Our favorite things to do in Seoul with kids

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I got a lot of feedback on our top 10 places to visit in South Korea with kids post so I thought I would add to the series with a top 10 places to visit in Seoul. During our four years of living in Korea, we have probably spent a total of two months in Seoul and I feel like we haven’t seen everything yet!

Just a reminder that Clarissa has been five and under the entire time that we’ve lived in South Korea. So our list may be different than a family with older kids, teens, or no kids.

Neighborhoods

There are two neighborhoods in Seoul that we really like and for different reasons. Hongdae (Hongik University Station exit 6) is very artsy and modern. You can buy lots of cute jewelry, art supplies, and gundam here in modern stores. On a visit there last fall, I got my ears pierced and we visited a bunny cafe.

My other favorite neighborhood is Insadong (Anguk Station or Junggak Station). It is another artsy area but very different. Here you can buy traditional pottery, silk scarves, wall paintings, and plenty of other Korean knick knacks. Some are in carts that only accept won and others are in stores that will take your credit card. While visiting this area, you can also let fish nibble the dead skin on your feet or visit a temple.

Palace

There are several different palaces in Seoul. Our favorite (and close to Insadong) is Gyeongbokgung Palace (Gyeongbokgung Station or Anguk Station). The palace grounds are huge and lovely. They even have a changing of the guard ceremony several times per day. The entrance fee is 3,000 won (less than $3 USD). If you want a different experience and to get in free, there are several shops nearby that will let you rent a traditional hanbok and walk around a few hours looking like a Korean princess.

Outdoors

Another cool place is visit is Olympic Park (Olympic Park Station or Mongchontoseong Station). You get to see all four seasons at this park so you may want to go more than once. There are several miles of walking trails, cool trees, monuments and sculptures, flags form all over the world, buildings from the Seoul Olympics in 1988, and even some playgrounds for the kids.

Mall and Aquarium

If you get hungry or want to walk around in some air conditioning Lotte World Mall is near Olympic Park and is our favorite mall in Seoul. This is our favorite mall because all of our favorite stores are there. Tim really likes the Hi Mart. Clarissa gets excited about the Toy Box, Lego, and Studio Ghibli. I really like Butter, Flying Tiger Copenhagen, and Miniso. But there are several floors of shops and restaurants in the mall itself. Also attached to the mall is Avenue L which is a higher end mall. Avenue L also has an art museum. Inside Lotte World Mall, you can take an elevator to Lotte World Tower and look out over Seoul on floors 118-122. There is also a kid cafe inside called Teddy Bear Zoo, which is pricey but Clarissa really enjoyed her time there.

Also located on B1 of Lotte World Mall is Lotte Aquarium. This is our favorite aquarium in South Korea. There are several large tanks with whales, sting rays, and even penguins. There is a spot where you can pay 1,000 won to feed a small tank of fish. Then you can feed carp with a bottle for 2,000 won. There is also a free touch tank. There are food stands within the aquarium as well as face painting and a craft area that you can pay for as well. Aquarium admission can be pricey, but if you show your military ID or American passport, you can get a discount. It should cost us over 90,000 won to get in, but we usually only pay 61,000 won.

Temple

Korea has a large Buddhist population so there are temples all over the place. Many of them look similar and have architecture much like the palaces you may also visit. But, if you are going to visit a temple while visiting Seoul, we recommend Bongeunsa Temple (Bongeunsa Temple Station or Samseong Station). It is one of the largest temples that we have seen as it is a complex instead of just one building. It is pretty much across the street from Coex Mall (did not make our top 10, but if you aren’t going to get to Lotte World Mall or if you need some lunch, it is an acceptable mall) which also has some shopping, good food, and a decent aquarium.

Zoo

Sometimes the zoos in South Korea make me sad. The animals don’t seem very happy in their small cages. But there are some exceptions to this. Our favorite zoo in Seoul itself (Everland Zoo is probably better but way more expensive) is Seoul Grand Park Zoo.Seoul Grand Park is a subway stop on line 4. The zoo is exit 2. But you can also get to the Science Museum at exit 5.

The parking lot brings you to the bathrooms and a place to buy tickets for the elephant train that will take you to the zoo. You can walk if you prefer. The guy said it was a 15 minutes walk. But the train was super cheap. Adults pay 1,000 won (about $1.00) and little kids like Clarissa pay 700 won. After our train ride, we bought tickets to the zoo. Adults pay 5,000 won (less than $5.00) and preschoolers are free. We thought we would also try the theme garden which also has farm animals which costs 2,000 won. A combination ticket for both was 5,600 won.

The zoo was great. We saw monkeys, giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinoceros, lions, tigers, and bears. There is also a petting zoo and insectarium. There are plenty of restaurants that sell Korean food as well.

Museums

There are a few museums worth taking your small children to. The Figure Museum was very close to the Apgujeong subway station and easy to find with the statue in front. There were six floors of exhibits with each floor having its own theme. All three of us really enjoyed the museum.

Another favorite was  Seoul Children’s Museum located in Children’s Grand Park (Please note there is a zoo here as well, but I do not recommend it…). Admission costs 4,000 won per person but children under 3 are free. It was well worth the cost. There were 4 floors of exhibits that all of us enjoyed. You could pretend to be blind and get on the subway, learn about animals or space, play dress up, build a house, or play with water. Most exhibits were explained in both Hangul and English. If we lived here, we would buy a membership. I think the museum is geared towards kids second grade and under.

 

First road trip in Korea

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We lasted almost eleven months in South Korea without a car.  During that time,  we did plenty of exploring by train and by bus. We decided that after we bought a car last week,  we needed to break it in with a road trip. A friend in Seoul wanted us to meet her sister who was visiting, so we thought that was the perfect choice.

Clarissa and I were sick on Thursday so I wasn’t able to pack ahead of time. We didn’t leave until 12:30 on Friday afternoon. We quickly realized that we needed hi-pass (similar to ezpass in the USA). We stopped at a rest stop to buy one. That was an exciting ordeal. The ladies at the counter said that we were the first foreigners to get hi-pass from them. It took a while to set up the account. Part of the problem was that we don’t have a Korean bank account so we can’t do automatic billing. We had won, so we just charged 50,000 (like $45) and went on our way.

Tim and I agree that the topography of the drive was similar to what we see driving from Virginia to Pennsylvania. Some of the architecture is different. But it didn’t feel that different from one of our normal road trips.

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Speed traps are a major difference. It is rare to see a police car in South Korea. Traffic violations are pretty automated. Speed limits are posted. There are specific police enforcement areas, which have signs posted. If you speed, a traffic camera takes a picture of your licence plate and a ticket is mailed to your house.

We don’t have a Korean GPS yet, so Tim just used the waze app that he used stateside. It worked wonderfully. Clarissa did well in the back seat the first two hours. I think that she liked being able to see everything. I had to move to the back seat for the last hour or so.

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Our original plan was lunch at Osan, shopping at the BX, and dinner when we arrived at Dragon Hill Lodge. With our late start we didn’t get to Osan until almost four so it was more like an early dinner.

We went off post to Sawatdee, Tim’s favorite Thai restaurant. He got curry and I had drunken noodles. Clarissa ate spring rolls.

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We then headed to the commissary for our weekend breakfast items. Finally, we went to the BX. Osan’s exchange is by far the best in Korea. There are several kiosks and small shops in addition to the main exchange. We actually found pink gloves that fit Clarissa’s hands at one of the kiosks. Also, the exchange has good items and is laid out in a way that actually makes sense (which cannot be said for the other ones).
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Needless to say, it was worth the three hour drive. I bought two pairs of jeans that fit and looked cute. Tim got some new work clothes. Clarissa even found a Finding Nemo sippy cup.

We let Clarissa play in the playplace for a bit to burn off some energy and then decided we should eat again because everything would probably be closed by the time we arrived at Yongsan. Tim had a sub from Charley’s and Clarissa and I split a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut.

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Tim did very well driving in Seoul. It was almost 9:00 by the time we arrived so the traffic had died down some. But it was still pretty busy.

Our room at Dragon Hill Lodge was very warm. I put our food in the refrigerator (but didn’t realize until morning that it wasn’t cold). It is PCS season (lots of families moving) so we ended up with two double beds. Now I know what it is like to share a bed with my two year old…

We were up early on Saturday so that we would have plenty of time for exploring. Our sausage wasn’t cold so we decided to toss it. We opted for a fast food breakfast on the way to Changdeokgung Palace. We took line 3 to Anguk (exit 3). It was a very short walk from there.

As we arrived at the Palace, it began to snow. So we decided to just pay the 3,000 won admission and walk around on our own.

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The palace was pretty. But honestly wasn’t as large as the other one and seemed to have similar style. It was way less crowded, probably because of the snow. To be fair, we also didn’t see the whole complex. It started to snow harder and Clarissa was very cold. We decided to go inside for some hot chocolate before heading back to the subway.

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We needed an indoor thing to do so we headed to Coex mall. I believe it is the largest underground mall in the world. It was one of Tim’s normal hangouts during his Air Force days. Clarissa picked out some Tayo stickers and an Octonauts puzzle at Daiso (like a Dollar Store) so she was happy. We also brought her to the entrance of the aquarium so she could see some fish. We all felt better after some food.

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The snow stopped and it warmed up to about 37, so we decided to head to Bongeunsa Temple which is very close to the mall. It is the same subway stop, just a different exit (Samseong on line 2).

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It was a very large temple complex. There were other people walking around but it was not busy at all. They have a templestay program where you can spend the night there. They also had a large hall for weddings. There were some monks playing drums and chanting, but not many.

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After the temple, we decided to head towards base. Most of the places we wanted to see closed at 4:30 or 5. Clarissa fell asleep on the train and even slept some on the walk to base which surprised me because it was so cold outside.

We didn’t find anything interesting at the Yongsan px so we headed back to the Lodge for dinner. We went to Green Street. I ordered a steak and Tim had a spicy Asian dish.

We had originally planned to have brunch with Tim’s friend on Sunday but she was sick.

We decided to head out early and go to Hahoe village in Andong on the way home. It really was in the middle of nowhere and took three hours to get to. It would have been so worth it though. The place was huge and had several sections of traditional houses, shrines, and stores.

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We didn’t get very far before it started sleeting. We decided that since it is only about an hour from Daegu, we will just go again and make a day of it. There were several small museums (mask museum, world doll museum) to see as well.

Apparently January in Korea is not a good time for exploring. We need to wait until it warms up a bit to see more. But it was a great first road trip.