Traditional Korean style architecture at Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul

3 days in Seoul: an itinerary for first-time visitors

Emily Adam

Contributing writer

Planning a trip to Seoul? Here are our top picks...

Stay: RYSE by Marriott

Walking tour: Seoul by moonlight

Food tour: Night market food tour

DMZ tour: Small group DMZ tour

Day trip: Nami Island and Petite France

Mention South Korea to anyone and the first place that comes to mind is Seoul. With breathtaking high-rise buildings, bustling streets, and unparalleled aesthetic cafes, this is a city not to be missed on any visit to East Asia.

Aside from its modern charm and towering skyscrapers, history and culture are sprinkled throughout the city. From winding, old-fashioned side streets to gorgeous palaces, there’s plenty of culture to discover when you visit Seoul.

On top of being a truly beautiful city with unique and interesting foods, mouth-watering barbecues on every corner, a convenient 24-hour culture and an abundance of culture, there is a great range of things to see and do in Seoul.

Gyeongbokgung palace at twilight in Seoul, South Korea.

How long should I spend in Seoul?

As the world’s 16th largest city, Seoul has many fascinating neighbourhoods to explore and it can be challenging to squeeze everything you hope to see and do into just a couple of days.

You can easily spend two weeks in Seoul soaking in all this beautiful city has to offer, at a pace that doesn’t make you feel rushed off your feet! Taking your time here will allow you to discover the individual charms of the many neighbourhoods - a gift many people don’t get to experience.

That said, it's definitely possible to get a feel for the city in three days, and we’ve provided this suggested itinerary to help you squeeze as much out of your time here as possible.

Even though Seoul’s public transport is fast and reliable, the subway can get incredibly cramped, which can make travel during peak hours uncomfortable, especially in summer.

This itinerary has been put together based on convenient transport links and things that are within walking distance of one another, so you can spend less time getting from A to B, and more time enjoying the sights.

Traditional houses at Namsangol Hanok Village, Seoul

Day 1: Namsan, Dongdaemun and Euljiro

We recommend spending your first day in Seoul by visiting some of the most prominent tourist destinations, including the famous Namsangol Hanok Village and Namsan Seoul Tower.

Namdaemum Market

Start your day with a trip to Namdaemum Market, an old traditional market, which originally opened during the Joseon period in 1414. As the largest market in the city, you’ll find a range of vendors selling a variety of purses, clothing, foods, snacks, and souvenirs.

You can reach the market by taking subway line 4 to Hohyeon station. It’s typically recommended to spend a couple of hours here, but if you’re a shop-a-holic, you may want to make more time in your schedule for this stop.

This is a great place to pick up some Korean snacks if your hotel doesn’t serve breakfast!

Namsangol Hanok Village

After this, take a short 25-minute walk (or two subway stops on line 4, getting off at Chungmuro station), to visit the famous Namsangol Hanok village.

This re-constructed village consists of traditional Korean houses, known as Hanoks, and was rebuilt to open in 1998 after the village was lost to Japanese occupation. Here you can see a gorgeous range of traditional architecture, but ensure you remain quiet and respectful, as many people still reside here.

If you’re looking for a spot for lunch, there are plenty of traditional Korean restaurants to visit around this area.

The skyline of Seoul, South Korea

Namsan Tower / N. Seoul Tower

Once you’ve explored the village, head back towards Chungmuro Station. Here you can catch a bus all the way up Namsan Mountain to N. Seoul Tower, located right at the top.

There are also options to hike up the mountain if you’re feeling active, or even take a cable car, from which you can enjoy panoramic views of the city below as you ascend.

Just be aware that the bus is cheaper than the cable car, often less crowded, and the views from the tower are even more impressive, so if you’re travelling on a budget the bus is the preferred option.

Upon reaching the summit, head on over to the ticket office, where you’ll be able to purchase tickets to enter the tower and visit the observation deck.

Some of these come with the option to add on snacks (we highly recommend trying the onion flavour popcorn!), or if you wish to purchase standard entry, this can be done online in advance.

Spend your time at the tower taking in the astonishing views of the city below, where you can view famous sights such as the Han River, if you’re travelling with your partner, be sure to add a love lock onto the rails to commemorate your visit!

Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, South Korea

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) & Cheonggyecheon River

After enjoying the amazing views, at Namsan, head back down the mountain in the direction of Dongguk University Station. From here it is only a 15-minute walk to Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

Home to Seoul Fashion Week, this stunning example of futuristic architecture boasts an out-of-this-world design, looking like a building straight from a sci-fi movie, it’s a must-see for anyone interested in modern architecture, science fiction, or fashion.

Just north of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza lies the beautiful Cheonggyecheon River. A gorgeous sight to see in all seasons, this area is particularly spectacular during the Winter months, as it is home to the beautiful Seoul Christmas Light Festival, where LED sculptures, traditional lanterns and all kinds of bright displays light up the walkways.

Euljiro Neighbourhood

A short walk down the beautiful stream will bring you out in the Euljiro Neighbourhood, a great place if you’re looking to try some authentic Korean food in an equally authentic Korean neighbourhood.

The best street food restaurants can be found down a small bustling alleyway, located just by Euljiro 3-ga station. Slightly off the beaten path, you’ll find higher quality street food at better prices than those available in tourist-heavy areas like Myeongdong.

But the authenticity comes a slight challenge - many of these vendors don’t speak English. Be sure to bring your phrasebook with you!

Colorful memorial ribbons by the rusty Korean war train remnant in the Imjingak Pavillion in DMZ close to Seoul

Day 2: History and culture tour

For the history and culture fanatics, this one will be a day to remember! Although even history doesn't really appeal to you, being able to look out into North Korean territory with your own eyes is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that anyone can enjoy.

The Demilitarised Zone (The DMZ)

Tourists cannot make their own way to the DMZ, and must visit as part of an organized group. This area is heavily guarded, and although safe, attempting to visit without a tour guide will result in you being turned away.

Both morning tours and full-day tours can be pre-booked, and include hotel pick-ups and drop-offs.

For this itinerary, the half-day tour is the best choice, as it finishes at 1 p.m., leaving you the rest of the afternoon to explore the city.

This tour includes a visit to the Imjingak Tourist Information Center, Imjingak Peace Park (dedicated to the reunification of the two Koreas), the third infiltration tunnel, Dora Observatory (where you can see out into North Korea), the Bridge of Freedom, and Dorasan Station.

Various drop-off points are available after the tour, including your next stop of the day: Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, in Autumn

Gyeongbokgung Palace

The main palace during the historical Joseon Dynasty, Gyeongbokgung Palace, is now open to the public, and wandering around the grounds is truly an experience.

With beautiful lakes, historical palace buildings, and even free entry if you’re wearing a hanbok (traditional Korean clothing; you can rent outfits from nearby Hanbok stores), the palace perfectly captures Korea’s history and traditional architectural styles.

Be sure to grab some lunch at a nearby cafe!

The National Museum of Korea

With a short bus ride to Seoul Station, you can take subway line 4 down to Ichon Station, which brings you to The National Museum of Korea, open every day from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., and until 9:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Admission is free.

Established in 1945, this museum is home to plenty of ancient Korean artefacts and pieces of history, as well as many beautiful artworks. You can even visit the on-site Hangeul Museum, which explores the country's unique language.

The grounds of the museum are also beautiful, with adorable pagodas, man-made streams, gardens and bridges to walk across. Be sure to take some time to explore them after your visit.

The colourful Jogyesa temple in Seoul, South Korea.

Day 3: Insadong and Gangnam

Your final day in Seoul is a great opportunity to see the areas popular with those who like living the city life, frequenting cafes and shopping until they drop. This is a wonderful day out for younger visitors, but travellers of any age are sure to find plenty of fun in the activities of day three.

Jogyesa temple and shopping in Insadong

Take the subway to Jonggak Station. From there, you can walk north towards Jogyesa temple, where you can view beautiful paper lanterns hanging in the breeze - a truly peaceful and unique start to this fun-filled day.

After this, head on over to Insadong’s famous streets. With over 50 antique shops, 80 art galleries, traditional stationary shops, hand-made crafts and bookstores, there’s plenty in the area to explore if you’re the artistic type.

Insadong is also a must-visit if you’re interested in enjoying Korean cuisine. With almost 100 restaurants specialising in traditional Korean food, it is one of the best places to dine if you’re after some truly authentic dishes.

Gangnam-style statue in Seoul, South Korea.


Gangnam (also accessible via Subway line 2), is one of the most famous places in the city, and for good reason too!

Immortalised in PSY’s 2012 hit song ‘Gangnam Style’, visiting this up-sale neighbourhood will give you a taste of what it’s like to be amongst the rich and famous in Korea. You can even see the famous statue of the ‘Gangnam Style Hands’ here, a great spot for taking Instagram-worthy pictures.

K-pop fans may want to pay a visit to the famous K-Star Road, located in the Apgujeong neighbourhood of Gangnam, where you can see the famous bear-shaped statues commemorating a variety of different Korean pop groups.

This is also a great area to check out the country’s most affluent shopping district. Apgujeong’s main shopping street, Apgujeong Rodeo (named after Rodeo Drive) is home to designer brands such as Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga.

Visit a fancy restaurant in the area for a steak or some unique pasta dishes, where international cuisine is truly tailored to Korea’s palette.

The Han River at Banpo Hangang River Park

The final stop of the day is by the most famous river in Seoul, the Han River. Enjoy a walk along the riverfront before stopping at the Hangang River Park, where you can enjoy a great array of snacks from vendors and the magical views of the light-up waterfall, showering down from the edge of Banpo Bridge.

For an extra special experience, you can take a private sunset cruise down the river and see the city from the water.

Bright lights at night in Itaewon, Seoul.

If you have more time in Seoul

With so much to see and do in Seoul, there’s a great range of things you should see if you have more time here:

  • The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum: An emotional museum to visit, focused on telling the stories of war crimes against women. Located near Hongdae.

  • Hongdae: A university town popular for clothes shopping, cute cafes and nightlife

  • Gangnam: Other sights to see in Gangnam include the CoEx Mall, CoEx Aquarium, and SM Town Museum.

  • Itaewon: A popular spot for expats, where you can find great international food and fun nightlife

  • Myeongdong: Great shopping and streetfood, a popular tourist spot for grabbing great deals on clothes, makeup and skincare.

  • Bukhansan National Park: Go hiking without leaving the city. Head up Bukhasan Peak for incredible views, and you can go with a guide if you prefer.

Share this article

Emily Adam

Author - Emily Adam

Emily is a travel writer from the UK with a passion for exploring the world and experiencing the local foods, traditions, and history of the places she visits. Emily has a degree in Asia Pacific Studies and has studied and lived in Seoul and Busan in South Korea.

Growing up, Emily travelled annually with her family, typically to all-inclusive resorts around the world, and small Spanish seaside towns. Since then, she has travelled widely across Asia, the United States and Europe.

Last Updated 25 January 2024

Gyeongbokgung palace with cherry blossom tree in spring time in seoul city of korea, south korea.

South Korea

Known for its K-Pop, fashion, cosmetics, Buddhist temples, South Korea is a beautiful country with a hilly and mountainous landscape, dotted with cherry trees.