Seoul is a thriving, vibrant city filled with a variety of neighborhoods to explore, each with its own vibe and selection of shops, restaurants and bars. The South Korean capital, surrounded by mountains and a vast national park, has enough to keep you occupied for weeks, but there are a few activities and destinations you just can’t miss. Here are 50 things we recommend doing when in Seoul.
1. Start with an afternoon exploring the historic Gyeongbokgung Palace, a walled compound of buildings that was rebuilt after a devastating fire. Try to arrive for the changing of the guard, which is as elaborate as it is colorful.
2. Many visitors rent traditional, elegant hanbok clothing for a day out in Seoul, which you’ll see all around the palace. It’s worth it for the photos, although it’s more of a warm weather activity.
3. The nearby Bukchon Hanok Village is a great spot to uncover traditional Korean architecture and life, where the houses and buildings have been presevered for hundreds of years. Keep an eye out for signs and volunteers asking visitors to be silent during their time in the village—you don’t want to be that tourist.
4. On your way out of Bukchon Hanok Village stop by Cha-Teul, a hilltop tea café perfect for a short respite between sightseeing.
5. Learn more about Korean conflicts at the War Memorial of Korea, a museum that depicts the military history of the country.
6. Ascend N Seoul Tower to take in 360 degrees of Seoul from on high. It’s especially popular as a romantic date night.
7. Speaking of views, the best place to call home when in Seoul is in one of the corner suites at the Conrad Seoul, which looks out over the glittering city skyline and has immaculate service (as well as a seriously impressive spa).
8. While at the Conrad Seoul, be sure to dine at 37 Grill & Bar, where you can order premium cuts of beef and fresh seafood while gazing out over the city.
9. For some culture, stroll through the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, which is divided into two sections: contemporary and traditional works, as well as an outdoor sculpture garden.
10. The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art has several branches in Korea, and the Seoul outpost features numerous galleries with rotating exhibitions worth checking out.
11. The D Museum, which showcases changing contemporary works that are selfie-friendly, is another great spot to catch some millennial culture.
12. Score more more selfie opportunities when you pay a visit to Ihwa Mural Village, an area of Seoul that features 70 large-scale art installations. It’s a residential neighborhood, so be polite when snapping photos for the ’Gram.
13. For a taste of the buzzy youth culture of Seoul, head to Hongdae, a cultural hub with tons of shopping and hip cafés. It’s like the Harajuku of South Korea.
14. While in the area, be sure to sit on the floor of Meerkat Friend, a second-floor café where real meerkats climb across your lap, on your shoulders and—yep—into your hair. And don’t be discouraged by the café’s name—it’s also home to a kangaroo, raccoon and a few foxes.
15. And if that’s not enough animal time for you, stop by a sheep café called Thanks Nature Café, where visitors can interact with free-roaming sheep while sipping a latte.
16. For more photo possibilities, venture into Hongdae’s Trickeye Museum Seoul, an optical illusion museum with mind-bending backdrops perfect for Instagram.
17. Venture through the loud, overwhelming food stalls at Gwangjang Market, where you can taste local delicacies like fried mung bean pancakes.
18. Adventurous travelers can take their visit to Gwangjang Market even further. If you dare, sample chopped raw octopus coated in sesame oil. Be warned: It’s still wriggling on the plate as you take a bite.
19. Browse the traditional wares at Namdaemun Market, the largest in Seoul. It can be overwhelming, but discerning shoppers will come away with some original souvenirs.
20. Experience the pre-sunrise fish auction at the lively Noryangjin Fish Wholesale Market, which also serves up seafood delicacies (including that wriggling octopus again).
21. For some high-end shopping, take your hard-earned cash to the Shinsegae Department Store, the city’s first department store and which now features tons of premium brands across several floors.
22. In Hongdae, grab a table at Oksang Dalbit, a pub known for its garlic pepper chicken that arrives to the table in flames.
23. Indulge in a bowl of haejangguk at Cheongjinok, which follows the traditional recipe for beef soup, which is simmered for 24 hours (and is meant to cure a hangover).
24. Soup is insanely popular in South Korea and another popular version is kalguksu, chicken broth with noodles, which you can taste at Myeongdong Kyoja in Myeongdong.
25. Splurge on a few dishes and a bottle of wine at Louis Cinq, a French gastro pub with Korean influences. It’s small, welcoming and very delicious.
26. Dine on traditional royal Korean cuisine at Seokparang, located in a historic building surrounded by gardens. The courses showcase the country’s dishes and approach to food, and are accompanied by traditional craft liquors. Spoiler alert: You’ll want to take the cutlery and dishware home.
27. A modern approach to traditional Korean food can be found at Siwhadam, which serves artful dishes inspired by poems in a gallery-like setting. Book in advance.
28. For Korean BBQ, known as bulgogi, the options are endless. Start with Daedo Sikdang, a quintessential and traditional spot in Seoul to enjoy perfectly cooked beef.
29. For dessert, grab a scoop of ice cream at Fell & Cole, which uses unusual ingredients like miso, olive oil and bacon.
30. Sip a hot cup of dark roast at Hell Café, a revered coffee shop and roaster in Bogwang-dong known for its award-winning brews.
31. Have you ever dreamed of drinking a latte with your face on it? If so Caface is one to add to the bucket list. The café serves up coffee drinks emblazoned with your photo.
32. During the summer, try bingsu, a South Korean shave ice treat covered in toppings. Grab a dish at Dongbinggo in Ichon-dong or at Tiravento.
33. For something heavier venture down into speakeasy bar Charles H, where the cocktail list is innovative, boozy and extensive, allowing you to make a night of it.
34. Sip on a more casual cocktail at Southside Parlor, a joint opened by Texans who fuse the American South with Asian ingredients for memorable, potent drinks. (Like they say, everything bigger in Texas South Korea.)
35. If you’re in it more for the atmosphere than the drinks, join the crowd at Playground Rooftop Cafe & Bar, a two-story bar that frequently hosts special events (and which draws an international clientele).
36. Around the corner, grab a late night drink at Thursday Party Draft House, a fun, casual spot that’s open until 4 a.m.
37. Soju, a liquor made from rice, is one of the most popular spirits in South Korea. Interested drinkers can try it at most restaurants and bars, but Soobul, a Korean-style pub, is a particularly great place to test it out.
38. Seoul is surrounded by mountains, making it easy to seek out nature experiences. One of the best is a hike up Bugaksan Mountain, which has several trails leading to an expansive view of the city.
39. For a city walk, try the path alongside Cheonggyecheon Stream, an urban renewal project that runs for several miles through Seoul’s center. It’s unexpectedly peaceful, with waterfalls and quiet spaces.
40. Seoullo 7017 is a recent addition to Seoul, much like NYC’s High Line, and the long, elevated park (a former highway overpass) is perfect for an afternoon stroll or even a guided tour.
41. Beauty and skin care are integral to South Korean culture. To relax and revive, pay a visit to females-only jjimjilbang Spa Lei, which boasts spa baths, saunas and massage rooms.
42. Keep the youthful glow going with a customized facial at Shangpree Spa, a favorite with celebrities for its high-end treatments. Be sure to book in advance.
43. Take the beauty products home by stockpiling face masks at Lotte Duty Free, a massive store with a huge selection of brands. Bring your passport for the tax refunds.
44. Shop for Hello Kitty merch and other adorable souvenir items at 1300K, a store that’s basically just in business to sell things that are cute.
45. You can’t come to South Korea without learning a little bit more about the K-Pop craze. Start your journey at the SMTOWN Museum, which details the careers of several popular artists—and even offers photos opps with their images.
46. To uncover more music, head to Klive, where you can go to a K-Pop concert…in hologram form…
47. Speaking of K-Pop, take a stroll through the shops of Gangnam, a posh neighborhood made famous in Psy’s hit “Gangnam Style.” Look for Sinsadong, a high-end street of boutiques and wine bars.
48. Gangnam is also home to Samsung D’light, a technology experience showcase that lets visitors glimpse the future of electronics. Best part: It’s free.
49. Curious travelers should venture to the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, which is only 35 miles from Seoul. It’s an operating tourist site, and you can hop on the DMZ Peace Train from Seoul for a day-long tour.
50. Time to end your trip? Conclude your visit with a trip to Seoul’s Poop Café, which is dedicated to treats that look like feces. Yep. It’s actually called Ddo-ong café, and we have to assume it’s one of the few places in the world you can drink a coffee served in a tiny toilet. When in Seoul!