Whether it’s a long layover or just a quick stop – Seoul can’t be missed when in Asia. Even if you only have one day in Seoul, here’s what you can’t miss about the city, how to get there, what to be sure to eat and where to stay if you are going to overnight. Everything mentioned can be done on your own, or if you prefer to book tickets in advance or book guides, there are links to do that too (for example, this tour will give you the best of Korean heritage with palaces and villages)!
To make things easy for you, everywhere mentioned in this post is ALREADY PINNED in the embedded Google Map below!
One day in Seoul – an overview of the city
A city not to be missed in Asia is Seoul. The city has changed dramatically in the past few decades, become a global power player and is now the 4th most economically powerful city in the world. What makes Seoul so unique and special would be the juxtaposition of old and new. With new interesting architecture like the Dongdaemun Design Plaza by the late Zaha Hadid next to one of the city’s old fortress gate, Dongdaemun Gate.
There are numerous examples of the old meeting the new in this vibrant city making Seoul a fun place to visit for photographers, history buffs, and anyone who loves to enjoy all the new cutting-edge entertainment options plus the world’s fastest internet.
Getting into Seoul
Another awesome feature about Seoul is the infrastructure of public transportation. The city is well-connected by their state of the art subway system and bus routes. Better yet, even getting a taxi in Seoul is cheap connecting you to anywhere in the city for fares under $20. The best way to get around for visitors would be the fool-proof subway system.
Download the subway app for Seoul and get directions to anywhere you need to get within the city. You can buy a T Money card and load it at any convenience store or subway stop. You can use your T Money Card to pay fares on the subway, buses, and taxis. All the stops and information are also available in English making it even easier and convenient to get around.
What to do in Seoul in a day
There is so much to see and do in Seoul you can spend at least a week here and still not see it all. For one day, we recommend visiting the historical hot spots in the heart of Seoul. If you have more than one day in Seoul (or are REALLY ambitious), here are 99 things to do in the city!
To make things easy for you, everywhere mentioned in this post is ALREADY PINNED in this Google Map!
Cheonggycheon Stream is a great place to start your day since it leads you right into the heart of Seoul. This stream runs through Seoul and is where locals and visitors flock to in the heart of the city for a quick rest. There are seasonal outdoor art displays here and this area is always buzzing on the weekends with flea markets and vendors selling their homemade crafts and goodies.
This is one of the most recognizable and most photographed spots in Seoul. Follow the path leading you to the statues of important Korean historical figures, Admiral Yi Sun Shin and King Sejong to Seoul’s main palace, Gyeongbokgung. This is also where all the government buildings are, including all the embassies and the presidential Blue House. What makes this scene even more picturesque would be the backdrop of the mountains behind Gyeongbokgung.
This is Seoul’s main palace out of their five total palaces of the Joseon dynasty scattered throughout the city. If you come on the hour you can witness the changing of the guard. You can also visit the National Palace Museum or the National Folk Museum of Korea while you’re here. But Gyeongbokgung is best enjoyed on a tight schedule by aimlessly wandering the complex and taking photos.
If you want to catch a glimpse of the Presidential Blue House make sure you exit from the back exit of Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Stroll through Samcheong-dong
Located right next to Gyeongbokgung Palace is the adorable and charming neighborhood of Samcheong-dong. This is a great area to go for cute shops, restaurants, cafes, tea houses and seeing some traditional style Korean buildings.
Bukchon Hanok Village
From Samcheong-dong you can make your way to Bukchon Hanok Village, conveniently located next door. This is a MUST on your trip to Seoul. This is where you will find a cluster of some of the last traditional Korean homes that people still live out of today.
This is a residential neighborhood so be respectful of the locals when visiting by keeping noise down.
Weave your way through the alleyways to find one amazing view after another. This is a great spot to photograph the juxtaposition of old and new Seoul with the hanok homes in the foreground and the high rises and the iconic Namsan Tower in the background. The entire area is charming and a great place for a scenic stroll.
Stop at Bukchon son Mandu, here or at their location in Insadong, for some delightful quick and easy dumplings.
Just a 5-minute walk from Buckhon Hanok village is the buzzing neighborhood of Insa-dong. This shopping street is great for picking up local handicrafts, eating, stopping at tea houses, and watching live street performances. This is another spot not to miss when visiting Seoul.
Jogyesa Buddhist Temple
Located just a block over from the shopping street of Insadong is one of the most zen spots in the heart of the city. Jogyesa Buddhist Temple somehow remains peaceful even though it’s next to one of the busiest streets in the city. Take off your shoes and enter Daeungjeon, the main Dharma Hall, and silently admire the golden Buddha and witness how the Korean Buddhists worship. If you come in May, you will get to see the entire complex decked out with colorful lanterns.
If you still have time in your busy day walking around the historical hot spots in Seoul, then you will want to try and squeeze in a visit to Changdeokgung Palace and the secret gardens. This is the only palace in Seoul that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you want to see the secret gardens be sure to plan accordingly as you can only go on a tour.
What to eat in Seoul
Seoul is a foodie heaven if you’re a meat eater. If not, you can still find vegetarian options but they aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as their signature meat dishes.
Some must-try meals include dolsot bibimbap (the dolsot is very important as it comes out in a hot stone pot making it WAY better than regular bibimbap), quick and easy kimbap (think Korea’s answer to a grab and go sandwich), Korean bbq with lettuce wraps (we highly recommend trying ssamgyeopsal, it’s like a thicker cut of bacon), pajeon with makgeolli (savory Korean pancake and local rice wine), mandu (Korea’s dumplings be sure to check out Bukchon son Mandu for the best), and our favorite dak galbi (stir-fried spicy chicken with veggies topped with melted mozzarella cheese).
Where to stay in Seoul
There are plenty of great options of where to stay in the heart of Seoul. We highly recommend doing a hanok stay in one of the hanok homes in Bukchon Hanok Village for a unique and cultural experience you can’t get anywhere else in the world. Each area is unique, so if the neighborhood is important to you, use this guide to where to stay in Seoul.
Haemil Hanok Guesthouse is a perfect option in the hanok village. You’re in for a real treat if you stay during the winter because the floors are heated and make the hanok so cozy that you won’t want to leave.
Staying near Gwanghwamun Square is also a great location since you are so close to many subway stops (lines 1, 3, and 5) and walking distance from many attractions in the city.
Shilla Stay Gwanghwamun is a local Korean hotel that is in an amazing location and has epic views of the city center of Seoul for a great price.
Other options to stay in Seoul:
- AirBnb: Seoul has a ton of AirBnb options, from hanoks to luxury apartments; save $40 on your first booking with this link.
- Agoda: Agoda is the preferred booking agent in Asia, and there are TONS of properties in Seoul on Agoda.
- Booking: There are literal thousands of options on Booking; save $20 on your first booking with this link.
Seoul day tours
If you prefer to do any of the above with guides, or book in advance, there are great tour options to maximize one day in Seoul. If you are in the country longer, here’s a 7 day Korea itinerary to help plan your trip.
- Viator offers Seoul day tours starting at $4.50 (Poopoo land!), and also have a range from short options, skip the line tickets to full day tours.
- GetYourGuide lets you book anything in Seoul from museums and transfers to full day guided tours.
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