South Korea is the land of the morning calm. And in no place is that fact more true than in the densely populated capital city of Seoul. The peaceful and serene mornings you will experience here will be such a stark contrast from the previous night of high-energy nightlife of partying, adventure seeking, city hot spots, and tourist attractions. But this contrast is what makes Seoul one of the most exciting metropolitan cities in the world to visit!
There is simply too much to do and see on one weekend trip in Seoul. You will need to come visit a few times to really dive deep into everyday culture here. But let’s take a look at some of the highlights of things you should choose to experience in the short time you may be here.
Day 1 in Seoul
There is simply nothing better than getting off a train, plane, or bus and immediately soaking yourself in hot refreshing waters. Korean spas, known as jimjilbangs, are frequently open 24 hours and fairly cheap with the current exchange rates. You will see how families in Korea will make it a whole day affair of snacking, napping, and steeping.
Be aware, though! You are expected to be naked in the gender-specific sections of the spa, and it’s considered quite rude to try to wear a bathing suit in this environment. Honestly, it’s worth it to get over any shyness for the relaxation that awaits and could make an interesting story to recap to friends.
There is even a spa in the Incheon international airport to rest your weary bones after a long flight! Most flights from Europe and the Americas can take between 10-15 hours so this may be well worth it before you head out into the city.
Korean Barbecue is one of the best things to eat on the planet and one of the top foods to have in Korea. Marinated grilled meat is somehow elevated in one of these restaurants. Make sure you get some soju (Korea’s preferred liquor choice) on the side and leave your day-drinking rules behind!
While any BBQ restaurant you decide to choose is sure to have something delicious, I find that Ichadol has the best quality beef (black Angus) and a delicious fried cheese option. It is a chain restaurant, however, so if you’re looking to avoid there are a million other choices.
Sightseeing Cruise on the Han River
One of the best ways to get to know a city is to cruise by it. It will also save your feet from too much walking!
The Han River is a great place to see a quieter side of Seoul, and also some real Korean culture. It’s common for people to picnic and day camp on the side of the river. Grab a popsicle from one of the outdoor convenience stores and board your ship.
For this itinerary, you’ll want to do one of the day cruises. However, the nighttime tours give you a great view of the city lights, so decide how you want to spend your evening ahead of time. Some of these cruises will provide lunch and dinner buffets with even live music performances.
ChiMek is another popular meal option in Seoul – and while not the most “traditional Korean” thing you might think of, it is tradition here to get this before a night of partying. Chi stands for chicken. And Mek stands for Mekju, which is the word for beer.
So, fried chicken and beer are a fantastic way to start the evening. There are so many fried chicken restaurants in Seoul, and most of them are chains, but I find the Chicken and Beer restaurant is one of the best for those who want crispy breading.
Club-Hopping in Hongdae
While there are many places in Seoul to enjoy clubbing and all the different music vibes the city has to offer, Itaewon and Gangnam being other popular neighborhoods, Hongdae is the best. It has plenty of clubs, bars, restaurants, boutique shopping, and clubs. It is near one of Seoul’s many universities so expect a mid-20s kind of crowd. The clubs aren’t picky about the type of customer they want or super expensive. And they’re a good place to experience what the college scene is like here.
If you’re a woman, get started early by going around the different clubs and collecting some wristbands for free (not a perfect system, it depends on the night you decide to go out). Expect predominantly EDM music, although NB2 often does pretty good mixes of pop and K-pop songs.
Day 2 in Seoul
So your first day in Korea was a blast and you got plenty of good stories and experiences. Since you might be suffering the worthwhile ill effects of last night’s revelries, we’ll take things a little slower today for you to recover.
Choose a Palace
There are around six true palaces in Seoul for tourists and locals, but if you’re only planning on one of them during your time here there can be only two to choose from. Changdeokgung is my personal favorite for the Secret Garden tour. However, it’s hard to deny how gorgeous the photos are from Gyeongbokgung as well. It all depends on your time constraints and how much interest you may have.
A fun activity at the palaces is to dress up in traditional clothing, called hanbok. It will consist of 4 single pieces like any outfit, the top (jeogori), pants (baji), women’s skirt (Chima), and for men a coat (po). The Korean government supports people engaging in the country’s traditional culture by providing free entry to anyone wearing a hanbok to the palaces or the shrine. Local cafes and restaurants by the palaces will sometimes also provide discounts if you decide to spend your day like this.
Any café will do as café-hopping is the Korean way of life. But your feet might be hurting after all the walking so it’s good to rest up here. Solgaheon is one of the more popular cafes in the Bukcheon traditional area of Seoul.
Seoul is frequently faced with waves of trends in food, cafes, and activities. And getting a delicious cooling drink while soaking your feet is currently one of them! If you’re wanting to experience what else is on the trend list, check out the Best Cafes in Korea list.
A Light Lunch
You don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to sample fantastic street food while you are here. Street food is the sometimes unmentioned highlight of any city. Insadong is an area nearby that is well worth a wander. Sample Heotteok, a kind of Korean donut with honey and nuts inside made right in front of you. Or Egg bread, or those fish-shaped desserts filled with red beans – there are a million delicious options in Korean cuisine.
Of course, you’ll need something savory and the absolute best place for that is Bukcheon Son Mandu. Mandu is dumplings, and this location has huge, deliciously fried versions that eclipse every other version I’ve had. They’re perfect for a quick, cheap lunch.
One of the coolest and most underrated places in Seoul, it’s only about $1 to get inside. It’s one of Korea’s most culturally significant monuments. It’s been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the mid-’90s and it’s no surprise why. Much larger than you might expect, these traditional buildings were involved in Korea’s traditional shamanistic religion. It was then more focused on Confucianism in later centuries. Services were performed for Korean royalty during the Joseon period and the Jongmyo Jerye is considered the oldest ceremony in the world. Sometimes, the ritual ceremonies consisting of a mix of music, dance, and song still take place!
Something Unique for Dinner
Since everything else on this list has been pretty budget-friendly so you can stretch your trip here, it might be worth considering a splurge on some truly divine food at a Michelin Star Korean Restaurant. Mingles is a restaurant in Seoul that takes traditional Korean ingredients and recipes and elevates them.
Everything is fresh – and even picky eaters might find themselves loving something they never would have considered before! Expect seasonal menus, high-quality hanwoo beef, and famed Korean seafood.
However, if you’re not looking to spend tons on dinner there is no shortage of other fantastically delicious locations. Some dishes to look for include Samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), Budaejjigae (Korean army soup), and of course Korean BBQ again(so good!).
As you can see, a weekend in Seoul is just scratching the surface of everything it has to offer! If you’re planning on a whirlwind tour of Korea aside from Seoul, you have a lot to choose from. There are some wonderful day trips from Seoul that really let you explore the hidden gems of Korea. If you’re planning to head to Busan after Seoul, you should check out this Busan Itinerary. Incheon and Gyeonju are great additions to any Korean tour. It’s always a great opportunity on expanding your horizons in this wonderful country. Hope to see you there so we can share a toast!