One of the fascinating things about Seoul, and South Korea in general, is the blend between the modern and the old.
On the one hand, Seoul is one of the most developed, high-tech global cities, with futuristic-looking skyscrapers dominating its skyline.
Yet, on the other hand, it is a city of living history, its medieval palaces, and traditional neighborhoods bustling with life.
This great and easy-to-follow 4 days in Seoul itinerary, will allow you to see all sides of the city: the old, the new, and the fun!
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Table of Contents
- 4 days in Seoul: Your ultimate Seoul itinerary
- Things to know when planning a trip to Seoul, South Korea
- Where to stay in Seoul
- Seoul money-saving tips
- How much money do you need per day in Seoul?
- How to get from Seoul to Incheon Airport
- What is the best time to spend 4 days in Seoul?
- Understanding Seoul
- Getting around town on your 4 days in Seoul
- Your 4 day in Seoul itinerary overview
- Option 2: 4 Days in Seoul Itinerary off the beaten path
- Day 1 Buam-Dong and lunch + skincare treatment in Myeongdong + Nanta Show
- Day 2: Relax at a Jjimjilbang + go on an evening tour of Suwon
- Day 3: Have coffee in Yeouido Park, visit Seonyudo Island Park, and go on a food tour in Mangwon
- Day 4: Seoul Forest + Seongsu Neighborhood + Evening Cruise on the Han River
- Other things worth doing in Seoul
- Where to eat in Seoul – our favorite restaurants + recommendations by a local
- Cafes with the best view in Seoul
4 days in Seoul: Your ultimate Seoul itinerary
Things to know when planning a trip to Seoul, South Korea
If this is your first trip to South Korea, there are a few things worth knowing beforehand. As with many other countries, Korea has its particularities and a certain way of doing things, thus having the right apps and information will make your vacation careless.
We recommend you read our comprehensive article packed with useful information for when you are planning a Seoul itinerary.
VISA & K-ETA
Depending on where you are traveling from, you will or won’t need a visa. Check your Visa requirements here!
Currently, South Korea has in place a visa-free online application process for certain eligible countries (you can check the list here) that you must obtain before your trip.
K-ETA or the Korean Electronic Travel Authorization must be obtained before boarding a flight or ship. Here is some useful information regarding the K-ETA visa:
- The approval process takes more than 72 hours, thus it is useful to apply in advance;
- You will need to have accommodation booked before applying for the K-ETA, the address is one of the required information.
- The validity of the K-ETA visa is of 2 years from the date of approval;
- With the K-ETA you can stay in South Korea for 30 to 90 days;
- However, if you are visiting for travel purposes, and plan to return after your first visit, you will have to come back and update your visa with the new hotel address;
- One person can apply for up to 30 persons and can pay for all at once;
- K-ETA price: 10.000 won (around 9-10 USD)
- Book your AREX Airport Express Ticket,
- Take the Airport Limousine Bus,
- Book a private transfer,
- or read everything about getting from Incheon to Hongdae, Myeongdong, Bukchon Hanok Village, or Gangnam.
Communication and transportation
- Book your SIM Card & T-Money Card with airport pickup
- See if you would rather buy a SIM card or pocket wifi for your trip
- Or get an eSIM card directly in your email, and learn everything you must know about getting around Seoul
Getting around South Korea
- Rent a car in advance – choose an international website where you can use your credit card. Read everything about driving in South Korea
- Travel by fast train and book a multiple-day Korea Rail Pass
Other useful tips & links
- Luggage delivery service – have your luggage delivered from the airport to your hotel and take the all-stop train. It might be cheaper than taking a taxi.
- Luggage storage service
- Accommodation guides: where to stay in Seoul, Busan, and everywhere in between
- Should you get the Discover Seoul Pass? See our analysis and alternatives for saving on your trip
Where to stay in Seoul
No matter if you are visiting the city for the first time or you are returning after a while, these are the best areas to consider staying in.
We have visited the city as tourists and we have had the chance to live there for one year, and have used that experience to help you choose the best place to stay if you don’t want to waste time commuting.
Seoul is a huge metropolis and wasting time in traffic would mean having to skip some of the most important attractions. With only 4 days in Seoul on hand, you must make the best choice when it comes to accommodation location.
Read also: Hongdae or Myeongdong – where to stay as a first-time tourist | Where to stay in Seoul on a budget
If you don’t have the time to read the full article, here are a few of our recommendations for where to stay in Seoul when you visit for the first time and for 4 days. Most first-timers choose to stay in Myeongdong, however, there are other great options as well:
- Namdaemunno – the area we chose to stay in during our first trip to Seoul, at Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Namdaemun. It was a nice hotel, with a view of the NSeoul tower and the Sungnyemun Gate, from where I could easily walk to many of the main attractions in town. Check it out here!
- Insadong – maybe the most tourist area in town, mainly because it is so close to most of the popular spots. ibis Ambassador Insadong offers Seoul Tower views and a beautiful rooftop terrace, and it is located close to Insadong’s Main Street, which has most of its outlets open all night. Check it out here!
- Myeongdong – Nine Tree Hotel Myeongdong – I must admit this was our first choice when it came to hotels in Seoul, but somehow we ended up with the Courtyard one (and I don’t regret it a bit). This one is perfectly located and offers a great quality vs price ratio. Check it out here!
- Hongdae – while the area is not right in the heart of the city, it is perfectly connected to most of the important attractions in town. Moreover, this is a vibrant area with plenty of things to do and see. L7 Hongdae by LOTTE is a 4* hotel, steps away from the subway station, set on the main boulevard. The hotel has a stunning rooftop restaurant and bar from where you can admire the city, but also a rooftop swimming pool for the hot days of summer. Check it out here!
Seoul money-saving tips
It is widely known that Seoul is one of the most expensive towns in Asia and the world, thus, if you are traveling on a budget, here are a few money-saving tips you should have in mind.
Consider booking your plane ticket at the right moment – not too soon or not too late, but at least 3 months in advance, depending on where you are traveling from. Use an aggregator such as Syscanner in order to find the best options and routes from your destination.
Get the Seoul City Pass when you want to see as much as you can – it will also help you forget about public transportation (it works as a TMoney) and it will offer you free access to a selection of 42 attractions. For a 4-day Seoul itinerary, I would suggest going for the 72-hour City Pass. See more here!
Book your activities online in advance – Klook or Trazy are your go-to places for activities in Seoul and South Korea. They cover all of the most important attractions, day trips, guided tours, and more. And they also help you save on your trip!
Eat local food – if you are traveling on a budget and want to save money, choose to eat street food, eat at the local markets, or choose the most local-looking restaurants. Cafes, barbeque places, and well-known restaurants (local or Western) will always be more expensive.
Some other things worth knowing:
- certain restaurants and cafes will ask you to take off your shoes, and you might even have to sit on the floor
- Google maps don’t work properly, thus you will need local apps such as Kakao Maps or Naver. We have always used Naver because we found it more user-friendly. If you step outside of the tourist area, it helps to search for addresses and places in Korean, otherwise, you might not find them.
- when taking the subway, always stay on the right side of the escalator.
- during summer or the hot season, Korean women never wore clothes too revealing with the upper part of the body (no cleavage). That doesn’t mean you should do the same, just be mindful of this when packing for South Korea.
- most restaurants won’t provide forks, and you will be expected to eat with Korean chopsticks.
- at a barbeque, Koreans cut meat with scissors, not a knife.
- download and use Papago for translating everything around you. It works perfectly with pictures, even though sometimes it could show you strange things (like the time we thought we had dog soup, when in fact it was ox cartilage).
How much money do you need per day in Seoul?
From our personal experience, you can expect to spend anywhere between 50.000 won (when you choose to eat local food) to 100.000 won (if you are a Korean bbq fan). Without taking into account any tourist attractions.
As with anything, the budget for one day in Seoul depends a lot on many things. Where you choose to eat, how many times you choose to take the taxi, and how far and how long you travel by public transportation, are only of the few things that can impact your daily budget in Seoul.
Of course, there are ways in which you can save money (getting the Go City Seoul Pass for example), but you can also spend much more when you choose high-end restaurants or enjoy shopping.
How to get from Seoul to Incheon Airport
Getting from the airport to the city center or to your hotel couldn’t be simpler in Seoul.
We have personally used all options and can compare from experience.
Book a private transfer when you want to have a driver waiting for you at the airport. The price is comparable to the one of taking a taxi, but the driver will already have your final destination address. On top of that, you won’t have to worry about finding a car after a long flight.
Go by AREX (Airport Railroad Express) – the fast train conveniently links the Seoul Central Station to both Gimpo and Incheon International Airports. Upon arrival, follow the directions that will take you to the train tracks.
From Seoul Station, you can make your way further to your hotel or final destination.
While convenient, traveling by train and subway could prove to be challenging when you have large luggage or when you don’t stay in a hotel close to the subway station. For those times, you can choose to leave your bags at the luggage storage at Incheon or Gimpo – on top of keeping your luggage for up to one day, they can also transport them to and from your hotel. See all the options here!
The advantage is that you will be able to pay with your T-Money card, and the train is really fast – between 43 and 51 minutes depending on your terminal. Order the card or Seoul City Pass before you arrive in order to make the trip carefree.
Get a taxi from the airport – at Incheon Airport as soon as you exit arrivals you will find a designated desk for booking taxis and transfers. The people there speak English and will be able to assist you in choosing the best car option for you.
Having the address of the hotel written down in Korean will always come in handy.
Airport shuttle bus – a budget option worth taking into consideration when you don’t want to leave your luggage in storage or don’t want to spend too much on transportation.
In Terminal 2 there’s a Bus terminal, while if you arrive in Terminal 1 you can ask at the ticket booth for the location of the bus stops.
Whenever you choose to travel by car or bus, bear in mind the fact that traffic in Seoul can get crazily crowded – something worth keeping in mind, especially on your way out of South Korea.
What is the best time to spend 4 days in Seoul?
With a temperate climate, South Korea has 4 seasons – some more appropriate than others.
Spring and fall would be the best possible times for your visit to South Korea’s capital city. With mild temperatures, beautiful sights, and moderate precipitation, the shoulder season will always offer you great days for exploration.
Read also: The comprehensive guide for the best time to visit South Korea
An impressive metropolis, Seoul is split by the Han River into two parts. The north of the river is more traditional and has the most important historical sights and attractions. The south of the river holds its hip neighborhoods and modern hang-out spots.
On both sides, along the river, you will find parks and bike lanes offering some of the best city skylines.
Seoul is split into districts (gu) and neighborhoods (dong), with the river passing below Mapo-gu, Yongsan-gu, and Seongdong-gu.
Getting around town on your 4 days in Seoul
As already mentioned, Seoul is a big metropolis, but its public transportation system is amongst the best in the world.
Getting around Seoul will be effortless by subway, taxi, or bus. You can pay cash on the bus, but it is highly recommended to have a rechargeable T-Money card.
There are 9 subway lines in Seoul that will get you also to the metropolitan area.
Also, there are different types of buses depending on their itinerary:
- Blue buses – for long distances within Seoul – basic fare 1300 won
- Green buses – for transportation between blue bus stops and subway stops – basic fare 1300 won
- Yellow buses – downtown Seoul – basic fare 1200 won
- Red bus – inter-city express transit – basic fare 2400 won
Your 4 day in Seoul itinerary overview
Day 1 – Visit central Seoul, its historical area, and the Palaces
Day 2 – Go south of the river and explore Gangnam
Day 3 – Climb to Namsan Tower, visit a cafe in Itaewon
Day 4 – Day trip to DMZ
Day 1 of your 4 days in Seoul: Palaces and History
Today will be a day of exploration and stepping back in time, learning a little bit about Korea’s history, and feeling like a princess or prince.
An option would be to start your day by renting a hanbok (Korean traditional clothing), and you can read everything about our experience here.
However, if you don’t feel like wandering around the streets of Seoul in those clothes, don’t worry, start your day in Bukchon Hanok Village.
Bukchon Hanok Village
If you’d like to see what a 600 years-old traditional village would look like in the middle of a high-tech, global metropolis, you must visit Bukchon Hanok.
Bukchon, literally the North Village, was the residential area of the nobility and high-ranking government officials during the Joseon period; it was the Beverly Hills of its day, the playground of the rich and famous. As its name suggests, it consists of numerous hanoks, traditional Korean houses.
According to polls, it is one of the favorite areas of foreign tourists. However, it became wildly popular with the locals after it was featured in the South Korean reality show ‘1 Night 2 Days’ and the TV series ‘Personal Taste.’
The area hosts several museums, coffee shops, and restaurants. And it is also a good place to rent a hanbok from. So you can start the day with a coffee in Bukchon Hanok Village, then dress up and walk its history-filled streets under the admiring gaze of the passerby. Once you finish visiting Changdeokgung, Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, and Jogyesa, you can return your outfit and enjoy a nice traditional dinner in Bukcheon. It’s worth it!
Address: Jongno-gu, 계동길 37
How to get to Bukchon Hanok Village: Take the subway or bus to Anguk Station. Read the complete guide here!
The Palace of Prospering Virtue, known in Korean as Changdeokgung, was the favorite palace of many Joseon rulers. Moreover, it was the site of the royal court during two out of the three centuries that passed between Gyeongbukgung’s first destruction and its eventual reconstruction in 1868.
Changdeok stands out compared to Gyeongbukgung because its buildings blend in with the natural topography instead of dominating it; its construction style retains elements of the previous Three Kingdoms period of Korean history. Actually, the palace was built specifically to replace Gyeongbuk.
One note before going into the details: according to Joseon tradition, newly crowned kings changed their names similar to the practice of Catholic Popes (e.g., the current Pope Francis was Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he ascended to the Papacy; the first Joseon ruler, King Taejo was Yi-Seonggye before being crowned). Also, in Korean naming tradition, the first name is the family name (Yi is the family name of Yi Seonggye).
King Taejong (born Yi Bangwon), the third ruler of the Joseon dynasty, was reluctant to reside at Gyeongbuk because he had bad memories of the place.
Gyeongbuk was the brainchild of Jeong Dojeon, the first official to hold the Yeonguijeong position, a kind of Prime Minister of Joseon.
Jeong Dojeon envisaged a kingdom run by ministers, with the king having a ceremonial role. However, Prince Yi Bangwon, King Taejo’s fifth son and heir-apparent believed that the Monarch should have absolute power over state affairs.
Given their fundamentally diverging views, Jeong Dojeon convinced the founder of the Joseon dynasty, King Taejo, to appoint his eighth son, Yi Bangseok, as his successor instead of Yi Bangwon.
Enraged, Yi Bangwon raided Gyeongbuk palace, killing Jeong Dojeon and some of the other princes, his own half-brothers, in the process. Saddened by the events, King Taejo abdicated and, eventually, Yi Bangwon ascended to the throne as King Taejong.
Understandably, Taejong preferred constructing a new palace rather than living in the place he committed fratricide.
Today circa 30% of the pre-Japanese structure remains; the site has been a UNESCO World Heritage monument since 1997.
Apart from the impressive historical buildings, today’s main points of attraction are Changdeok’s gardens.
The Huwon, or Rear Garden, was originally constructed for the use of the royal family and palace women. The lotus pond is surrounded by hundreds of different trees and plant species; some trees are more than 300 years old. The Jade Stream area contains a U-shaped water channel initially used for floating wine cups; there is a small waterfall above it.
The Gemuwon, or Forbidden Garden, was destined for the exclusive use of the king. Today, many Koreans call it Biwon, or Secret Garden.
One popular historical K-drama, ‘The Jewel in the Palace,’ was mostly filmed at Changdeokgung.
Adults (ages 25-64): 3,000 won / Group (over 10 people): 2,400 won / Youth ( ages 7-18): 1500 won
Students (ages 24 and under): Free (* Except for foreign visitors)
On the last Wednesday of the month, and when wearing a hanbok dress, the entrance is free.
Address: 99, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Subway: Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 3.
Unlike the Cantonese Chinese names that I easily memorized when we lived in Hong Kong, I had difficulties learning the Korean ones after moving to Seoul. And inevitably, Gyeongbokgung was one of the first place names I came across. However, once I realized that the names are a combination of words, things got a lot easier.
‘Gyeong’ can mean Brilliance, Honor, Respect. In Sino-Korean could also mean ‘Capital City. ‘Bok’ usually means Fortune, while ‘Gung’ means Palace. So by naming it Gyeongbok, the government expressed its desire for a bright future.
Constructed in 1395 AD by the first Joseon king, Taejo, its name was devised by an influential minister called Jeong Dojeon. It was the kingdom’s main palace complex, housing the royal household and most of the government.
Unfortunately, the palace was destroyed during the 1592 – 1598 Japanese invasion of Korea. There are conflicting accounts of the events.
Some sources state that Gyeongbokgung was set ablaze by locals, enraged by the King’s actions: he fled the capital to escape the advancing Japanese, leaving its inhabitants to the conquerers’ mercy.
Other sources seem to indicate Japanese responsibility for the destruction. Ozeki, one of the Japanese commanders, described arriving at the now-abandoned palace in his diary and noted its amazing beauty. Ozeki’s account implies that Gyeongbok wasn’t damaged when the Japanese entered the city.
Irrespective of who was to blame for the disaster, the palace complex was left in ruins for the following three centuries.
Eventually, the palace was rebuilt and expanded in 1867, regaining its status as a symbol of Korean national identity. However, after Japanese agents assassinated Empress Myeongseong in 1895, her husband, Emperor Gojong, left the palace; the Royal family never returned.
The complex was destroyed yet again; the responsibility clearly rests on the Japanese shoulders this time. Japan finally conquered Korea in 1910, annexing it to the Japanese Empire by force. During the period, the conquerors attempted an aggressive Japanization of the peninsula; erasing national symbols was part of these efforts.
In 1915, under the pretext of organizing an Industrial Exhibition at the site, the Japanese government systematically demolished 90% of Gyeongbokgung. Furthermore, they built the Japanese General Government Building at the site, trying to eradicate any vestiges of previous Korean independence.
Finally, in 1989, the Korean government initiated a 40 years plan of rebuilding hundreds of monuments and buildings destroyed during the Japanese occupation. As a result, in 1995, the Korean authorities demolished the former Japanese General Government Building, restoring and reconstructing circa 40% of the complex. The authorities plan to fully restore Gyeongbok to its pre-occupation levels in the following decade.
Walking through the complex today while admiring the many visitors dressed in traditional clothing, one wouldn’t guess the place’s violent history.
We loved visiting the palace’s Secret Garden; sitting by the pond can easily transport you to a world without worries. The majestic mountain in the background adds to the serene atmosphere. Furthermore, if you are lucky to visit during the cherry blossom season, you will have the chance of taking great Instragrammable pictures.
If you enjoy military history, there is a changing of the guard ceremony; it happens several times a day, at pre-determined hours – you should time your visit accordingly.
But if you have the chance, nothing beats visiting Gyeongbok (and the other Seoul palaces and Buchan Hanok village) while dressed in traditional hanbok. Not only can you enter for free at Gyeongbok while wearing it, but you might be requested to pose for pictures by the local ladies. For some reason, Koreans love to take photos of foreigners dressed in traditional Korean clothing; I never felt like a superstar before this experience.
Adults (ages 19-64): 3,000 won / Groups (10 people or more): 2,400 won
Children (ages 7-18): 1,500 won / Groups (10 people or more): 1,200 won
Free on the last Wednesday of the month and while wearing a hanbok.
Address: 161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Gyeongbokgung Station (Seoul Subway Line 3) and Exit 5.
Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3) and Exit 1.
Would you rather go on a guided tour to see the Palaces in Seoul? You can learn so much from a local guide! Here are a few of the best options to look into:
Small-Group Seoul Morning Royal Palaces Tour – a 3.5 hours tour that will take you to Gyeongbokgung Palace, Jogyesa Temple, and to watch the royal guard changing ceremony at Gwanghwamun Gate. Apart from entrance fees and a local guide, the tour includes also hotel pick-up.
Seoul City Private Full-Day Tour Including Lunch – a very popular tour, that sells out fast. It includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace and Bukchon Hanok Village, Jogyesa Temple, and N Seoul Tower, and lunch at a local restaurant.
Deoksugung Palace, also known as Gyeongungung, Deoksugung Palace, or Deoksu Palace, is one of my favorite palatial complexes built by Joseon in Seoul; maybe because we spent a pleasant afternoon on its grounds, wearing the hanboks, immersing ourselves in Korea’s rich history.
The blend of traditional Korean and European architecture makes it unique among the Joseon-era compounds.
In a bid to modernize the country, one of the last Joseon rulers installed electricity in Deoksugung in 1900 and erected a modern pavilion combining both Western and Korean elements, the Jaeonggwanheong. However, during the Japanese occupation, it was transformed into a cafeteria.
Moreover, a European-style, stone palatial building was commissioned, the Seokjojeon. The building was designed by the British architect John Reginald Harding in the Neo-Renaissance style. A typical European garden complements the Seokjojeon. Today, it houses the Korean Empire History Hall.
The Seokjojeon West Building is a later addition; it was opened in 1938 as the House of Yi Art Museum. It continues to serve as the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
A word of caution, though: it is said that any couple who walks the Deoksugung Stonewall walkway is fated to break up. You have been warned!
You can also book a walking tour and learn about the history of this impressive palace. It is done during the night, for a more impressive view.
Entrance ticket fee: Adult: 1,000 won ; Children: 500 won
Address: 100-120 99 Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul
Subway: City Hall Station (subway line 1) exit 2
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Jogyesa is the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.
The Jogye Order is the representative order of traditional Korean Seon Buddhism. Its roots are over 1200 years old when the Latter Silla Master Doui brought Seon from China (‘Seon’ is what we call ‘Zen’ in the West).
The Buddhist Orders were persecuted during the Joseon period. Instead, the new rulers favored Neo-Confucianism as the basis of their society; its strong influences still permeate modern Korean culture, although most religious South Koreans are Christians. According to government statistics from 2015, almost half of the population is irreligious, nearly 30% are Christian, 22% are Buddhists, and less than 1% are Confucianists. You’ll surely notice the numerous churches once you arrive in Seoul.
Although Seon Masters raised troops and protected the country during the first Japanese invasion of 1592-1598, Buddhist monks were not allowed into the cities until 1895.
The Jogyesa temple dates back to the dawn of Joseon in the late XIV century, and it became the center of the Jogye Order in 1936. Initially called Gakhwangsa Temple, it changed its name in 1954 to reflect its central position in the Jogye Order.
Apart from the temple itself, the courtyard hosts a couple of unique trees over 500 years old: a White Pine tree, brought by Chinese missionaries, and a Chinese Scholar tree. Can you imagine that these trees were already hundreds of years old at the time of the American Revolutionary War?
More recently, the Temple grounds witnessed events we usually don’t associate with Zen living. For example, in the 1990s, two different Buddhist factions came to blows, and hundreds of monks engaged in violence using makeshift weaponry. Everyone has a breaking point, it seems.
Guided tours in English, are held daily except Saturdays from 10 AM, 12 AM, 14 PM, and 16 PM. The only day when you can see the temple whenever you want, without a guided tour, is on Saturdays.
Admission Fee: Adults 1000 won; Children: 500 won
Address: 55, Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Subway: Jonggak Station (Subway Line 1), Exit 2; Anguk Station (Subway Line 3), Exit 6; Gwanghwamun Station (Subway Line 5), Exit 2.
Make your back towards Bukchon Hanok Village passing through Insadong. A mix of old and new, Insadong concentrates the most art and antique shops in Seoul.
It is known for its traditional Korean culture and bustling local shops that line the streets. Here you can find everything from antiques to handmade crafts, as well as delicious street food and unique teahouses.
Stop to buy some valuable souvenirs, grab a bite at one of the traditional restaurants hidden on the narrow streets, or grab a cup of tea at Osulloc Tea House.
Walk along the Cheonggyecheon stream
The Cheonggyecheon Stream is a 10.9-kilometer-long urban oasis that runs through the heart of the city, and you can easily walk there from Jogyesa Temple and Insadong.
The stream is bordered by parks and walkways that are filled with vibrant sculptures and art installations. It was once an open sewer, but in 2005 it was restored to its original beauty as part of an ambitious urban renewal project. Today, it serves as a tranquil refuge for locals and visitors alike who come to take in the natural scenery or enjoy leisurely strolls along its banks.
Day 2 – Explore Gangnam
Southern Seoul, or the south of the river as for the direct translation, is the new and vibrant area in town.
While you will find it hard to see it all in one day alone, I have tried to help you scratch the surface and see its highlights.
Famous because of Psy’s song “Gangnam Style”, Gangnam is a neighborhood and a way of living. Seoul’s most expensive area, and the home to some of the nicest parks and shopping malls in town.
Stroll through Sinsa and Garosu
Take the bus or the subway and cross over to the southern part of Seoul. Hannam Bridge links Yognsan to Gangnam and is one of the most picturesque places along the river.
You can even start your day with a stroll along the river, heading towards the street of Sinsa-dong and Garosu. Home to some of the most famous and luxurious brands, packed with small cafes or perfume and cosmetics stores, you might be shocked to find a horse inside.
Another thing that will surprise and impress is the number of cosmetic surgery clinics crowded in this area – around Tehran-ro (street).
From Sinsa, don’t walk on Dosan-daero (Boulevard) but step on the smaller streets and allow yourself to get lost on your way to Dosan Park.
Have a coffee and brunch at a fancy place or enjoy a SPA treatment
In the area of Dosan Park, you will find plenty of cafes and coffee shops, but also flagship stores for some of the most famous Korean cosmetic brands.
Most offer an experience and some also have SPA facilities.
South Korea is home to some of the most popular and qualitative cosmetics, and you cannot leave without pampering yourself for at least one hour.
Sulwhasoo Flagship Store is hosted in an impressive building right next to Dosan Park. On the ground floor, they host a small museum showcasing the brand’s history and some facts about Korea’s beauty history.
On the second floor, they have a small shop where you can also try most of their products and choose your favorites.
Also, they have a SPA where you can enjoy luxurious treatments with their lush cosmetics, infused with Korean ginseng.
On top of the building, they host a nice rooftop terrace, from where you can enjoy the surrounding area.
Next door, have brunch at Dear Dahlia’s Flagship Store with its girly interior or reward yourself with a coffee at the Dior Cafe.
Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple
One of the few Buddhist Temples you will find in the city, it is home to 13 smaller temples each with its history and particularities.
The temple holds a long history (over 1200 years), having been built in 794, the temple is home to 3,479 Buddhist scriptures of 13 types.
Perched on a hill, in between greens, the temple offers temple stays during which you can learn more about Buddhism, sample tea, and learn more about the temple itself.
Before Buddha’s Day in late summer and around the Lunar New Year, the temple is decorated with colorful lanterns. They are actually a symbol of Buddha’s enlightenment and can be admired along with listening to chanting and other processions that take place during this time.
The temple also has a tea house in one of the smaller houses, open since 2018, where you can take a break and savor a cup of delicious tea.
COEX Mall and Starfield Library
Next door to the temple you’ll find the famous Starfield Library hosted inside the COEX Mall.
Follow the signs, walk between Korean and international brands, and get to the photogenic library. The place has been thought of as a place for relaxation and socializing. Even if you would be able to read in Korean, you wouldn’t be permitted to borrow books and magazines, but you can read them inside the library.
Apart from the library, COEX Mall hosts an impressive indoor aquarium where you can enjoy a unique “mermaid performance”. The place is also known for having the highest number of sharks in South Korea.
Lotte World Tower
Hop on the subway and head to Jamsil for South Korea’s tallest building. Try to make it just in time for sunset, and you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city.
The Sky Tower is Korea’s tallest building, and the Lotte World Tower is hosted on 117 – 123 floors. Apart from the stunning views, you can experience one of the world’s fastest elevators.
Another option would be to extend your time spent around the Lotte World Tower, especially when you don’t feel like walking so much.
The itinerary can easily be altered when you purchase the Songpa L-Pass. The pass included entrance to Lotte World Adventure, Lotte World Aquarium, and Seoul Sky. That would mean that you can spend the whole day here, without getting bored.
Lotte World Adventure is a major recreation complex, with the world’s largest indoor theme park, and an outdoor amusement park. No matter if you are traveling with kids or you simply want to have fun, this is the place for you!
Day 3 – Namsan Mountain and Itaewon
Today will be about hiking (or not), views, and one of the most iconic areas of Seoul: Itaewon.
Seullo translates to “towards Seoul” or “Seoul street” and is an elevated sky garden in the heart of the city. Get off at Seoul Central Station and take one of the elevators to the former highway overpass.
Especially during spring or summer, a walk on the suspended overpass will both delight and impress you. From here, you can see the beautiful building that hosts the central train station, with its blue cupola, one of Seoul’s gates, but also the wide boulevard and the crazy traffic.
Different types of flowers are cared for every day by workers and await you to discover them on your walk towards Namsan Mountain.
Read also the complete guide for how to get to Namsan Tower!
Namsan Mountain and N Seoul Tower
As you get close to the famous Namdaemun Market, on your right-hand side you will see one of the roads that lead to the park below N Seoul Tower.
Namsan Mountain is the highest peak in the center of Seoul, home to many plants and birds, but also one of the favorite recreation spots for South Korean people.
You can easily get to the top of the mountain by cable car or by bus (no. 02, 03, or 05), but hiking there is rewarding and an experience in itself. The hike is moderate and offers lots of viewpoints where you can stop along the way to catch your breath.
Hiking from either side of the mountain took us around one hour.
On the top of the mountain, the N Seoul Tower will welcome you with an observation deck and plenty of restaurants with an unforgettable view.
In the area surrounding the tower, you will find plenty of photography spots, but also a famous bridge and trees covered with thousands of lovers’ padlocks.
Descending from the mountaintop towards Itaewon will take you through a forest where you will find it hard to believe you are still in the heart of this huge metropolis.
The area is well known for Koreans and not only as the “ex-pat” district since this is where most expats and tourists choose as their base camp.
However, Itaewon is a colorful and vibrant area, packed with murals, trendy cafes, stunning views, and a Culture Trace Journey where you can learn about Seoul and this part of town.
One can easily spend half of the day walking up and down the hilly streets and enjoying a delicious meal.
Visit The Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art; explore the Itaewon Mosque, shop on the antique street, or simply taste some international oriental cuisine.
End your day with a traditional dinner at the Korea House restaurant. The setting is impressive, the food is delicious, and they often have shows or wedding ceremonies you can admire.
Day 4 – go on a day trip outside of Seoul
While the city offers many more things to do and see, you might want to consider some of the most popular day trips outside of Seoul.
DMZ (the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea) is visited every year by hundreds of thousands of tourists, even though Koreans don’t think much of it. Read our complete guide for a day trip to DMZ here!
Nami Island, the Garden of Morning Calm, and Petite France are stunning in every season, but you shouldn’t think twice during spring or fall.
Paju, Incheon, Suwon, or Chuncheon are only a few other places easily reachable by public transportation, and worth visiting from Seoul.
Option 2: 4 Days in Seoul Itinerary off the beaten path
If this is not your first time in Seoul, and you are looking for some off-the-beaten-path attractions and things to do, I will help you with an itinerary option.
These are some of the places I loved exploring once I got to know Seoul better. Of course, I always loved climbing Namsan Mountain or exploring Gangnam, but these are a few things to consider when you want to do something else.
Day 1 Buam-Dong and lunch + skincare treatment in Myeongdong + Nanta Show
Maybe our favorite Seoul neighborhood, tucked away from the hustle and bustle, packed with nice things to enjoy.
It is an area full of history and culture and has been home to many famous Korean figures over the years.
The area is known for its traditional markets, ancient temples, and vibrant street life.
Visitors can explore this unique part of town by taking a walk through its narrow alleyways or visiting one of its many restaurants or cafes.
Buam-dong also offers a variety of cultural activities such as concerts, art galleries, and festivals throughout the year that make it an ideal destination for travelers looking for something different from the usual tourist spots in Seoul.
For lunch, stop by Jaha Son Mandu, a Michelin-star restaurant worth waiting in line for. The food is delicious, and if you are lucky you might catch a seat by the window. Try the cinnamon sweet drink at the end of your meal, you won’t regret it!
In the afternoon, pamper yourself with a facial at one of the best-known places in town: O HUI&WHOO SPA in Myeong-dong.
Once you are relaxed, go for the popular Nanta Show at the Theather in Myeong-dong.
The show has been captivating audiences since 1997, with its unique blend of traditional Korean percussion music, comedy, and improvisation.
It follows the story of four chefs who are trying to prepare a wedding banquet within an impossible time limit while dealing with unexpected obstacles thrown their way. With thrilling performances that combine martial arts and acrobatics, the Nanta Show is sure to provide an unforgettable experience that will leave you laughing and amazed.
Day 2: Relax at a Jjimjilbang + go on an evening tour of Suwon
One of the best things to do in South Korea, especially after spending a few days or weeks exploring, is to spend a few hours at one of the best Korean SPA in Seoul.
There are plenty of great options in Seoul, Incheon, or Busan, and offering yourself a few hours of pampering is always a good idea. If you are traveling during winter in Korea, the rainy season, or you just love a good SPA, you should not skip this experience.
We loved our experience at Aquafield in Hannam, and you can read all about it and the rules to know in our comprehensive Jimjilbang guide.
End the day with a short trip outside of Seoul. Go on a night tour at Suwon.
It is a 5-hour trip that will take you to see Hwaseong Fortress under the moonlight.
Built between 1794 and 1796 to protect the city of Suwon, the fortress is an outstanding example of Korean architecture and engineering from the late Joseon period.
The fortress walls are 5.52 km long and contain four large gates with two smaller ones within them. Inside the walls, there are several historic sites such as palace buildings, pavilions, command posts, observation towers, and shooting galleries that were all built during this time period.
Hwaseong Fortress has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1997 due to its significance in Korean history and culture. It stands today as a testament to Korea’s rich cultural heritage and acts as an important reminder of how far Korea has come over the centuries.
Option: If you are passionate about technology, spend the whole day in Suwon, on a guided tour of the Samsung Innovation Museum and Hwaseong Fortress.
Day 3: Have coffee in Yeouido Park, visit Seonyudo Island Park, and go on a food tour in Mangwon
Start your day in Seoul’s financial district, but come here for the park along the Han River.
Get your coffee from Tailor Coffee in the Hyundai Department Store, and walk towards the river. From here, you can admire the I Seoul U sign, together with Seoul’s iconic skyline.
Go for a walk along the river all the way to Seonyudo Island Park. The small park is set on an island and it is filled with flowers, especially if you are visiting during spring or summer.
From there, you can take the bus and easily get to Mungwon – a less-known area, very popular with Koreans. You can explore the cafes and night market on your own, but I strongly suggest booking a food tour.
You will be joined by a local guide who will take you to some of the best food stalls in Seoul.
Day 4: Seoul Forest + Seongsu Neighborhood + Evening Cruise on the Han River
Seoul Forest Park covers more than four million square meters and offers an array of activities and attractions, from nature trails to amusement parks.
The park has been carefully landscaped with over 400 species of trees, shrubs, and flowers as well as numerous lakes and streams that provide a peaceful refuge from the hustle and bustle of Seoul’s streets.
You can enjoy leisurely strolls around the lake or take advantage of educational programs such as bird-watching tours or classes on traditional Korean crafts like paper making or pottery.
During spring, the park is famous for its tulips, while during fall everyone comes here for the ginkgo trees.
Right next to the park, you will find plenty of cool cafes.
From the park, you can easily get to Seongsu-dong.
The neighborhood has been a popular residential district since the 2000s and is known for its trendy restaurants, cafes, and boutiques.
Seongsu-dong is renowned for its vibrant nightlife scene with numerous bars, clubs, and live music venues catering to different tastes. There are also plenty of shopping areas where you can find products from all over the world at reasonable prices.
Moreover, in the area, you can find the Amore Pacific concept store (one of the best places to try and buy Korean skincare), but also the iconic Dior concept store.
Finish off your day with a cruise on the Han River with a food buffet.
You can admire Seoul’s skyline from the water, and feast on traditional Korean food at a local restaurant.
Other things worth doing in Seoul
Foodies will enjoy a cooking class where they can learn how to make some of the most popular delicious Korean dishes. Prepare 3 main dishes and a stew and enjoy them afterward! See more here!
Go on a walking tour with a local guide and gain an insider’s perspective from a local.
If you are feeling more adventurous, Kayaking and Paddle Boarding on the Han River might spark your interest. Alternatively, you can book a sunset cruise on the river and enjoy the skyline while learning about the most important sights.
Where to eat in Seoul – our favorite restaurants + recommendations by a local
You cannot spend 4 days in Seoul without tasting all the local delicious food!
Apart from our favorite restaurant in Buam-dong, here are a few other recommendations you must try if you are in the area:
A Flower Blossom on the Rice (꽃밥에피다) – in Insadong, Korean traditional food customized by the chef: bibimbap and vegetables, please try to have a course or single in lunch.
GlowSeoul (온천집) – Iksundong no.1 Korean traditional restaurant. They also have a cafe nearby you might want to try.
Pildong Myeonok (필동면옥) – No 1. cold noodle (Pyeongyang cold noodle: originated from North Korea, Pyeongyang). Water cold noodle is the main, and Seasoned cold noodle is the second option. Try to eat water cold noodles (물냉면).
두툼 – Delicious Korean BBQ close to Seoul Station and Seullo.
Din Tai Fung – this isn’t a Korean restaurant, however, we strongly encourage you to try it. The Taiwanese Michelin-star dumpling restaurant is famous all over the world. And you can easily find it in Myeong-dong.
Crystal Jade – a Chinese restaurant with delicious food, located in Myeong-dong.
Cafes with the best view in Seoul
Noop Cafe is open until midnight and has a terrace with a stunning view over the Namsan Tower.
Seoulism is another popular cafe in Seoul with a view over the Lotte Sky Tower. Address: 48-7 Songpa-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 송파구 송파동 48-7)
Sanmotunggi Coffee is set in one of the best off-the-beaten-path destinations in Seoul, our favorite neighborhood, Buam-dong. Address: 153 Baekseokdong-gil, Buam-dong, Jongno-gu (서울특별시 종로구 부암동 백석동길 153).
Type Hangang Cafe caught my eye with its large windows and the perfect view over the Han River and Yeouido. Address: 5th floor, 128 Tojeong-ro, Mapo-gu ( 서울 마포구 토정로 128 5층).
Molto Espresso Bar is located in the heart of Myeongdong and has a rooftop terrace overviewing the Cathedral.
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