South Korea's capital is a pulsating, dynamic modern city with all of the gastronomic and entertainment attractions visitors could need, along with plenty of fascinating historical sights, beauty spots, and places to shop.
If you want to shop for creative, locally designed fashion there's nowhere better than Dongdaemun market. If you want to gorge yourself on bibimbap and kimchi, Michelin-starred chefs at restaurants like Jungsik Dang will oblige. If you need entertainment, there's live music every night in Hongdae, and if tranquility is your goal, the hills of Bugaksan are there to explore.
Whatever you want from your vacation, Seoul will deliver. From college students to senior couples, everyone can find something to enjoy in this fantastic city.
If you love fashion, Seoul has it all, from international brands like Zara or H&M in Myeong-dong to quirkier domestic designers at Dongdaemun and the snappy tailors of Itaewon.
Korean food is enjoying its place in the sun, with people across the world waking up to the allure of bulgogi (shredded beef in soy sauce) and bibimbap (vegetables, rice, spice paste, and meat). The city is full of great places to eat, with options for all budgets, so be sure to tuck in during your visit.
Seoul has been around for 2,000 years and has been the capital of Korean states for over 600 years, so the city is packed with historical interest. Don't miss Changdeokgung (the Royal Palace), with its elegant gardens, or the Jongmyo Shrine, the burial site of Korea's imperial family.
Modern Seoul feels like a very young city at night, thanks to its many nightclubs, internet bars and music venues, and it's definitely a place to party. Experience the energy of districts like Gangnam, where the soju (rice wine) flows liberally all night long and the dance music never seems to stop.
Another great reason to go is the city's transport system, the centerpiece of which is the Metro (subway) that links over 500 urban stations, has WiFi on every train, and a basic fare of just ₩1,050.
While there are several palaces in South Korea's capital city, this is the grandest. Originally built in the 14th century, it has been reconstructed throughout a tumultuous history, and stands resolute today. Walk the grounds to your heart's content to take in the history and beauty, with interesting stops along the way like the National Palace Museum and Folk Museum. Visit the charming Bukchon Hanok Village a short walk away to extend the immersion into Korean culture through the ages.
For sweeping views of Seoul, make your way to the top of this mountain at the heart of the capital. To get there, either use a set of well-trodden steps or ascend to the peak with an exciting cable car ride. Go at sunset for a romantic experience! At the top you will find the iconic Seoul Tower rising into the sky. The restaurant offers panoramic perspectives across the city. For those who love to hike, Bugaksan Mountain is an exciting climb as well.
The ultimate commercial area in Seoul is Myeongdong. It teems day and night with millions of shoppers enjoying the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life. After sundown, neon lights come alive along every street, which is truly a sight to behold. Shop til you drop or simply take in the scene, and stop by the two historical sites - Myeongdong Cathedral and Nanta Theater. For a more off-brand and atmospheric shopping experience, hit the nearby Namdaemun Market.
For a couple of miles, the Cheonggyecheon stream offers respite from the busy surrounding city. The walkway is sunken many feet below street level, with soothing babbling water to cool you down. At night, the area lights up with a contemporary laser show that blows all others out of the water - an unforgettable sight. When you're ready to wander the city streets again, find two of Seoul's favorite markets, Dongdaemun and Gwangjang.
This quintessentially Korean entertainment complex is like no other place you've ever seen - radically fun. There are never-ending thrill rides both in the outdoor "Magic Island" park and in the adjacent adventure park - which happens to be the largest indoor theme park in the world. The scale is absolutely massive, and the themed fun goes on and on. A movie theater, luxury hotel and spa are also on the premises, so everyone can find something to make them happy, and then some more.
Seoul is at its best in early summer and early fall, when the weather is warm but doesn't have the intense humidity of high summer, which won't be too everyone's taste. Try April or September for the best sightseeing conditions. If you're up for an outdoor adventure, winter can be a great time to visit too, with ski resorts in the nearby hills.
The vast majority of international flights touch down at Incheon International Airport (ICN). From there, your best option is to take the AREX rail service into Seoul which takes 40 minutes and costs ₩8,000. Limousine buses are a good alternative, particularly for large groups, and cost ₩15,000. Public buses are around ₩8,000, but no faster than trains.
Seoul can be reached by train from all of South Korea's major cities, including Daegu, Busan, and Gwangju. There are two stations in the city center, Seoul Station and Yongsan, and both of them are on the Metro, so finding your accommodation should be easy.
For those driving from Busan or Daegu, just take the Gyeongbu Expressway all the way to Seoul (but check whether you'll need to pay any tolls before you leave). There's also a direct road connection from Gwangju in the southwest, and the journey takes around three hours to complete.
Seoul is South Korea's busiest bus terminal, with five intercity bus stations dotted around town. Most domestic services terminate at Gangnam Station, which is on lines 3, 7 and 9 of the Metro, so is readily accessible from most parts of town.
Seoul is huge, and there's no single hotel district. However, areas like Jongno and Hongdae are popular among backpackers, with plenty of affordable accommodation. For higher-end hotels, check out the Grand Hyatt Seoul and the JW Marriott, which has its own golf driving range and Olympic-sized pool. The Ritz-Carlton is another luxury option, with a handy location at the heart of Gangnam.
Gangnam – made world famous by rapper Psy's single "Gangnam Style", Gangnam is every bit as exciting as the song suggested. Well, the area around Gangnam Station is, with an endless choice of bars and clubs. The rest of the area is more civilised, with historical attractions like the Bongeunsa Temple and places to chill out like the Yangjae Citizen's Forest.
Jongno – north of Gangnam, Jongno could hardly be more different. Instead of the skyscrapers and clubs of the center, Jongno is Seoul's historic core. It's home to the Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung, and Changdeokgung palaces and charming neighborhoods like Bukchon, a picturesque community of ancient homes and streets.
Jung – Jung makes up the eastern part of Seoul's historic center, and it's the place to be if you love to shop. That's because Jung hosts both Myeong-dong and Dongdaemun markets, home to chain stores and the city's up-and-coming local fashion designers.
Seoul has one of the world's best subway systems. The city Metro covers every corner of the city via its 18 lines. Fares are cheap and rise depending on how far you travel. If you get hold of a rechargeable T-Money card the basic fare is just ₩1,250. Buses are slower but slightly cheaper, at ₩1,050 per journey with a T-Money card.
Seoul has a tiered taxi scheme with standard taxis (orange or silver) and deluxe taxis (black and yellow). Fares for standard taxis are ₩3,000 for the first 1.4 miles, then around ₩1,000 per mile. Deluxe taxis cost ₩4,500 for the first two miles, then around ₩2,000 per mile but are much more comfortable.
Given the quality of the public transportation system, few people choose to rent and drive in central Seoul, but having your own car can be handy to get out to attractions like Bugaksan Mountain or the electronics market at Yongsan. Rental companies in the city include Sixt, Europcar, and Avis and you can find deals as cheap as ₩23,000 per day.
Seoul is a fantastic shopping destination. If you want to head home with suitcases stuffed full of designer garments, Myeong-dong is home to brands like Uniqlo and Zara, while Dongdaemun hosts department stores like Doota and many smaller Korean brands. But it's just as much fun to wander around Gangnam, stumbling across places like the men's tailor Beaker or the designer outlet ILMO.
Buying food and drink in Seoul is easy and there are supermarkets in every major neighborhood. Some of the most popular food stores include E-Mart, Lotte, and HomePlus, and there are a number of traditional markets as well, like Gwangjang and Garak. If you shop at supermarkets, expect to pay around ₩9,500 for a gallon of milk and ₩3,100 for a pound of apples.
Food is one of the major highlights of a vacation in Seoul and the selection is almost infinite. If you want an authentic, beautifully prepared bibimbap, look no further than Gogung in the Myeong-dong district. For succulent Korean BBQ meals, the cosy Wang Bi Jib restaurant is unbeatable but Gangnam's Sutbul Mapo Galbi isn't far off. But you'll also find no end of street stalls selling grilled pork belly, chicken skewers and much more, so try to explore. Expect street food to cost around ₩4,000, a good bibimbap to come to around ₩7,000 and sit-down meals to cost more than ₩10,000 - not expensive for the quality available.