Steeped in tradition but strikingly industrial, Seoul is South Korea’s vibrant capital city. A cruise to Seoul offers everything a discerning traveler looks for: incredible food, ancient palaces and temples waiting to be explored, and ultra-modern parks where visitors can experience 21st century Korea.
A stop in Seoul on an Asia cruise means you’ll experience a fascinating blend of energetic local markets, ancient temples, and revered cultural sites all in one city. See the ornate shrines at the hillside Buddhist temple of Bogeun-sa, or tour a glitzy 16th century palace called Deoksugung. Take an excursion to the palace of Changdeokgung, a UNESCO World Heritage site that Korean royalty called home until the 19th century.
While you’re there, leave time for a traditional tea tasting ceremony, or go shopping along Insadong or the Dongdaemun Market for souvenirs and trinkets to bring back home with you. Yeongjong Bridge is the one of the longest suspension bridges in the world and a must-see when lit up at night. Learn the history of Korea at the National Museum, where you’ll learn about the country’s growth and its global role across thousands of years of history.
Nature lovers will find plenty to see on a Seoul cruise. There are seven mountains surrounding the city and plenty of designated green space. Hike to the summit of Baegundae in Bukhansan National Park for an incredible bird’s-eye view of Seoul.
From the outside, the National Museum of Korea is an intimidating marble square, where the neighboring mountain peeks out from behind the museum. It’s one of the largest museums in the world, so you won’t be able to see it all in just a day. Take a good look at the map and tackle your must-see floors. Whether you’re interested in Korean calligraphy or Buddhist ceramics, it’s all here.
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park, or DDP, is a futuristic landmark in Seoul dedicated to arts, culture, and events in the city. The sweeping architecture alone makes it well worth a tour. Concerts, fashion shows, and art exhibits are common at DDP, and it’s one of the most widely visited attractions in the city. You just might run into a Korean celebrity or K-pop star while you’re there.
The hillside Bongeunsa Temple has been reconstructed many times since it was first built in 794 A.D., and it’s a formidable, must-see temple. Even though it’s located in the heart of the city, the temple feels like a retreat from busy Seoul. Admission is free.
Among Seoul’s cityscape, you’ll find something a little different: Gyeongbokgung Palace, which translates to “greatly blessed by Heaven”. It’s an iconic sight where royalty of the Joseon dynasty once lived. Inside, the palace has been ornately decorated and painstakingly restored to its former glory. There are free guided tours in English throughout the day, so you can learn about the palace’s rich history of reconstruction and other fun facts.
When your Seoul cruise ship docks, take an afternoon journey to the must-see Bukhansan National Park. Stretch your legs and hike three hours to the top of the granite peaks of Baegunbong, Insubong, and Mangyongbong that make the park famous. Rock climbers can spend their ideal afternoon scaling the granite rock face. From some areas, you can see the entire Seoul skyline below you.
As one of Korea’s tallest buildings, the 63 Building is a great pit stop for panoramic views of Seoul. Thanks to a high-speed glass elevator, you’ll reach the observatory at the 60th floor in less than 30 seconds. It’s more than just a great view, though. At the top you’ll find an IMAX movie theater, aquarium, and other fun things to do.
Take the kids to Seoul Grand Park, where they can see various animals at the Children’s Zoo and play at the park’s playground and amusement area. Kids can even feed some of the animals. Once you get your fill of cute creatures, tour the botanical garden or the rose garden. Immerse yourself in the neighboring forest of Cheonggyesan Mountain. You’ll feel far from the noise of the city here.
Insadong Street is famous for antique shopping, though it’s also a great spot to find a local tea house, cafe, or restaurant for lunch in the heart of everything. Nearly 100 art galleries are situated along Insadong, and its narrow alleyways are perfect for exploring. Saturdays and Sundays are peak times to visit this arts and culture hub.
Korean cuisine is unique, and its specialty dishes can be found at restaurants and markets throughout the city. Korean food has burst onto the fine dining scene all over the world, so you might already be familiar with some of the regional delicacies. Must-try dishes include bibimbap, pork bulgogi, kimchi, and other expertly barbequed meats.
Address: 10-4 Myeong-dong 1-ga, Jongno-gu
There are only two menu items at this restaurant, which has been open for over 70 years. Hadongkwan specializes in a nutritious, comforting beef soup called gomtang. Radish kimchi and standard cabbage kimchi are served as side dishes. Come for the soothing dishes and stay for the generations of locals who frequent the establishment.
Dining In Space
Address: Jongno-gu, Gahoe-dong, Yulgok-ro, 83
For an elegant dining experience, make a reservation at this Michelin star-rated, upscale French spot in Seoul. The glass window views from the 5th floor overlook the stunning Changdeokgung Palace, and the menu changes based on seasonality and the chef’s search for the freshest possible ingredients.
Cheong Jin Ok
Address: 32 Jong-ro 3-gil, Cheongjin-dong, Jongno-gu
After a late night out in Seoul, you’ll need this highly rated “hangover cure soup,” or haejangguk. This spot has a reputation for curing the worst hangovers since opening in 1937. It’s usually a little crowded and has frequently made best-of lists in Seoul.
Address: 88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno 4(sa)-ga, Jongno-gu
Looking for authentic street food in Seoul? You’ll find plenty of options at Gwangjang Market, from rice rolls called gimbap to crispy pancakes filled with beans. Of course, the market is also known for selling some of the freshest seafood in Seoul. Rather than make a reservation, come as you are to Gwangjang Market to sample and enjoy foods you’ve never tried before.
As the capital of South Korea, Seoul has changed hands many times during pivotal points in its history. The city was the capital of Korea from the 14th century until the mid-20th century, when Korea was formally divided. The comprehensive, high-speed subway system was built in the 20th century and enabled Seoul’s continued growth. Seoul is also notable because it’s surrounded by mountains and hillscapes, which offers a stark contrast from its towering, industrial skyline. Seoul gained attention on the world stage when it hosted the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, when the city continued growing to accommodate the great honor of hosting. Today, Seoul is the political and cultural epicenter of South Korea, where tradition, history, and modern sophistication collide.
Cruising is relatively new to Seoul, and it’ll take a little while before you’ll see Seoul’s cityscape up close and personal. On your Seoul cruise, you’ll dock in neighboring Incheon where you can take a taxi or shuttle bus into the center of Seoul or Sinpo Market. The port at Incheon is only about an hour to an hour and a half from Seoul. The cruise terminal here is always improving as Seoul’s popularity as a destination grows.
Taxis are a popular way to get around in Seoul, and they can pick you up from the cruise terminal. Taxis are metered here, and you don’t need to worry about tipping. There is also a comprehensive bus and subway system in Seoul, which can even take you to destinations just outside of the city. Different colors are assigned to the buses in Seoul and represent what kind of route the bus will take. The subway system here is one of the fastest and most efficient in the world, so you can count on it to get you to your destination in a timely fashion. Of course, renting a car is an option too, if you’re willing to tackle the hectic Seoul streets.
Take a shuttle from Incheon to the Sinpo International Market, and you’ll find plenty of bibimbap and rice cakes just waiting to be eaten there. This food market has been a popular spot for grabbing a bite since the 1970s. There are also clothing and souvenir shops scattered throughout the market. The Incheon Complex Fish Market is a great spot to find a fresh catch of the day and is open until 9pm. At Bupyeong Station Underground Shopping Mall, you’ll find store information in English, making it easier than ever for you to shop while on a cruise to Seoul.
While you’re on a cruise to Seoul, use the South Korean Won as your primary form of currency. Polite haggling is part of the culture at markets and when buying items from street vendors. You’ll find ATMs are common and scattered throughout the city. You might have good luck with credit cards at hotels, shops, and more upscale restaurants, but cash is probably your best bet when you’re living like a local. Be sure to have extra change should you need it. Tipping isn’t common practice in South Korea, and taxis and waitstaff don’t expect them, either.