13 things you've got to do in Seoul

13 things you've got to do in Seoul

If you don't believe Seoul is one of the world's great cities, you haven't experienced this 'best of' whirlwind of shopping, culture, food and photos. Lots of photos

Korea's tourism industry may be scrambling to harness the newfound fame of the Gangnam district south of the Han River, but the truth is the coolest experiences from a visitor's perspective are concentrated in the northern part of the city. 

Got some spare time in Seoul? Here's what to do.

1. Korea Furniture Museum

Martha Stewart loved it, so will you.Yes, we know, it sounds like the kind of place even your grandparents would find boring, but hear us out on this insider's secret. 

The Korea Furniture Museum houses more than 2,000 traditional furniture pieces, plus 10 hanok (traditional Korean houses). 

The museum itself is one of the most important and beautiful pieces of architecture in Seoul, and one of the first places global curators and designers visit when they hit the city.

Important: Reservations are required. No walk-ins. 

330-577 Seongbuk-dong, Seongbuk-gu; +82 2 745 0181; tours and restaurant reservations by appointment only; www.kofum.com

2. T.um

The future is present at T.um.Run by Korea's largest telecommunications provider, SK Telecom, T.um offers an amazing look at the technology we'll be using in the very near future. 

The best thing about the sneak preview of these shopping avatars and self-driving cars is realizing how awesome your life is going to be in 10 years. 

Reservations must be made in advance on the website -- daily 11 a.m. walk-in tours are conducted only in Korean. 

T.um, Jung-gu, Euljiro 2-ga 11; +82 2 6100 0601; tum.sktelecom.com 

3. Bukchon Hanok Village

Prettiest village in the city. Bukchon is irrefutably the most beautiful historical district in the city, a place where visitors wander through tiny streets and peer over the gabled walls to view old hanok (traditional Korean houses) of various shapes and sizes.

Memorable pit stop: the outdoor museum and bittersweet omija in one of the tea houses. 

Bukchon Culture Center, 105 Gye-dong, Jongro-gu; +82 2 3707 8388

More on CNN: 20 delicious Korean drinks 

4. Gwanghwamun station

Korea's wisest king, and most convenient subway station. Gyeongbokgung Palace. The Cheonggyecheon stream. King Sejong statue.

All three of Seoul's major tourist spots are a short walk from small Gwanghwamun subway station. 

Open views of the palace with the massive mountains in the distance are some of the most impressive in the city.

In the Finance Center's basement levels you'll find the best lunch options in the financial district, as well as Kyobo bookstore within the Kyobo building, which has cute stationery and other design products (accessories, gadgets, DIY projects, toys). 

83 Doryeon-dong, Jongro-gu


5. Insadong  

Date tea. Or tea date. The traditional Insadong district has been through some major changes. Recently, it's shed its tourist trap image of crummy souvenirs to become a cool artsy spot with a new crop of galleries and modern tea shops.

Tasty teas and handmade accessories make for a nice little sojourn in the city. 

Insadong, Jongro-gu; english.visitkorea.or.kr

6. Korean galbi

Korean-style barbecue. When it comes to grilling, Koreans don't mess around. Knowledgeable staff will help you get galbi (juicy cuts of beef) smoking perfectly. 

Maple Tree is a budget-friendly, cheerful barbecue joint with branches in both Gangnam and Gangbuk. Here are more of our barbecue recommendations.

31-1 Samcheong-dong, Jongro-gu; +82 2 730 7416; moderate; the restaurant has two more branches in Itaewon and Dogok-dong; www.mapletreehouse.co.kr


7. Glam  

Be warned, you'll be gasping for air. More lounge than club, Glam is one of the few stand-and-mingle bars in Seoul, and certainly among the hottest nightlife spots of the moment. 

You'll be fighting for air space amid massive crowds -- every night is a party in here. 

116-1 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu; +82 2 792 6164

8 J.J. Mahoney's

Where suits are standard. Surprisingly, there aren't that many bars with great views in Seoul -- non-stuffy ones, anyway. 

J.J. Mahoney's in the Grand Hyatt caters to a slightly older crowd than the average nightlife venue in Seoul, but it's a fun place for cocktails and live music -- especially in summer. 

Grand Hyatt Seoul, 140-738 322 Sowolro, Yongsan-gu; +82 2 797 1234; seoul.grand.hyatt.kr

9. Octagon 

When you're on top of the heap, you don't hide it.Octagon is the hottest club in the city right now -- having forced the crown from the ridiculously massive Ellui.

Although Korean clubs are famous in the region for "booking culture," don't expect any here (in fact, the whole trend has been dying out). Periodic laser shows and constant crazy dancing are the big draws.

New Hilltop Hotel, Gangnam-gu, Nonhyun-dong 152; +82 2 516 8847; cluboctagon.co.kr

10. Doosan Tower

At night, it's even brighter. Short for Doosan Tower, Doota has emerged as the most stylish of the non-brand boutique-studded shopping malls in the Dongdaemun district (the Korean branches of Vogue, GQ and W magazines are also located within this building).

Both men and women go for trendy, budget-friendly clothes and accessories, particularly at night, as the area stays open until the small hours of the morning. 

18-12 Euljiro 6-ga, Jung-gu; +82 2 3398 3333; www.doota.com

More on CNN: The supermodel's guide: Where to shop in Seoul 

11. Vatos 

Kimchi Carnitas Fries at Vatos. We like to take foreigners here -- mostly to watch their skeptical expressions ("Mexican food in Asia? Ugh!") turn to surprise and delight. There's a reason why waits can take up to three hours on weekends.

Recommended: Kimchi Carnitas Fries and shrimp tacos. 

Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong 181-8 2/F; +82 2 797 8226; vatoskorea.com

12. Galleria's Gourmet 494

It's true -- a luxury food court is one of Seoul's best dining options. Whoever is behind the foodie makeover at Galleria Department Store, we applaud you. The luxury store has taken every hot new restaurant in the city and convinced them to open branches in its "premium food boutique" in the basement.

This extends to desserts, in a section on the other side of the food court. 

494 Apgujeong-dong, Gangnam-gu; +82 2 3449 4114; www.gourmet494.com

13. Bongeunsa

Ironically, centuries ago, the temple location was chosen for its remoteness.This temple in Gangnam is a wonderfully serene spot in the middle of the city, providing striking views of the traditional city juxtaposed with the modern skyline.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Korea's temple stay program, so temples all around the country are coming up with unique programs catering to travelers. 

73 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu; +82 2 511 6070; www.bongeunsa.org

More on CNN: The real 'Gangnam Style': Beauty belt, wedding town, 24-hour culture 

Rachel Sang-hee Han is a freelance writer for CNN Travel. 

Read more about Rachel Sang-hee Han

Frances Cha is a Digital Producer at CNN Travel. 


Read more about Frances Cha