Your Finnair Guide: Seoul, your soulmate destination
Hyo Jeong Chang, a copywriter at Finnair, shares all her top tips for exploring Seoul, from must-sees to hidden gems. Discover the best of Seoul like a local by visiting breathtaking temples, trying out the tastiest local foods and taking in the nicest scenic views of the vibrant city.
Are you looking for a getaway that satisfies all your senses non-stop? Seoul, the vibrant capital of South Korea, might be your soulmate destination! Seoul is everything you can imagine—a beautiful blend of old and new, limitless culinary experiences, lively nightlife—and so much more.
Something old among the high rises
One of the must-visit districts in Seoul is Jongro-gu, home to many historical and cultural landmarks. Take a stroll through Gwanghwamun Square, a public space with statues of two of the most important figures in Korean history: King Sejong, the creator of the Korean alphabet, and Admiral Yi Sun-sin, a celebrated naval hero. From there, you can take in the views of the modern buildings lining the road and Gwanghwamun Gate, the main gate to Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Step back in time in royal palaces
Head to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the grandest of Seoul's five palaces. Explore its beautiful compounds including the throne room, the National Palace Museum and the stunning Gyeonghoeru Pavilion. The palace is beautiful year-round, but spring and autumn are the best for walking around in mild weather and colourful scenery.
- Wear a hanbok for free palace entry: it is common for people to rent this traditional Korean dress and enter all palaces in Seoul for free. Book a rental online or find a shop near the palace.
- Take a free guided tour: check the times of free guided tours provided in several languages including English.
- Take a night tour in spring and autumn: during these seasons, the palace opens for limited evening hours. In spring 2023, the tours run until the end of May, and foreigners can purchase on-site tickets (limited to 200 per day).
If you want another unique royal palace experience, head to the World Heritage Site of Changdeokgung Palace and its Secret Garden. The picturesque Secret Garden wows locals and tourists alike. It is a hidden haven in the heart of the city, featuring a lotus pond, pavilions and a wide array of rare flora and fauna. To visit, you must book a guided tour either online or on-site.
If you time your visit closer to Buddha's Birthday, which is usually in May (27 May in 2023), you will see a breathtaking display of thousands of colourful lanterns in Jogyesa Temple. The annual Lotus Lantern Festival (Yeon Deung Hoe) takes place through the weekend before Buddha's Birthday. This cultural festival is open to everyone and includes events such as street celebrations, a parade and traditional lantern exhibitions.
Another Buddhist temple to explore is Bongeunsa Temple, located in Gangnam-gu. It is famous for its large statue of Buddha and tranquil atmosphere.
Make your taste buds dance all day long
Seoul's incredible food scene will fuel your adventures. Gwangjang Market, located in Jongro-gu, is one of Korea's oldest and largest traditional markets. It offers not only all sorts of Korean street food but also textiles and handmade crafts.
Grab a seat at stalls selling bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), kalguksu (knife-cut noodles), bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables and meat), mandu (dumplings) or hotteok (sweet pancakes). Immerse yourself in the bustling atmosphere and friendly greetings from vendors. Bring cash with you just in case and be prepared to wait in line – it usually moves quickly.
Outside Gwangjang Market, Seoul is still a playground for foodies. You can check the list of restaurants from the Michelin guide for Seoul introducing options from down-to-earth gukbap (hot soup with rice) and Korean barbeque to upscale places. Naver Map or Kakao Map are also excellent sources to find restaurants near you and check reviews.
Cafés for a quick pitstop or relaxing break
Did you know there are over 17,000 cafés in Seoul? Coffee is more than just a drink in South Korea. It is a strong part of the culture. You will find many takeaway cafés like Mega Coffee offering a wide selection of beverages. Americano is always a safe choice, but if you are feeling more adventurous, try sweet potato latte, matcha latte or boba tea.
If you want a unique, Instagrammable café experience, head to Bukchon or Ikseon Hanok Village. These neighbourhoods are filled with beautifully preserved traditional hanok houses. When in Bukchon Hanok Village, find a café serving Bingsu, a shaved ice dessert with sweet toppings such as red bean, roasted soybean powder and rice cake.
While exploring Ikseon Hanok Village, visit Cheongsudang Café, an aesthetic spot with a gorgeous garden and creative desserts. Try black sesame fromage cake and stone drop egg coffee.
Escape the hustle and bustle to green spaces
The cherry blossoms at Yeouido Han-river Park are a must-see during the spring. The pink and white blossoms in full bloom create a stunning backdrop for a picnic. If you’re in the mood for an evening stroll, Bangpo Han-river Park is an ideal choice from April to October with its fantastic Banpo Bridge Moonlight Fountain Show.
Cheonggyecheon, the stream that runs through the heart of Seoul, is another green gem. The lush trees and cool running water along the walking trail make it an oasis in hot summer.
Visit Seokchon Lake Park for a scenic view of cherry blossoms and Lotte World Tower, the sixth tallest building in the world. After strolling in the park, go up to the top of Lotte World Tower around sunset. A fantastic panoramic view of Seoul with orange skies will steal your heart.
City perfect for night owls
Seoul is wide awake at night. You can start from Hongdae, a lively neighbourhood known for its youthful vibe and numerous bars that stay open until the early hours of the morning.
When you are in the mood to seize the moment in a frame, pop in one of the photo booths. It is an activity beloved by locals as you can capture memories easily for the affordable price of 4,000 KRW (2.7 EUR). Photo booths are equipped with fun props and even hair styling tools!
Finally, top off your night by belting out your favourite K-pop tunes in a noraebang, a Korean-style karaoke with private cubicles that are perfect for groups or solo singers looking to let loose.
Your Finnair Guide series showcases different Finnair destinations through the eyes of Finnairians. Join us to discover unique and not-so-obvious areas, places, sights and experiences that are worth a visit – those that locals also enjoy.