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Planning a trip to the country of the “morning calm“? Seoul is a city where tradition meets modernity making it one of the most interesting and vibrant cultural destinations. After all, this is where you could see historical buildings brushing shoulders with skyscrapers. Whether you are looking for ideas for things to do in your Seoul itinerary, where to stay or how long to stay, you’ve come to the right place. I hope this 3 day itinerary will help you while planning your trip to Seoul, be it 1, 3 or 5 days.
- 1 How to spend 72 Hours in Seoul: 3 Day Itinerary
- 2 Day 1: Discover Traditional Seoul
- 3 Day 2: Discover Central Seoul
- 4 Day 3: Explore the South of River Han
- 5 Eating
- 6 Preparing your trip
- 7 Staying there
How to spend 72 Hours in Seoul: 3 Day Itinerary
Here are our recommendations for a 3 day itinerary in Seoul. So read on to discover which places you absolutely need to visit in Seoul.
Day 1: Discover Traditional Seoul
Day one of our 3 day itinerary will focus on the northern part of the city centre. This day is all about discovering the traditional and cultural parts of Seoul. Expect palaces & temples hopping and exploring the village style neighbourhoods of Insadong and Bukchon Hanok Village
Insadong is the most traditional and cultural district of Seoul yet trendy. Here you find teahouses, Korean restaurants as well as traditional shops selling anything from souvenirs, hanbok, pottery and craft shops or handmade hanji paper. I found Insadong to be my favourite place in Seoul.
I loved strolling in the charming narrow alleys of Ikseon-dong. Although they seemed the same, they were similarly different: each of they lined with cutely decorated shop or cafe. In the middle of the traditional hanok buildings, you can find various cute local designer boutiques, modern cafes, traditional tea houses.
We were lucky that our hotel was located right by the entrance of the village. We explored both during the day and again the following morning when there was no tourists. Similar to the Bukchon Hanok Village, the Ikseon-dong Hanok Village is also a village with private residences.
The Ssamziegil complex located on the main pedestrian street has cozy cafes and mural-lined stairwells leading to a roof terrace.
The atmosphere is very different during the day and night. As soon as the sun goes down, pojangmacha (tent bars/snack carts) pop up on the street. A whole street nearby Jongno 3-ga station gets flooded with dinners giving a unique feel to the area. For a more comfortable setting, you can head over the the Korean barbecue restaurant located in the side streets of Ikseon-dong.
Access: Line 3 Anguk and Jongno3-ga
After exploring the streets of Ikseon-dong, make your way to the Jogyesa Buddhist temple. If you are looking for unusual things to do in Seoul, then you should check out. Jogyesa is not only an important Buddhist temple but also offers temple stay experiences. You can find out more on their website here.
Another Buddhist temple worth a visit is the Bongeunsa. Located south of the river among glass and steel clad buildings it’s a relaxing temple. Spend some time here after a long day sightseeing and partake in the tea ceremony offered by monks. The delicious tea was welcomed after drinking coffee for days.
There aren’t only temples that can be visited in Seoul. Not far from the palaces is the Royal Jongmyo shrine. This Confucian sanctuary is dedicated to the Korean kingdom of the Joseon dynasty. It’s a shame that this little gem, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is ignored by tourists.
Access: Jogyesa (Line 3 Anguk/Line 1 Jonggak) – Jongmyo (Line 1 Jongno 3-ga)
If you like visiting historic buildings, you will love Seoul as the city has no less than 5 palaces (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung and Gyeonghuigung). We visited the main three (Gyeongbokgung and the complex of Changdeokgung & Changgyeonggung). If you only have time for one palace, I recommend visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Gyeongbokung Palace, first constructed by King Taejong around 1395, is the most impressive and expansive of all 5 palaces. It was the main place of residence of the royals, though they moved to Changdeokgung following the Japanese invasions. The palace was then rebuilt in the 1800s and destroyed again following more invasions by the Japanese. The several hundred buildings of the compound are being restored in a very convincing way.
To note: Closed on Tuesdays. You can join a free guided tour (in English) at 11am, 1.30pm or 3.30pm. Entrane fee is ₩3,000 but free if you wear a full Hanbok or have the Discover Seoul Pass. If you want to see the changing of the guards, you can check the schedule here.
Access: Line 3 Gyeongbokgung Station / Line 5 Gwanghwamun Station (take exit 9 and walk north past the King Sejong statue)
Hanok Bukchon Village
Ideally situated between Changdeokgung and Gueongbokgung palaces is this small traditional hanok village. It was once the place where the Joseon Dynasty nobles lived. Now, it has become a favourite with Koreans and tourists who enjoy strolling the streets and taking Instagram worthy pictures.
It’s important to note that the traditional tiled buildings are private properties therefore people should respect the residents’ privacy. If most of the houses remain private residences, some have become tea houses, galleries or craft shops. You can see N Seoul Tower from the highest point but the best thing to do is to get lost in the narrow streets.
Access: Line 3 Gyeongbokgung or Anguk Station
Day 2: Discover Central Seoul
KBeauty shopping and street food in Myeongdong, markets hopping, DDP and best views at N Seoul Tower
Day 2 is about exploring the modern side of Seoul. All of these attractions and sights are located in the central part of the city.
My friend observed that there was little green space in Seoul. This observation might be true but for me Seoul is green. Proof lies with ” Cheonggyecheon stream ” a hidden green gem. Cheonggyecheon, a 10 km walk along surrounded by a stream, plants and flowers is the perfect place to unwind. Along the stream which starts at the City Hall, there are fountains, bridges, murals, sculptures and statues. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants in the streets above making it a good spot for morning or late afternoon strolls.
Interested in shopping? Whether you are looking for clothing, skincare, make-up, souvenirs or street food, Myeongdong is the place to be. Without a doubt the busiest pedestrian area in Seoul, it is full of people walking up and down the busy shopping streets. Whether you are planning a Seoul 3 day itinerary or 5 day itinerary, Myeongdong should be in your itinerary. When you get tired from shopping, take a relaxing break in one of the many coffee shops. One thing is sure, Koreans have two pastimes: shopping and coffee shops!
Having travelled with someone who had an unhealthy love for Korean markets, I visited a lot during my 2 weeks trip to South Korea. Every time we visited a city we had to stop by their food market. Gwanbgjang is by far one of the biggest Seoul markets. You’ll find anything in there however the main attraction of this market is the food. I mean stall after stall of mouth-watering Korean food. We also visited Dongdaemun Market as well as the largest traditional market Namdaemun. Don’t leave without trying the mung bean pancake!
If i had more time in Seoul, I would have participated in a cooking class and learn to create a Korean dish.
N Seoul Tower
Mount Namsan is an important place in Seoul. As the largest park in Seoul, it attracts lots of visitors daily coming to enjoy nature, the skyline or hike on one of the many hiking trails.
Rather than venturing into the park, we stopped at the Namsan Seoul Tower. The N Seoul Tower is one of the most iconic landmarks of Seoul. It offers some beautiful views from the observation platforms so shouldn’t be missed in your 3 day Seoul itinerary. Entry is ₩10,000 per person but free if you stay at the base of the tower (the view is incredible too) Book your entry ticket here.
You can get to the mountain either by taking Namsan Cable Car or take the Yellow Bus. For those not afraid of exercising a little, walking is also possible. It takes about 30 minutes to get to N Seoul Tower from the cable car parking lot.
Day 3: Explore the South of River Han
Nightlife in Itaewon and luxury shopping in Gangnam
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
I love architecture, whether ancient or modern. So, if you are passionate about architecture too, you will love Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Designed by London architect Zara Hadid, the building has a futuristic feel to it. The building is impressive by its round shape, size and metal features.
Inside the building hosts several art exhibitions, concerts, fashion shows,museums, concept stores etc…
Not far from the DDP is Dongdaemun Market. Not like the other markets, Dongdaemun is actually a cluster of shopping malls, shops and vendors located within the same area. Namdaemun Market. As the largest traditional market in Korea, it spreads over many streets and offers shoppers almost everything. Whether you are looking for clothing, jewellery, street food, toys, souvenirs or electronics, you will have all at affordable prices. We ended up buying lots of souvenirs including ginseng tea and trying lots of street food.
Access: Line 1 Dongdaemun History and Culture Park
Gangnam is probably the most famous district for tourists thanks to a certain PSY. With a name meaning “south of the river”, Gangnam is an area with a particular style. You will find there the homes of the mega rich, luxury shops, headquarters of Korean top brands and KPop companies (including training centres) or multinational businesses, and cosmetic surgery offices.
Among all those, you will find the COEX, a mega shopping centre with all the entertainment you could think of (shops, restaurants, aquarium, cinema and the impressive Starfield Library). Contrasting with the modern buildings, stands the 91 foot tall Maitreya Buddha statue, symbol of Bongeunsa Temple.
Access: Gangnam station (Yellow Bundang Line) or Samseong station (Line 2)
You can enjoy a relaxing walk or bike ride in Yeouido Hangang Park. Take a moment to sit back and enjoy the riverside with some delivered “chimaek” a pairing of fried chicken and beer. People seem to love to have chimaek on the Han River. You see groups of friends, couples spreading out blanket on the grass and getting chicken delivered to them. We got lots of flyers handed to us which was futile since we couldn’t order in Korean!
Later, you can embark on a cruise and discover the beautiful view of the Hangang River as well as some attractions along the way like the 63 Building Namsan Tower or the Banpodaegyo Bridge. You can get on top of the 63 Building’s observatory for a nice night scene of Seoul.
If you like having a bit of fun and exploring the nightlife, you will enjoy Hongdae and/or Itaewon. Hongdae is where things happen (especially if you are under 25!). It’s primary a student district since it’s home to Seoul’s largest university: Hongik University. The streets are filled with cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, shops, karaoke bars, late night shopping etc.. Streets are packed on Saturdays with party-goers, tourists and street performers. I found that I wasn’t a party animal. In any case, I didn’t like the student filled neighborhood as much as my travel companion (or I would have thought). I’m not sure if it was due to the jet lag or just the vibe.
Access: Line 2 Hongik University Station
Itaewon is the international district of Seoul with a large number of western-styled restaurants and bars. It’s not only the international district in Seoul, but also the location you will find designed hotels, a mosque (Itaewon is where the Muslim community is based) and art galleries.
Visit Itaewon Market for some vintage clothing or if you like museums, you can visit either the National Museum of Korea or the War Museum of Korea.
No Seoul itinerary is complete without a food section. The food scene in Seoul is so diverse and good that it would be a blasphemy to visit without trying it. The options for traditional are huge, same goes for the international cuisine. It is easy to eat Indian, Japanese, Italian, or even French in Seoul. Among the korean specialties, you can find: bibimbap, tteokbokki, bulgogi, pajeon etc….
Here are some of the places we’ve tried:
- Tosokchon Samgyetang – yummy ginseng chicken
- Gwangjang Market – for street food
- Gimbap – similar to Japanese maki – try either at Myeongdong or Gwangjang food markets
Preparing your trip
When to visit
Choosing the best time to visit Seoul depends on the things you are planning to do.
- Spring: Like in Japan, spring is the cherry blossom season in South Korea so the city will be warm and full of beautiful colored flowers.
- Summer: It rains a lot in June and July due to the rainy season. August can be very hot and humid in summer.
- Autumn: Best time to see the changing of the leaves, the city will be full of colour and temperature will be cool.
- Winter: Korea is very cold, especially in January.snow is very common as well as below freezing temperatures. Having said that, it’s perfect for ski lovers.
How many days should you spend in Seoul?
This is a simple yet difficult question to answer. I would say it all depends on the length of your trip to South Korea. My travel companion had initially allocated only three days in Seoul, which I found to be a little “harsh”. After all Seoul being the capital city is bound to have lots of activities and things to do. If the activities and attractions listed above can be done within 72 hours, you will need extra days to include for example some day trips. Also, if you are interested in taking your time exploring things without rushing from one place to the other, then 5 days in Seoul might be ideal.
Getting from Incheon to Seoul
In order to get from the airport to Seoul, you have 4 options:
- Airport Railroad Express (AREX): this is the fastest and cheapest way to get Incheon International Airport (T1&2) to Seoul Station. You can get a free one way ride with Discover Seoul Pass.
- Private transfer: if you are travelling as a group or depending on your state of tiredness, you might want to get a private transfer directly from the airport to your hotel
- Airport Limousine: budget friendly way if you have a heavy suitcase is to get the airport limousine. Most hotels or AirbNb will give you the bus number closer to them. ₩10,000 per ride.
Getting around Seoul
- By Underground:
The easiest way to get around Seoul is by using the metro. The underground is well connected and cheap. You can either buy a single ride ticket or purchase a T-Money recharge card. The T-Money card makes the experience simple; you just add money on it and use it for your transport journeys (metro, bus,taxi) or purchase in some convenience stores. The card costs 2,500 won and is not refundable. If you still have some funds at the end of your trip, you can get a refund minus a transaction fee of 500 won.
- By bus:
buses are another convenient way of traveling. The cost of the fare will be slightly different depending on the bus colour you use. Yellow buses: ₩1,200 per ride, blue and Green buses: ₩1,300 per ride and Red buses: ₩2,400 per ride. You get a ₩100 deduction if you use a T-Money card.
- By taxi:
Surprisingly, for a capital city, Seoul taxis are affordable and very convenient. There are 2 types of taxi through. The regular taxis have the “taxi” sign and are much more cheaper than the deluxe taxis. They are recognisable with their black and yellow stripes.
The accommodation on offer in seoul range from budget hostels to luxury hotels. There is something for everyone. During our trip as first-timers, we wanted to stay in a central location therefore decided to stay in Insadong. Ibis Ambassador Insadong was ideal for our needs. Well located, friendly staff and has a terrace which offers nice views over Seoul skyline.
- Insadong: district where the palaces are located, Insadong is the most cultural and traditional neighbourhood in Seoul. Best choice if you stay less than 3 days in the capital.
- Myeongdong: this district right in the centre of Seoul is a popular place to stay. As the number one place for shopping and street food, it’s no wonder.
- Gangnam: commercial district is home to tall skyscrapers and luxury hotels
I assumed Seoul to be like Tokyo but in fact, it felt like a more modern and fast paced version of it’s Japanese neighbour.