of 40-45 cm in length and width, making the wall stronger than before. In the 19th century, were used square stone blocks (60×60 cm).
Nowadays, many parts of the Seoul City Wall have been demolished due to urban infrastructure improvements, but there are still many authentic sections of the wall and some that have been restored. On this up-to-date map you can see the places you can visit.
The Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty
The royal tombs of the Joseon dynasty are objects of exceptional importance for the country. As recognition for that, they have been enlisted in the list of the cultural heritage of UNESCO in alignment with the Convention for protection of the world cultural and natural heritage. The respect and the worship of the forefathers are considered very important in the Confucianism and it’s no coincidence that the graces of kings and queens are very well preserved. Their locations are chosen based on the geomantic traditions and the Confucian believes, e.g. that the place has been considered as a Godly space, isolated from the other areas. It is believed that the spirit of the kings and queens continues to have a positive influence on the dynastic capital of the nation.
You can read more about the royal tombs here.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village is a historic village, dated 600 years ago during the time of the Joseon dynasty. The name Bukchon literally translates as “the northern village” as it is situated in a hilly neighborhood, north of two significant landmarks between two royal palaces – Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace. It is a home of hundreds of traditional houses, called Hanok. These houses are build in a specific Korean architectural style, meant only to keep a balance with the surrounding typography and normally have been built with long, curved rooftops and the typical style for the floor heating ondol, which helps to preserve the warmth inside the homes during the winter. Actually, this is not a touristic attraction but a regular residential area, so it is recommendable to keep quiet. In many places, there are signs that urge the tourists to keep it clean and to speak quietly.
Today many of these Hanok have been transformed into cultural centers, museums, guest houses, restaurants and establishments, which provide the opportunity for the visitors to dive into the traditional culture of Korea.
N Seoul Tower
Visiting N Seoul Tower is one of the best attractions in Seoul. N Seoul Tower, known also as Namsan Seoul Tower, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Seoul. The tower is surrounded by Namsan park. The observatory of N Seoul Tower offers the visitors a panoramic, 360-degree view of Seoul. The top part of the tower is located at almost 480 m. altitude, the Namsan Mountain included (243 m.), and the height of the tower (236.7 m.), which makes it one of the highest towers in this region. During the night, the N Seoul Tower lights up the sky beautifully with the most contemporary LED technology.
Except for being a tourist attraction, the tower also warns the people of the air conditions and whether there is pollution. Usually four colors serve as a warning – red, yellow, green and blue. The entrance fee to the observatory is ₩16,000 for adults and ₩12,000 for children.
Myeongdong is one of the most popular regions for shopping for cosmetics and skin care products and one of the best attractions in Seoul. Over a million buyers pass through this area every day. It is also known as the Mecca of K-Beauty. It is a term for skin-care products that derive from South Korea. Here you can discover both a large variety of Korean cosmetics brands such as Amore Pacific, Innisfree, Skinfood, Missha, Nature Republic, and also international giants such as Lacoste, ZARA, Bulgari and Louis Vuitton.
Bukhansan National Park
Bukhansan Mountain is located in the northern part of Seoul. It was declared as a national park in 1983. The name “Bukhansan” means “mountain north of Han River”. Here you will find a great biodiversity with more than 1300 species of plants and animals. The park is also known as Samgaksan (triangular mountain) because it encompasses three peaks, the highest being Baegundae, located at 836.5 meters.
With over five million visitors each year, Bukhansan National Park is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Visited National Park per Unit Area”.
Bongeunsa Temple is a Buddhist temple, dating from 794. It was situated south of Han River and initially, it was known as Gyeonseongsa. It was renamed with its current name in 1498 when the Queen Jeonghyeon refurbished the temple. Through the years, the temple has served also as a protective shield for keeping the Buddhism in Korea. The symbol of the temple is the 23-metre stone statue of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. This is one of the tallest stone statues in the country.
Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain
The Banpo Bridge in Seoul is known by its incredible fountain called Moonlight Rainbow Show. It embellishes the bridge from both sides with a common length of 1140 m. (570 m. on each side). Thanks to this, the attraction managed to enter inside the Guinness World Records for the longest bridge fountain. Alongside the length of the bridge are situated 380 nozzles, which form beautiful water cascades when they sprinkle water. In the evening, thanks to the LED lights, the water started “dancing” under the sounds of different music.
The Moonlight Rainbow Fountain Festival lasts only from April to October. The timing of the show varies depending on the season but I recommend, as it is an evening show, being there at 8 pm.
Statue of King Sejong
The statue of Sejong the Great was elevated in the center of the Gwanghwamun Plaza in Seoul. It was dedicated to the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty, Sejong the Great, who is one of the most famous historical figures in Korea. It has been built as a part of the creation of a new public space in central Seoul, situated by the Gyeongbokgung palace. It was founded in 2009, during the honoring of the celebration of the Hangul day (9th of October). Hangul is a Korean alphabet, and its creator is namely King Sejong.
Best day trips from Seoul
Seoul is a huge city and you will need at least a few days to see all the attractions. However, there are two places you must visit when in Seoul – Nami Island and the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
Visiting Nami Island is one of the best things to do in Seoul. Nami Island or “Namiseom” is settled 63 kilometers away from Seoul in the middle of the Han River. The island is incredibly picturesque in every single season of the year which makes it a preferred spot to visit when in Seoul. Nami Island has been known well as the scene of a popular Korean drama Winter Sonata. Two of the main attractions in Nami Island are the beautiful tree-lined paths – Ginkgo Tree Lane and Metasequoia Lane.
You will find more information about Nami Island here.
Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
Visiting DMZ is one of the most popular day trips from Seoul. It was established in 1953 under the Korean Armistice Agreement to serve as a buffer zone between North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and South Korea (Republic of Korea). Some travel agencies offer various packages to visit the area, including the most interesting sights such as Imjingak Park, Bridge of Freedom, Dora Observatory, Third Tunnel, etc. However, not all of them include Joint Security Area (JSA). This is the only place where of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where North and South Korean forces stand face-to-face.