25 Free Things To Do In Seoul
Seoul is one of the hottest travel destinations in Asia offering a vibrant mix of old and new. The city has been the capital of Korea during many dynasties and is, therefore, home to various historic attractions. Moreover, the city is constantly changing with new architectural gems popping up year after year, such as Lotte World Tower, the tallest building in South Korea, or the Dongdaemun Design Plaza by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid. The cost of living in Seoul is also rising continuously but there are still lots of things do to in the city that you don’t have to break the bank for. Here are 25 free things to do in Seoul.
Wander Through Gyeongbokgung Palace
Many say you haven’t really seen Seoul if you didn’t visit Gyeongbukgung Palace. Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung is the largest and most important palace out of the five grand palaces in Seoul and probably the number one attraction in the city. While there is an admission fee of 3,000 Korean Won, you can get free admission to the palace when wearing Korean hanbok. Thousands of local and foreign tourists rent hanbok when visiting the city for the unique experience and memorable travel photos and getting into Gyeongbokgung Palace and other attractions around Seoul for free is an added bonus.
Climb Up Mt. Bukhansan
Literally translating to Noth Korea Mountain, Bukhansan is one of Korea’s 22 national parks located in the north of Seoul. There are three peaks at the park, Baegundae Terrace (836.5m), Insubong Peak (810.5m) and Mangyeongdae Terrace (799.5m) and it takes about 2.5 hours to get to the top. Once up there, you will be rewarded with an amazing view of the entire city. Climbing up Mt. Bukhansan is especially beautiful during the fall season when the trees change colors. There is no entrance fee to the national park so it’s one of the many amazing free things to do in Seoul – but be sure to dress appropriately and wear good hiking shoes!
Roam Around Dongdaemun Design Plaza
One of my favorite free things to do in Seoul is wandering around Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). The motto of this enormous art space is “Dream, Design, and Play”. This becomes evident in the many exhibitions, fashion shows, forums, conferences, and other domestic and international events that are held here. The futuristic building was designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid and is an extremely photogenic location. Be sure to visit in the early evening for sunset and see the building all light up.
Explore The Secret Garden At Changdeokgung Palace
The second palace built in Seoul after Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung is also worth a visit – and one of most beautiful free things to do in Seoul. While admission to the palace itself isn’t free, it doesn’t cost anything to visit its rear garden. Also called Secret Garden, it was constructed behind the palace as a resting place for the royal family. What’s interesting about the garden is that it was kept as natural as possible and gardeners only worked in it when absolutely necessary. The most beautiful time to visit the garden has got to be during spring when countless flowers bloom and during fall when the fall foliage is at its peak.
Stroll Along The Han River
During the early days of Seoul, the city was only populated north of the Han River, today, it divides the city and continues on to the Yellow Sea. One of the many free things to do in Seoul are the countless riverside parks that allow citizens to get a piece of nature in the urban jungle. One of the most popular is the Hangang Park, with a beautiful view of the city.
Watch The Sunset At Bukchon Hanok Village
Located in between Gyeongbukgung and Changdeokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village is comprised of hundreds of traditional Korean houses, called hanok. Most houses date back to the Joseon Dynasty and today, many of them act as cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants, shops, and teahouses. Be sure to climb up to the highest point of the village for a view of the area and the most beautiful sunset. When it comes to free things to do in Seoul, Bukchon Hanok Village really takes the cake.
Follow The Seoul City Wall
Originally built in 1396, the Seoul City Wall surrounded Seoul (then known as Hanyang). The wall is 18.6 km long passing the ranges of Bugaksan Mountain, Naksan Mountain, Namsan Mountain, and Inwangsan Mountain. When the wall was first built, eight gates stood along with it but today only six of them remain, with Sukjeongmun, Heunginjimun, Sungnyemun, and Dongeuimun being known as the “Four Great Gates”. There are six recommended trails ranging from 1 hour to 3 hours in length. Check them out on the official Seoul City Wall website.
Listen to live music in Hongdae
Hongdae describes the area surrounding Hongik University. It’s a vibrant student neighborhood with cheap eats, shopping and lots of entertainment. What’s most interesting to see in Hongdae are the many students performing on the streets. You can watch anything from live music and dance performances to magic and fashion shows.
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Visit Namdaemun Market
With a history of over 600 years, Namdaemun is one of Seoul’s oldest traditional markets. While you can easily spend all your money here for food, clothes and souvenirs, it’s also a great place for people watching and taking in Korean market culture. See traditional snacks, homemade Korean side dishes and traditional medicine ingredients. You don’t need to spend money at Namdaemun to have a good time.
See the longest bridge fountain in the world
The Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain features 380 nozzles spraying water from the river below out into a beautiful show of water, music, and lights. During the day and at night, visitors can watch a variety of different shows with 200 lights illuminating the fountain and sending out rainbow-colors jets with music. You can see this water light show between April and October up to six times a day for 20 minutes.
Visit the National Museum of Korea
With over 15,000 pieces, the National Museum of Korea is the largest museum in the country. The aim of the museum is to tell the story of Korea’s fascinating history through the many precious artifacts housed here. Admission is completely free so be sure to check out this museum to better understand the history and culture of Korea during your travels.
While it is quite hard to leave Myeongdong without spending any money, you can still have a good time there without spending any. Myeongdong is an exciting and vibrant area filled with locals and visitors who come together for the ultimate “Korea travel experience”. This means you’ll find all the most popular Korean clothing and makeup brands nestled between a collection of restaurants and cafes. On top of that, Myeongdong offers some of the best street food in the city. The area is a street photographer’s paradise because of the many street signs and bright advertisements.
Take selfies at Ihwa Mural Village
A true gem sitting atop Mt Naksan in the north of Seoul, the Ihwa Mural Village is the result of an initiative called “Art in the City” carried out by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2006. The efforts to revitalize this old neighborhood was successful and is today one of the most visited places in the city. Visitors can stand in awe of murals by more than 70 local artists.
Find Out City History At Seoul Museum of History
If you want to learn a little bit more about the city of Seoul, head over to the Seoul Museum of History. From prehistoric times, all the way to the modern era, you can dive into how Seoul has changed. There is even a fun recreation of what the city looked like when it was the capital of the Joseon Dynasty. Another fun exhibition focuses on the daily life of the Seoulites. Admission is free to the museum.
Follow Cheonggyecheon Stream
Until 2005, Cheonggyecheon Stream was merely a neglected waterway but then things changed. The government decided to transform this area into a green oasis for the citizens of Seoul. Today, it is one of the main attractions in the heart of Seoul. The stream passes major attractions including Deoksugung Palace, Seoul Plaza, the Sejong Center, Insa-dong Street, Changdeokgung Palace, and Changgyeonggung Palace. On top of that, art installations are showcased here during various times of the year, especially in early summer with lanterns for Buddha’s Birthday and during Christmas time.
Dive Into Korean Buddhism at Jogyesa Temple
The main temple of the local Jogye order, Jogyesa is the center of Korean Buddhism and an interesting place to visit as an outsider. The temple was built in the 14th century and hosts various Buddhist events throughout the year. The annual lantern festival for Buddha’s Birthday also takes place at Jogyesa.
Meet King Sejong The Great At Gwanghwamun Square
Located in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace, Gwanghwamun Square is a beautiful space allowing people to take in the beauty of Korea’s history outdoors. The view of the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace with Bukhansan in the back is absolutely breathtaking. On top of that, you can check out the Statue of King Sejong the Great, along with all his major accomplishments, including Hangeul, the Korean alphabet.
Head up Mt. Namsan
While Namsan is not as high as other mountains in the city, it is one of the most famous as it features Seoul Tower with amazing views of the entire city. Besides Seoul Tower, you can also check out Palgakjeong (a beautiful octagonal pavilion), an aquarium and Namsan Library.
Explore The World Of Korean Seafood at Noryangjin Fish Market
It’s no wonder that seafood is hugely popular in South Korea, a country surrounded by water. Noryangjin Fish Market handles close to 300 tons of marine products every single day and is one of the largest seafood markets in the country. Whether you like seafood or not, a visit to a traditional Korean fish market is very exciting and you can see many creatures you didn’t even know were edible let alone existed in the first place.
Get Spiritual at Bongeunsa Temple
Located next to the COEX Convention Center, Bongeunsa is one of the most famous temples in the city. It was first constructed in 794 and is home to more than 3,000 Buddhist scriptures. On the ninth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, the local monks carry the scriptures through the city and recite important Buddhist rites. You do not need to pay to visit the temple and if you’re lucky, you can even witness monks performing chanting ceremonies.
Explore Korean Culture At The National Folk Museum of Korea
When exploring Gyeongbokgung Palace, be sure to end your visit with a trip to the National Folk Museum on the palace grounds. Here, you can explore the most important royal artifacts and also get a glimpse of what daily life was like for Koreans in the past. The National Folk Museum offers the best insight into Korea’s cultural beliefs allowing you to better understand the locals during your stay. There is no admission to enter this beautiful museum, making it one of the best free things to do in Seoul.
Walk Around Insadong
Located very close to Jogyesa Temple, Insadong is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Seoul and should be on anyone’s itinerary when traveling to Korea. Insadong has one main street with little side alleyways on each side, filled with galleries, restaurants, traditional teahouses and cute cafes. Even if you don’t buy anything in Insadong, and that’s really rare, you can still have a great time checking out all the traditional arts and crafts.
Visit the Jeongdong Observatory at Seoul City Hall
This is definitely one of my favorite free things to do in Seoul and not even locals are aware of this amazing hidden gem. Located on the 13th floor of Seoul City Hall Seosomun building, you have a beautiful view of Deoksugung Palace. While you can take in the view of Seoul for absolutely free, you can also get a cup of tea or coffee in the cafe located on the same floor if you need a refreshment.
Pay Tribute At The War Memorial Of Korea
No visit to Seoul would be complete without also learning about the history of the division of the north and the south. The War Memorial Of Korea is, in fact, a museum showcasing items related to the war and, therefore, serves as a national educational venue. With over 30,000 artifacts on display, this museum is one of the largest of its kind and features both indoor and outdoor exhibitions, including weapons and tanks – but it’s also a place promoting reunification and peace between the two Koreas. History buffs should definitely put this up on their list of free things to do in Seoul.
Get Physical at Olympic Park
Olympic Park was created for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and acts as a sports complex and eco-friendly zone with gardens and forests. One of the highlights of the park is the 80-meter tall World Peace Gate. Underneath the gate, you can find an eternal flame that also calls for peace and harmony in the world. In spring and fall, the park sees a large number of flowers and trees in bloom.
Ready To Explore Seoul?
These 25 free things to do in Seoul are awesome to check out but there is so much more to see when in Seoul. Be sure to also check out my 2-day itinerary for Seoul, as well as my post about what to see, do and eat in Garosugil and 15 quirky desserts you have to try when in Seoul.
Top Travel Experiences in Seoul
- Everland 1 Day Ticket (QR Code Direct Entry)
- N Seoul Tower Ticket Combo
- Nami Island, Petite France, Garden of Morning Calm, & Gangchon Rail Bike Day Trip from Seoul
- AREX Incheon Airport Express Train One Way Ticket in Seoul
- Lotte World 1 Day Pass
- Discover Seoul Pass: free access to 35 attractions
- Bukchon Oneday Hanbok Rental Experience (4 – 24 Hrs)
Recommended Travel Guides for Korea
If you want to learn more about South Korea and have a handy travel guide in your pocket, check out these three options below:
This Top 10 Seoul guide is a great pocket guide that breaks down the best of Seoul into helpful lists of ten – from selected highlights to the best museums and galleries, and the most authentic restaurants, tearooms, bars, shops, and markets. I personally helped update the most recent version of this guide. Buy this book.
You really can’t go wrong with a lonely planet guide in your hand luggage! I’m a huge fan of Lonely Planet and own this guide myself. What I love is the brand-new pull-out, passport-size ‘Just Landed’ card with wi-fi, ATM and transport info – all you need for a smooth journey from airport to hotel! Buy this book.
Calling all my solo female travel ladies out there – this guide is amazing! Part of the #1 Travel Guidebook Series for Women (and couples), this take on South Korea will help you avoid the scams, creeps, and tourist traps and skip ahead to the cities and adventures that are worth your time (and money)! Buy this book.
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