Someone who grows up in one city their entire life seems to never end up going to the famous “must-sees” that surround them everyday. They put it off, subconsciously thinking that they’ll eventually get to it, or that the long lines and big crowds really aren’t worth the hassle.
New Yorkers hardly spend their Friday nights at Times Square, Londoners pass by the Big Ben without a second glance, and Seoulites likewise rarely stop by the places that make 10 million tourists flock to South Korea every year.
Though I’ve spent over half my life in Seoul, I shamefully admit to going to the same restaurants, movie theaters, cafes, every day, week, and month over and over again. The routine can get old, fast.
But working two jobs while juggling a (sort of existent) social life and studies makes it hard to find time to play “tourist”. So I gave myself one full day – 24 hours – to let myself be a tourist in my own city. Here’s what happened.
Before I went off on my little spree, I (like any good millennial) did my research. The perfect match to my pursuit seemed to be The Discover Seoul Pass. The pass would last exactly 24 hours and give me free access to 16 different locations in Seoul, chosen from high ranking spots on tripadviser. On top of it – I could skip the long lines. Seemed like a good enough deal.
There was no way I was going to be able to go to all 16 places in one day, but even going to a good 4-5 locations would give me my money’s worth. I decided to go to 5 locations (6 including picking up the pass) – all within reasonable distance of each other.
This was my itinerary:
Myeongdong / 명동
Gyeongbokgung Palace / 경북궁
Grevin Museum / 그레뱅뮤지엄
K-Live / 케이라이브
Leeum Museum / 삼성미술관 리움
Namsan Tower / N서울타워
All together, without the pass these locations would have cost me around 74,000w. The pass was 39,900w, so I ended up saving 35,000w (around 46%) off the original price.
On the day of my big “tourist day”, I arrived at Myeongdong around noon to purchase my pass. I could have gone to one of their other locations or bought it in advance online and picked it up, but Myeongdong was the closest location to the other 5 spots I wanted to hit that day.
I got off at Eulji-ro station (을지로입구) exit 5 and walked 3 minutes to the Myeongdong Tourist Information Center (google map here) .
Address: 66, Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul (KEB Hana Bank Main Office First Floor Annex) (closest subway station: Eulji-ro [line 2])
Hours of Operation: 09:00 – 20:00
Closed: Seollal (Lunar New Year’s Day), Chuseok
The workers are the Tourist Information Center spoke perfect English, were friendly and informative (Tip: you can only buy the pass with cash! Credit card not accepted).
I told them I wanted to buy the Discover Seoul Pass and the workers explained all the card’s benefits and details:
The card is 39,900w
You have 24 hours to go to any of the 16 attractions
No waiting in lines
The pass can be used as a transit card (to be charged at any subway station or convenience store)
The 24 hour countdown begins once you go to your first location
The pass can be synced with a smartphone application
One thing I didn’t do, but could have done with my pass is hop onto a City Tour Bus with a discount of 10-20% off.
You can get 10% off for the City Palace Course, Seoul Panorama Course, and Nighttime Course from Seoul City Bus
And you can get 20% off for their Traditional culture course, Highlight course and Nighttime course for Highlight Bus
I really recommend downloading the Discover Seoul app if you’re getting the pass – it’s an easy way to track your day as you go along. Here’s some basic information about it:
The Discover Seoul Pass Smartphone App
Syncs to your Discover Seoul Pass (you can scan your card’s QR code or input your card number)
Gives you the list of 16 locations you can visit
Gives detailed information about the locations (operation hours, phone number, website)
Marks off the locations as you visit them
Tracks your 24 hour countdown
Has 5 language options
Bookmarks the locations you’re interested in into a different sections
The process to purchasing my card was really quick and easy – I was in and out in 5 minutes. I walked out and downloaded the app on my phone and after syncing my card to the app, I walked into the heart of Myeongdong and did some window shopping (or as the Koreans say, “eye shopping”) before lunch.
But soon enough, I was more than ready for some food. One place I always stop by in the area is Myeongdong Kyoja. Kyoja is ridiculously good. They only have around 4 things on their menu and are most famous for their kalguksu (칼국수), which literally translates into “knife noodles.” These noodles are ridiculous. No, they’re ridonculous. An absolute must-try when in Myeongdong.
After lunch, I headed over to my first location: Gyeongbokgung Palace. Unfortunately, the palace wasn’t within walking distance so I had to take public transit. And though I have my own T-money card, for those visiting for a short time, don’t forget that the Discover Seoul Pass can also be used for transportation (subway, bus, and taxi)!
Buying a separate transit card costs around 4,000w (roughly $4) at most locations, but with the Discover Seoul Pass you won’t have to buy a card separately. You can also use the t-money function to buy things from convenience stores and at selected restaurants, shops, and cafes (such as McDonalds, Starbucks, and The Faceshop).
And if you still have a positive balance on your card at the end of your use, don’t worry! You can refund that amount at a number of locations.
Gyeongbokgung Palace / 경북궁
The commute to Gyeongbokgung Palace took around 15 minutes via subway. With my pass, I skipped the line for the ticket booth and headed directly into the grounds. Here and my last stop (Namsan Tower) were probably the places where the express function came in the most handy, as they are the two most crowded locations I visited that day.
Gyeongbokgung Palace was built over 600 years ago, in 1395, as a residential palace and was the first palace of the Joseon Dynasty. The palace is surrounded on all sides by walls 2,404m in length and is located in the heart of Seoul. Inside the grounds, you can see tourists dressed in traditional hanboks, which you can rent on site for your visit!
The grounds are gorgeous – I feel like my favourite part is seeing the huge skyscrapers behind the ancient architecture of the palace; it’s kind of bizarre to see the two right beside each other.
Next on my list was Grevin Museum, which has an exhibition of eighty wax figures on display – including both Korean and international celebrities. Some notable names that you might recognize are: Kim Soo-hyun, Lee Min-ho, Psy, G-Dragon, Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe.
It’s a really high quality wax museum and its interactive features, like their pop art photo booth and 3-D scanning technology that lets you create your own wax figure, lets you interact with your museum instead of just look at its pieces.
(Tip: I found out that if I hadn’t had the Discover Seoul Pass, an admission ticket would have been 18,000 so if you’re planning to hit this place up, getting an inclusive pass seems like a good idea).
Then I headed over to K-live, which uses holograms, panoramic screens, and surround sound systems to give you a state-of-the-art virtual experience of a K-pop concert. If you can’t go to a live k-pop concert, this is probably the next best thing!
I’m really not much of a k-pop fan, but a tour of Seoul without a taste of k-pop would probably feel incomplete for a lot of people. And for those of you who are into hallyu, k-live is a must-go.
My next stop was Leeum Museum, which is located near Itaewon, the heart of the foreigner district in Seoul. Privately owned by the Samsung family, but open to the public, the museum hosts modern pieces from both Korean artists (such as Kim Chong Hak, Park Soo-Keun, Lee Jong-seop) and international artists (such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francis Bacon, Louise Bourgeois).
It’s small compared to places like MOMA and Tate, but the arrangement of the pieces are extremely well done and the architecture of the place is incredible. Definitely a must-see for any art-lover in Seoul. (Tip: opt for the Samsung tablet audio guide! It provides great descriptions and background information).
Leeum Samsung Museum of Art / 삼성미술관 리움
Address: 60-16 Itaewon-ro 55-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea
Hours of Operation: 10:30~18:00
Closed: Mondays, January 1, New Year’s weekend, New Years’ Day, Chuseok
Namsan Tower / N서울타워
Lastly, I headed to Namsan Tower to finish off my day.
Like I said before, it was here that I became really thankful for express function. At the smaller museums, it didn’t make that much of a difference but at larger and more popular locations, the express benefit was a god send.
Also, for those who don’t speak Korean, whipping out the card will get you an automatic wave in, without the awkward hand gestures and intermittent “ums” and “ers” that you’ll have to struggle through. There’s a ticket booth outside the tower but I headed directly inside the entrance and was automatically waved in by the person at the front desk when I showed them my pass.
Without a doubt, Namsan Tower has one of the best views of Seoul at night; (permitting good weather) you can see everything.
Address: 105, Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea (no subway; take shuttle bus)
Hours of Operation: 10:00 ~ 23:00 (~24:00/Sat.)
Closed: open everyday
It felt weird to play tourist after living in Seoul for such a long time. It was nice, in a way, to be able to see the places I pass by everyday in a different way. It helped that I knew how to get around, but whether you’re new to the city and visiting for a mere 24 hours or you’ve been a Seoulite all your life, maybe spending just one day to try and absorb as much of a city as you can is something worth doing every once in a while.