1. Hike Bukhansan
Located in north central Seoul, Bukhansan National Park offers a beautiful distant view of the city and surrounding mountains. We certainly had to work for it, as the hike took about 2 hours up and 1.5 hours down with frequent breaks, but it was worth it!
Cost: 7,000 won one-way for a cab ride. No admission fee for hiking.
How to get there: Take the subway (light blue line, #4) to Suyu Station. Hail a cab and tell them to go to Bukhansan Kuklip Kongweon (북한산국립공원). The actual trail begins at the top of a large, long hill; so unless they drop you off where the road dead ends, tell them to keep going. Otherwise you’ll be tired before the real hike even begins!
2. North Seoul Tower
Right in the heart of the city, North Seoul Tower (or Namsan Tower) gives you another great opportunity for panoramic pictures. If you’re traveling with a significant other, it’s also a special place to leave a lock of love.
Cost: 9,000 won to ride up to the observation deck. The base of the tower has great views for free as well.
How to get there: Take the subway (light blue line, #4 –> exit 8 or 9) to Myeong-dong Station. From there, hop on the 05 bus all the way up to the tower. Alternatively, you can take the subway (orange line, #3) to Dong-guk University, exit 6 and walk up. It’s a steady 30-40 minute trek, but very pretty. We took the bus up and walked down, which wound up being the best of both worlds!
3. Changdeokgung Temple
This beautiful palace complex is tucked into the north central part of the city. Beautiful, sprawling gardens and towering temples leave plenty of room to roam around even on the most crowded days.
Cost: Regular adult admission of 3,000 won grants you access everything except the Secret Garden, which is an extra 5,000 won.
How to get there: Take the subway (orange line, #3 –> exit 7; or purple line, #5 –> exit 6) to Jongno 3-ga Station. Walk north on Donhwamun-ro for 10 minutes until the road dead ends at the palace grounds.
4. Dongdaemun Market
Unfortunately we attempted to visit this market on a Sunday, so basically everything except a little show alley was closed. But, we assume on every other day of the week this place a bustling hub for merchants selling everything from jewelry, to food, to souvenirs. The market is housed in a large building as well as spread out in the nearby side streets.
Cost: Free! Or however much you want to spend while shopping!
How to get there: Take the subway (light blue line, #4 –> exit 9; or dark blue line, #1 –> exit 6) to Dongdaemun Station.
5. Bukcheong Hanok Village
Not far from Gyeongbokgung (Seoul’s other ginormous and gorgeous palace), is a sleepy little neighborhood filled with quaint shops, winding side streets and traditional Hanok houses. Exuding an interesting combination of the old and the new, Bukcheong Village is a nice wandering escape from the rest of the pulsating city.
How to get there: Take the subway (orange line, #3 –> exit 3). Head straight out of the exit and take the first left onto Gyedong-gil. Walk straight for 10-15 minutes. The village is not sectioned off like a museum, and there aren’t any signs that tell you when you’ve arrived. You’ll know, though, when those cute little white and brown trimmed houses start popping up.
Even if you’re more the modest type, experiencing a public bath house/sauna in Korea is critical to getting a real understanding of the culture. If you’re looking to do something that is 100% authentic or go to a place where you’ll be the only foreigner around, this is it. Sooth your aching feet and muscles in the hot tubs and have a nice sweat, all in the buff! Then head to the co-ed level where you can chat with friends and continue unwinding.
Cost: Most jimjilbangs run between 8,000 and 10,000 won. The super swanky joints, like Dragonhill Spa, that come with all the regular jimjilbang ammenities plus a movie theatre, PC room and restaurant charge a bit more.
How to get there: Look for the sauna symbol (a circle with three squiggly lines coming out of the top) on top of any building in the city, and the word 사우나. To get to Dragonhill, take the subway (dark blue line, #1 –> exit 1) to Yongsan Station. The spa is located a few minutes walk southwest.
Food in Korea is generally very affordable, and the streetfod is no exception. Meatballs, fried chicken, blood sausage, spicy rice flour noodles; they’ve got it all, so you never have to worry about going hungry between meals!
Cost: It depends on what you get, but most snacks are between 3,000 and 5,000.
Besides baring it all at the jimjilbang, dining on BBQ is arguably the most quintessential Korean experience. Whether is beef, pork or seafood, the meal is sure to be flavorful and healthy. If you’re a true BBQ beginner, or even if you’re not (but you’re a foreigner), one of the waiters is likely to show you how it’s done and cook the meat for you at your table. Once everything is grilled to perfection, combine it with lettuce leaves, onions, garlic, radishes, kimchi and more!
Cost: My pork BBQ meal was 13,000 won per person. Another night I ate eel, which was 26,000 won per person.
How to get there: Peer into any restaurant window! If you see ventilation hoses hanging from the ceiling (to suck up all the smoke) and tables with grills cut into them, you’ve found the right place!
9. Hangang Park
If you want to rent a bike or take a stroll along the Han River, Hangang Park is the perfect place to do so! Just be on the lookout for speedy cyclists, as they didn’t seem to show any mercy for pedestrations or poky peddlers.
Cost: Free! Not sure how much a bike rental would be. Sorry! Probably not much though.
How to get there: Take the subway (green line, #2 –> exit 4) to Dangsan Station. Walk north towards the river and the park will extend to both the east and west along the river!
Do you know your k-dramas? Ever heard of “Winter Sonata”? If you haven’t, that’s okay, I hadn’t either. But I still enjoyed walking around this famous k-drama filming site. Nami island is mystical, family-friendly and romantic. Bring supplies for an afternoon picnic and your camera. Enjoy a swanboat or row boat ride. You can even go bungee jumping or zip lining!
Cost: One adult ticket is 9,000 won. Fun fact: Nami is technically it’s own country, with a different currency and set of governing laws/body. Don’t worry though, you don’t need your passport and they accept Korean currency (in fact, that’s all I ever saw while I was there).
How to get there: This is the only downside: it’s quite far from downtown Seoul (about 2 hours, one way). From Yongsan Station, take the subway (dark blue line, #1) to Sangbong Station. Transfer to the ITX train headed towards Gapyeong. Get off at Gapyeong Station (those steps alone take about 1.5-2 hours). Next take a cab, tell them to go to Namiseom (it’s only a 5-10 minute ride, costing about 3,000-4,000 won). They will take you to the ferry dock, where you pay your admission fee and take a 10 minute boat ride to the island.