By Ben Jeon, a local youtube entrepreneur with a passion for sharing Korean food, culture and tourism with the world. Edited by Jess Wright
As a tourist destination, Seoul has it all. The region in which Seoul resides has been continuously inhabited for more than 2000 years, and this is evidenced by the ancient temples, palaces and villages that give Seoul a rich historicity. Enveloping these historical sites is a breathtaking modern cityscape that reflects the burgeoning tech-driven economy that powers Seoul. The cultural scene is unlike anything else in the world – a wild blend of beauty tourism, Korean street food, a fascinating history and of course – karaoke! Travelling to a place you have never been is not always easy, and can be especially tricky if you’re doing it on your own. Whether you are looking for a relaxing journey through history or wild nights out, I assure you that once you have read through this list of things to do in Seoul alone, you will be convinced that you don’t need a travelling companion to have one of the best experiences of your life. And if you find yourself asking if Seoul is safe to travel to alone, don’t fret – it has become a popular destination for solo travelers because it’s such a safe and accommodating city.
The name might seem a mouthful, and that’s because it is actually the combination of Seolleung and Jeongneung – referring to the tombs of King Seongjong, Queen Jeonghyeon and King Jungjong who was the son of the former. As you may have guessed, Seongjeongneung is a royal burial site, and it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2009. As part of your Seoul solo itinerary this site comes highly recommended as it is not so well known, making it a peaceful and uncluttered space to go and clear the mind while taking in some history. Being adjacent to the Seolleung station, it is very accessible. Once you’re done at the tombs, you might want to visit Bongeunsa temple, which is just a short walk away. The path leads out of the red spiked gate and along a forest trail. There are two paths here, one of which is slightly elevated. This path is known as the path of the spirit, and it is considered disrespectful for tourists to walk along it, so I advise that you take the lower path. The walk is brief, but utterly tranquil, and the green-lit quiet of the forest is sure to refresh you.
At about a kilometer in length, Seoullo 7017 is a bridge that used to be an abandoned overpass for cars. The name has a curious etymology. The 70 is for the year in which the bridge was built, and the 17 refers to oth the year in which it was revived as a tourist destination and the number of footpaths now present on the bridge. Bridge sounds banal, but in truth, the Seoullo 7017 is one of the more unique things to do in Seoul. The main attraction is the view – the bridge is high enough to see a great of Seoul, and at night the city lights flare up in a breathtaking kaleidoscope and so a visit after the sun has set is one of the best things to do in Seoul at night. Along the way are many different food stores selling traditional Korean food, so a late-night dinner may be in order. There is also a Seoullo gift shop for souvenirs, and trampoline park for the more adventurously inclined. If you get lost or just want to know more about the bridge and Seoul in general, there are eight tourist information centers that you can stop at. If you’re lucky, you may catch a live band playing at one of the stages on the bridge. There are also 200 different kinds of plants on the bridge, which is enough to excite even the most worldly botanist. If you are foot-weary there are round pools along the way for you to dip your feet in.
Seoul Sky Observatory
The 5th tallest building in the world, the Lotte World Tower has 123 floors. That may seem like a lot (and it is), but the elevator inside will get you to the top in just 3 minutes (a literal world record). And why would you want to go the top? The 123rd floor boasts the Seoul Sky Observatory and what is probably the best view in Seoul, and at around 7pm in summer you can see the sun setting in a spectacularly incandescent orange. If you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie, head down to the 17th floor. This floor features a glass deck that allows you to see right the way down to the below you. Get vertigo? This probably is not for you. A photo looking down with your shoes in the frame is bound to be Instagram worthy. At around 63 floors, the Yuksam building seems dwarfish by comparison, but the view from the top floor rivals that of the Sky observatory, for different reasons. I recommend the Yuksam on a sunny day, though there are plenty of features inside for a rainy day too. The facade of the Yuksam glows an impressive gold despite its age, and is something to behold when the light catches it just right. Inside you will find an IMAX, an aquarium, a wax museum and a variety of restaurants - great spot for a lunch.
Itaewon And Hongdae
Hongdae is a University district, with four universities – the Hongik, Yonsei, Sogang and Ehwa. As a student hangout, it is also one of the trendiest places in Seoul and is full of quirky and unusual things to do, such as the Hello Kitty Cafe, one of the famous pet cafes. Built around student budgets, the plethora of street food outlets are bound to give provide a delicious and cost-effective meal that is best enjoyed while watching one of the indie bands that commonly play throughout the Hongdae area. If you’re not too shy and looking to party, you definitely have to give one of the Noraebangs a try. A Noraebang is a karaoke bar – somewhere you are bound to make some friends at, however awful your singing voice may be. If you’re really opposed to singing, don’t worry, there plenty of good ol’ bars to hang out at. For the afterparty you may want to head over to Itaewon, a district known for its multiculturalism. Here you are bound to bump shoulders with all manner of international citizens while partying the night away.
Korea is famous for its shopping and Myeongdong is famous even in Korea as a shopping Mecca. Seeing over 2 million shoppers a day, the Myeongdong area is packed with shops catering to the beauty crazes of Korea, from the latest clothing store to cosmetics, massage parlors, jewelry stores and all manner of curious shops selling items you will likely not see anywhere else in the world. Top international brands and unique Korean brands alike call this place home, and there is something for everyone. In between browsing, there are multitudes of Korean street food vendors and fine-dining restaurants to choose from for meals, snacks and luxury dining experiences. If you aren't too partied out after Hongdae, then Myeongdong will welcome you with a thrilling and diverse nightlife. If you are looking for some quietude, take a walk to the Myeongdong Cathedral. The cathedral will immediately strike you as being very out of place with its sweeping gothic architecture. This cathedral is home to the Roman Catholic church of Korea, and is an unusually beautiful sight.
Sightseeing In Jongno
Jongno is home to no less than four of the five grand palaces of Seoul and is guaranteed to be one of the highlights of your Seoul solo itinerary. Gyeongbok-gung, Changdeok-gung, Changyeong-gung and Gyeonghui-gung are the four palaces and each one is a breathtaking sight. Amongst them are a plethora of shrines, temples, parks and historical neighborhoods. A must-visit is the Bukchong Hanok village, a 600 year old residential neighborhood in Jongno gu Seoul. You may spot people wearing traditional attire in this area – these are Hanbok, traditional dresses. If you are looking for a more tactile experience, you can rent a hanbok near the National Folk Museum of Korea and this will guarantee you free entrance into the museum which is a fascinating recollection of how the people of Seoul used to live in ages gone by. Changdeokgung palace, which is adjacent to Gyeongbok-gung, is one of the more popular of the five grand palaces. It has 110 buildings stretched over a staggering 110 acres.
Gastronomy In Seoul
Traditionally, Korean food culture has centered around eating in a group. Menus for two that are so typical in Korean restaurants are a good indication of this. However, and this is good news for anyone undertaking Seoul solo travel, there is a new trend in Korean food culture that caters for the introvert (or solo traveler). Honbap is the practice of dining alone, and there is a booming trend in Seoul for Honbap restaurants. Many of these feature single booths with a miniature grill over which one can grill their meat while watching the televised entertainment. There are also restaurants that serve ramen for single people, but these take dining in privacy to a whole new level. Known as Ichi-men, these restaurants feature private, closed off booths where a person can sit and enjoy their meal. To order, one simply purchases their meal at a vending machine on the way in, and passes the slip through a hatch in the one wall of the booth to the kitchen, where a silent chef takes it and prepares the meal accordingly. Another must-see for the gastronomist is Nandaemun market. As South Korea’s oldest and largest market, Nandaemun is a constant hive of activity and somewhere that you are guaranteed to find the most authentically Korean food.
Practical Tips For The Solo Traveler
As a solo traveler, not only should you be armed with a list of things to do in Seoul alone, but also with a list of tips and tricks to ensure a seamless journey. Firstly, use public transport wherever possible. It is safe, efficient and cost effective, making it the best way to travel in Seoul. The subway is the best form of public transport and will get you within walking distance of anywhere that you need to be. Get yourself a T-money card and pre-load it so that you don’t have to bother with tickets. Try couch surfing or airbnb to arrange a stay with a local family. Koreans are very hospitable people and it always helps to have a friendly face when travelling solo. A hostel will also do in a pinch, although this may be less glamorous. Bring a selfie stick - Seoul is one of the most photo-worthy cities out there. And lastly, enjoy. Seoul is a safe, friend, accommodating and beautiful city and you will not regret your visit.
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