Urban Hive - Seoul Architecture - Best Things To Do In Seoul

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Last Updated on February 23, 2021

Seoul, Korea is a fascinating juxtaposition of new and old, traditional and ultra-modern.  With history stretching back almost two thousand years, today’s Seoul has become a hub of technology, pop culture, and contemporary design.  I knew that I wanted to see Korean palaces and temples when I visited. But in researching the best things to do in Seoul, I also discovered that I would also have to plan a tour of contemporary Seoul architecture.

To find the best architecture spots in Seoul, I combed modern architecture websites and Seoul Instagram hashtags to find both famous buildings and cool lesser-known designs.  In this Seoul architecture guide, I’ll share my best traditional and contemporary Seoul buildings, plus suggested itineraries to make the most of your visit. I’ve also got tips on getting around the city using public transit and recommended Seoul hotels for design-lovers. All of these spots are unique Instagram locations too, to mix up your Seoul Instagram feed. And if you need more ideas for your Seoul trip, there’s lots of great tours and activities you can book online ahead of time.

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Ewha Woman's University
Ewha Woman’s University

Seoul Architecture Guide: Must-See Sights

The purpose of my trip was to visit my sister, who lived and worked in Seoul for a year.  She wasn’t able to take much extra time off, though, which gave me plenty of time to explore the city solo.  And since I’ve been a lover of cool architecture since I was a kid (check out my fangirl post here about visiting the iconic TWA Flight Center-turned-hotel), I was excited to discover Seoul’s architectural gems.

Jump ahead in this guide on planning your own Seoul architecture tour:

Seoul Architecture Tour Map

I’ve mapped out the top Seoul architecture sights for you below so you can plan your own tour.  In the map, I’ve grouped the buildings by neighborhood according to pin color, to make it easier to plan your itinerary.  I’ve also suggested some itineraries later in this guide.

Below you’ll also find brief descriptions of each spot in order of my must-see recommendations, including links to more information on the most famous buildings in Seoul.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) | Seoul Architecture

Architect Zaha Hadid, 2014

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is massive, futuristic and completely awe-inspiring.  One of the most famous buildings in Seoul, its smooth metal facade is made up of more than 45,000 curved panels. At night, you can see that the facade is actually two layers, with a perforated outer cladding illuminated by the interior lighting.  I visited twice, one in the afternoon golden hour, and again at night. I recommend you do the same! This is one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city.

Completed in 2014, DDP was designed as a cultural hub for the city – with spaces for exhibitions, conferences, restaurants and 24-hour shopping at its design market.  There are also outdoor spaces including a plaza and park. Get here easily by subway at the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park station. The public areas are open 24 hours.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza night

Address: 281 Eulji-ro, Euljiro 7(chil)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  | Current exhibitionsGoogle Maps

Ewha Woman’s University Campus Complex

Architect Dominique Perrault, 2008

This was one of my favorite spots in the city and another top Seoul architecture sight.  A central plaza slopes down, while the buildings of the university intersect the landscape.  It gets quieter and calmer the further down the ramp you go. Then you start up again, climbing wide steps for expansive views of the city and green roofs of the buildings. This spot is also beautiful to see at night, when the indoor lights illuminate the plaza through walls of windows.  

Get here by subway Line 2,  Ewha Woman’s University stop.  The public spaces are open 24 hours, but the interior is closed to visitors and only students are permitted inside.

Address: 52 Ewhayeodae-gil, Daehyeon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  | Google Maps

National Museum of Korea | Contemporary Seoul Architecture

Junglim Architecture, 2004

The National Museum was another favorite place in the city and was especially beautiful when I visited in the autumn!  An open plaza connects the two buildings of the museum with a long facade that almost looks like a reimagined city wall.  One side of the building houses museum collections, while the other side has special exhibits.

The museum is located far back in the lot, behind a plaza and a mirror pond that beautifully reflects the building.  There’s also mountain views behind the museum, plus gardens and a small trail to get to a small pavilion at the edge of the pond with a traditional Korean architecture design.  

National Museum of Korea
National Museum of Korea view
Instagram-worthy view from the pagoda in the National Museum mirror pond, looking out to the city

Address: 52 Ewhayeodae-gil, Daehyeon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  | Current exhibits  | Google Maps

Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Gate | Traditional Korean Architecture

Gyeongbokgung Palace was established in 1395 as the main palace of the Joseon dynasty, which ruled Korea for five centuries.  Gwanghamun is the south gate and main entrance to the palace; it was restored starting in 2006.  

Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds have many ceremonial halls, pavilions and passageways to explore.  You’ll see beautiful examples of Dancheong, the traditional colorful painting on wooden buildings, which literally means “cinnabar and blue-green” in Korean.  And be sure to get a photo at Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which appears to float above its reflection in a pond.

Many Koreans and foreigners alike rent hanbok, traditional Korean dress, from shops around the palace so that they can get Instagram photos in costume at the palace.  I didn’t do this but wish I had! Find out more and get some helpful tips for renting hanbok in Seoul here.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Address: 161 Sajik-ro, Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Palace website Google Maps

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) | Korean Modern Architecture

Architects MPART, SIA Plan, 2013

Just across the street from Gyeongbokgung Palace, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is made up of several buildings.  Its oldest section repurposes buildings from the Japanese occupation, an Armed Forces Hospital and Defense Security Command. There are also newer sections with underground spaces and courtyards. To get here, take the Orange line to Gyeongbokgung Station (exit 5).

Photos are permitted inside the museum’s galleries, and this is another unique Seoul Instagram location.

Korea Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art MMCA
Choi Jeong Hwa, Dandelion, Used Kitchenware (2018) in the courtyard of the MMCA, showing the two museum buildings.​​

Address: 30 Samcheong-ro, Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

MMCA website  |   Google Maps

Leeum Samsung Museum | Seoul Architecture

Architects Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel, Rem Koolhaas

The Leeum Samsung Museum is an art complex founded by the Samsung family in the Hannam-dong neighborhood.  It includes both historical art and modern art. Museum 1 houses celadon pottery, folk paintings and landscape paintings.  Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, the terra cotta tile building features a winding center staircase with cutaway windows to the artifacts on each level.  A second part of the building mimics the original city fortress wall.

Museum 2, the contemporary art museum, has works by both Korean and foreign artists. Its dark, angular cubes made of rusted stainless steel and glass were designed by French architect Jean Nouvel.  Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas designed the adjoining Samsung Child Education & Culture Center of Museum 3; you’ll see its glass angles rise up from the street as you first approach the museum.

I liked the juxtaposition of the different designs and their harmony with the artwork and natural setting, as much of Museum 2 is lined by trees and sunken gardens.  There’s also a sculpture garden on the grounds.

Photos aren’t permitted inside the museum galleries, but there are two “Instagram-worthy” spots in Museum 1. The central staircase is home to Choi Jeong-hwa’s “Alchemy” (2014) . The stairway that links Museum 1 and Museum 2 has been transformed with Olafur Eliasson’s “Gravity Stairs,” a site-specific installation made for the space. The artist lined the entire space with mirrors and LED tubes according to the order of the planets in the solar system.

Olafur Eliasson - Gravity Stairs installation - Leeum Samsung Museum
Olafur Eliasson’s “Gravity Stairs” (2014) installation in the stairway between Museums 1 and 2 at Leeum Samsung Museum

Address: 60-16 Itaewon-ro 55-gil, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the designsVisit information  | Google Maps

More Seoul Architecture by Area & Suggested Itinerary

On the map above, the sights below are color coded within the same area.  If you choose to see all of the sights in an area, it might be too much for one day, especially if you plan to spend time in museums.

Sinchon – Jongno – Dongdaemun Seoul Buildings

Ewha Women’s University

(see full listing above)

Address: 52 Ewhayeodae-gil, Daehyeon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  | Google Maps

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

(see full listing above)

MMCA Address: 30 Samcheong-ro, Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

MMCA website  |   MMCA on Google Maps

Gyeongbokgung Palace

(see full listing above)

Address: 161 Sajik-ro, Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Palace website  |  Google Maps

Jogyesa Temple (Yogyesa)

Located in Insadong, Jogyesa is the main temple of the order of Jogye in Korean Buddhism.  It’s a mixture of traditional temple and Korean palace architecture in one of Seoul’s busiest areas.  It’s often decorated for different festivals. Many people have Instagram photos of colorful canopies of garlands in the gardens here, but I visited during the fall chrysanthemum festival (and consequently kept wondering if I was in the right place!).

Address: 55 Ujeongguk-ro, Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Google Maps

Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Village is home to hundreds of traditional houses, or hanok, that are preserved to show a Joseon dynasty-era village.  Many of the houses are tearooms, guest houses and restaurants that let tourists learn about traditional Korean culture. This is another location where you can rent hanbok (traditional Seoul dress) for your Seoul Instagram photos.

Bukchon Hanok Village Seoul

Address: 25-7 Jae-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Walking tour information  | Google Maps

Seoul City Hall

Architects iARC, 2015

Seoul City Hall is the center of city government, and is housed in a building with a facade made almost completely of curved glass.  I ran out of time and the photos of it seemed so confusing that I skipped it on my visit, although now I wish I had seen the interior.

Address: 110 Sejong-daero, Myeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  |  Google Maps

Ssamziegil Mall

Gaa Architects

Seoul’s bustling pedestrian street, Insa-dong, also features a mall with sloping walkways and an interior courtyard.  It’s a fun shopping area and there’s also lots of restaurants and tea shops in the Insa-dong neighborhood. Insa-dong itself is another popular area for Instagram photos in Seoul.

Ssamziegil Mall Insadong Seoul

Address: 44 Insadong-gil, Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  | Google Maps

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) 

(see full listing above)

Address: 281 Eulji-ro, Euljiro 7(chil)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  | Current exhibitionsGoogle Maps

Yeouido – Yongsan Seoul Architecture

63 Building (Korea Life Insurance Building)

Architect S.O.M. Architects, 1985

The 63 Building, built in 1985, is a Seoul landmark as one of the first skyscrapers in the city.  It gets its name from its 3 underground stories and 60 above ground, which have a reflective golden surface.  Its top floor is an observatory with panoramic views of the city; the building also has an aquarium, wax museum and IMAX theater.

63 Building - Korea Life Insurance Building Seoul

Address: 50 63-ro, Yeoeuido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Observatory tickets  | Google Maps

S-Trenue Tower 

Mass Studies, 2009

S-Trenue Tower is designed as a grouping of 3 slender towers.  The exterior towers appear tilted, leaning against the center tower.

Google Maps

Amorepacific Headquarters

Architect David Chipperfield Architects, 2017

Korean skincare brand Amorepacific’s headquarters would be an imposing cube, except for its brise-soleil baffle and cutouts that show through to interior spaces with rooftop pools and gardens.  The lobby is open, but the upper floors and interior gardens weren’t accessible to the public when I visited. (I tried to convince several employees to let me get a peek, but alas!)

Address: 166-3 Hangangno 2(i)-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  |  Google Maps

National Museum of Korea

(see full listing above)

Address: 52 Ewhayeodae-gil, Daehyeon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  | Current exhibits   | Google Maps

Yongsan-Gu Office

This building is the district office for Yongsan-Gu, one of the 25 districts of Seoul.  It wasn’t originally on my map but when I noticed this rhomboid structure from the sidewalk, I had to get a closer look.

Yongsan-Gu Office Seoul

Address: 150 Noksapyeong-daero, Itaewon 1(il)-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Google Maps

Jamsil – Gangnam 

Lotte World Tower

Architect Kohn Pederson Fox, 2017

Lotte World is the fifth-highest building in the world and one of the best “Instagram-worthy” views of the city from its observation deck.  Its sleek, tapered design also houses apartments, a mall, luxury hotel, aquarium, concert hall and cinema.

Lotte World Tower Seoul

Address: 300 Olympic-ro, Jamsil 6(yuk)-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  | Google Maps

Starfield COEX Library and Mall

Architect Gensler, 2017

Starfield COEX is a combined mall, conference and exhibition space (hence the COEX) in Seoul’s Samseong neighborhood.  Much of the complex is underground, but its main attraction is a multi-story library with over 50,000 books and a curved glass ceiling that bathes the space in light.

Starfield COEX is another hot Seoul Instagram spot, and has several levels for different views of the library. There’s also a coffeeshop and cafe on one of the upper levels.

Starfield COEX Library

Address: 955-9 Daechi-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Google Maps

Bongeunsa Temple

Bongeunsa is just a block from COEX library and is a calm contrast to its modern surroundings. Originally constructed in 794, the temple has beautiful views of the city and mountain beyond its gates. This is a good location to get photos of the juxtaposition of traditional architecture with a backdrop of the modern city.

Address: 531 Bongeunsa-ro, Samseong 1(il)-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Google Maps

KEB Hana Bank Place 1

Architects The System Lab

KEB Hana Bank is a renovated building with a futuristic new facade.  Discs on the facade are lighted at night and display different artwork, which can be changed. This is a cool little Instagram spot close to the COEX Mall and Library, and there’s also a coffeeshop inside if you need a break on your tour.

Address: 26 Yeongdong-daero 96-gil, Samseong 1(il)-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  |  Google Maps

Seocho Garak Tower East (or GT Tower East)

Architect ConsortArchitects, 2011

Seocho Garak Tower has a wavy facade that reflects the sky and surrounding buildings in its slanted glass.  At night, it’s illuminated by color-changing LEDs. It’s fun to photograph with the sculpture installation of large gold hands in its plaza.

Address: 1317-23 Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  | Google Maps

Sulwhasoo Spa Flagship Store

Architects Neri&Hu, 2016

Skincare brand Sulwhasoo’s flagship spa is located in the Gangnam district.  Architects Neri&Hu renovated the building to construct a lattice of delicate brass rods that form the facade and extend into interior spaces.

I saw this spot on Instagram but it’s not super-popular. It’s a little out of the way, and it would be fun to pose within the lattice frame!

Sulwhasoo Spa Seoul

Address: 18 Dosan-daero 45-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Google Maps

Urban Hive

Architect Archium Architects, 2008

This 17-story modern Seoul office building has a perforated concrete facade that makes it look like a hive.  I took the elevator up and was able to get off at a floor with a balcony, but there’s also apparently a rooftop garden.  There are cafes on the ground floor if you need a break in your tour.

Address: 476 Gangnam-daero, Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  | Google Maps

Boutique Monaco

Mass Studies, 2008

Boutique Monaco is a residential building with a modern architecture design of a concrete web facade covering the first few floors.  Sections of the upper floors are offset, as if segments of the building are missing.

Address: 1316-5 Seocho 4(sa)-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the design  |  Google Maps

Itaewon – Namsan Seoul Architecture

Space Shinseon

Space Shinseon is a small gallery in the Itaewon neighborhood.  The building facade appears to be made out of undulating, white lego-like blocks.  Inside, there are several exhibitions, but my favorite was in its central spiral stairwell – a large mobile of suspended (ceramic?)  paper cranes. To visit the gallery, make a donation to the charity of your choice at the entrance. 

Address: South Korea, Seoul, Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-ro, 256

Gallery website  | Google Maps

Leeum Samsung Museum

(see complete listing above)

Address: 60-16 Itaewon-ro 55-gil, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More on the designsVisit information  | Google Maps

Hands Corporation Headquarters

Architects The System Lab

This one was tough to find — and to photograph, since it’s on a busy street with limited crosswalks.  But it’s a short distance from Space Shinseon, so I wanted to see its curvy facade in person. If short on time, skip this one and see their KEB Hana Bank instead.

Address: 104 Hannam-daero, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Google Maps 

N. Seoul Tower

N. Seoul Tower is one of the most famous buildings in Seoul. It’s a working communication and observation tower located on Mt. Namsan in the middle of Seoul.  Built in 1969, it’s now an entertainment area, with observation terraces, restaurants, shops and a popular place to leave “love locks.”  I didn’t go up to the observation deck, since it was so hazy when I visited, but it has some of the best views of the city for your Instagram. Get there by bus or there’s also a cable car that you can take up or down from the site.

Address: 105 Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Visit information |   Google Maps

Incheon Airport Ground Transportation Center

Architect David Loughlin for Terry Farrell & Partners, 2001

I was super excited to see the design of the ground transportation center on my flight home from Seoul.  It houses three rail systems (metro, standard train and high-speed train), a bus station, car rental and taxi/shuttle pick-up points.  And I was not disappointed – it looks like robots should staff it!

Incheon Airport Ground Transportation Center

Address: Unseo-dong, Incheon, South Korea

More on the design  | Google Maps

Tips for Planning Your Seoul Architecture Tour

Getting Around Seoul

I was worried about how to find my way around Seoul, but luckily I had started using the free CityMapper app on another recent trip.  CityMapper got me almost everywhere I wanted to go in the Seoul using public transportation. It maps your route, and gives you options of the best way to get there by walking and transit.

Seoul has a really good and clean public transit system including subway and buses. Many signs in Seoul are in Latin letters as well as Hangul (the name for the Korean alphabet).  Check out a map and get familiar with the Seoul subway here.

Finding addresses in Seoul can be a challenge, though, because Google maps doesn’t always have the same options using Latin letters.

I also discovered that sometimes the actual address of a place I was looking for was not on the main street.  For example, I searched for one ramen shop and eventually located it up a side street on the second floor. So basically, the apps will help you get close to where you want to be, but you might need to scout around a bit.

Seoul Airport Transportation

Seoul has two airports, Gimpo and Incheon.  Gimpo is closer to the city but doesn’t have as many flights as Incheon.

To get to Seoul from Incheon Airport, you can take an express train (no stop) or an “all stop” train to the Seoul Station Metro.  The “all stop” train route also includes Gimpo Airport. Get some tips on using the train here.

There are also airport limousine buses that make stops at many hotels, which can be easier if you don’t want to take luggage on the subway and your hotel is along one of the routes.  Check out KAL Limousine and Airport Limousine websites for routes and more information.

T-Money Cards

To use public transit, buy a T-Money transportation card in Seoul subway stations. With the card, you’ll get a discount on fares and also free transfers in some cases.  You can also buy or reload T-money cards in most convenience stores like 7-Eleven, emart24 and GS25. The cards are sold for about 4,000 won (around $3.40 US), and then you need to load it with the amount of your choice.

The Korea Tour Card has the same function as a T-Money Card but also gets you discounts at some shopping and tourist destinations.

Find out more about T-Money and Korea Tour Cards here, including prices of fares to give you an idea of how much to load on your T-Money card to start.

Be sure to get a card from your hotel with the address, just in case you need to show it to a taxi driver – most don’t speak English.

SIM Cards

You can also buy a SIM card at convenience stores or in the airport on arrival.  You can also order one ahead of time and pick it up at the airport.  

Safety In Seoul

Seoul is about 50 miles from the demilitarized zone from North Korea (known as the DMZ), but you would never know it!  I discovered during my trip that there are some negative feelings about the U.S. military base being in Seoul, but I never felt unwelcome anywhere in the city as a tourist.

Seoul has low crime rates for a city of its size.  Use regular good-sense travel safety practices here.  

Recommended Seoul Hotels for Design & Architecture Lovers

Here are a few of my top recommendations for stylish hotels to go along with your Seoul architecture tour itinerary.  All except one are within a few minutes’ walk of a subway station. I’ve included links to check prices and availability on Booking.com, which is my favorite place to book accommodation for my own trips!

Hotel 28 Myeongdong 

This trendy hotel with a cinematic theme is located in Myeongdong, the busy shopping area of Seoul with lots of restaurants and street food options.  It’s about 10 minutes’ walk to the Seoul Subway Lines 2 or 4.

Hotel 28 Myeongdong Seoul in Myeongdong

Check prices and availability ⫸

RYSE Autograph Collection by Marriott

RYSE is an Instagrammable boutique design hotel in the Hongdae neighborhood, close to several universities.  This is a fun area of town with lots of restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Just a few minutes’ walk to the Hongik University Station Line 2.

Ryse Autograph Collection Marriott Seoul Hotel

Click to check prices and availability ⫸

Small House Big Door

With bright and minimal rooms, Small House Big Door is a chic stay for design-lovers just a few minutes from the Euljiro 1-ga Station Line 2.  It’s also close to Myeongdong’s shopping, street food and restaurants.

Small House Big Door hotel in Seoul

Click to check prices and availability ⫸

Hostel Haru

If you’re looking for a hostel option, Hostel Haru is a trendy, highly-rated option about 5 minutes walking to the Jonggak subway station on Line 1.

Hostel Haru Seoul

Click to check prices and availability ⫸

Bonum 1957 Hanok and Boutique

Located near the historical sights like Gyeongbokgung Palace and Hanok Village, this hotel has traditional architecture.  It’s not near a subway, so this could be a better option if you want to split a week between two hotels, or don’t mind the extra step of catching a bus to the subway.

Bonum 1957 Hanok and Boutique - Best place to stay in Seoul for traditional architecture

Click to check prices and availability ⫸

Ready to Plan Your Seoul Architecture Trip?

I hope this Seoul architecture guide helps you assemble your own itinerary of the best things to do in Seoul! I loved visiting Seoul and was surprised how easy it was to use public transit to see all the sights in my itinerary. I can’t wait to visit again and see more Korean architecture. I hope you have the same experience there and get a lot of great photos!

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Seoul Architecture
Seoul Architecture - Best Things To Do In Seoul

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Adrienne, The Haphazard Traveler

I used to be a hot travel mess, but I got better! I kept the name and now blog my best tips for culture and adventure travel from around the globe. Follow along for travel advice, destination info, and photography from faraway lands - and at home in Washington, D.C.

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