26 Awesome Free Things to Do in Seoul

Bukchon Hanok Village, one of the best free things to do in Seoul
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Usually, mega metropolises like Seoul can be quite expensive to visit. Many of the more popular attractions in such cities can easily cost $20 or more for just one activity.

But luckily for budget-conscious travelers, there are plenty of awesome free things to do in Seoul, including some of Seoul’s most popular tourist sites.

Even better, these free things to do in Seoul span a range of interests, from history to hiking to shopping to culture.

1. Namsan Mountain

Hiking up Namsan Mountain is one of the best free things to do in Seoul. You can get your exercise for the day while also also getting marvelous panoramic views of the city and N Seoul Tower.

Bring your own snacks and drinks and enjoy the scenery, or you can purchase stuff from the restaurants and cafes situated around N Seoul Tower.

N Seoul Tower and love locks

Around Namsan

Views of Seoul from Namsan

There are also some sections of the old fortress wall of Seoul around Namsan that you can check out.

Seoul City Wall

If you don’t want to do too much hiking, you can always take the bus up or down the mountain. Technically, that wouldn’t be free, but the public transportation is Seoul is quite cheap.

2. Han River

The Han River is a center for social life in Seoul. Much of the area along the Han River is basically one very long park, though there are 11 dedicated parks.

People take strolls, have picnics, ride bikes, go for runs, and more along the Han River. There are festivals and events happening along the river all year long, like the Cherry Blossom Festival at Yeouido Han River Park.

Yeouido Han River Park

People having a picnic at the Han River

So go to the Han River Park at Yeouido, Banpo, Ttukseom, or whichever other park strikes your fancy (or is close by) and see what you can find. The Han River is beautiful both day and night.

3. National Museum of Korea

The National Museum of Korea is a fantastic dive into Korean history, from prehistoric times to the Joseon Dynasty to the Korean Empire. It’s one of the world’s largest museums, at approximately 532,480 feet squared/49,469 meters squared.

Pagoda from the Goguryeo Dynasty; gold crown and belt from the Silla Dynasty

Various Korean art and artifacts

The National Museum also houses artifacts and art from other areas of Asia if you’d like to learn a bit more about the continent, from Mesopotamia to Japan.

Samurai suits at the National Museum of Korea

Samurai armor in the Japanese exhibit

The permanent exhibits of the National Museum are free, though they do have changing special exhibits that cost money.

National Museum of Korea
Location: 137 Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 04383 (서울특별시 용산구 서빙고로 137)
Hours: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM (MTuThFSu; last admission at 5:30 PM), 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM (WSa; last admission at 8:30 PM)

4. Jogyesa Temple and Bongeunsa Temple

Jogyesa Temple is an important Buddhist temple in South Korea, as it’s the main temple of the Jogye Order. It’s located in north central Seoul, near a few of the Korean palaces. It was founded in 1395, at the start of the Joseon Dynasty.

Jogyesa Temple decorated for Buddha’s Birthday

Bongeunsa Temple is a Buddhist temple that was founded in 794 during the Silla Dynasty. It’s located in the middle of Gangnam, directly across from the COEX Mall.

Around Bongeunsa Temple

Though the grounds of both temples are compact, the buildings are beautiful and elaborately decorated with the Korea’s traditional colors.

If you visit Seoul around April and May, you can see the temples adorned with a flurry of rainbow lanterns in celebration of Buddha’s Birthday.

Jogyesa Temple
Location: 55 Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 우정국로 55)

Bongeunsa Temple
Location: 531 Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 강남구 봉은사로 531)

5. Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok Village is a neighborhood in Seoul replete with hanok, traditional Korean houses. During the Joseon Dynasty, Bukchon was the home to government officials and members of the aristocracy.

Tucked into the various alleys of Bukchon are an array of cafes, shops, restaurants, craft workshops, art galleries, and museums.

Sights around Bukchon Hanok Village

Climb up to the top of the in Gahoe-dong, and turn around to take in one of the most famous viewpoints in Seoul (around 31-48 Gahoe-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul). From there, you can see Namsan and N Seoul Tower in the distance, with beautiful hanok in the foreground (as seen in the featured photo at the top of this article).

Going up to the famous viewpoint in Bukchon Hanok Village

The view going up to the viewpoint

Three notes about Bukchon. First, despite all the attractions and tourists in Bukchon, it’s also a residential neighborhood. People actually live there in many of the houses. So be respectful when visiting. Don’t litter, don’t be extremely loud, don’t trespass, and don’t take creeper photos.

Etiquette signs around Bukchon Hanok Village

Second, much of Bukchon is extremely hilly. If you want to visit some Bukchon sights that don’t require you going uphill, trying asking one of the tourist guides or the information center where you could visit.

Third, it’s easy to get a bit lost and turned around in Bukchon. Keep an eye on your location and the direction you’re heading. But there are signs and maps around the village, as well as tourist guides in certain spots who can help direct you. The guides almost certainly will speak English, too.

Bukchon Hanok Village
Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM (closed on Sundays) because people live there

6. Noryangjin Fish Market

Walking through Noryangjin Fish Market gives you a glimpse into an important facet of Korean society and cuisine: seafood.

So many classic Korean dishes involve seafood in some way, including the use of fish sauce (like kimchi). Even if you don’t like seafood, you can still learn a lot by walking through Noryangjin Market.

Stalls at Noryangjin Market in Seoul from above

Around Noryangjin Market

Noryangjin Market has extremely fresh seafood, as most of the creatures are still alive in tanks at the market. It’s also both a wholesale and retail market, with auctions in the early morning and stalls open throughout the day.

Noryangjin Fish Market
Location: 674 Nodeul-ro, Dongjak-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 동작구 노들로 674)
Hours: Hours vary by section, but most it seems like every wholesale section is open by 3:30 AM and most close by 7 PM or 10 PM

7. Hongdae

Hongdae is an extremely popular area in west Seoul, especially with young adults. With multiple universities within walking distance, Hongdae is one of the liveliest places in Seoul (which is saying something). The area is always bustling with energy and people, but especially on weekends.

The Hongdae area is named after Hongik Daehakgyo, or Hongik University, which is well-recognized for its arts programs. In general, the area is known for its youthful, artistic, and alternative atmosphere.

Every road and alley is packed with clothing shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, indie music clubs, and more catering to Hongdae’s youthful audience.

Hongdae in the morning

Hongdae at night

Hongdae at night

In the evenings and on weekends, the road near Hongdae Station exit 9 is home to buskers – dancers, singers, and other performers.

These performers always draw a crowd with their skills. The dancers are particularly popular, often performing choreography from popular k-pop songs.

People watching buskers in Hongdae

Even if you’re not so young, Hongdae is definitely worth a visit. It has a plethora of fantastic cafes and restaurants all within walking distance of each other. If you’d like to avoid massive crowds, visit on a weekday during the day.

8. Korean Palaces on Culture Day

While visiting any one of the five palaces of Seoul is very, very cheap (3,000 won, or about $2 USD, for the biggest palace), you can get into them for free two ways.

First, you can get into the palaces for free if you enter wearing hanbok, Korean traditional clothing. Second, entrance to all the palaces is free on Culture Day, the last Wednesday of each month.

But whether you pay the entrance fee or get in for free, Seoul’s palaces are well-worth a visit. You don’t have to be into history to appreciate the beautiful, regal buildings of the palaces and the lovely landscaping.

If you have to choose only one palace to visit, go to Gyeongbokgung Palace. It’s the biggest and grandest of them all. It’s one of my favorite places to visit in South Korea in general. I’ve been there about half a dozen times and it never gets old.

Around Gyeongbokgung

But if you really want to visit a palace for free at any time, visit Gyeonghuigung Palace. Gyeonghuigung is the smallest of the five palaces. Much of it was destroyed in fires, and parts of the palace were destroyed by the Japanese during the imperial period.

Around Gyeonghuigung

But there are a few buildings around, and they’re just as beautiful as the those of the other palaces. And hey, it’s free!

Gyeongbokgung
Location: 161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 사직로 161)
Hours: 9 AM – sometime between 5 PM and 6:30 PM, depending on the season; closed on Tuesdays

Gyeonghuigung
Location: 45 Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 새문안로 45)
Hours: 9 AM – 6 PM; closed on Mondays

9. Olympic Park

Olympic Park in Jamsil is an enormous public park built for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It remains a popular spot for Seoulites to relax from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Olympic Park features various gardens, art installations, playgrounds, and good views of Jamsil and Lotte World Tower. There is also Olympic Plaza, with the flags of from the countries that competed in the 1988 Olympics and the Paralympics flame, which is still burning today.

Sights around Olympic Park

Because Olympic Park is so large, you can easily spend a good part of a day exploring the park. If you want to get around the park faster, you can pay to rent a bike or take the Hodori Train.

10. Myeongdong

Myeongdong is the classic Seoul shopping district, every square inch filled with shops and stalls. While this area was hit pretty hard by the pandemic and many of its stores closed, it’s still an interesting place to take a walk through.

Around Myeongdong

Myeongdong is especially iconic for its plethora of street food stalls in the middle of many paths around the area. There may not be as many stalls there anymore, but they are definitely around.

For instance, I tried the dalgona candy challenge (as seen in Squid Games), with the candy being fresh by a little old Korean lady.

Dalgona candy in Myeongdong in Seoul

Dalgona candy

Myeongdong is also quite close to other many other sights around the center of Seoul, making it an easy and quick stop for many itineraries.

11. War Memorial of Korea

The other major museum in Seoul for tourists is the War Memorial of Korea (more casually called the War Museum), which also has free entrance. The War Museum covers Korea’s military history from prehistoric to contemporary times.

Much of the War Museum’s exhibition space is a deep look into the history of the Korean War. It’s the perfect place to learn more about this important event whose effects we still feel today.

Sights around the War Memorial

Also on display is various military equipment indoors and outdoors, including full-sized replica of a turtle ship, tanks, aircrafts, missiles, and more.

Equipment inside and outside

War Memorial of Korea
Location: 29 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 용산구 이태원로 29)
Hours: 9:30 AM – 6:00 PM; closed on Tuesdays

12. Hiking

South Korea is an extremely mountainous country, so hiking is a national pastime. Even the area around Seoul offers numerous mountains for your hiking pleasure, so you can have your pick of difficulty and view.

The classic mountain to hike in Seoul is Bukhansan (Mount Bukhan), whose highest peak is Baegundae Peak, at 2,744 feet/836.5 meters tall. But hiking Bukhansan is no walk in the park – there are intermediate courses as well as advanced trails around the mountain.

Other popular mountains to hike around Seoul include Inwangsan, Gwanaksan, Dobongsan, and Achasan.

13. Namdaemun Market

If you want to see a glimpse of what South Korea used to be like, take a stroll around Namdaemun Market, the biggest traditional market in Korea. Namdaemun Market has around 10,000 shops!

Namdaemun Market is overflowing with stalls selling only one or a few types of items, piled high. You can see anything and everything there – shoes, bags, accessories, toys, household goods, clothing, stationery, and more.

Stalls and shops around Namdaemun Market

A store selling only ginseng in Namdaemun Market

A ginseng shop

Just don’t get in the way of the ajummas and ajeossis who are on a mission for bargains! The prices at Namdaemun Market are known for being pretty affordable. In addition, some of the shops are wholesale stores.

Namdaemun Market
Location: 21 Namdaemunsijang 4-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 중구 남대문시장4길 21)
Hours: The market is open 24 hours a day, but shop times vary

14. Neighborhoods of Seoul

One thing I love about Seoul is that it has many distinctive neighborhoods that add to the texture of the city. Honestly, many of the neighborhoods of Seoul could be their own entries. But I tried to limit myself to some of the bigger areas on their own. So for my fellow neighborhood explorers, try some of these:

For a bit of greenery and great people- and dog-watching surrounded by plenty of bars, restaurants, and cafes, head to Yeonnam-dong.

Along the Gyeongui Line Forest Park in Yeonnam-dong

Feeling a bit fancy? Be seen on the streets and in the shops of Garosu-gil in Sinsa. Sinsa is particularly popular to visit in the autumn, to see its lines of yellow ginkgo trees. Want to a get better idea of Korean traditional crafts? Peruse the shops and galleries around Insadong.

Sinsa

Insadong

You don’t have to visit every neighborhood, but I would definitely encourage you to wander around the areas that look the most interesting.

15. Cheonggyecheon Stream

The Cheonggyecheon Stream once flowed through Seoul, before getting covered over in concrete for roads. But the city undertook a huge project to renew the area, and the Cheonggyecheon reopened in 2005.

Now, the Cheonggyecheon is a 6.8 mile-/10.9 kilometer-long pedestrianized area spanning across the heart of central Seoul. The stream is beautiful and calming to walk along both day and night.

The Cheonggyecheon Stream during the day

The Cheonggyecheon during the day

The Cheonggyecheon at night

The Cheonggyecheon is also host to the Seoul Lantern Festival every November. During the festival, large lanterns of all shapes and sizes and mostly made with hanji, traditional Korean paper, brighten up much of the stream.

Various lanterns at the Seoul Lantern Festival

A visit to the Cheonggyecheon Stream can pair well with many other Seoul sights, as it runs through much of central Seoul.

16. DDP

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (known as the DDP) is one of Seoul’s most unique landmarks and a personal favorite of mine in Seoul architecture.

Designed by Zaha Hadid, the DDP is a futuristic, curving behemoth in the middle of Seoul’s sprawling Dongdaemun shopping district.

Around the DDP

The DDP is a hub for culture and design. To this end, it has many kinds of public spaces, as well as design- and media-related spaces, and often holds various art and design exhibits. For example, I have been to exhibits on Tim Burton and Pixar there. There are also pop-up events, markets, art, and more held outside.

Events around the DDP

Because of its massive, snake-like nature, it can be a bit confusing to get around the DDP. But that’s part of its charm.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Location: 281 Eulji-ro, Euljiro 7-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 중구 을지로7가 을지로 281)
Hours: 10 AM – 8 PM

17. Great Gates of Seoul

Besides the palaces, Seoul doesn’t have as much in the way of historical architecture as other cities, after the Japanese occupation and the Korean War. However, many of the ancient Joseon gates are still standing (with upkeep, of course).

Historically, there were eight gates around Seoul, all built into the Seoul City Wall. Of those eight, six are remain around the city, with three being major gates and three being minor gates.

The three great gates left are Dongdaemun (more formally known as Heunginjimun), Bukdaemun (aka Sukjeongmun), and Namdaemun (Sungnyemun). The gate that is no longer standing is Donuimun/Seodaemun.

Dongdaemun Gate from the front and side; compare the gate size to the people

The three minor gates left are Buksomun (Changuimun), Dongsomun (Hyehwamun), and Namsomun (Gwanghuimun). The minor gate that doesn’t exist anymore is Seosomun (Souimun).

Of these six gates, definitely focus on visiting the major gates. I would recommend visiting Dongdaemun and/or Namdaemun.

Bukdaemun is located close to the Blue House, the president of Korea’s former residence; it seems that the area is guarded and visiting the gate requires ID like a passport (though not sure how/if that is changing with the president’s residence changing).

Dongdaemun Gate
Location: 288 Jong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 종로 288)

Namdaemun Gate
Location: 40 Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 중구 세종대로 40)

18. Seoul City Wall

Some of the fortress wall built during the Joseon period to protect Seoul still stands today (or has been restored into existence). There are multiple spots to see the city wall, as it spans about 11.5 miles/18.6 kilometers across mountains and around Seoul.

One of the best places to see the Seoul City Wall is around Naksan Mountain. This is so you can get views of the wall with panoramas of Seoul.

Naksan Park is very picturesque, with the stone walls and Seoul sprawling beyond. The views are especially marvelous at night.

The wall

Some of the views

You can hike up to the top of the mountain, which is 406 feet/124 meters tall. There are paths you can walk up the whole way. The paths aren’t super steep, but obviously you’re still going up a mountain. You can also take a bus to a stop near the top if you’re into that.

Path going up to the top of Naksan Mountain in Seoul

Going up (but wow does this shot look kinda like something from a horror movie)

You can also see the Seoul City Wall not far from Dongdaemun Gate and the DDP if you want to combine those into one stop. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are six recommended trails around the Seoul City Wall of varying lengths and difficulties.

19. Seoullo 7017

Don’t be put off by the unconventional name, Seollo 7017 is pretty cool. Seoullo 7017 is an elevated park built on top of a former overpass.

Seoullo 7017 is around 0.6 miles/1 kilometer long and is a sea of plants and flowers. The park is located right by Seoul Station and above many lanes of traffic, offering up very unique views.

Seoullo 7017 with Seoul Station in the background

Some sights around Seoullo 7017

Seoullo 7017 pairs well with Namdaemun Market, which is about a 10 minute walk away.

20. Rainbow Fountain at Banpo Han River Park

Banpo Han River Park is unique for two things: the three floating islands that light up and change colors at night and the Rainbow Fountain. This fountain is the longest bridge fountain in the world at 3,740 feet/1,140 meters.

The floating islands

The Rainbow Fountain

The Rainbow Fountain is on the side of Banpo Bridge, opposite from the floating islands. From April to October, the Rainbow Fountain puts on a show a few times a day. During these shows, 380 nozzles blast water along to music.

At night, the nozzles are lit up in a rainbow by color-changing lights. Shows last about 20 minutes.

21. Seokchon Lake

Seokchon Lake is a park in eastern Seoul featuring a massive lake split into two connected parts. There is a walking path that rings the lake.

Seokchon Lake is a fantastic spot to see the cherry blossoms in Seoul. It also features great views of Lotte World’s Magic Island (the outdoor portion of an amusement park situated on the lake) and Lotte World Tower.

Lotte World Tower and Lotte World

It’s a very nice place to take a stroll if you’re around the Jamsil area.

22. Lotte World Mall and COEX Mall

If you want want to do a lot of shopping in one location or want an indoor attraction, Seoul offers a few American-style enclosed mall complexes.

Lotte World Mall is a large complex around Lotte World Tower in Jamsil. Lotte World Tower is the sixth tallest building in the world, and has an observation tower you can pay to enter. Besides shopping and places to eat, Lotte World Mall has an aquarium and concert hall.

A visit to Lotte World Mall pairs well with Seokchon Lake.

Studio Ghibli store inside Lotte World Mall

One of many stores in Lotte World Mall

The COEX Mall in Gangnam is an underground shopping mall that is part the COEX complex, which also includes convention centers and exhibition halls. The COEX Mall is supposed to be the world’s biggest underground mall.

The COEX Mall also features the Starfield Library, a cool, massive two-story library with a cafe and many places to sit.

A visit to COEX pairs well with Bongeunsa Temple.

23. Seoul Forest

Seoul Forest is a sprawling park offering plenty of space, greenery, and art.

Seoul Forest is divided into five sections: the Culture and Art Park, Eco Forest, Wetlands Ecological Field, Experiential Learning Park, and Riverside Park near the Han River.

A climb-able sculpture and rabbits at Seoul Forest

One of the most popular sights at Seoul Forest is the Deer Corral, which, as you might guess, is home to deer. You used to be able to feed them, but it seems like people can’t anymore due to COVID-19.

In terms of other animals, they also have a butterfly garden, insect garden, and rabbit area.

24. Bamdokkaebi Night Market

The Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market (also called the Hangang Moonlight Market) is one of my favorite things in Seoul in general. It’s a night market with food trucks offering international cuisines and stalls of artisans selling their wares.

The name “Bamdokkaebi” comes from bam, which means night, and dokkaebi, which is a creature from Korean mythology.

Bamdokkabi mascot as seen on a building

The Bamdokkaebi mascots on these shipping containers

Food trucks and artist stalls

Events at the night market, like movies and musicians

The Bamdokkaebi Night Market takes places in four locations across the city: Banpo Han River Park, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the Cheonggyecheon Stream, and Yeouido Han River Park.

The night market runs every Friday and Saturday from April to October.

Burgers from the Bamdokkaebi Night Market at Seoul

Some food from the food trucks

If possible, I recommend getting to the spot right around when the market opens or slightly before. That way, you can get your preferred food without a long line and you can watch the sun sink behind Seoul’s many towering buildings.

25. Common Ground

Common Ground is a shopping complex made of shipping containers near Konkuk University. According to their site, Common Ground is the largest shipping container mall in the world.

Common Ground features shops selling of variety of clothing, accessories, home goods, and more. Some of the offerings are quite cute/nifty. The complex also has numerous restaurants and outside seating.

Around Common Ground

They sometimes have events outside; I don’t think these food trucks are there anymore sadly

Common Ground
Location: 200 Achasan-ro, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 광진구 아차산로 200)
Hours: 11 AM – 10 PM

26. Donuimun Museum Village

Donuimun Museum Village is an outdoor theme village that shows a slice of what life used to be like in Seoul. The village features buildings with architectural styles from the 1900s through the 1980s.

Many of the buildings around Doniumun Museum Village are typical buildings people would have visited, like a barbershop and movie theater. Inside many of the buildings, you can learn about daily life related to the building.

Sights around Doniumun Museum Village

Old school bedding and mother-of-pearl furniture

Donuimun Museum Village has also preserved many of the hanok (traditional homes from the Joseon era) that existed in this neighborhood. Inside some of the hanok, you can learn about traditional Korean crafts.

Hanok of the village

Donuimun Museum Village is super cute and charming. It’s a bit hidden – I stumbled upon it by chance on my way to the Seoul Museum of History. I saw it on Google Maps and decided to pop by. Imagine my surprise when I stepped back in time!

Donuimun Museum Village
Location: 14-3 Songwol-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 송월길 14-3)
Hours: 10 AM – 7 PM; closed Mondays

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