Seoul is a huge city with nearly 10 million people, so there is always a never-ending list of amazing things to see and explore. Don’t know where to start? We’ve highlighted our top nine non-touristy places to explore in Seoul so you can experience the city like a local.
1. Yangsu Bike Trail
One of our absolute favorite things to do in the area and past TEAN students have loved to explore the trails time and time again. The Yangsu Bike Trail is located about an hour east of Seoul. You can rent bikes when you get there and explore many different types of trails that go over bridges, through tunnels and past great mountain views! While Seoul can be full of hills, these trails are actually pretty flat so you won’t tire out too quickly. If you get hungry you can stop at one of the great local restaurants with fresh food and even go strawberry picking if you are there from December to February.
2. Seoul National Cemetery
If you ever feel you want to escape from the city, you should head over to the Seoul National Cemetery, which is located just south of the Han River. It is a very large cemetery for veterans and presidents and is surrounded by a massive park. We think that you will agree it is one of the most peaceful places you will find in Seoul.
3. Island Parks
There are multiple parks on the islands in the HanGang, like Seonyudo and Nodeul. You just have to walk across a pedestrian bridge to access the different islands that each boast a very different feeling – some are farms and others are very well manicured parks.
4. Gwangjang Market
This is the oldest market in Seoul and while you will sometimes find it listed in the guidebooks, you will see that westerners don’t often come here. You will want to take subway line 1 to Jongno 5 station. It is fun to get lost wandering around the stalls and you can try amazing food like raw beef, potato pancakes and even live octopus!
If you’re looking for an even less touristy market, head to Jungbu. Jungbu traditional market is smaller and less crowded than Gwangjang and specializes in seafood. It is across from Bangsan Market (also located off of subway line 1, Jongno 5 station). It is fun to walk around because it is similar to a wholesale market but they still allow you to buy things in smaller quantities. If you are looking for an entire store of just cookie cutters, rubber bands or plastic bags – this is your place. It is crazy and really fun to explore!
There are so many mountains in Seoul that are great for climbing. You will see a lot of tourists at the main four mountains – Bukhansan, Namsan, Gwanaksan and Achasan – however if you’re looking for some peaks that are off the beaten path then the subway map is a great place to start. “San” means mountain, so pretty much any subway stop that ends in “san” will have a mountain with the same name near it as many of the stops are named after their nearest mountain. Another thing to note is that “-ak-” means “evil” or, in mountain terms, “hard” so anyone looking for a challenge should look for an “-aksan.” A couple challenging mountains that we recommend are Seoraksan and Gwanaksan.
Since hiking in Seoul is really popular for both locals and foreigners, if you decide to hike Dobongsan, Surisan or Soyosan (each located by its matching train station) you will see some foreigners but they are most likely residents in Seoul. Soyosan and Godaesan are two of my favorites. Soyosan, though the most difficult of the ones listed above, is worth it for its gorgeous temple dug into the side of the mountain.
7. Dongjak Cloud Cafe
This cafe is the perfect spot to watch the sunset in Seoul located in the middle of the Dongjak Bridge. While this cafe seems like it would be a tourist hotspot, we’ve never seen any tourists here. This stop will cost you a bit – remember you are not just paying for the food and drinks but also for the view – so try to line it up with a fireworks show or maximize the view by enjoying the outdoor patio!
8. Muiido Island
For an outdoorsy adventure, head over to Muiido Island. It is an island off the coast of Incheon (yes, out by the airport). Once you get to Incheon from Seoul, it is only about a 5-minute ferry ride. Here you can explore different hiking trails and beaches, and even walk to other islands during certain times of the year if the water level is low!
While these things to do in Seoul are some of our favorites, there’s still so much more to do and see – you’ll love the city! Ask us about studying abroad in Korea for a semester, summer or winter program.