Officially dubbed Seoul Special City, Seoul was named South Korea’s most livable city in 2015. This could account for over half of all South Korea’s residents, a total of around 10 million people, living in Seoul. Since South Korea entered the global stage in the 1980’s, the country has become the world’s 15th largest economy and 9th largest trading country. Now known for its Arts (K-pop music, Korean dramas, aesthetics) and tech (Wi-Fi everywhere, booming IT industry) South Korea has come a long way within the last few decades.
Seoul is a city full of people who work hard, play hard, so it's not uncommon to see office workers head out for a night on the town well past the usual happy hours. It's a city that never sleeps, so whether you're a night owl or an early bird, Seoul is open for business.
1 Day in Seoul
Here’s an around-the-clock guide of things to do in South Korea’s capital city.
7 AM - Morning hike along the Cheonggyecheon
This urban renewal project is a 7-mile public recreation space in the heart of downtown Seoul. It’s not uncommon to see locals taking a morning hike or bike ride along the length of the Cheonggyecheon River, which eventually leads into the Han River. The restored Cheonggyecheon opened in 2005, and has since become a popular recreational area.
10 AM - Brunch near Ehwa or Yonsei University
Ehwa and Yonsei Universities are just across the street from each other, but have their own spheres of existence. Yonsei University is near the Sinchon Subway Station, an area known for its good eats and lively bar scene. The Ehwa University area gives off a completely different vibe with its cozy cafes, chic boutiques, and classy shops. Ehwa is a women’s university, and the typical “Ehwa woman” is known for being “lovely” and “sophisticated.” The neighborhood caters to this stereotype, so if you join the late morning brunch crowd, you’ll be in good company.
1 PM - Feel like a Korean royal at Gyeongbokgung
Arguably one of the most beautiful palaces in South Korea, Gyeongbokgung or Gyeongbok Palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. It was built in 1395, destroyed by a fire during the Imjin War, and later restored in the 19th century. More than 500 buildings and 7,700 rooms were restored, only to be destroyed again in the early 20th century by Imperial Japan. The palace is gradually being restored to its original grandeur, and has incorporated the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum onto its premises.
4 PM - See Seoul’s street art from Hyehwa Station to Naksan Park
Young artists have found a canvas for their creations on the concrete walls of Seoul. The city wanted a creative way of dealing with poorly developed housing from the Hyehwa subway station area to the Naksan Park area. There was also a need to address negative perceptions of graffiti among South Koreans. This gave rise to ideas such as the Seoul Urban Art Project and Naksan Art Project. Such projects encouraged street artists to beautify decrepit buildings through art. Their murals and creations cover the walls and line the streets. As a result, tourism to the area has boomed and appreciation for local artists has grown.
7 PM - Explore the Number One Date Spot for Korean couples
Coex seems to be the number one destination for couples and blind dates. The sheer number of cafes, dining options, and shops gives visitors plenty of options. The complex is part of the Coex Convention and Exhibition Center, where film screenings, performances, and exhibitions are held throughout the year. The mall also has an aquarium and a movie theater, and housed the Kimchi Museum until its relocation to Insadong.
10 PM - See the nighttime skyline from Namsan Tower
The night view from Namsan Tower is spectacular. Imagine the Korean version of America’s Empire State Building, with a panoramic view of the entire city. Officially named N Seoul Tower or YTN Seoul Tower, it offers visitors a view from the highest point in Seoul. This popular date-spot has a tradition where people can bring padlocks and leave them behind among the other “Locks of Love.” What was built as Korea’s first broadcast general wave tower has become one of the most romantic destinations of Seoul.
1 AM - Take in the nightlife at Gangnam or Hongdae
If you like music, dancing, food, and drinks, Gangnam or Hongdae are lively neighborhoods. The k-pop song “Gangnam Style,” refers to this area as a rich, sparkly, glamorous place. Gangnam has a reputation for “high-end nightlife” and it’s not uncommon to see people dressed to the nines for an evening out. The Hongdae neighborhood is more casual, with a hipster vibe and local music scene.
3 AM - Stop by the Dongdaemun Night Market for shopping and late night snacks
The Dongdaemun area is a large shopping district that was designated a “Special Tourism Zone” in 2002. During the day, there are waves of tourists who shop at the malls: Migliore for bargain hunters, and Doosan Tower for those willing to splurge. But another treat is to stop by the Dongdaemun night market after midnight. This is a cluster of stores/stalls that are open for 18-24 hours a day, from around 10:30 AM to 5 AM. Some stores are open 24 hours, and most are closed on Mondays and holidays. You can buy anything from fabrics to shoes to specialty goods. It’s also where you can eat Korean late night snacks like mandoo (dumplings) and ddukbokki (ricecakes in spicy Korean sauce).
Where to Stay in Seoul
Seoul’s transportation system can get you anywhere, so your lodgings depend on the type of environment you find most comfortable. For young solo travelers, the Hongdae neighborhood is full of cafes, eclectic eateries, and up-and-coming musicians who hold impromptu street concerts. Students might prefer guesthouses or hostels near Seoul’s university campuses, such as Yonsei University or Ehwa University, to find themselves in the middle of all the action. If you want to be at the center of nightlife, the Gangnam neighborhood has housing in the midst of upscale bars, lounges, and clubs. The Jongro area is active by day because of its central location, but peaceful at night in comparison to neighborhoods infamous for their nightlife, like Sinchon or Gangnam. If you want traditional Korean hanok-style accomodations, then Insadong (which is a part of Jongro-gu) has done a good job of preserving or recreating olden-day Korean architecture.
Get ready to explore Seoul! Here are top spots to check out: Sin'gye-dong, Huam-dong, Map'o-dong, Chamsil, Huksok-tong, Panp'osa-dong, Seoul, Mugyo-dong, Kye-dong, Pongch'onsam-dong, Hongji-dong, Ch'ongun-dong, Ahyon-dong, Soch'osa-dong, Noryangjin-dong, Pongch'onyuk-tong, Ch'angch'on-dong, Kung-dong, Soch'osam-dong, Myongnyun-dong
Seoul Korea Transit
Transportation in Korea is sleek, chic, and shiny, especially if you are able to avoid the rush hours of 7-9 in the morning, and 4-7 in the evening.
The subway, bus, and taxi are popular forms of transport among both locals and foreigners. The subway has 8 lines and one railway line, and service usually runs from 5:30 AM to midnight. Subway passes can be purchased at all stations, and there are also bathrooms and vending machines in most. Some of the more popular stops even have shops and places to eat. Buses are a bit more complicated because there are inter-neighborhood bus lines and intra-neighborhood routes. Buses can be more confusing because while the subway system announces stations in English and Chinese in addition to Korean, some buses only have maps/stops in Korean. Hailing a taxi works much like in any other city; there are clusters of awaiting taxis in popular areas, or you can hail a cab that has a red빈차 bin-cha sign, which means “empty car.” The cabs charge from a base fare of 1,300 won (around $1.20) and increases every 210 meters or 51 seconds by 100 won.
This article was written by Hanna Choi.