With far more to offer visitors than just massive shopping malls and late-night K-Pop karaoke, make the most of life in the city by following our guide the best hidden gems in Seoul.
1. Jeongdong Observatory
For some of the best views across Seoul, head up to the 13th floor of the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Seosomun Building 1 and settle down for a coffee at the Jeongdong Observatory. Once home to government offices, this floor is now open to the public and is a spot which not many tourists hear about so it’s not often crowded, plus it’s free to visit! From your bird’s-eye perch you’ll even be able to look down over the beautiful Deoksugung Palace.
2. Café Saru
Coffee-lovers from all around the world have nothing but good things to say about this place. Tucked away off the busy Kyungridan-gil street, the skilled barista (Saru himself) in this tiny café makes every fresh drip coffee by hand and serves each cup with a tiny bunch of fresh flowers. The café is filled with bunches of local and dried flowers and the coffee, made with only the best sustainable beans, is well worth the wait.
3. Bamdokkaebi Night Market
Between March and October, every Friday and Saturday evening from 6pm the Bamdokkaebi Night Market transforms the Yeouido Hangang Park into a celebration of street food and culture. Food trucks offer up a huge range of delicious and experimental eats from creative young chefs, cultural performances and live music dazzle visitors, and the market’s shopping street is lined with stalls selling arts and crafts made by hand by local designers.
4. Try a Temple Stay
Buddhism is a huge part of Korean culture and history, and the country has thousands of stunning temples. In recent years, a growing trend of ‘temple stays’ have seen temples open their doors for day guests and overnight visitors, keen to learn more about Korean Buddhist culture or seeking a meditative experience. Myogaksa Temple in downtown Seoul offers a range of short programs including days designed to tackle anxiety, filled with bell ringing, traditional tea ceremonies, meditation and time spent with a Buddhist monk.
5. Subway Malls
Koreans have a reputation for loving their shopping, so it’s no surprise that Seoul offers endless opportunities to shop ‘til you drop. But before you dash off to max out your bank card in the high street stores, head for one of the many subway malls! Yep, there are modern malls hidden underground at subway stops, including ones at Gangnam, Jonggak and Euljiro stations.
6. Gwangjang Market
And once you’ve surfaced from your underground shopping bonanza, head to one of Seoul’s more traditional markets. The Gwangjang Market is one of the city’s oldest and largest markets, serving up cheap local street food and beautiful hand crafted and traditional goods, including silks, vintage clothing and unique homewares.
7. 10th Floor of The Express Bus Terminal
Now that’s a catchy name for a rooftop bar! Well, technically it isn’t a rooftop bar, but hidden on the tenth floor of the Express Bus Terminal is a rooftop garden that boasts quite the lookout over the city, and is home to two Korean BBQ restaurants at which you can grab a beer. With it’s grassy sections, park benches and superb view, it’s fast becoming one of Seoul’s trendiest places to enjoy a drink.
8. Seochon Village
Many visitors to Seoul opt to visit the busy and crowded Bukchon Hanok Village to experience life in traditional Korea. Instead, dodge the crowds and head to Soechon, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city which has managed to stay a bit more hidden from the tourist trail. Here you can wander past 500-year-old hanok houses, but also pop into charming modern coffee shops and browse stylish art galleries and boutique stores.
9. The Dongdaemun Secondhand Book Street
Literally an entire street dedicated to books, pretty much heaven for any bibliophile. With stalls and shops lined up side by side, their crammed bookshelves heaving with paperbacks, here you can spend a whole day rifling through the pages of everything from modern novels to the classics, comics and collectibles, if you wanted to.
10. Alternative Space LOOP
For over 20 years, Alternative Space LOOP has been providing a not-for-profit gallery and creative environment for contemporary arts and culture. With a range of changing exhibits from international experimental artists who address social issues with their work, accompanied by events like artist talks, this is every art aficionado’s Seoul dream.