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.
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
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 armor in the Japanese exhibit
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 decorated for Buddha’s Birthday
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.
Location: 55 Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 우정국로 55)
Location: 531 Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 강남구 봉은사로 531)
5. Bukchon Hanok Village
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).
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.
Around Noryangjin Market
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
Hongdae in the morning
Hongdae at night
People watching buskers in Hongdae
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.
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.
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
Location: 45 Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 새문안로 45)
Hours: 9 AM – 6 PM; closed on Mondays
9. Olympic Park
Sights around Olympic Park
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
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
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 ginseng shop
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.
15. Cheonggyecheon Stream
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.
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
Location: 288 Jong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 종로 288)
Location: 40 Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 중구 세종대로 40)
18. Seoul City 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.
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
Some sights around Seoullo 7017
20. Rainbow Fountain at Banpo Han River Park
The floating islands
The Rainbow Fountain
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Hanok of the village
Donuimun Museum Village
Location: 14-3 Songwol-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 송월길 14-3)
Hours: 10 AM – 7 PM; closed Mondays