Planning a stop in Seoul, South Korea? Here’s where to eat, drink, and stay, and what to see and do.
Seoul truly is the city that never sleeps. It’s a city where all my senses are on high alert as there is always so much going on—a sensory overload but in the best way possible. Although Seoul is a city that follows trends closely, so much so that a whole neighborhood can change overnight, if you ask Seoulites in the know where to go for the best the city has to offer, they’ll most likely advise you to not to miss the places and experiences listed below.
Where to Eat & Drink
You might already know of this magical place because of Netflix’s series “Street Food” but this traditional market has been around since 1905! It’s one of the largest markets in Seoul with over 5,000 shops. You cannot leave without trying the famous bindaetteok, mung bean pancakes (paired best with makgeoli, Korean rice wine) and “mayak” gimbap, mini Korean seaweed rice rolls, often served with toothpicks and a small packet of gyeoja, a Korean mustard based sauce. This market is also one of the most affordable places to buy food souvenir gifts. I always stock up on flavored almonds and packets of seaweed!
Tip: People often don’t know this but some of the best vintage and hanbok (Korean traditional dress) shopping can also be done here at the market on the upper level—just look for the staircase!
Address: 88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno 4(sa)-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Although Haap has four locations scattered around Seoul, the newest location in Jongno (which shares the same building as Arario Museum and Fritz Coffee’s hanok) is a must-visit for anyone who wants to experience sweet Korean delicacies. Here, the chef-owner Shin Yong-il uses his French pastry training to deliver his interpretation on Korean “desserts.” Think different types of tteok, Korean rice cakes; yakgwa, Korean honey “cookies;” Korean teas; and more. The chocolate yakgwa, which was created in collaboration with the most celebrated chocolatier in Korea, and their bakha (East Asian mint) coated pine nuts are an absolute must try. Haap is also an excellent place to buy edible gifts for friends back home as they can gift wrap your purchase in a bojagi, traditional Korean wrapping cloth, upon request.
Address (Jongno Location): 83, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03058, South Korea
A new generation of chefs are paving the way for “contemporary” Korean cuisine. The three chefs at IDA have managed to combine their memories and love for Hansik, Korean cuisine, to create Korean comfort food in a gorgeous new space. They offer a fantastic natural wine selection that changes monthly. Come in for lunch or dinner but don’t leave without checking out the rooftop.
Tip: The best table is always the chef’s table.
Address: Kwonnong-dong 141-5 Seosun ra gil153, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
No Seoul list is complete without a Korean BBQ suggestion. Koreans are very proud of hanwoo, Korean beef from a species of cow that is indigenous to the peninsula, and eating it is often considered a treat. According to Korean food consultant Jain Song, the next big thing for fine dining will be Korean BBQ and Born & Bred is leading the way. Both a butcher shop and restaurant, they offer a tasting menu with different cuts of hanwoo paired with banchans, side dishes, and omakase-style offerings. Reservations highly recommended.
Address: 781-15 Majang-dong, Seongdong-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Aeseong Hoegwan Hanwoo Gomtang (애성회관 곰탕)
A lot of the best restaurants in Seoul are “old” (referred to as NoPo institutions), tucked away in alleyways, and specialize in a few dishes (which can mean limited menus! Those with dietary restrictions, beware). Aesong Howgwan is one of those places. Using only hanwoo beef, the bone broth soup here is fantastic and comes with rice, noodles, and brisket that melts on your tongue, served with homemade kimchi. Although this bone broth meal is delicious at any time of the day, I love coming here for breakfast.
Address: 23 Namdaemun-ro 5-gil, Sogong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Eating and drinking on plastic stools and tables on the street in Korea is one of my favorite experiences. In Korea, we take KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) very seriously. At Friend Chicken, expect old school fried chicken, plain or seasoned, with crispy radish pickle and a bowl of Korean “chips.” Pairing it with beer is always a good idea.
Address: 225-112, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Fritz Coffee Company entered the scene in 2015 and changed the way Koreans consume coffee and bread. Not only do they roast their own beans but they also have a full on bakery operation led by one of the most brilliant boulangers in Korea. Think super flaky chocolate croissants, doughnuts, and cookies. They are purveyors of taste in all aspects (in that not only is the food and drink fantastic, but the shops are all tastefully decorated with branded food merch to fawn over; the Jongno location is modeled after a hanok, a traditional Korean home).
Several locations around Seoul but our favorites are:
First Shop Address: 17 Saechang-ro 2gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Fritz Hanok Address: 83 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Eulji OB Bear
There are parts of Seoul that are fighting for their lives to survive from the effects of gentrification. One of the hardest hit areas is Euljiro, where you’ll find a street called “Nogari Alley,” named after the dried young pollack that are commonly served there. The whole street has been mostly taken over by a new business, like Monopoly in real life, but the people over at Eulji OB Bear—one of the original shops, and according to Jason Kim of My Korean Eats, the oldest HOF Bar in Korea—are doing everything they can to stay afloat. Here you’ll find flowing cold beer with Korean drinking snacks like peanuts and dried fish served with mayo for dipping. They open at 11 a.m. and the street transforms into an outdoor pub, decorated with colorful plastic chairs and tables. You could easily spend a whole day here people watching and learning about the neighborhood.
Address: 95 Euljiro 3-ga, Junggu, Seoul, South Korea
Pochas (Korean drinking tents) at Jongno-3-Ga
Pochas (short for pojangmacha), Korean drinking tents, are so integral to this neighborhood that when the government threatened to clear them out, the locals rallied and petitioned to protect these institutions. In these tents you’ll find crowd-pleasing “street food” but also some delicacies like chicken feet and octopus that’s so fresh it still moves! Everything, including the less familiar dishes, goes down easier with soju or makgeoli, Korean rice wine. Remember that most places are cash only.
Address: outside the metro exit at Jogno-3-Ga Station, Seoul, South Korea
What to See & Do
Kimchi is a very important part of a Korean meal, but with the rise of kimchi’s popularity around the globe, many people have forgotten its history (or were never aware of it in the first place). Like, did you know that kimchi wasn’t always spicy? That there are over hundreds of different types of kimchi (not just cabbage)? Come here to learn all about kimchi, including the science behind it. They even offer hands-on kimchi classes (which require reservations in advance). The entrance ticket also includes tickets to a tasting on the top floor!
Address: 35-4 Insadong-gil, Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
One of the best ways to learn about a new place is to learn how the locals eat. Whenever I travel somewhere new, I always visit the local markets and take a cooking class. With OME Cooking Lab, you get to do both! First you get to visit the market that is seldom seen by tourists, where your teacher will introduce you to Korean ingredients beyond gochujang (fermented Korean chili paste) and sesame oil. Then you’ll get to spend the next few hours learning to cook whatever is on the menu for that day. The teachers are incredibly passionate and educated when it comes to Hansik, so you’ll leave with a newfound appreciation for Korean food.
Address: 35-1, Yangnyeongjungang-ro, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Jain Song is a licensed tour guide, experienced chef, and an academic who studied Hansik in depth. When it comes to taste and food in Korea, Jain is a master of both. If you’re wanting a once-in-a-lifetime type of food experience, working with Jain to design your custom culinary trip is both a smart and delicious idea.
Kimchi is a product of fermentation. So is wine. Pairing them just makes sense. It was only recently that people started promoting kimchi and wine pairings but Korean sommelier and owner of Fox Wine Bar has been doing it for years! During the two hour experience, you’ll learn about both fermented favorites and enjoy a delicious meal featuring aged kimchi—and wine, of course.
Address: 14 Dongmak-ro 9-gil, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Where to Shop
In Korea, like many parts of Asia, convenience stores are life. Most are open 24 hours and perusing the aisles for the newest snack innovation, ramen, and flavored milk is an experience in itself. You can even eat full meals here as they provide hot water and microwaves. Curated convenience stores are also becoming trendy. For this, check out Going Mary, a new convenience store concept created by food start-up Oktokki Project.
Address: They are hard to miss as they are everywhere! Just look for 7-11, CU, GS25, or Family Mart.
Related Reading: Why Grocery Shopping Is the Best Food Tour
Independent bookshops in Korea are often found in beautiful spaces with books from all over the world. Magazine B, a magazine dedicated to the history of brands and city guides, opened Still Books inside Sounds Hannam, a collection of trendy shops and restaurants. You’ll find several floors of books and unique gifts, categorized by theme, and of course, on the first floor, you’ll find every single Magazine B issue for sale, in both English and Korean.
Address: 35 Daesagwan-ro, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Shinsegae, an upscale Korean retail group, recently opened SSG Food Market, a one-stop shop for the best in food. Although it is a bit pricey, they really have one of the best selections of premium products. I always stock up on sesame oil, vinegar, jang (Korean fermented pastes), and other Korean pantry staples before I head back home. Pack an extra bag!
Address: 442 Dosan-daero, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Related Reading: The Best Packing Cubes to Make Travel a Breeze
Where to Stay
Located inside a private art museum on a street adjacent to the Main Palace, this is one of my favorite places to stay in the world. The rooms are simple and modern and the museum offers contemporary exhibitions in two buildings, a modern building where the rooms are located and next door in an old motel that was kept in its original condition.
Address: 33 Hyoja-ro, Tongui-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
There is something about being in hanoks, traditional Korean homes, that is so relaxing. Maybe it’s the warm heated floors in the winter or the shade and light breeze that enters in the summer or the feng shui of the space. Whatever the case, sleeping in one is a unique experience that you can’t have anywhere else in the world. Rakkoje is located in Bukchon Hanok Village on a street that is less frequented by visitors, meaning a special experience without hordes of tourists with selfie sticks! Sometimes, Rakkoje even offers a Korean tea ceremony experience where you can learn about the rich, often unknown history of teas on the peninsula.
Address:, Seoul, South Korea
This place isn’t everybody’s cup of tea with over-the-top interior decor but if you want to see where YTKs (Young Trendy Koreans) flock to, this is the place. Designed by some of the top creatives in the world, this hotel nails all the details, from floral arrangements to products for your furry friend! There are several dining and drinking options within the hotel walls, brought to you by talented chefs and their very own food and beverage curator.
Address: 67 Toegye-ro Jung-gu Seoul, South Korea
What are your favorite stops in Seoul? Let us know in the comments!
Header image courtesy of Diego Mariottini/EyeEm/Getty Images