A Couchsurfer’s guide to… Seoul

By: Kelly

Seoul in spring (Kampon/shutterstock)

Best Breakfast in town!

Migabon Restaurant: You gotta do congee for breakfast, it will set the tone for the day️. Don’t let the lines intimidate you, this place is also famous for their bimbimpap dish. 

The perfect picture!

At any of the five royal palaces (Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, and Gyeonghuigung Palace) all year round! If you don’t want to wear a hanbok, you will still get to see hundreds of people strolling the palaces in Korean traditional costumes. Surreal!

Gyeongbokgung Palace (Obs70/shutterstock)

1 Museum not to miss! 

1. Agricultural Museum: I have never seen anything like it in my life, I keep going back!
2. National Museum of Korea: Right up there with the British Museum and the Louvre.

Best place to grab a drink!

1. Common Ground: With Konkuk Univeristy nearby, this complex of bars and popup shops is becoming Instagramable fast..
2. Mr. Ahn´s Magkeolli In Itaewon: Soju is great, but magkeolli is even better. It has an excellent range of this delectable rice wine from all over South Korea with gourmet accompaniments. For a more reasonably priced Magkeolli night and more traditional sides walk a bit up the street to Damotori.
3. Another great place to crash in the center from 7pm to 12am is the famous dried pollack area. Here, 3-4 alleys transform to a night market serving dried pollack, BBQ calamari, sea snail stew and soju to office workers, young crowds and the odd lost tourist.

Common Ground Seoul (DerekTeo/shutterstock)

Where to dance! 

1. Soap Seoul: My favorite club in Itaewon!
2. Club Cream: I am a huge fan of k-hip-hop, and I swear by this club in Mapo area!
3. Dokkaebi Party House: Hongdae area…never disappoints!

Best street food!

A quick google search will yield the top markets in the center and they are worth checking out, but my favorite markets are:
1. Garak Market: You can feast on seafood, king crab, sashimi and dowse it all with soju to your heart’s content for affordable prices! And zero tourists.
2. Tongin Market: This is my fave not because it’s better from the main touristy ones, but again because there aren’t as many tourists as the more central ones.

Seoul streets, full of delicacies (DiegoMariottini/shutterstock)

Where to sweat! 

I have only trained in one place and apparently, I struck gold: So Fit Gym. Unless you need to follow a strict workout regiment, there’s no point enrolling at a gym in SK. Seoul is full of parks and public workout areas, not to mention free sports clubs you can join like jogging groups!

Best view in the city!

1. Lotte Tower, totally worth the 20-buck ticket!! Enjoy a glass of wine or drink at the sky bar and take in a 360 view of the sunset in this gorgeous city. Just make sure you check the weather first!
2. Namsan Tower, great location, enjoy the hike down; take the teleferic up!

Lotte Tower (sayan uranan/shutterstock)

Cute Cafe!

South Koreans are coffee crazed, so this isn’t easy at all! There’s coffee stands, quirky cafes, coffee bars everywhere. My personal recommendations are:
1. Hanyakbang Coffee: If you enjoy a blast from the past, check out this place.
2. The Moonbird Does Thinks Only of the Moon – Dalsaeneun Dal Man Saenggak Handa: It’s sooo worth looking for this tea house. The tea sets with traditional Korean sweets and the shaved ice dessert are to die for, and the place itself is simply magical.
3. Carnaby Street: A great coffee bar to relax, or get some work done in the area of Ttukseom.
4. Suffle Pancake

Where to try the local cuisine

1. For tonkatsu, go here. Go for the challenge if you can, and if you don’t like spicy food, do not accept the taster they will offer. There’s thousands of amazing tonkatsu places.
2. For traditional Korean roasted chicken, the likes of which you have never seen or tasted before, go here. I haven’t been able to find a place like this elsewhere in Seoul.
3. For affordable authentic traditional Korean cuisine, especially samgyetang, go here.
4. For mandu soup, go here. There’s great street mandu places everywhere. Just look around for grandmas.
Outside of markets, where you can sample all south Korean staple dishes even the famous hangover (tripe) soup, it’s worth tracking down these places for these dishes. 

Gwangjang Market (KYTan/shutterstock)

A treat-yourself-meal! 

This is Asia we are talking about! You could have a culinary feast in street markets! That being said, if you are a fan of kobe or wagyu then you have to try Hanwoo meat. If you want a formal dining experience, I would recommend:
1. Woo Tender in Sinsa
2. Born and Bred in Majang
But you can get same quality and an authentic experience at markets! At a better price, too! The meat and fish markets in SK double up, as usually they have dining halls adjacent or upstairs. You pick your produce and they escort you to the dining hall where they prep, cut, cook and serve you everything on the spot!

Best day trip out of town!

1. Nami Island
2. Andong Hahoe Village
3. Bukhansan National park

Nami Island (CJ Nattanai/shutterstock)

One experience not to miss!

1. Get yourself some fried chicken and beer/soju and have a picnic at Banpo Bridge Moonlight Rainbow Fountain.
2. You have to spend the night at a Korean sauna! Here’s my fave:
3. Go to a 7-eleven, CU, e-mart or GS25 and make yourself a cup ramen! Follow this link for instructions!
4. You must finish your evenings at a noraebang (karaoke bar)
5. Experience a temple stay

Historic moment!

1. Hwaseong Fortress, worth the day trip to Suwon
2. Bukchon Hanok Village
3. Gwanghwamun Gate & King Sejong Statue

Bukchon Village (FenlioQ/shutterstock)

A tourist trap to avoid!

Stay away from Insa-dong and Myeong-Dong when it comes to quality Korean artifacts; prices are steep. For k-pop paraphernalia and the like, you will be fine there.

Final tips…

1. Google maps doesn’t work well in SK. Make sure you download the kakao apps.
2. There are free restrooms everywhere, even in the metro stations.
3. Don’t order a lot of food; everything comes with side dishes.
4. Taxi drivers do not speak English.
5. There is no pickpocketing or theft in South Korea. Even if you forget your bag on a park bench, chances are you will find it exactly where you left it even if you go back after 6 hours. Unless a tourist gets to it first.
6. Carry proof of ID with you, or else you won’t be able to party. And don’t get upset with age profiling. For example, to be refused entry at a club if you are over 35. Just go on to the next club.
7. Learn basic Korean etiquette and don’t be loud in public spaces.

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