11 (14?) weird things to do in Seoul: bulging eyes, fake beards, and lots of other stuff

Last updated:
things to do in Seoul
The Imperial Palace in Seoul

A bunch of funny things to do in Seoul + 3 facts you might not know about South Koreans. How we spent a week in Seoul

Things to do in Seoul are plenty and so diverse, we spent 7 days here and we enjoyed every single one. Seoul ended up being one of our favorite cities in Asia.

This article is part of our South Korea travel log series. We spent two months bicycle touring Korea off-the-beaten-path and we loved it. Check here if you want to learn some tricks on how to travel to South Korea on a budget (less than 10$ per day).

We arrived here straight from the island of Muuido, crossing Incheon and Bucheon on a stressful bicycle touring day in the busiest part of South Korea. Exhausted we spent the evening with our host from Couchsurfing, talking about life in Korea.

2 facts to know about Koreans: plastic surgery and hair-styling

Justin is a lawyer for the American military base that occupies a good piece of the city center. He’s half Italian and therefore, to our delight, his fridge is full of Italian stuff, including fresh mozzarella! After a nice shower, we prepared pesto pasta and talked about the crazy Korean obsession with plastic surgery.

It is said that 60-70% of the Korean women and 30% of the men are plasticized. The most disturbing thing is that they all make the same tweaks in the same way and then all look the same!

Three types of noses embody perfection, according to nowadays standard trends. Then there is the magnification of the eye (eyelid and double eyelid surgery) and this V-shaped chin, the most destructive.

They are smashing mandibles. All about the face, they seem not to care about the body. Read the articles in the links, they’re very interesting.

We also speak about the four types of Korean hair combing for women:
1. Long hair with bangs = student
2. Long hair without bangs = young unmarried girl in career
3. Short Hair= woman engaged/married
4. Short hair with perm = lady after 50, or who however feels to be old
Believe us, we have not seen exceptions.

Read Also: 27 Fun Facts to Know About South Korea

Things to do in Seoul

1 – Seoul’s market – Namdaemun

Disclosure: Some of our articles contain affiliate links. This comes at no additional cost for you and helps us keep this website up and running. (as Amazon Associates we earn commission from qualifying purchases)

things to do seoul

We leave our bikes and bags by Justin. Let’s go for a walk in the neighborhood, we meet a shamanic temple that opens only once a year. Churches, however, are at every corner and always open. I have never seen such a number of churches, not even in Italy.

We see the first Korean market, Namdaemun Market. It’s nice but the prices are not as cheap as we would have expected in a market. It seems a bit like a sort of tourist trap. We wanted to try the fried mandu but they wanted 1 euro for 1 dumpling, no way, we are still living on the 90 Euros that in the meanwhile became 40, still a couple of days before getting the rent money.

Namdaemun Market anyway is pretty cool, and a great place to buy Korean things to bring abroad, especially tea and traditional sweets. Just in front of the mandou stall, there’s a funny guy who prepares sweet little things, he makes a thin dough (like “angel hair”) and then fries it. He has thick glasses and speaks like a machine as he prepares in a quirky English-Korean. Sort of market-rap.

1b – Wild camping in Seoul

Tonight Justin could not accommodate us, he had other guests for the weekend. We end up sleeping in a city park on a mat found in the nearby gazebo… Korea is so free camping friendly that it is easy to wild camp even inside its capital. The truth is, we actually had another couch surfer, but when we arrived at her house it was immediately clear that something was wrong, the girl didn’t look well and there were eight other guests in a single-room apartment.

Some people try to fill the voids in their lives by constantly meeting large numbers of strangers, either to act as leaders or to feel attention. Please don’t use Couchsurfing this way, get some professional help from a therapist (take a look at the licensed ones listed here). We wake up late, eat a slice of pizza and a gimbap at the 7-Eleven, and take a subway ride into town.

2 – Gyeonbok imperial palace

things to do seoul

We go visit one of the imperial palaces, Gyeongbok. After China, it’s difficult to be impressed but it is quite nice. It was mostly destroyed during the Japanese occupation so it’s a replica. We are lucky to be in time for the changing of the guard ceremony. Fake guards wearing fake beards march in the palace’s yard playing traditional drums. The palace is located near the main square of Seoul, very beautiful, all covered by soft grass. It’s in front of Seoul City Hall at Taepyeongno, Jung-gu.

Check Pictures and Reviews of Seoul Imperial Palace

2b – Couchsurfing with Indians and Pinoys

We can find accommodations for the night by Vikas, an Indian dude who is an engineer for LG, in the evening comes also a Filipino friend called Vehm, she just quit her 12 hours a day job for Guess and is going to be back in the Philippines soon.

She makes a very good advertisement about her country (“We have a fucked up corrupted government but the country is beautiful and cheap and the people are very nice…”) so that we seriously consider the opportunity of including the Philippines as one of our next destinations. (2017 update: and we did it! Thanks to Vehm who suggested the idea. Check our Travel Log from the Philippines).

We cook pasta with eggplant and spend a nice evening drinking soju and talking about serious things.

3 – Hiking Mountains in Seoul

things to do seoul

We all wake up late. We leave for a little hike in the nearby mountains. It’s nice to just take the subway and still be in the city but in the woods. There are many hiking trails just a fast subway ride from the city center, something that adds to the already great fascination of Seoul, definitely one of the best cities to visit in Eastern Asia.

We go to Achasan, the route is about 8 km, very nice and clean. When you get to the highest point there is an open-air gym, a full one, weightlifting equipment, benches, and all the stuff if you just want to sweat more… everybody uses that, even the old ladies with the perm. Sporty people the Koreans.

We ask directions for the subway station which should be somewhere at the end of the path, a man tells us to follow him, but when we realize the direction is wrong and we should redo a long climb in the sun, he disappears in the woods. We wonder if he went to suicide out of shame.

4 – Almost fancy dinner in Gangnam

Back in town, or rather in the city center, we go to a restaurant in Gangnam (the one of the “style”, the famous song). Vehm has a deal there because of her job and we all eat for free!

I take the cold noodles with soybean paste, Daniel rice with beef which is a Japanese recipe (inside there is also some pink ginger), Vikas takes rice with chicken and the waitress warns him about the spiciness. But he, being an Indian, thought he could cope with Korean chili. He manages to finish the dish but sweats a lot and has to ask for a drink a few times. Korea – India 1-0.

Then we take all the bibimpap and then Tteokbokki, a rice cake with spicy sauce, boiled eggs, cheese, and pieces of fish. Everything is very good, and when it is free it is even more.

5 – Seoul Imperial Palace: Gyeongbokgung

things to do seoul

We go to the Great North Palace, Gyeongbokgung. In July in Seoul, all the historical tourist attractions are free of charge! Here, as in the previous building, there are some guys in traditional costumes, Swiss Guards style. They also wear fake beards.

3rd curious fact about Koreans

Just that having beards, in Korea is considered filthy stuff, for unemployed or hippies. We don’t know why, given that it was traditionally worn by most, including emperors.
The fact is that even when your job asks you to wear a beard, Koreans prefer to put a fake one on, so they look quite ridiculous.

Inside the Palace’s park, there is the national museum of Korean pre-war history, the Korean War is dedicated to a separate museum. Here it is more a matter of Korean culture and customs, we must visit a bit in a hurry because we’re going to meet with Sehran, a cyclist coming from Turkey.

At the museum, there is a section dedicated to traditional musical instruments, and there are headphones to hear their sound. Then there are examples of the interior of traditional houses, paintings, silk dresses, and beautiful hats and shoes. I like those traditional wide trousers, they must be comfortable and cool.

6 – Wandering randomly in search of an ATM

We meet Sehran in the lively Dongdaemun neighborhood, and we go looking for an ATM, we have now got the rent money! We have cards from the same circuit (Maestro) and sometimes it is not easy to find an ATM from which to draw.

Wandering we run into a music store called Ukulele Something. Not just the ukulele though, the owner is a little gentleman in his sixties, he collects vintage instruments. He plays for us with a kind of kazoo and also with a huge bass flute, which Daniele tries to play too with poor results.

It turns out that finding an ATM accepting our card is a journey. We walk from north to south, passing by some very nice narrow alleys, an artisans’ neighborhood (mainly ironsmiths), climbing hills, and crossing the Han River. We also get to quickly see some popular Hongdae attractions, the youth’s neighborhood of Seoul. 

At the end of the day, we had walked about 12km in the city center, more than yesterday’s hike, but at least we succeeded in finding the ATM. And this was a nice exploration of Seoul.

7 – Changdeokgung Palace and the Temple of the Revolutionaries

We visit a temple that was once the base of the revolutionaries who wanted independence from Japan, it’s nothing special but it has an interesting history. Then we look at the nearby emperor’s palace (another one, these emperors never have enough), surrounded by large green areas and ponds.

It’s called Changdeokgung, the palace of prosperous virtue. There is also a secret garden, the only thing with an entry fee (5,000 won). The palace, like most of the historical sights of Seoul, has been rebuilt after being bombed.

7b – Some more random sightseeing in Seoul

Wandering we enter into a long and narrow alley full of blacksmiths, plumbers, and mechanical workshops. There are so many things to do and see in Seoul, you just turn a corner and the city changes completely, but everything seems always perfectly framed. Besides the tourist attractions, this metropolis is worth exploring, wandering its diverse and mutable areas.

We meet the guys of Twisting Spokes, they are in Seoul and are about to return to China. We have been in touch since before starting our bicycle trips and it’s cool to meet in such a small touring cyclist world. Moreover, they just managed to obtain a three-month tourist visa for China and we want to understand how they did it. They have presented a route and will send us a copy so we can use it ourselves in the future, plus fake plane tickets and fake hotel reservations.

3 more things to do in Seoul (so that it makes 10)

While wandering we stumble upon Memorial Park, where there are a bunch of American tanks and planes, there’s also the Korean War museum but we don’t visit it.

Instead, we go to the Itaewon neighborhood, home to many Americans because of the huge US base near here. It’s a nice neighborhood with narrow streets and steep slopes, there are several bars and shops quite radical-chic and therefore expensive.

Wandering we find the first board game Café of our trip! We are happy you pay a certain amount per hour, the manager is nice and has a lot of games. Maybe not many of you are geeks like us but if you are and you pass by Itaewon, here are the coordinates:
Boardgame Cafè Seoul: N 37°32’22.2 E 126°59’24.4

11 – The Han River cycling path

We go to retrieve the bikes that we left in Justin’s garage bike along the Han River. For 18 kilometers we ride in the city, following the beautiful bicycle path at the side of the river, you only have to leave the path if you want to cross the river. Along the path, there are free children’s pools, free gyms, tennis courts, and more.

For the first time, we see a group dance in Chinese style, but as a soundtrack, there is no traditional music but contemporary Korean dance music. When we get home we cook the tortellini stuffed with cheese that we took from Justin’s home. We are happy. We’re leaving tomorrow.


Seoul is a beautiful city. Usually, we do not like big cities but here we can make an exception. It’s full of peaceful areas and neighborhoods with narrow streets and vertical slopes, low houses that give the sensation of being in a small town, rather than in the center of a city with millions of inhabitants.

The transport work well, the subway takes you everywhere and we never find it overcrowded. In 45 minutes you can be in Incheon. Seoul is also very bike-friendly, full of bicycle paths.

Stay in touch while we get lost! Follow us on Social Media

Sharing is caring!