Are you a curious traveller looking for some unique things to do in Seoul?
South Korea (and Seoul) was always my childhood dream. I grew up watching Korean dramas every evening after school! Therefore, this trip to Seoul alone was my perfect ticket to the past when I was still an innocent girl dreaming about the land of “kimchi”.
But this also meant that I wasn’t keen on visiting Seoul’s most popular tourist attractions. While my friends and colleagues who had been to Seoul before remarked that the city was just too materialistic, I was curious to find unique things to do in Seoul that could show me more about its local life.
How did Seoul turn out to be?
Seoul was amazing! I stayed there for 4 days and in the end, even wished the trip was one month! Perhaps the organized tours that my colleagues and friends took in Seoul exposed them to only the commercial side of the city and kept them from seeing its “soul”?
If you want to experience this city in a different way (perhaps more genuine and memorable), my list of 7 unique things to do in Seoul can give you some ideas. Check them out and let me know what you think!
1. Admire the architecture of Ewha Womans University
During my trip to Seoul, I was lucky to reunite with a Korean friend who attended the same university as me in Finland. As I mentioned Ewha Womans University, he comically told me that the opening gambit of students there would always be (in a posh way) “I am a woman from Ewha”.
In fact, they have all reasons to make such a noble statement. Ewha Womans University is deemed one of the most prestigious universities in Korea, especially for female students.
Perhaps you have also noticed the unusual word “womans” in its name. This is actually a deliberate choice of word, as the university wishes to highlight the uniqueness of each individual woman rather than referring to them all as “women”. “You see, the name alone is enough to urge me to apply!”, replied I.
Other than its high reputation, Ewha Womans University is also well-known for 2 other things.
The first one is the university’s stunning architecture, which its French architect Dominique Perrault described beautifully as “ sometimes building, sometimes landscape, sometimes sculpture.”
Once you’re here, start at the central valley of the campus where you can take some impressive photos. Then, go up the visually appealing staircase to access the roofs and admire the beautiful gardens on both sides.
Budget-friendly shopping streets
Ewha Womans University is also known as a shopping haven for students. Take a walk around here and you’ll find a great selection of clothes, cosmetics, accessories, and other stuff. They are also much cheaper than those in Myeongdong. Why not add this to your “budget shopping list” while visiting Seoul? 😉
2. Take Instagrammable photos at Ihwa Mural Village
First thing first, visiting Ihwa Mural Village involves lots of stair climbing. Don’t come here at the end of an active day or your knees will scream for help half-way up.
Once a decrepit neighborhood, Ihwa Mural Village has magically turned into a lovely destination after the city decided to reinvigorate it. Ihwa Mural Village is now the place to be for people to enjoy creative artworks and take part in a variety of art-related activities.
Things I like about Ihwa Mural Village
- It’s not crowded at all! Feel free to pose for the best shot!
- Not only tourists but locals also come here for a great view, for some cute photos, or for a nice coffee time
- Villagers are super friendly! At the same time, it’s important for us travelers to keep in mind that the villagers need peace and privacy in their neighborhood as well.
- Coffee shops are lovely. Art shops are well worth a visit. The city view from here is awesome!
3. Go back to the 60s in Jongno
The Jongno area is rarely mentioned in Seoul’s travel guidebooks, but the feeling I had when visiting it was immense!
As soon as I stepped out of the subway at Jongno, the first thought that came to my mind was: “AM I STARING AT A BLACK-AND-WHITE MOVIE FROM THE 60S?”.
There were old people everywhere around me. Everywhere! Ladies with their shopping bags. Men with their walking sticks. Elderly beggars looking desperately at passers-by. Groups of elders in their 70s and 80s chit-chatting along the pavements…
Jongno was, no doubt, the land of the elders. Despite being only 3 subway stops from the bustling Myeongdong area, Jongno seems like a totally different world. But how come?
This article from Korea Expose offers a very good explanation as to why this area is deemed The Old Man’s Harbor. What I learned from it really blew my mind!
Jongno might not seem like an exciting tourist attraction, but the area is exactly where you should go if you want to observe locals and understand more about Korea’s modern society. Visiting Jongno is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Seoul!
4. Feel nostalgic at Seoul Folk Flea Market
Besides Jongno, there’s also another place where the ambiance of Seoul 50 years ago still lingers – the Seoul Folk Flea Market.
One of the most unique things to do in Seoul
I’ve always been excited about flea markets and the sense of community they exude. Flea markets are where I head to whenever I want to get away from the tourist crowds and learn more about the cultural and social characters of a town.
Seoul Folk Flea Market is no exception. Tucked away in an alley a bit far from the city center, the market does a pretty good job of preserving the way traditional Korean marketplaces operate.
You will find here clothes, fashion accessories, electronics, souvenirs, and everyday items, most of which seem like they have been there for a really long time.
A walk down memory lane
Antiques are what make Seoul Folk Flea Market unique. To me at least, walking past local vendors with their melancholic faces and browsing their old-aged items was an authentic experience itself.
The place seemed to invite me on a special expedition where I simultaneously discovered its past and fathomed its presence. Visiting this flea market is therefore one of the most unique things to do in Seoul that I highly recommend.
5. Blend in with the locals at Insadong Hanok Village
Insadong Hanok Village popped up as I was looking for a less touristy alternative to the popular Bukchon Hanok Village. They are both ancient villages featuring traditional alleys and houses dated back to hundreds of years.
Insadong turned out to be no less busy on the weekend I visited. However, most visitors were locals rather than tourists. If you fancy browsing cute little coffee shops, tea houses, jewelry shops and makeup stores like the locals do, this place is definitely worth a visit. There are also eateries and restaurants where you can discover the unique Korean food culture as well.
6. Adore the enchanting city view from Naksan Mountain
At the end of my exhausting climb at Ihwa Mural Village, the mesmerizing city view from Naksan Mountain appeared like a splash of ice-cold water amid the heat of the Sahara.
Fun facts about Naksan Mountain
- Naksan Mountain is located inside Naksan Park. Due to the resemblance between the mountain’s shape and the back of a camel, ‘Naksan’ in Korean actually means ‘the camel’s back’.
- Many tourists mistake Naksan Park with the more well-known Namsan Park nearby. Inside Namsan Park also lies a mountain called Namsan where Seoul’s TV Tower proudly stands on. Namsan Park is more popular for couples, who like to climb up to the top and lock their love padlocks to the wired fences.
- There are some lovely coffee shops and small restaurants along the way down from Naksan Mountain. Why not drop by for an aromatic cup of coffee with a stunning view?
Coffee shops on the way down from Naksan Mountain
7. Get lost in a world of art at SSamzigil
SSamzigil is a special shopping center featuring all things art-related. Its 4 floors are connected by a spiraling walkway, leading through fascinating art galleries, painting workshops, souvenir shops, and handicraft stores.
I was wowed again and again by their dainty mini plants, ceramic souvenirs, natural soaps, homemade perfumes, and many other interesting things!
Admire pieces of art depicting life in Korea at SSamzigil
Hair pins with a lovely design at SSamzigil, Seoul
8. Book a Seoul Free Walking Tour with SeoulMate
SeoulMate is a student organization that runs cool and offbeat free walking tours in Seoul. You’ll get to learn a lot about Korean culture while hanging out with these energetic and welcoming student tour guides!
Instead of taking tourists to popular destinations, SeoulMate focuses on lesser-known areas in Seoul where they can show tourists what local life is like in this city. Check out my full review of Seoul Free Walking Tour with SeoulMate here.
Summary of Top 8 Unique Things to do in Seoul
MY BIGGEST TIP: Look away from the most popular tourist attractions in Seoul, open your curious eyes and wander around lesser-known neighborhoods! Of course, you can start with these 7 unique things to do in Seoul!
I hope you’ll experience the subtlety of Seoul and fall in love with it in your own way 🙂
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