Couple enjoying the view from a bench at Seokchon Lake Park in Seoul.
Trip inspiration

Relaxing Things to do in Seoul

Vacations, eh? If there are better ways to wind down and relax for a few days the human race has yet to invent them. Nothing quite beats that feeling of downing tools, switching on your out of office and jetting off for a long, languid week of sunbathing in Saint Lucia, sipping sangria on the Costa del Sol or... sightseeing in Seoul? Ok, so maybe the South Korean capital isn’t the first place you’d think of when planning a relaxing break abroad, but that would be to fail to see the wood for the giant skyscrapers. It only takes a little Seoul-searching to discover that there are plenty of relaxing things to do in and around the city. Here are 10 of our faves, including:

  • Tranquil temples
  • Placid lakes
  • Soothing Seoul spas
  • Calming cat cafés
  • Peaceful parks and palaces
  • The Garden of Morning Calm

Gilsangsa Temple

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Seoul’s Buddhist temples provide little pockets of calm around the city and are well worth a visit whether you’re just there for a bit of peace and quiet away from Seoul’s relentless activity, or to eagerly fill your Insta feed with humblebrag snaps of colorful pagodas. Located on the southern side of Samgaksan Mountain, Gilsangsa Temple offers a range of Buddhist and zen meditation classes, in case you fancy getting a real ‘peace’ of the action. There’s plenty of eye candy here too. Look out for the 1,000 meditating Buddha statues in the main hall and come back in spring when clouds of colorful lanterns crowd the courtyards in honor of Buddha’s birthday.

Seokchon Lake Park

Despite having a whopping great theme park on its central island and skyscrapers looming in at every side, Seokchon Lake Park makes for a surprisingly peaceful location to take a relaxing stroll. A two-mile pedestrian path weaves around the east and west lakes in a figure-eight shape, meaning you don’t have to concern yourself with dodging impatient motorists as you amble gently along the water’s edge, taking in views of the epic Lotte Tower (one of the tallest buildings in the world, fact fans!) and, in spring, pausing every few steps for an obligatory cherry blossom selfie or six.

Spas in Seoul

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Jjimjilbangs are not as intimidating as that long Korean name might suggest (pro-tip: read it phonetically and you’ll be close enough). Find these traditional Korean bathhouses in multiple locations across the city and, once inside, you can expect intensely hot saunas, ice-cold plunge pools, soothing foot baths, massage rooms and all manner of other facilities designed to send you to relaxation nirvana. Spread over several floors and boasting all of the above plus a rooftop pool and even overnight accommodation, the city center Dragon Hill Spa is a fine choice for newbies.

Picnic in Seoul Forest

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Who doesn’t love a picnic? A humbug, that’s who. Prove yourself to be no such thing by rolling up that gingham blanket and bagging some classic Korean street snacks from the local market – we’re thinking seaweed-wrapped gimbap rice rolls, meaty mandu dumplings and (oh, go on then!) spiky, sticky Korean fried chicken (just don’t call it ‘KFC’!). Take the spoils of your market visit to Seoul Forest in the suburb of Seongdong. Here, 3,000 acres of wetlands, woodlands, flower gardens, and gingko groves provide ample opportunity to pick your perfect picnic spot. Just don’t let the forest’s cheeky chipmunks make off with your lunch.

Cat Cafés

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Like many major cities nowadays, Seoul isn’t short of a cat café or two. You know the drill: inside, furry feline friends nuzzle endearingly against your ankles in the hope of charming some crumbs from your croissant or cream from your coffee. Whether you find this relaxing or not depends, we suppose, on your disposition. Cat lovers will naturally be in clover, but it goes without saying that anyone who suffers moggy-related allergies or outright ailurophobia should give these places a wide berth.

Village Life

Planning a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace? Good for you! It’s one of the city’s must-see highlights, and no mistake. But relaxing? Not so much. For that we point you in the direction of nearby Buam-dong, a super-cute village that time forgot. It doesn’t even have its own subway stop which, by Seoul standards, makes it about as remote as Siberia. Make the pilgrimage for peaceful strolls along picturesque castle walls, against a dramatic mountain backdrop. Pause to browse for unique souvenirs in the independent art galleries and to watch the world go quietly by over latte at a tiny café.

The Garden of Morning Calm

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The clue’s in the name here. You’ll need to head east out of Seoul to Gapyeong to get there (it’s about an hour by bus) but, boy, is it worth it. Get there early to discover just how calm it really is in the morning, as the light begins to break through the mist and the dew-dappled gardens glisten and glint in the sun's warming rays. Take a wander through the valley, where scenic paths meander through some 5,000 plant species that run the gamut from technicolor blooms to ancient, endangered trees. It’s easily one of the most relaxing things to do in Seoul albeit, um, technically not quite in Seoul.

Dress to Impress

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Dressing in hanbok, traditional Korean garb that can be rented at various outlets across Seoul, is practically mandatory for tourists on vacation here. Get yours at Changdeokgung Palace and step into the peaceful gardens, where the Confucius-inspired collection of grand residences and pavilions provide a quite excellent backdrop for your hanbok-sporting selfies.

Go Birdwatching

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Twitchers rejoice! Seoul’s Gildong Ecological Park is a vast expanse of carefully restored wetland, a stunning natural habitat where flora and fauna has been allowed to thrive within the vast urban sprawl that surrounds it. The birdlife here is particularly rich – head to the hushed observation platform and keep your peepers peeled for the electric blue flash of a kingfisher diving for its dinner, herons foraging in the shallows and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them hummingbirds munching on insects caught mid-flight.

Catch a Sunset

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Head up to – wait for it – Sunset Park (aka Nouel Park) for some of the finest sundown seats in town. This area of the sprawling World Cup Park offers sweeping views of the Seoul skyline from its huge observation deck and is hands-down one of the finest spots to watch the city light up as the day fades through burning orange to fiery crimson and bruised purple. No head for heights? See sunset from the water instead (and save yourself a walk) with a dusk cruise of the beautiful Han River.

Save on relaxing things to do in Seoul

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