Two women in hanboks

Put on a hanbok and explore Gyeongbokgung Palace. (Photo: Marriott International)

Weekend Getaways

3 Days in Seoul: What to See, Eat and Do in South Korea’s Capital City

Korean entertainment has taken the world by storm. And Seoul has become a glitzy hot spot for fans who can’t get enough of their favorite K-pop bands and Korean dramas. But beyond pilgrimages to film sites and talent-packed music festivals, this glamourous city also seamlessly blends its recent global popularity with charming tradition.

It boasts five grand palaces and plenty more temples, all mixed in with sleek skyscrapers and neon-lit streets. Marvel at the ornate beauty of Gyeongbokgung Palace and immerse yourself in Seoul’s rich history at the Bukchon Hanok Village, where you can also grab an iced Americano — the Seoulite drink of choice — from one of its many cafés.

Explore traditional local markets, savor delicious Korean street food and hunt down unique souvenirs. As the sun starts to set, cruise down the Hangang River to see the sprawling metropolis from a different perspective.

If you only have three days to spare in this eclectic city with no idea where to start, here’s an itinerary to help you make the most of your trip. Get ready to explore, indulge and discover the magic of Seoul.

As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Immerse Yourself in Korean Culture

Guards at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea
Watch the guard-changing ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace. (Photo: Marriott International)

Start your day bright and early with breakfast at London Bagel Museum Anguk or Cafe Onion Anguk. The former is a local bagel chain popular with both locals and tourists for its interesting selection of bagel sandwiches, bagels and spreads, while the latter is a gorgeous hanok-style building that’s home to delicious sweet and savory pastries and breads.

After breakfast, you’ll want to head to a hanbok rental shop near Exit 4 of Gyeongbokgung station. Here, you can try on an array of traditional Korean attire till you find a piece you love. Complete the look with accessories and a matching hairstyle to feel like a true Joseon dynasty noble as you step into Gyeongbokgung, the city’s most iconic cultural landmark.

Entry is free if you come dressed the part. Marvel at the exquisite architecture, intricate detailing and serene gardens as you wander through the palace grounds.

For lunch, make your way to Samchenogdong Sujebi to refuel. The Michelin-recognized restaurant specializes in rustic hand-pulled dough pieces served in a salty anchovy broth. If you’re here with company, an additional order of potato pancakes to share is a must.

As you continue your cultural journey through Seoul, take a stroll around Bukchon Hanok Village. This charming neighborhood showcases and preserves the unique architectural display of the Joseon Dynasty, with traditional hanok houses nestled in picturesque alleyways.

The alleys of the neighboring Anguk are well worth a visit, too. The neighborhood is known for its old-school charm, cafés and restaurants. Chance upon one of the neighborhood’s many hidden gems where you can savor the delectable flavors the area has to offer, from traditional teas and artisanal desserts to innovative fusion dishes that showcase Seoul’s vibrant culinary scene.

Cap off your night with a nightcap at Gonggan, a sustainability-forward bar. Here, you can sip on expertly crafted cocktails while enjoying the cozy atmosphere. Relax and reflect on the wonderful memories you’ve made through the day.

Saturday: Shop Till You Drop

Aerial view of Seoul, South Korea
Take in the sights of Yeouido from the Hangang River. (Photo: Marriott International)

Start your day in Yeonnam-dong, a lively neighborhood near Hongdae known for attracting creative minds. This hip neighborhood has become a haven for aspiring artists and designers, and you’ll find them working out of cafés dotted along the streets. Enjoy a morning cuppa at one of the many cafés here, such as Coffee Libre or Cafe Layered, before hitting up different photo booths around the area to create lasting memories.

For lovers of vintage shopping, Yeonnam Y is a lesser-known local gem in Yeonnam-dong. This vintage clothing store offers a great selection of fashion brands, including Polo Ralph Lauren, YSL and Carhartt, with some pieces reworked for a modern touch. Browse through the racks and discover one-of-a-kind pieces that add a touch of nostalgia to your wardrobe.

You can’t say you’ve been to South Korea if you haven’t had Korean barbecue, so while you’re in the area, Yeonnam-dong’s Supgil Butcher’s Shop is a local favorite to get your fix. Here, thick, juicy cuts of pork jowl, pork belly and pork shoulder await, best paired with some refreshing beer to cut through the richness. Otherwise, head over just next door to Hwassi Iyukgong for another K-barbecue option.

Walk it off at The Hyundai Seoul — the largest department store in the city. Here you’ll find a vast array of local and international brands offering an extensive range of products to cater to all your shopping desires. The stunning interior is more than enough to keep visitors occupied, but if you’re determined to stock up on some local streetwear, head straight to the basement to peruse the racks of popular local brands like Matin Kim, thisisneverthat and more.

The Hyundai Seoul is within walking distance of Yeouido Hangang Park, the perfect place to spend your evening. This waterway offers stunning views and is the perfect place to unwind and appreciate the beauty of Seoul. To make the most of your experience, embark on a Hangang River Ferry Cruise. This scenic journey will take you along the river, providing a different perspective of the city and its surrounding landscapes. Sit back, relax and let the gentle breeze carry you away as you soak in the sights and sounds of Seoul.

Here’s a tip: Come in April to catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom at Yeouido Hangang Park. And if you plan your trip right, you might even catch the Seoul International Fireworks Festival, too. In the fall, spend time here perusing the food trucks and vendors during the Hangang Moonlight Market. But if you’re one for a summer vacation, soak in the atmosphere by renting a bike and cycling around the area and stop to listen to the buskers along the way.

Sunday: Escape to Nature

A woman standing on a wooden bridge, surrounded by trees, in Seoul, South Korea
There’s so much to explore in Seoul. (Photo: Marriott International)

After your fill of exploring the city, it’s time for a change of scenery.

Seongsu-dong, a once-industrial neighborhood, has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years. What was once a bustling hub of factories and warehouses has become a trendy and vibrant destination. If you’re looking for an offbeat experience in Seoul, Seongsu-dong should be at the top of your list.

As you stroll through the streets of Seongsu-dong you’ll be greeted by a plethora of pop-up stores at just about every corner. Pick up some free product samples or participate in gaming activations — you’ll get to witness firsthand why South Korea has become the forefront of experiential and visual marketing.

One of the highlights of Seongsu-dong is the opportunity to explore stores that showcase the works of local designers and artisans. Pick up a new bag or two at the effortlessly cool Archivépke or pop by Monami Store Seongsu, the shop of a prominent local stationary brand, where you can customize your own ballpoint and fountain pens.

Refuel at one of the neighborhood’s charming cafés. Seongsu-dong is known for its specialty coffee shops that take their craft seriously. Daelim Changgo has quite the colossal space here. The gorgeous warehouse-turned-café and art gallery isn’t just great for photos; it’s well-known for brewing an excellent cup of coffee, too.

If you’re hungry, Grandmother’s Recipe makes for a great spot. This cozy little eatery boasts a delightful array of dishes, like the ssambab (lettuce wrap) set — complete with a hearty serving of stir-fried spicy pork, lettuce, rice, soup and an abundance of sauces and side dishes to spare.

Once you’ve explored your fair share of Seongsu-dong, it’s time to rest your eyes with some nature. Seongsu-dong is conveniently connected to Seoul Forest, a serene oasis nestled in the heart of the city.

At this sprawling park that offers a much-needed quiet escape from the bustle of urban life, you’ll be greeted by picturesque walking paths, lush greenery and blooming flowers. Take a stroll along the park’s winding trails, and you’ll soon find yourself immersed in nature’s tranquility. During the spring and autumn seasons, the park is home to seasonal flower exhibitions, as well.

For adventure-seekers, the Seoul Forest (Tteuksom) Hangang River has much to offer at any time of year. In the summer months, enjoy the thrill of water sports with windsurfing, waterskiing and motorboating. During the chilly winter season, the park is also a popular destination for sledding, smelt-fishing and skating. No matter when you’re here, there will always be an exciting activity for you to enjoy.

This article was created in partnership with Time Out.