Indeed, if you are in Seoul you should definitely try the yummy food, visit the palaces and buy the famous Korean cosmetics.
It goes without saying, and it’s all over the internet anyway, so I will skip the very obvious and focus on my personal top favorite 5 things to do while in Seoul.
1 Visit a bookstore
The bookstores in Seoul are impressive and have something for everyone. I visited Kyobo Book Centre (Gwanghwamun Branch) and Youngpoong Bookstore (YP Books, the main store in Jongno), since they were the closest to where I was staying in Insadong, and I was hooked. You can find almost anything there, from non-fiction books to the latest issues of the most popular magazines. The prices also vary, depending on what you want to buy. For comparison, at Kyobo, I paid for the June issue of Star Focus magazine more than for one volume of Wind Breaker webtoon. The magazine was 15.000 KRW (but Jung Hae In was smiling too prettily on the cover so I just had to buy it), while the thick webtoon volume was 12.000 KRW.
Kyobo has a very nice system that allows you to order a book from some other Kyobo branch in Seoul in case what you are looking for is not in the store closest to you. And in a day or two they notify you via email and you just go to your store, pay for it and that’s it. My friend needed a volume of Peak webtoon and got it like this within two days, without having to go to the Gangnam branch herself. However, I had to notice the very limited offer in Kyobo for the webtoon and manhwa readers.
Advice: if you want to buy printed webtoons or manhwas, YP Books is the place for you. They have a pretty wide offer, I found a lot of titles I was looking for and I left the store completely grinning and happy, with the remaining volumes of Windbreaker, some Cheese in the Trap, Scholar who Walks the Night and other goodies. A very important mention: the Koreans just KNOW how to print their stuff. Everything, be it magazines, webtoons or books, is at a very high quality, and the design is top notch.
2 Go to (at least one) Line Store
I visited three of them, one in Gangnam, and two in Myeongdong. If you are a Line user and you love Brown, Cony, Choco and the gang, Line Store is THE place for you and definitely in my top 5 things to do while in Seoul. The concept is fairly the same. Usually, the underground has a café, the ground floor is the store, and the first floor has some very nice photo setups. I particularly loved the Gangnam store. Of course, a huge Brown is always at the entrance to welcome his visitors and sometimes you have to queue for a photo (or two) with the adorable big plush. Upstairs you can have your coffee and some cakes with Choco, and in the courtyard there are even more photo ops with Brown in the jungle.
As a Line user and big fan, for me it was heaven. I have to admit that I never expected Brown to be THAT popular in Seoul. The first thing I saw in Incheon airport when I arrived was a cart with Brown on it. Then he appeared on the T-Money card, on huge billboards in the city, and on almost everything one could imagine, from toothbrushes to tissues. So no wonder he has so many dedicated stores. Of course, the prices are not exactly small, but well… we are talking about God Brown here.
3 Admire the city views from a high spot
One of my most favorite experiences in Seoul was watching the sunset and nightfall from Namsan Tower. It was great to see the natural light fading away and being replaced with millions of city lights. It was like watching the entire Seoul springing to a vibrant life right under my eyes. It took about half an hour, but the impression still lingers. Being one of the most iconic spots in Seoul, it’s fairly easy to get there. There are shuttle buses from Myeongdong to the base of the tower, but walking is always an option, especially if you want to explore. We walked from Myeongdong to Namsan cable car station. Then two cable cars and you are up. The round trip ticket for the cable car is around 9000 KRW, and the ticket to actually go up to the observatory is 10.000 KRW. Be warned: the queues can get really really long, especially in the evening, but at least they are pretty fast.
4 Take a trip to Dae Jang Geum Park
There are countless options for one day trips outside Seoul, and one of the most rewarding choices is definitely a visit to the huge filming set created by MBC for their sageuk dramas and named after one of their most famous series, “Jewel in the Palace”. Initially I wanted to combine this with a visit to Korean Folk Village, but when I got to Dae Jang Geum I realized from the very first second that would not be possible, unless I was satisfied with seeing only a small part of the complex. Which I wasn’t, so I chose to spend the whole day there.
If you are a historical drama fan, this is one of the best places to visit. If you do your homework and come prepared, knowing which scene from what drama was filmed there, spotting the exact buildings on the set is even more fun. And there’s more: you can actually touch the objects and even enter many of the buildings. Not to mention that, if you are visiting on a regular weekday, chances are to see few to none tourists roaming around, which gives you fabulous undisturbed photo opportunities. You can find more details about the place and how to get there in my article about Dae Jang Geum Park.
5 Rent a hanbok
I didn’t (but will definitely do it next time I’ll go to Korea), because I was too lazy to queue, change, not have my things with me in my precious backpack and a thousand other reasons. BUT it is one of the best way to stroll around the historical areas and the palaces as if you were actually hundreds of years back in time and part of the place. I’ve seen a lot of beautifully dressed locals and tourists in the palaces, sometimes entire families. And they were a nice addition to the photos, since they naturally fit within the landscape.
The prices vary depending on what you choose, the number of accessories, and the quality of the costume, but the usual price in Insadong (which is packed with hanbok rentals) was 20.000 KRW for a few hours. There is one hanbok rental in Unhyeongung Palace where the price is 3000 KRW for 20 minutes, but don’t expect high quality (although they do look nice and you can even try Joseon guard costumes there) and you are not allowed to leave the palace dressed in them (you wouldn’t have enough time anyways).
Of course, there are countless things to do in Seoul, but these are what I liked the most. What was your favorite thing in Seoul?