40) Yongsan Electronics Market / 용산 전자 상가
Many foreigners come expecting electronics to be cheap, given Korea’s reputation as a leader in the industry. They are not and you will find even domestic brands such as Samsung more expensive than abroad. However, the magnitude of hundreds of electronic shops in such a small place itself is something you have to see to believe.
Pro Tip: While buying electronics is expensive, services such as fixing a computer or camera cleaning is relatively cheap in Korea. I fixed my old Asus laptop here for $30 after being quoted over $200 in the US.
39) Jong-no 1Ga & 2Ga / 종로 1가 & 2가
Jongno is another district of Seoul with fantastic Korean food, entertainment, and all around good times. Whether you’re in the mood for churros, jjim dalk, or a game of beer pong, Jongno is ready to deliver. It is also in close proximity to historical sites like the Boshingak Belfry and the very pretty Cheongye Stream. After a full day of palace viewing, walk on over to Jongno to wrap up the night.
This year, I’ve split up Jong-no into two areas because it is just massive and being more specific made sense.
38) Bukdaemun / Sukjeongmun / 숙정문
While lots of people have heard of Namdaemun and Dongdaemun, few have heard of the third remaining great gate of Seoul. Bukdaemun, also known as Sukjeongmun, is located in Bukaksan park (not to be confused with Bukhansan National Park), on the north side of the Seoul Wall. One of the things that makes this gate interesting is that you have to go through a military checkpoint just to see it!
It is believed that the 1968 assassination attempt of the South Korean president by North Korean agents was carried out after they got a good view of the presidential house from Bukdaemun. Imagine if there was a big tourist attraction on a hill directly behind the White House, and you can see how this could be a real security threat. Make sure to bring your ID or your passport as they will not let you enter otherwise.
Pro Tip – Want to see the gate but kind of lazy to hike all the way from Seongbuk-dong? Take a cab (or drive) here. This is the shortest possible hike to the gate. When there is a lazy need, there is a lazy way.
37) Gyeonghui Palace (Gyeonghuigung) / 경희궁
Gyeonghuigung is one of the five great palaces of the Joseon Dynasty which was unfortunately destroyed during the Japanese occupation. It has been recently rebuilt and although smaller than the original, it is still an interesting place to visit away from the crowds. If you are into those off the beaten paths, look no further than Gyeonghuigung.
Pro Tip – It is connected through a walking path directly behind the Seoul Museum of History. It’s a good idea to just swing by after you’re done in the museum.
36) Kansong Art and Culture Collection / 간송 문화 재단
This private museum in Songbuk-dong, Seoul contains what many consider to be some of the most important relics of ancient Korea. They include the Hunminjeongeum, the original manuscript detailing the formation of the Korean language from the 15th century AND the Thousand Crane Vase (pictured above), popularized to English audiences by Linda Sue Park’s novel A Single Shard.
Every year, the Dongdaemun DDP Plaza holds an exhibit with part of the Kansong Art and Culture Collection, similar to the partial display they do every season in their own museum. It is said that the collection is too massive to display in either location, giving further incentive to visit more than once.
Pro Tip – This year, from April 13, 2017 – October 12, 2017, the DDP is hosting an exhibit of the Hunminjeongeum mentioned above, and the equally important Nanjungilgi, the memoirs of Admiral Yi Sun Shin. Both of these are rarely displayed, and lets just say I read about this 10 minutes ago and I am going tomorrow. Possibly the best collection displayed in the last decade.
35) Korean Stone Art Museum / 우리 옛돌 박물관
This museum underwent an expansion and reopening in 2016. It is a bit pricey at 7,000 won, but totally worth it considering the sheer amount of pieces they possess. Located in Seongbuk-dong, it gets an additional serene ambiance in contrast to the fast-pace rest of the city.
Oh yeah, about the museum! A local enthusiast has spent over four decades collecting stone works from all over the country. Totems big and small are displayed in the fantastic indoor and outdoor museum which you will likely have to share with only a handful of visitors.
34) Dongdaemun Design Plaza / DDP / 동대문 디자인 플라자
This weirdly shaped building in the middle of Seoul is the work of Zaha Hadid, a world renowned British-Iraqi architect who recently passed away. The amorphous structure is kind of interesting to look at and regularly hosts a ton of exhibitions from the Kansong collection (April-October, 2017) to a Pixar exhibition (April-August, 2017). Even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, just swing by and I’m sure you’ll find something you like.
Pro Tip – There has been a recent trend of food trucks in the area (Friday and Saturday) which is pretty neat. If you don’t see them outside because it is winter, they will likely be inside the DDP as they were last winter.
33) Dongdaemun History and Culture Park / 동대문 역사문화 공원
The subway stop formerly known as “Dongdaemun Stadium” was renamed upon the stadium’s demolition and an astonishing discovery that threw everyone for a loop. A large section of the original Seoul Wall was uncovered underneath the rubble. This part was like none of the other remaining parts as it had flood gates perfectly preserved. To an archaeology buff, there are few things more amazing than finding a 600 year old part of history.
Pro Tip – If you’re here in the summer, there are food trucks right outside. Besides the food, which is hit and miss, the summer nights in this area are pretty nice to just walk around and snack.
32) Konguk University Area / 건대
The Kongguk university area, or Kongdae for short, is one of the largest commercial districts in all of Seoul. Its abundance of college students (I make them sound like a natural resource) also means that there are plenty of places to have a great meal or drinks on a budget. With some places offering all you can drink cocktails for a mere $15 USD, this place just can’t be beat. Join the hundreds of young people any day of the week and you’ll surely have a great time.
31) Jongmyo Shrine / 종묘
Jongmyo is a Confucian Shrine holding the spirits of every Joseon King since the dynasty’s formation in 1392. Every May, there is a huge festival known as Jerye / Daerye with performances, parades, and ritual offerings. This tradition has gone nearly uninterrupted for six centuries. On regular days, entry to this UNESCO World Heritage site is by guided tour only as there are very few explanations (if any) throughout the entire complex.
Pro Tip – Read up on the history of Jongmyo or it will feel incredibly boring… trust me.
30) Seoul Wall / 서울 도시성
The Seoul Wall was initially built at the turn of the 15th century by the first kings of the Joseon dynasty. Back then, building a huge wall around your city was all the rage and everyone was doing it, so why not Seoul! Many sections still remain or have been refurbished in a push to restore Korean historical structures in the last few decades. My favorite part of the wall is directly west of the Hyehwa gate in northern Seoul. It is a bit tricky to reach, but the location on the map (provided on the first page of this post) points to this section of the wall. It is up for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage site in a year or two.
29) N. Seoul Tower / N. 서울 타워
Namsan Seoul Tower is the best place to get a good panoramic view of Seoul. The tower is built on the top of Namsan Mountain. To get to the entrance, many guidebooks will tell you to take the cable cart to the summit, a terrible idea. The line is 2 hours long (if you’re lucky) and the real view is from the top of the tower anyways, so don’t waste your time and money. The best way to get up there is to take one of the ‘Namsan’ buses (green color) off of Chungmuro Station (or Hoehyeon). They are much faster (10 minute wait), cheaper (1 USD), and environmentally friendly (electric). Conversely, you could also hike up to the summit, which is an excellent walk along parts of the Seoul Wall. This is a good activity to do late at night at it is open till midnight on Friday and Saturday. Bring your significant other though, as this site pushes the couple feel a bit much.
Pro Tip – While the spring is very pleasant, it is also yellow dust season and the air can go from unpleasant to downright toxic. Namsan tower lights up blue, green, yellow, and red to correspond with good, average, bad, and very bad air respectively. Kind of a neat quick check.
28) Deoksu Palace / Deoksugung / 덕수궁
The newest and most complete of the five great palaces of Seoul is Deoksugung, located next to city hall. This palace was the residence of choice for the last Joseon emperor, and his self-proclaimed “Great Han Empire.” In a bid to modernize Korea, European style architecture was introduced across the country and this royal home was no exception. One of the central buildings that looks strange and out of place with its Greek-like columns is in fact, original.
27) Namhansanseong Fortress / 남한산성
Namhansanseong is a mountain fortress and a recently added UNESCO World Heritage Site located south-east of Seoul. The site has been famous since the 7th century as the birthplace of King Onjo, first monarch of the Baekje Kingdom. The wall we see today was built in the 17th century and was the place of a heroic battle against the invading Manchus. While it is becoming more and more popular, most people stick to the small village located within the fortress with has some awesome Korean delights.
Pro Tip – The west side of the wall heading uphill is the least traveled and most people don’t bother to scale the actual wall at all.
26) Jogye Temple (Jogye-sa) / 조계사
As the head of Korean Zen Buddhism, Jogyesa is considered to be the most important temple in Seoul, despite not being one of the three jewel temples. While not remote or as elaborate as Haeinsa, the main hall and its golden Buddhas are stunning. During Buddhist holidays, many lanterns decorate the entire place and there is even a huge parade that leads to it on Buddha’s birthday. Despite being in central Seoul and right next to Insadong (later on the list), it is not as crowded as you would expect. If you are interested in a ‘Templestay,’ the headquarters for the program is located across the street.
Pro Tip – The temple is technically closed at night but if you’re being respectful and very quiet, the guard will let you walk around. Just be mindful not to use flash photography and use your super indoor voice.
25) Seoul Museum of History / 서울 역사 박물관
This centuries old city had a very interesting history which is beautifully captured in this museum. The most impressive exhibits are the two full city miniatures on the second floor which give you a sense of just how massive the megalopolis really is.
Pro Tip – The current special exhibition is about the life in the shanty town on the Cheonggyecheon Stream during the 1960s. This is one of those really forgotten parts of recent history which you could also learn more about in the Cheonggyecheon museum, located here.
24) Donggureung / 동구릉
Donggureung is one of the 18 sites forming the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, but by far the most impressive. The complete set of 40 tombs has been preserved despite the Japanese colonization. The story goes that during Japan’s attempt at culturally liquidating Korea, the entrusted grave-keepers lied and insisted they were tombs of their direct family. The trick worked, and today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site remains intact.
23) Namdaemun Gate / Sungnyemun / 숭례문
The Southern Gate of Seoul, also known as Namdaemun or Sungnyemun is classified as historical treasure #1, so we can determine with certainty that they were not numbered in alphabetical order! Lame jokes aside, this gate is the largest of the remaining six great gates of Seoul. In 2008, the wooden tower that sits on top was burned down by an act of arson. As of May of 2013 it had been repaired and reopened to the public. I was actually interviewed at the reopening, but didn’t see myself on TV :(.
22) Noryangjin Fish Market / 노량진 수산 시장
Located off of Noryangjin Station, this famous fish market is a depot for some of the freshest seafood around. Ever seen shark heads or wanted to try manta ray? Maybe the freshest salmon around is of your liking? Pretty much any local and edible type of seafood is available and if you are so inclined, there are tons of places just one floor up to eat your recent purchase immediately. My experience in Noyrangjin made a huge impression and my stomach can’t wait to go back.
21) Seoul Medicinal Market and Gyeongdong Market / 서울 약 령 시장 & 경동 시장
Seoul Medicinal Market, located in Jegi-dong, sells ginseng, mushrooms, and other herbs used in ‘eastern medicine.’ It is a historical market that has been around for at least 500 years and is the largest in Korea. The Gyeongdong market is less specialized and sells anything from medicine to shoes to groceries. It is a great place to try some fantastic Korean food and street vendors are abundant. It is hard not to group these as they are adjacent to each other and it is difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.