Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a great travel destination. One of the biggest cities in the world, it has a rich history and cultural heritage, great food, friendly people, a variety of museums, night life, modern architecture along with traditional Korean villages, beautiful parks and scenic viewpoints thanks to its hilly landscape.
We travelled to South Korea in the spring of 2023 and visited Seoul, Gapyeong, Busan and Gyeongju. In this post we’d like to share our 3 Day Itinerary for Seoul. This detailed itinerary is based on our own experience and includes Seoul’s main attractions, visiting old palaces, modern parts of Seoul, parks, viewpoints, food, markets and other things to do in Seoul.
Read about the rest of our itinerary in Korea here – South Korea 7 Day Itinerary.
Read also our post with all the practical information you need when travelling to South Korea (such as public transport details, mobile internet, etc.) – Things to know before travelling to South Korea.
In Seoul we stayed in Insa-dong suburb and therefore the itinerary below is best suited for when staying in that area. However, you can easily tailor it or change the itinerary order if you’re staying in another part of Seoul (see below on where to stay in Seoul).
Day 1 in Seoul – Ikseon-dong Hanok Village, Changgyeonggung Palace, Unhyeongung Royal Residence, sunset at Naksan Park and night views of Seoul at Eungbong Mountain Park
Our flight arrived in Seoul late at night, and by the time we got to our hotel it was around midnight already. So, the Day 1 of our Seoul itinerary started the following day.
First things first – we started the morning with a hunt for a breakfast. Surprisingly, most of the coffee places and cafes were closed at 8:30-9am in the morning. Only Starbucks at Insadong-gil street was open, and so we ended up having a coffee and a sandwich there. Which I wouldn’t generally recommend, because let’s be honest – coffee is no good and food selection is even worse in Starbucks (well, at least in Korea). But saying that, if you travel with kids (hungry kids to be precise), it’s your first morning in Seoul, you’re up early because of a jet leg, and most of the cafes are closed, then Starbucks suddenly starts looking like a viable option. 🙂
Ikseon-dong Hanok Village
First destination of the day is Ikseon-dong Hanok Village. Walk the narrow streets of the village, pop into small cafes and shops (just remember that most of the restaurants in the area don’t open until after 10-11am) and take some pictures of the traditional Korean houses.
I personally found Ikseon-dong Hanok Village more authentic than the more popular Bukchon Hanok village in Seoul.
Originally built in the 15th century and later enlarged and re-built a few times, Changgyeonggung Palace complex lies in a huge green park surrounded by trees and gardens.
Walking from Insa-dong you will reach Donhwamun Gate. You can buy entrance tickets to the palace in the ticket office located on the left from the Donhwamun gate. Check out their official website for opening times and admissions.
Please note, Changgyeonggung Palace is closed on Mondays. If you’re visiting on Monday, then do the Day 2 itinerary first (which includes visiting another royal palace – Gyeongbokgung), and then do the Day 1 itinerary on the following day.
I wouldn’t recommend visiting both Changgyeonggung and Gyeongbokgung palaces (see below Day 2 itinerary) on the same day. They are quite big and it can be too overwhelming if visiting one after another on the same day.
Unhyeongung Royal Residence
Next, make a short stop at Unhyeongung – a former royal residence. This historic complex is currently used for events, tours and weddings. It’s open for visitors and the entrance is free. There are a couple of historical buildings and quiet courtyards inside. Make sure to check inside the buildings as some of them contain exhibitions on display.
Lunch at Insa-dong street
Return to Insa-dong street for lunch. There are many cafes, tea houses and restaurants in Insa-dong. As well as various small shops and souvenir stores.
When we walked Insadong-gil street searching for a place to eat, we simply looked at the menus many cafes put outside. We ended up in a small restaurant located in a basement with only locals eating there besides us (which we took as a good sign) and the food was really good.
After lunch and a good rest, time to get onto those hills around Seoul city center and enjoy the views over the city. There are two options on continuing with the itinerary.
First option is to go on the Seoul Night View half-day tour. This is what we did (booked the tour in advance via Klook). It’s an easy, convenient and fast option to see Seoul from three different viewpoints within one evening. The group was small and the guide was friendly and helpful with lots of tips on visiting Seoul.
Second option is to visit the following places on your own. It’s up to you which one to pick – a tour or to go on your own. The itinerary would be the same, it’s just how you get there will differ.
Sunset at Naksan Park
Try to time your arrival to Naksan Park just before the sunset. It will take about 20-30 mins to walk to the top. If you’re taking the tour, they will drive to the top of the mountain and you won’t need to walk there.
We actually have a dedicated walk in Naksan park on the Day 3 of our Itinerary for Seoul (see below). But on Day 1 we just wanted to see Seoul at sunset and at night from a few different view points in the city.
Night views at Eungbong Mountain Park
Last stop on the Day 1 of our 3 Day Itinerary for Seoul is Eungbong Mountain Park.
You can take a bus to the foot of Eungbong Mountain and then walk to the summit. The views over Seoul from the summit are spectacular. Don’t be surprised to see people with professional cameras and tripods taking pictures there, – locals say it’s the best spot for night views in the city.
As part of the Seoul Night Tour we have also went to Yongyangbong Peak for even more views of Seoul at night:
Day 2 in Seoul – Jogyesa temple, Bukchon Hanok Village, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Cheonggyecheon, Seoul Sky, Seokchon Lake Park, Gangnam and Banpo Bridge
Start the Day 2 in Seoul with visiting Jogyesa buddhist temple located walking distance from Insa-dong. Its main building – the temple with the Budha statue – is surrounded with a spacious courtyard decorated with paper lanterns.
We lived minutes from the temple, so we also visited it after dark – to see Jogyesa illuminated in night lights.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Next, walk to Bukchon Hanok Village. Entrance point to the village is on Bukchon-ro street (at the crossing with Bukchon-ro 11-gil street). The village has many small walking streets with traditional Korean houses (hanok). Though most of the houses are new, they are still built in the traditional style.
The place is very popular with tourists. To avoid crowds try to get there early in the day. You can explore its many alleys, get to the popular Bukchon Village Photo Spot, and then continue towards Gyeongbokgung Palace complex.
Gyeongbokgung Palace (or Gyeongbok Palace) was the main and the largest royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. It’s a huge complex with lots of buildings, small parks, ponds, library and museums. If you are only visiting one palace in Seoul then make it Gyeongbokgung Palace!
Check their official website for details on open hours and admissions. Keep in mind that it’s closed on Tuesdays.
We entered the complex at its northern part near the impressive building of The National Folk Museum of Korea, and explored everything moving to the south direction. We left the palace via Gwanghwamun gate and continued our walk along Sejong-daero avenue.
Gwanghwamun Square lies south of the Gyeongbok Palace. It’s a busy but spacious place among tall modern buildings. Gwanghwamun Square has two massive statues – the statue of King Sejong and the statue of Admiral Yi Sun Shin, green space and a couple of fountains. It’s a nice place to get a coffee (there are a couple of cafes around the square) and just sit and relax watching the city, passing traffic and kids running around the fountains.
Continue walking from the Gwanghwamun Square to the south towards Cheonggye Plaza (you will recognize it by the huge and tall installation of a seashell).
Walk and Lunch at Cheonggyecheon
Have a stroll along Cheonggyecheon stream – 10.9 km stretch of public recreational space right in the heart of Seoul. If you’re staying nearby I would also recommend walking there in the evening – when the surrounding buildings are lit and fountains highlighted in different colours.
Cheonggyecheon has lots of cafes and restaurants in adjoining streets. We ventured to Dadong-gil street and its alleys and found a Korean BBQ restaurant. I think it was the best Korean barbeque experience we ever had (in Korea as well as in New Zealand)!
After some rest at the banks of Cheonggyecheon stream and then lunch we walked towards Seoul City Hall to take a subway to Seoul Sky.
Read our post with practical information on travelling in South Korea, for example, using public transport and paying with Tmoney card – Things to know before travelling to South Korea.
Not far from Seoul City Hall there is another palace you can visit before heading to Seoul Sky. Deoksugung – one of the ‘Five Grand Palaces’ built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. We didn’t go there as it felt too much to visit two palaces in one day, and we didn’t want to rush through it as we still had lots of plans for the afternoon.
Seoul Sky (Lotte World Tower) and Seokchon Lake Park
Spend the afternoon exploring Seoul on the other side of Han river. Famous Gangnam suburb is located on the south side of Han river in Seoul. A viewpoint to Banpo bridge with its colourful fountain is also on that side of the river. The 123-story Lotte World Tower with its Seoul Sky observation deck, as well as Lotte World Magic Island amusement park, as well as many other Seoul attractions are located in the south part of Seoul.
Take a subway to Jamsil station and head to Lotte World Mall. First of all, you can do some shopping in the mall or grab a bite to eat. Secondly, there is an aquarium inside the mall – Lotte World Aquarium – if you wish to visit one. Lastly, the entrance to the Seoul Sky – observation deck of the tallest building in South Korea – Lotte World Tower – is also from within the mall.
Not only the tallest building in South Korea, but also the sixth tallest in the world, Lotte World Tower was on our must see list. In New Zealand the tallest building we’ve been to is Auckland’s Sky Tower (328m high). So, our boys were very excited to visit the 123–story and 554 m high Lotte World Tower.
We bought the tickets right there at the entrance, waited for about 20 mins in line (we visited on a weekday, it probably takes even longer during weekends and holidays) and finally went on the lift to the observation deck. Floors 117 to 123 are open to the public and have different features (sky deck, open air terrace, cafes, etc.). The views from all of them are truly spectacular.
Next to the Lotte World Mall there is Seokchon Lake and a park around it. The park is especially beautiful if you’re visiting during the spring when the trees are blooming (we weren’t so lucky unfortunately).
Gangnam (translates to English as “south of the river”) is a wealthy suburb of Seoul known worldwide thanks to South Korean singer Psy and his “Gangnam Style” music hit.
Take a subway from Seokchon Lake to Gangnam if you want to explore its streets, food and shopping. If you’re interested you can book a guided walking tour in Gangnam.
Last stop of the day is Banpo Bridge and Banpo Hangang Park. Every night from April to October a colourful show of the Banpo Bridge Moonlight Fountain is on. You can watch it from the Banpo Hangang Park, which is a 20 min by bus from Gangnam.
That concludes the Day 2 of the 3 Day Itinerary for Seoul.
If you feel like sightseeing more, take a bus to Yeouido Hangang Park. We had it on our itinerary for its city views over the river and for its ‘I Seoul U’ sign. But we didn’t make it as it was quite late, everyone was too tired and ready to head back to the hotel.
Day 3 in Seoul – Seoul City Wall, Naksan Park, Dongdaemun, Myeongdong, Namsan Park and Mountain and Namdaemun Market
On the last day of our stay in Seoul we noticed, that many people started wearing masks on the streets, in the shops and in public transport. We went online to check air quality and apparently it was very bad on that day. We started paying attention and the smog was actually visible in the air, especially when watching from a view point over the city, for example, from Naksan Park or Namsan Mountain.
It’s just something to pay attention to when in Seoul – air quality may change from day to day and it’s good to have a mask for such occasions.
Walk along the Seoul City Wall
Start the last day in Seoul with a walk along the Seoul City Wall.
Take a subway to Hansung Univ. Station (and exit it at Exit 4), walk 3 minutes to the stairs up to Seoul City Wall. Take the stairs up and then continue walking along the Seoul City Wall.
Naksan Park and Ihwa Mural Village
The trail will bring you to Naksan Park. Enjoy its city views and green alleys.
Continue walking and get down to Ihwa Mural Village. As the name suggests the village on the hills has many murals by different artists.
After taking a couple of pictures with the murals, we continued the walk downhill to Dongdaemun gate.
Dongdaemun is a large shopping district in Seoul. There are many shopping malls, Dongdaemun Market and DDP – Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
We took a picture of Dongdaemun Gate (also known as Heunginjimun gate), did a little bit of shopping (mostly for souvenirs and gifts to bring back home) and walked around the DDP plaza.
Next, take a metro to Myeongdong – another popular shopping and dining area in Seoul. Have a break for lunch at Myeongdong.
We had some snacks at street stalls, and then had a nice iced coffee and milk shakes at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf café while giving our legs a rest.
After that, we walked to Myeongdong Cathedral – the only catholic cathedral we’ve seen during our visit to Korea. Tt’s built in Gothic style and sits on a small hill in the heart of Myeongdong.
Namsan Mountain and Seoul Tower
It’s only a 10 min walk from Myeongdong Cathedral to the foot of Namsan mountain and its cable car station. You can either walk or take a cable car to the top of Namsan Mountain. We did the latter.
We used the cable car to get to the top of the Namsan mountain, spend some time there enjoying the views, N Seoul Tower and the park. Then we walked through the park and back down to the city below.
Finish your day with an evening walk in Seoul and visiting one of Seoul’s many night markets, for example, Namdaemun Market.
You can buy food from the stalls and eat it on the way, or sit down to eat at one of the food kiosks/shops.
Bonus: Day trips from Seoul
During our visit to South Korea we stayed in Seoul for 4 days. We have done the 3 Day Itinerary for Seoul as per above, plus we had a day trip from Seoul to Gapyeong county.
There are couple of half- and one-day trips from Seoul we could recommend:
Petite France/Italy – Nami Island – Garden of Morning Calm. We went on this trip during our stay in Seoul. Even though it was raining on the day of the tour we still enjoyed it and had a great time walking around miniature France and Italy villages, Nami Island and the beautiful Garden of Morning Calm.
Seoraksan National Park – Nami Island – Garden of Morning Calm. This tour is an alternative to the one above but with visiting Seoraksan National Park instead of Petite France/Italy villages. To be honest, that’s the tour I wanted to take from Seoul, but later decided against it. It would be too long and tiring (especially, when travelling with kids) to spend 6 hrs on the bus for a day trip (3hrs each way). But if you like mountains and don’t mind long travel times then this tour could be a great option.
Seoul Night View half-day tour. This private small group tour starts at 3-4pm and includes visiting three different viewpoints over the city – Naksan Park, Mt.Eungbong Park and Yongyangbong Peak. It’s a really easy and great option to see the sunset over Seoul from Naksan park, and night views from Mt.Eungbong and Yongyangbong Peak. We’ve done this tour in the evening of the Day 1 of our Seoul itinerary.
All of these trips can be booked via Klook. When we planned our trip we found that Klook had the best offers for the tours from Seoul.
Where to stay in Seoul
When we were considering different places to stay in Seoul. we wanted something in the walking distance to at least a few of our points of interest. Insa-dong is basically in the middle between Cheonggyecheon, Myeongdong and two palaces we wanted to visit – Changgyeonggung and Gyeongbokgung. Plus, there are few subway stations and lots of bus lines within walking distance in Insa-dong. Plus, lots of eating places around. So, Insa-dong worked very well for us.
Another thing to consider when choosing where to stay in Seoul is pickup points for various tours from Seoul. If you’re planning to take some day tours from Seoul then this might be an important point to consider. With some tour pickup times as early as 7:30am you would want to live within walking distance from the pickup point. Myeong-dong subway station is a popular starting and pickup point for tours. With its central location, many cafes and restaurants around, shopping and proximity to some of the popular Seoul attractions, Myeong-dong is another great place to stay in Seoul.
We’ve booked our stays in Seoul and Busan via Booking.com:
Where to eat in Seoul
Huge city of Seoul with a population of almost 10 million people doesn’t lack cafes, restaurants, coffee shops, street food stalls, markets and other places to eat. When I researched for our trip to Seoul, any suburb I opened on Google Maps had an abundance of ‘restaurant’ signs on the map.
In the central part of Seoul we could recommend Dongdaemun Market, Namdaemun Market or Gwangjang Market for street food. Insadong – for traditional Korean restaurants and tea houses. Cheonggyecheon area for Korean and also European food restaurants. Myeongdong suburb is famous for street food as well as having many restaurants with traditional Korean food.
Cafes, restaurants and food stalls are everywhere in Seoul. It’s really hard to stay hungry in this city.
That was our sample 3 Day Itinerary for Seoul. After Seoul we went to Busan – Korea’s second biggest city known for its beaches.
Read next – South Korea 7 Day Itinerary
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