Living like a Local Korean: Top 5 Things to do in Seoul

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I don’t know about you, but when I go traveling in another country, I would love nothing more than to experience what it’s like to be a local there. I love to explore and discover new places along the way. So, tourist-sy places where I have to squeeze through mountains of people just to take a photo are out of the question for me. If you, too, want to look for things to do in Seoul that are not as mainstream for tourists, I’m going to let you in on a little secret on stuff you can do and places you can go to just to achieve that!

Things to Do in Seoul: Indoor Activities

1) Pump up your day at Coffee Hanyakbang

Address: 16-6 Samil-daero 12-gil, Myeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 8am-10:30pm, Saturday: 11am-10pm, Sunday: 11am-9:30pm
Contact number: +82 70-4148-4242

Hidden at the end of a dark, narrow alley in downtown Seoul, is Coffee Hanyakbang. Unlike the trendy, modern cafes featured in the city centre, the interior of this elusive cafe looks like a traditional Chinese pharmacy, filled with antique medical cabinets surrounded by rusty walls. Even the coffee sold there are like the olden days – rich and strong.

What makes it special?

Apart from the oriental design, the baristas there are very hands-on when it comes to the coffee. They roast their own coffee beans to ensure the freshness of their cups of delight. We can also choose the origin of the coffee bean based on our preference.

Coffee-Hanyakbang_Seoul_menu_things_to_do_Seoul
Image Source

Except for the usual coffee, non-caffeinated options like hot chocolate are also available! You can always grab a dessert or a sandwich to go with your drinks – a brew of sweetness and bitterness! Yum! It is definitely one of the best cafes to visit in Seoul.

Why do the locals love it so much?

Did you know that Koreans drink more than 12 cups of coffee per week? Spending a day in a cafe is almost like a daily routine for most locals. Of course, the many unique, themed cafes you can find in every corner of the bustling street are fun and all. These sort of independent cafes need our support, and the cozy vibes there offer a perfect spot for dating and studying – which are both very important to Koreans.

This is how you get to this place:

You know you need to cram through a backstreet to reach Hanyakbang, but exactly how to get there? No need to panic! Here’s how: You can go there by taking the Metro. Get off at Euljiro 3-ga Station and walk out through Exit 1. You will see a line of houses and shops on your right hand side, walk down that street and turn right again when you see the first junction. Walk down this street and stop when you can see the Ginseng Chicken Restaurant (around thirty meters away), the mentioned alleyway is right next to this shop. Follow the path, and you will find the Cafe located at the back alley.

Coffee_Hanyakbang_alley_things-to-do-Seoul
Image Source

2) Eat your way through the Gwangjang Market

Address: 88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno 4(sa)-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday
Retail: 8:30am-6pm
Street Food: 8:30am-11pm
Clothing: 9pm-10am

As you enter Gwangjang Market, you can already sniff the savory and heavenly smell of traditional Korean food in the air. Sizzling sounds and smoke saturating the market, food stall owners are working hard, sweating, hoping to put a smile on their customers’ faces…
Splurging on street food is a must-do when traveling in Asian countries. There are a ton of markets and streets in Korea solely dedicated to street food. They are without-a-doubt, a paradise for foodies like myself! Gwangjang Market, being the nation’s oldest market, has recently gained recognition because of the famous Korean game show, “Running Man”.

gwangjang-market-seoul-things to do Seoul
Image Source
What can you find here?

In this indoor market, you can find clothes, fresh vegetables and other dry goods. But it is best-known for its wide range of street food stalls. Here, you can have a taste of the very local street food including mayak gimbap (rice rolls), bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), and the exotic soondae (blood sausages).

On the second level of the market, you can also find high-quality linen, silk and satin textiles.

Why do the locals love it so much?

We all know that South Korea has a lot of different markets and streets to stroll and shop around. So, why do the local Koreans prefer coming here than other more famously known markets? I believe it could be attributed to the place’s unique aura. Despite the rapid changes Korea has throughout the centuries, this market retains the olden day’s atmosphere – charming, warm and welcoming. The authentic street food could also be another factor for its popularity. On top of that, the fabrics sold in the area often attract newly engaged or weds to come for making hanbok (traditional Korean clothing).

This is how you get to this place:

You can easily get here by taking the Metro. Get off at Jongno-5 station and exit through either Exit 9 or 8. They will guide you straight to the entrance of the market.

Price: Street food ranging from 1000won -4000 won ($1-$4 USD)

Things to Do in Seoul: Outdoor Activities

3) Wander around Ikseon-dong Hanok Village

Address: Ikseon-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday: 10am-9pm (except for Wednesday: 11:30am-9pm)

Located right in the center of Seoul, Ikseon-dong hanok village ironically looks like an island isolated from the capital. It is a crossover between nostalgia and chic. Stepping in here feels like you have taken a time machine, racing back to Seoul in the 1920s; but interestingly, with a splash of moderness and creativity. Here, you can find rows of traditional Korean houses, also known as “hanok”. Most of these hanoks have transformed into trendy restaurants, stores and cafes.

Ikeon_dong_Hanok_village_Seoul_things_to_do
Image Source
Photo taken by: Shy numis
What can you find here?

In this one small area, you can pretty much already do all the things people usually do in Seoul – eating street food, shopping, drinking coffees…etc. It’s the whole package!
It takes about 2 hours to finish walking through the entire village. But in reality, I reckon it would take way more time, because the village is like a maze with many back alleys to get lost in – that being said, you are bound to get hungry on your little excursion. When that happens, you should definitely try the restaurants and food stalls here. You can find food from all around the world in this quaint neighborhood, including some traditional Korean food like Hotteok, which is basically sticky rice with honey or different ingredients wrapped inside.

After getting food, you might want to do some shopping. If you are into antiques, this village would make you fall in love. Because most of the shops here sell vintage items.
As for coffee-lovers, the large variety of cafes here suit your every need and mood. If you prefer drinking beer, there are also a few bars in the area. Lastly, for entertainment, you can consider going to the shooting range or arcades here!

Why do the locals love it so much?

Other than being an incredible spot for local instagrammers to take photos at, Ikseon-dong is also brimming with hip boutiques opened up by young, up-and-coming artists in Seoul. Naturally, these cool stores draw the locals in for shopping and also, to show their support for self-sufficient talents.

This is how you get to this place:

Again, you would need to take the Metro. Get off at Jongno 3-ga Station and leave through Exits 4 or 5. Go up the escalator to the ground level, and ta-da! The Ikseon-dong Hanok Village is just on the left! Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Price: The restaurants are pretty high-end, so if you are on a budget, visiting cafes for food would probably be a better option. The boutiques are at a more reasonable price though.

4) Unwind in Banpo Hangang Park

Address: 137-040 40, Sinbanpo-ro 11-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul
Opening hours: Opens 24 hours, all year round

The pandemic has taken a toll on all of us by turning our lives upside down. That is why we all need a breather, relaxing things to do to take our minds off stress – taking a walk in the Banpo Hangang Park might just be what the doctor ordered.

What can you find there?

Situated near the Hangang River, the Banpo Hangang Park is designed for both foreigners and the locals to chill and relax. To achieve that, various sports facilities, like a football field and an open-space swimming pool, are built in the park for visitors to enjoy.
If you are looking for things to do in Seoul at night, you can also watch a light show at the Banpo Bridge Moonlight Rainbow Fountain. However, it is only available from April 1st to October 31st, so pay attention to that!

Moonlight-Rainbow-Fountain
Image Source Photo taken by: Raymond Ling
Why do the locals love it so much?

It is an ideal place to pump up your heart rate by doing sports like jogging and riding a bike. If you hate exercising, taking a walk or setting up a picnic with your friends by the Han’s river are also great weekend plans. It might just be the escape you need, away from the city.
Scenery-wise, it might not be as stunning as one of the most famous Seoul attractions, the Bukhansan National Park. But you can enjoy your time there just the same if not more.
On top of that, the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain is a perfect place for couples to make a grand gesture to their other half — *wink wink* I hear wedding bells!

This is how you get to this place:

You can either take the Metro or the bus to get there. For the Metro, if you are on line 3,7, or 9, get off at Express Bus Terminal Station and get out through Exit 8-1. Once you are out, walk straight (~250 metres ) until you reach the Express Bus Terminal intersection. Turn right and walk straight again (~400 metres). Cross the road and walk through a tunnel to get to the park.
If you are on line 4, walk out at Exit 1 at Dongjak Station. Then, go straight (~20 metres) until you reach the Banpo Jugong Apartments. Turn left there and walk for another 900 metres and you will see the park.
For the bus, you can choose to take the 405 or 740 Blue Buses. Just get off at the Express Bus Terminal Bus Stop near Exit 8-1, then follow the same path I mentioned earlier.

Price: FREE

Things to Do in Seoul: Entertainment

5) Coin Noraebang to hang with your gang

Opening time: Opens 24 hours, all year round

So, right off the bat, what is Noraebang? Noraebang = Karaoke lounge. It is an area for you to sing with a music video displayed on the screen. And what’s a better thing to do to de-stress than to sing your heart out at a Coin Noraebang? They are one of the most popular things to do for the locals in Seoul!

How does it work?

Different from regular karaoke, Coin Noraebang works like the vending machines we see off the street. The rooms are like photo-booths with a flat screen, a song catalogue, a remote control and two microphones inside. Yes. It is tiny. But still, it can fit up to 4 people. You can insert either coin or paper money into the bill slot of this “vending machine”. Then, voila! You can start choosing the songs and unleash your inner Beyonce.

coin-operated-karaoke-machine
Image Source Photo taken by ABC News
Why do the locals love it so much?

A lot of Koreans come here after dinner or getting a drink. It is not only a very affordable activity and place to get together with friends and family or be alone, but also a great place to sing all your troubles away after a day’s work.

This is how you find this place:

There are two major Coin Noraebang chains- Super Star and Coin Su Noraebang in South Korea. You can find buildings with Coin Noraebang and isolated rooms all over Seoul. Especially around university areas.

Super Star
Gangnam: Get out of the Metro by taking Exit 11. Turn right at the 2nd street and left on the next street. The establishment would be on your right. Go up 4 floors.
Hongdae: You will want to first get to the Hongik Cultural Park by taking Exit 2 at Sangsu Station and walking for 600 metres. The karaoke place is just next to this park. Go down to the B1 floor.
Shillim: Get out of the Metro from Exit 11. Head straight for a few minutes and you will see it on your left. Get in Jaws Ddeokpokki and go down to B1 floor.

Coin Su Noraebang
Hongdae: It is on the same street as the Hongik Cultural Park. Look for ZARA because the premise is across from it.
Shinchon: Get out through Exit 1 and walk straight until you reach the 2nd street. Turn right there and straight ahead. Enter the park you will see on the way and get in the building in the park. Go up to the 4th floor and you can find the Coin Noraebang.
Noryangjin: Go down the stairs from Exit 2, and cross the streets. Turn left in front of the “Seed to Cup” store. Then, turn right after walking past McDonald’s. You will soon see the Coin Noraebang, it is on the basement floor.

Price: 500won (0.44USD)//2 songs, 1000won(0.87USD)//4 songs
*machines do not provide changes

Which Things to do in Seoul Caught Your Eyes?

Actually, scratch that, why not do all of those things on your trip?
These “things to do in Seoul” might not be as exciting or as insta-worthy as the ones foreigners normally do when they travel to Seoul. Yet sometimes, you can surprisingly get more from just having a low-key day wandering around the city. Honestly, in this day and age, you can access a load of information on fun things to do in Seoul in just a blink of an eye. There are too many options pulling you in all sorts of directions. At the end of the day, any one of these activities can make your trip memorable and enjoyable, so just go with your heart!

I hope my suggestions on things to do in Seoul could make it on your list!

If you wanna know more about things to do in Seoul or other places to go to in South Korea, feel free to check out our Blog Page!

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