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.

 

Our top 10 places to visit in South Korea (with kids)

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We’ve lived in South Korea just shy of four years and have been on countless adventures (apparently I have 80 posts about Korea on this blog…) People always ask our favorite places to visit. Here is our top 10. Keep in mind that our entire time in South Korea, Clarissa has been five and under so a couple with no kids or teenagers may have a different list.

Please note that I am putting these in order based on location so that you could feasibly plan a trip from this list. Tim and I do think that if you did a trip to South Korea, this would give you a decent idea of cultural things though.

Seoul

There will be a post at some point about our favorite things in Seoul itself. But for now, these are our favorite places in South Korea that just happen to be in Seoul.

There are two neighborhoods 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 this 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.

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.

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. If you get hungry or want to walk around in some air conditioning Lotte World Mall (didn’t make our top 10 but we do like it) is nearby and has plenty of options for eating, shopping, and a decent aquarium.

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 (again not our top 10 but we like it) which also has some shopping, good food, and a decent aquarium.

Suwon and surrounding area

Clarissa refers to Hwaseong Fortress as the Great Wall of Korea. We were impressed that she did the three mile plus hike. There are several places to rest as you walk. I wouldn’t bring a stroller as you need to go up several flights of stairs, but a carrier would be fine. It isn’t a dangerous hike at all. There is a palace inside the wall, but it is not better than Gyeongbokgung that is listed above. There are several monuments and bells. There is a place to learn archery at certain times of day. You can get snacks at a convenience store. It is very pretty during certain times of year. At certain places on the wall you can see most of Suwon.

I went to several different folk villages in Korea and the best one is the Korean Folk Village in Yongin. We have been twice. There are several different houses and shops set up so that you can see how peasants and rich people and governors have lived in Korea over the years. Several times per day there are shows with horses, acrobats, or folk dancers. I grew up going to Jamestown and this was the closest thing I experienced to this. There is also a great Folk Museum that has exhibits from many countries around the world to see how indigenous peoples live. A small amusement park is attached. There is admission for the folk village and museum, and you can also add on rides at the amusement park or different experiences like pottery making for an additional cost. There is plenty of Korean food available for purchase as well.

On our first trip to the Folk Village, we went to Everland the next day. Everland is an amusement park with the same caliber rides as a Busch Gardens. There are different countries represented as well as food. Clarissa was only 2.5 so she was too small for all of the rides except Thomas the Train. But the real reason that we went there was the zoo! Admission to Everland will cover the zoo and the rides. But the zoo alone is worth the admission. It is the best zoo in South Korea because of the size and quality of the exhibits. It is also the only zoo in Korea that has pandas. There is a safari ride that takes you over land and water to see animals close up. You can also pay extra for a pony or camel ride.

If Clarissa was making this list, she would add Anseong Farmland to the Suwon and surrounding area. However, this would not be easily accessible by public transportation so it would really only be worth going if you already live in Korea and are planning to be in the Pyeongtaek area (Camp Humphreys or Osan).

Busan

People head to Busan for the beach. The water in South Korea is pretty cold in my opinion, but Busan has some very pretty beaches. Our favorite is Haeundae Beach. It is a very nice beach, but also very crowded during tourist season (July and August). You can see some pretty parks nearby or a sand castle festival in May. I like the contrast of the water with the tall buildings. There is an aquarium right on the beach, but you can skip it unless you have really young kids who need something to do.

Another cool temple is check out is Haedong Yonggungsa. You can take a bus near Haeundae Beach or you can take a taxi. It is a beautiful temple, on the side of a mountain and right on the water. There are plenty of statues and shrines inside it to see. We happened to go the week of Buddha’s birthday so it had special lanterns.

If you’re going to be in Busan and are looking for a fun park to go to with your kids, I would recommend Busan Citizen’s Park. There are so many beautiful plants and different playgrounds. Your kids will love it! It’s not super easy to get to with public transportation, so again, this would be great if you have a car.

A Mostly Seoul Adventure

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I finally finished unpacking our first shipment at the house. Then, the furniture that we ordered while living in South Korea arrived ahead of our Household Goods. So now I have two couches and two dining room tables. It’s kind of funny really to go from living out of suitcases in a fairly empty apartment to having too much furniture. But our apartment is large enough that it’s fine. First world problems right?

Clarissa and I have developed a routine that works. We stay home and play at the playground on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. Wednesday we go to base for PWC (Bible study) and grocery shopping. Thursday we go to story hour to see our friends, have lunch with Tim, and pick up a few more items at the commissary. The weekend is for exploring as a family.

Last weekend we tried a fish barbecue place. Even if most signs and menus aren’t in English, you can figure out what a restaurant serves pretty easily because there is usually a sign with an animal outside. The fish place across the street from our apartment always looks pretty busy, so we decided to check it out.

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We were not disappointed. The ladies were very nice. One took Clarissa over to see what they were doing in the kitchen when she was bored. We chose barbecue shellfish, which was excellent. Not too spicy for me. They bring everything out on a tray. It cooks in front of you on the burner at your table.

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My two favorite side dishes were the boiled peanuts and the seaweed. Clarissa ate both side dishes as well.

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Tim had to go to a training in Seoul on Thursday so we decided that Clarissa and I would come too and we would stay for the weekend.

While we were waiting for the bus with our suitcase and stroller, an older woman took a liking to Clarissa. She kept trying to play with her. She even gave her money! She then carried the stroller on to the bus for us. We took the bus to the subway to the KTX station. Clarissa did very well considering she didn’t get a nap that day.

Once we arrived in Seoul, we took the subway to our hotel. The plan was for Tim to carry the suitcase and I would hold Clarissa’s hand and the umbrella stroller. But Clarissa didn’t cooperate so Tim was superman and carried both the stroller and suitcase up multiple flights of stairs while I carried Clarissa. When we arrived at the hotel, they wanted to give Clarissa a gift of a teddy bear.

On Thursday, Tim went to his training and Clarissa and I explored Yongsan. We went to the commissary because you can’t request a product in Daegu if they don’t carry it at Yongsan. The commissary there is probably three times bigger than the one on Camp Walker so I do have a few requests to make.

Thursday night we took the subway to Gangnam. Clarissa wandered into a shop and I actually did buy some shoes. Now I can say I have been shopping in Gangnam (like in the song Gangnam Style).

We had dinner with Tim’s friend Minnie. She is really cool. Teaches fifth grade. I got to see a picture of Tim from 2006. We made plans to visit her soon where she lives in Suwon (about a half hour South of Seoul).

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Friday morning we headed to Coex mall, one of Tim’s favorite hangouts during his Air Force days. The mall has recently been remodeled so it looks very different and has different stores. While at the mall, we took Clarissa to the aquarium.

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The Coex Aquarium is very nice. Clarissa loved it! She was running from tank to tank yelling, “fishy!” I tried to capture it on video but it never happened.

She loved looking at all the fish.

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Clarissa enjoyed watching the penguins and otters. She had no interest in touching anything in the touch tank. She was afraid of the big sharks.

Friday night we had dinner with Jocelyn, Aaron, and Amari. We went to a Mexican place first and the guy asked if we were Tim, party of 6. So we sat down and had some chips while we waited for our friends. Wrong Tim. We didn’t have a reservation and it was a long wait for a table, so we left. They wouldn’t let me pay for the chips we ate.

So we ended up nextdoor at Buddha’s Belly. Best Thai food I have ever eaten! And if you know me, that is saying a lot. If you are ever in Itaewan, I highly recommend it.

Friday night I posted pictures from the aquarium. A friend who was actually visiting Seoul saw them so we decided to meet up on Saturday.

I met Yongki in 2003 while we were both attending Old Dominion University. I was leading a Bible study and he was the only one who came. It actually worked out really well. He had learned to read English in Korea but didn’t know how to speak it. We met once a week all semester. I invited him to several holiday meals at my grandmother’s house over the years. I always thought it would be cool to visit him in South Korea. The funny thing is that now I live in Korea and he doesn’t.

We decided to meet at Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was great to see Yongki again as it has been about three years since Tim and I last saw him. We were able to meet his brother and wife (who is a tour guide for the Seven Churches tour in Turkey. If you are interested in touring the seven churches in Revelation, let me know and I will hook you up).

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The architecture was pretty cool. Tim took way more pictures than I did. It is hard to take pictures and keep up with a toddler at the same time.

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On Saturday night we decided to have dinner on base because there is a Mexican restaurant on Yongsan. I haven’t had Mexican in months, so this was a real treat. Tim must love me!

Sunday we came home by KTX, subway, and bus. Did I mention that Tim was superman? He carried the suitcase and the stroller up the stairs and in the rain. We decided that next time we are leaving the stroller at home because most of the time Clarissa wanted to walk or be held so we carried it most of the weekend.