Are you traveling to Seoul for the first time but want to skip the crowds as well? Or is this your second or third time in the city and you want to discover some hidden gems? Here are my favorite places for Seoul off the beaten path you must explore.
I have gathered here places popular with locals, but less explored by tourists. It is true that most of these places are a bit further from the main tourist attractions, but most will be definitely worth the effort.
You will get to explore old neighborhoods transformed into cool and hip areas, colorful places such as the Gamcheon Village in Busan, and beautiful parks outside of the city.
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Seoul off the beaten path: 10 places to skip the crowds
Useful Travel Information for Seoul
Before we start going over the less-known attractions of the city, maybe you will want to go over this useful information that will help you better plan your trip.
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)
10 off-the-beaten path destinations worth seeing
This residential neighborhood is tucked away on the cliffs of Bugaksan Mountain. You won’t find the bustling streets you might be used to around Hongdae or Insadong, and there are no skyscrapers like in Gangnam.
Don’t come here for cosmetics or tourist attractions, because you will be disappointed. However, this is the place to go to if you are looking for local art galleries, narrow streets with breathtaking views, pretty cafes, and some of the best local restaurants in town.
We really enjoyed this area and went back whenever we had a chill afternoon or wanted to enjoy a coffee with a view.
Visit Seoul Museum with its contemporary art exhibitions, stop by Seokpajeong, a former royal villa with impressive gardens, and relax at one of the many cool cafes on the cafe street. Bugak Skywalk is not easily reached but will enchant you with some of the best views of the city.
Where to eat in Buam-dong
We always went for lunch at this authentic traditional Korean restaurant with delicious food (specializing in dumplings) and breathtaking views. The restaurant is part of the Michelin Guide and is called Jaha Son Mandu. Go early for lunch if you want to catch a good table because this place is very popular and gets crowded fast.
It is also worth knowing that this is a traditional restaurant where you will be required to leave your shoes at the door. You can find out more about dining in South Korea here.
One of the cafes with the best views, popular with locals and tourists alike, is Sanmotunggi Coffee.
Another beautiful cafe and restaurant with a nice garden and beautiful views is Amelia Bailey.
How to get to Buam-dong
As mentioned before, this area is relatively secluded, but not impossible to reach. While you won’t have the subway at your disposal, there are several buses that will take you up the mountain.
Of course, you might need to walk a little, but that will be good exercise after all that delicious food.
From Seoul Station – take bus number 7022. This bus also stops at Lotte World Plaza in Myeongdong.
From Gyeongbukgung – take bus 1020.
Another neighborhood less explored by tourists, Seongsu is considered by locals one of the most photogenic areas of Seoul.
What was once an industrial area, packed with factories and leather manufacturers, has now been gentrified and transformed into a cool area to explore.
People come here to take pictures with the murals available at every step, but also to enjoy a coffee at one of the many hip cafes around.
Come here if you want to shop for hand-made leather shoes or other goods, but also for the Seongsu Cafe Street.
One of my favorite cafes, Onion, has a branch in Seongsu as well, and I suggest you won’t miss it. You will find it at 8 Achasan-ro, 9-gil, Seongdong-gu.
Also, don’t miss a walk through the coolest clothing store in town – Ader. It is a Korean brand with a unique interior design. You might have to wait in line to get in, but it will be worth it.
Cosmetics lovers should not skip the Amore Seongsu Concept Store – a whole building packed with some of the most popular cosmetic brands. You can try as you like, do your hair and makeup, and also go home with some sample gifts.
How to get to Seongsu-dong
Getting there is much easier than for the previous stop on this list because Seongsu is set on the subway green line. Get off at Seongsu Station and simply allow yourself to get lost on the streets.
Eunpyeong Hanok Village (은평한옥마을)
Forget about the Bukchon Hanok Village (or don’t and come here as well) and head over to the new and picturesque Eunpyeong Hanok Village.
With the mountains in the background, tens of traditional hanok houses are waiting for tourists to admire them. As expected, these are inhabited places so please pay attention and don’t be too noisy.
The ambiance you will discover here is much different than the one in its centrally located “brother”, but that’s what I loved about it.
Set in the middle of a lush green area, you won’t miss the fancy Korean restaurants or cafes with a view.
The village was founded in late 2014 when houses were built from scratch in an effort to increase the region’s tourist attractions.
If you cannot go to Gyeongju and admire the impressive royal tombs, get lost on the hill behind the hanok houses and you will discover a small shrine with a few tombs.
One of the most popular cafes offering the most stunning views, but also a fancy restaurant on one of its floors is 1인1상. We were lucky to find a table by the window, and you might as well when you come in early.
How to get there
Once again, this place is a bit further away from the city center than you might expect. However, you can easily get there by subway and bus.
From Seoul Station, there is a direct bus that will take you straight in front of the Eunpyeong Hanok Village. Bus 701 will take you there in roughly 45 minutes.
Seonyudo Island Park
A beautiful park in the western part of the city, set on a small island in the middle of Han River. The place is worth visiting especially during spring, summer, or fall, because of its charming colors.
The place is not big, but once the blooms start you will find it hard to leave without taking millions of pictures. In the middle, there’s a small bamboo corner, and from its edges, you can admire the river and the city views.
Tucked away close to one of the entrances, you will find a small greenhouse, a piano, and a few friendly cats.
During our walk, a lady was playing the piano, the wind was blowing gently, and the cats were playing between the colorful tulips.
How to get to Seonyudo Island Park
Getting to the island is easy no matter which side of the Han River you are coming from.
From Seoul Station, take the subway for 8 stops all the way to Seonyudo Station. Take line 1 for 3 stops, change to line number 9 at Noryangjin, and ride for another 5 short stops.
Ihwa Mural Village (이화동벽화마을)
Ihwa Mural Village was once a popular tourist destination, pretty much like the Gamcheon Village in Busan. However, the area lost part of its attraction and importance during the time we spent living in Seoul, mainly because of the lack of tourists.
The village is only a little bit off the beaten path, only one stop away from Dongdaemun, in the Jogno-gu.
Ihwa is a colorful corner of Seoul and one where you will find many pretty cafes, but also k-drama shooting locations. I must admit I am not a k-drama fan, but it is difficult to miss the most important spots since they are marked for tourists.
Once again, as mentioned for other spots on this list, you should respect the resident’s peace and privacy. Never forget this is a neighborhood where people live their day-to-day lives.
From the top of the hill, you will see a part of the city’s old walls, and get to admire Namsan Tower and the city skyline.
How to get there
As mentioned before, getting to Ihwa Mural Village is not too difficult, especially by subway from Seoul Station.
Take the direct line number 4 and get off at Hyehwa Station. The whole ride will take less than 15 minutes.
Since we lived in Mapo-gu, Haneul Park was one of my favorite destinations to go to for a walk, ride a bike along the river, or grab a coffee with a view.
Truly off the beaten path, this park is set on top of a hill in the western part of the city, close to the Digital Media City subway station. You can climb on foot for 20 minutes to the top, or you can take a small train if you don’t feel like exercising.
From the top of the hill, you will be welcomed by stunning city views – the Han River with its many bridges, World Cup Stadium, Namsan Tower, and even Lotte Tower in the distance.
During spring and fall, there are various types of plants that draw people in search for beautiful pictures.
Haneul means sky in Korean so this is the park in the sky.
How to get there
From Seoul Station, take the Airport Railroad line to Digital Media City Station. From there walk or take line number 6 to World Cup Stadion Station.
Take Exit 1 and you will have to walk a little to get to the park, and most importantly, to the top of the hill.
Hwarangdae Railroad Park
Even though you might have heard of some of the previous places on this list, I am sure this is a hidden gem yet to be discovered.
The old railroad station has now been transformed into a beautiful park where people come to walk and admire nature, especially during spring and fall.
Inside the station’s building, there’s a museum dedicated to trains in South Korea, and one of the old trains has been transformed into a small library for children.
How to get there
From Seoul Station, take subway line 1 to Seokgye and change on line 6 to Hwarangdae.
If you get all the way here, you shouldn’t miss the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
The Tombs are set in an idyllic park, in between hills and forests, and have been perfectly preserved throughout the years. Even though the area is so important to Korean history, it is still a hidden gem not visited by many tourists.
If you only want to go to the Royal Tombs, you can simply get off at Seokgye Station.
Also in the area, within walking distance, there’s the beautiful cafe street Gongneung-ro. Colorful murals, a park along the old railroad lines, cafes and restaurants, everything waiting to be discovered without the crowds of tourists.
Yangju Nari Park
For every flower lover’s dream destination, Nari Park is only open during the fall. Even though the place is outside of the city, set in the countryside to the north of Seoul, the trip there is worth taking.
You will discover countless types of flowers in various colors, with the beautiful mountain as your background.
Of course, in the area, even though a very residential place, you will find a few nice cafes with delicious food and great coffee.
How to get there
From Seoul Station take subway line 1 all the way to Yangju Station. From there, take bus number 80 or bus number 77-1 to Haedong Village 해동마을 or Nari Park. You will have to walk a little until you find the actual park, but it won’t be too complicated.
This is a new attraction in town, a filming set turned into a theme park. If you haven’t been to Japan or you want to go back for a few hours, you can do so at the Najimori Studio.
The themed park is set in Dongducheon some 60 kilometers outside of Seoul in its northern part. You can rent a kimono and take pictures in it, enjoy a delicious ramen soup, and take plenty of pictures.
Address: Gyeonggi-do, Dongducheon-si, Cheonbosan-ro, 567-12 KR
Mullae Art Village
Another hidden gem tucked away from the curious eye of normal tourists. A place where old and new collide.
Once a bustling factory, this area saw its workers move away and was taken over by young artists and small ironworks that transformed it into the art village that it is today.
Of course, there can’t be any popular place in Seoul without trendy cafes, and you will find them around this area as well.
How to get there
From Seoul Station head over to Hongik University, and from there take the green line to Mullae Station. The ride takes roughly 25 minutes and requires one change.
Other useful Travel Resources
Driving in South Korea – a complete guide