Seoul is an incredible, globally-renowned city with a lot to offer, but it’s easy to fall into a routine of going to the same places and tourist traps instead of venturing to the hidden gems of the city. Maybe it’s time to escape the routine? There’s nowhere quite like Seoul, and Secret Seoul exists to help you discover the best of it. So if you’re looking to venture off the beaten path, or if you’re determined to make the most of your time in the city – whether you’re a visitor or Seoul local – we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Seoul, whatever time of year you visit. Let’s go!
1. Explore these architecture prize-winning buildings
Seoul has many beautiful buildings, and that number continues to grow each year. The Seoul Architecture Festival is held every year, awarding the Seoul Architecture Prize to buildings and design works that beautify the city, and in our opinion, one of the best things to do in Seoul is to explore as many past winners as you can.
The Forest, a bookstore & café in the middle of Inwangsan Mountain, Nodeul Island floating on the Han River, and Seoul Botanical Garden, the city’s first urban botanical garden, have all received architectural awards. Visiting these spaces is an experience in itself, so if you want to be mesmerized by the beauty of design, check out some of these award-winning buildings!
2. Catch indie films and rooftop screenings at this art centre
There is no other city in Korea that is as much of a centre for art and indie culture as Seoul. If we had to pick one subculture Seoul does best, it would be art films and independent arts, and for this, you’ll want to head to Emu. The venue’s Starlight Film Festival is held every year when the weather is warm enough to open the rooftop space, but year-round, this arthouse cinema is beloved by those in their 20s & 30s for its trendy exhibitions and programs.
The rooftop film experience is enhanced by the curated programmes, but on any given day, you’ll find plenty to enjoy at the bookshop, café, gallery, and film theatres housed within the centre. Check out their official Instagram for the latest.
📍 7 Gyeonghuigung 1ga-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Candlelight, a concert of classical music performed by thousands of candles, has been popularising classical music not only in Seoul, but also in Busan, Daejeon, Incheon, and other cities in Korea. Still, we think the best ones are found in Seoul! Whether it’s Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in a place of worship or Mozart’s Requiem, the program picks and chooses the most beautiful spaces in Seoul and holds classical and contemporary concerts that bewitch visitors. After enjoying a Candlelight concert in Seoul, you may find yourself booking again because of the moving charms of the music and candles.
4. Believe in magic at Gold Label Magic Bar
It’s hard to say if this is the only magic bar in Korea, but it’s definitely one to visit. The magician who runs the bar, Lim Hong-jin, is a national professional magician, and many of the most well-known and famous magicians in Korea visit the bar. Located in Garosu-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gold Label Magic Bar has a magic show every day they’re open.
Magic performances are held at 9pm on the main stage and at midnight at the bar tables. The midnight show, in particular, focuses more on close-up magic tricks than a grand staged performance. Really, it’s the only place in Seoul to spend a romantic night where you won’t know if you’re drunk or magically inebriated. See their Instagram for opening hours and more info.
📍 Gangnam-gu, Nonhyeon-dong, 4-20 번지 하 1층
5. Get lost in the music at a jazz bar
In Seoul, there are jazz bars aplenty. From the first generation of jazz bars to those that are booked out every day, there are many different types of jazz performances, such as a jazz concert held every Wednesday through Saturday at Seoul Brewery (find your tickets here, and stay for a beer after).
Meanwhile, Dido Jazz Lounge is a jazz bar that is often referred to as a jazz lover’s dream. Professional musicians from famous music schools such as Berklee and jazz festival stalwarts often appear on the stage of jazz bars. Whether you know jazz or not, you can just hum along to the music and enjoy yourself, so consider a visit to Seoul’s best jazz bars.
Drawing and colouring doesn’t always mean sitting down to do it peacefully. At Paint Rabbit in Seongsu, it’s about filling a water gun with paint and shooting it, or dipping a brush into a bucket of paint and splattering it all over the place. Instead of elegant smocks and aprons, the painters enter the firing chamber in full body suits, goggles, and shoe covers, like something out of the FBI. It’s the time to unleash your inner artist, soundtracked by loud music to really get you in the creative frame of mind.
For reservations and more information, book your tickets via Fever.
7. Relax at a peaceful Seoul park
Seoul is home to a massive array of parks. In addition to Hangang Park, which runs along the edge of the Han River, the beautiful Seoul Forest Park remains one of our favourites, especially as the green leaves change throughout the seasons, whilst the greenery is somehow squeezed in between the forest of buildings at places like Seoul Children’s Grand Park. As the sun goes down, you can enjoy the glow of occasional drone shows and fireworks at spots such as Ttukseom Hangang Park and Yeouido Hangang Park. Also, keep an eye out for festivals along the Han River, which run throughout the year.
8. Soak up the whiskey and atmosphere at Mugeunbon
One of our favourite places in Seoul, where negativity is banished and new friends are found, Mugeunbon translates as ‘rootless’. It’s famous for its’ boss and staff’s overflowing fun and food, rather than its drinks and snacks. There are all kinds of famous karaoke singers, from Park Ji-sung to Park Hyo-shin, and they never stop telling scary and funny stories.
If you go to Mugeunbon, don’t forget to drink whiskey. Despite the increasingly high cost of whiskey, the owner says he wants to offer the cheapest and highest quality whiskey available. There are few other bars in Seoul with such a no-frills atmosphere offering such a fun night out, so check out the Instagram page here.
📍Seongdong-gu, Seongsuil-ro 8-gil, 40 1 1F
The Han River in Seoul is pretty hard to miss. But if you want to enjoy the Han River to the fullest, there’s nowhere better to go than a local café to sip coffee and peacefully gaze at the water for a while. These coffee shops offer incredible views, and you’ll even find a ubiquitous Starbucks floating on the Han River.
10. Head to a live music venue (with a chance of surprise appearances by famous musicians)
There are many stages for people who sing effortlessly across Seoul’s live music venues, such as BANJUL and Side Note Club in Hongdae. They have a different charm than jazz bars, often offering a broader range of music – and sometimes you might be lucky enough to be surprised by a really famous musician! Coincidental appearances or not, live music is a must-try experience in Seoul.
11. Immerse yourself in a media art experience like Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
We’ve seen enough exhibitions and art to know that it’s hard to recommend something simply because it’s beautiful or because it’s famous. How, we can easily confirm that these media art shows inspire us and make us feel something powerful, making them one of the best things to do in Seoul in our opinion. It’s not just about putting a picture on a big screen, it’s about connecting with the audience, and if you can lie down or sit down and immerse yourself in the art and reach a trance-like state, they’re definitely worth recommending. Our current favourite is Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, an unmissable exhibition now open in Seoul.
12. Visit the largest shark habitat in Korea at COEX Aquarium
COEX Aquarium is Korea’s largest shark habitat and truly one of the best things to do in Seoul. About 40 sharks, including sandbar sharks, sand tiger sharks, zebra sharks, magpie sharks, and tonneau sharks, and two types of stingrays live together in the main tank, Sea Kingdom. This place is also recommended for more sedate wanders around the main water tank and undersea tunnel, spotting as much marine life as you can.