Photo: National Hangeul Museum
Planning the perfect trip can be difficult when inclement weather can come at any time. Thankfully, Seoul is full of cultural tourist attractions that will never fail to fill in when you have to make a sudden change to your schedule. The city has many museums and an array of cultural institutes offering insights in getting to know Korea’s past and present in depth. Here, visitors will get to learn the history of the country as well as have great photo ops with many interesting backdrops. Visitors’ interaction is highly appreciated at some of these places, making for unforgettable memories off the beaten track!
Museums to meet Korea’s history and culture!
The National Museum of Korea
Photo: Artifacts on display at the museum (top & bottom right) / Exterior view of The National Museum of Korea (bottom left)
The National Museum of Korea is the nation’s largest museum, housing over 330,000 national treasures and relics spread out through six permanent exhibition halls with various themes. The museum also has a separately charged special exhibition hall and children’s museum. The museum is enormous and with so much to see, it is nearly impossible to see it all in one day. Therefore, we recommend visiting the official homepage to find the location of the items or area you are most interested in viewing to save time. The museum also offers video or audio guides for a fee in order to improve your experience.
* Museum-viewing Tip: Group visitors can make the most of a short amount of time by reserving the “Museum Masterpiece Guide” tour or “Smart Curator” tablet PC tour programs in advance. (Inquiries & reservations: +82-2-2077-9683 (English), +82-2-2077-9676 (Japanese), +82-2-2077-9686 (Chinese))
National Folk Museum of Korea
Photo: Miniature dolls displayed at the National Folk Museum of Korea give a glimpse into Korea’s traditional farming lives (top) / Exterior of museum (bottom left) / Display in exhibition hall (bottom right)
Located next to Gyeongbokgung Palace, this museum offers a glimpse into the historical daily life and lifestyle of Korea’s common people. The traditional exterior of the museum draws the eye first, often being mistaken as part of the palace grounds. The museum has three permanent exhibition halls and two special exhibition halls, as well as an open-air exhibition where visitors can walk along traditional streets and learn about folk life. The permanent exhibition halls cover Korea from the Prehistoric Era up until modern history, allowing visitors to hop into a ‘time machine’ and immerse themselves in the past. More than anything, the museum brings Korea’s historical items to life through the use of modern touch screens and videos.
National Palace Museum of Korea
Photo: Artistic interior of the museum (top) / Joseon Eojwa (king´s chair) (bottom left) / Emperor Sunjong’s Eocha (king’s royal car) and Cadillac limousine (bottom right)
If you were ever curious about the history and lifestyle of the Joseon royal court, visit the National Palace Museum of Korea. This three-story building tells the story of Korea’s royalty, from Joseon Dynasty’s foundation (1392) until the Korean Empire. The museum is divided into various themes including Kings of the Joseon Dynasty, Korea’s Imperial Family, and Royal Court Music. Here, you have the chance to see over 2,000 unique and interesting items related to the royal families, from the water clock first invented by King Sejong (r. 1418-1450) to the Cadillac limousine of Emperor Sunjong (r. 1907-1910).
* Museum-viewing Tip: Exhibits “State Rites of the Joseon Dynasty” and “Korean Empire and the Imperial Family” on the first floor are currently closed for renovation.
Museums every tourist must visit!
National Hangeul Museum
Photo: Hangeul’s past and present made into media façades
The National Hangeul Museum was opened on Hangeul Day, October 9, 2014 to revisit the history of the Korean language through the use of real materials. As Korean vowels were formed with the philosophical theory of earth, humans, and the sky being connected, so the museum was built with this design in mind: the underground floor represents earth, the first two floors, humans and the third floor, the sky, all connected into one four-story building. The museum’s main exhibit is located on the second floor. “Footprints of Hangeul” showcases the path of hangeul, from its creation to its current form, and on into the future. The third floor features a Hangeul Playground for children and a learning center. The learning center provides a fun and easy way for foreigners to become familiar with hangeul through the use of electronic equipment and activities.
* Museum-viewing Tip: A guided explanation tour can be booked outside the scheduled hours with an advanced reservation via phone. (Inquiries & reservation: +82-2-2124-6200 (English, Japanese, Chinese))
Photo: Display of pickled foods from around the world (top) / Kimchi-making program (bottom left) / Digital game to make kimchi (bottom right)
Museum Kimchikan provides visitors with the chance to learn about Korean food culture, focusing on the iconic traditional food, kimchi. The museum is spread out over three floors, introducing kimchi through many unique and fun ways. The fourth floor features a digital game for visitors to make kimchi while the fifth floor displays the various types of kimchi and other pickled foods from around the world. The highlight of the museum, however, is the sixth floor where visitors can experience the culture of Gimjang, the making and sharing of kimchi, by make their own kimchi to take home for a small fee.
* Museum-viewing Tip: A ticket to the museum is valid for three hours after purchasing from the museum ticket booth, so be sure to hold on to it! The fifth and sixth floors can be accessed by scanning the barcode of the ticket.
The War Memorial of Korea
Photo: Replica of a Turtle Ship (top) / Exterior view of the War Memorial of Korea (bottom left) / The War History Room (bottom right)
The number one must-visit tourist attraction in Korea is The War Memorial of Korea, as listed on the travel site “TripAdvisor.” The museum houses seven exhibitions halls and a children’s museum in a three-story building in addition to an outdoor exhibition space. The exhibitions showcase various relics and materials from the prehistoric era to the Korean War, an event that divided the peninsula in half. The main attraction of the memorial is the “Korean War Room,” reproducing refugee life through the use of large, comprehensive dioramas and displaying the arms and uniforms of the many countries who participated in the war.
Museums for shutterbugs!
The Museum of Performing Arts at the National Theater of Korea
Photo: The museum is equipped with beautiful costumes and stage props of all kinds
The Museum of Performing Arts is the first of its kind in Korea, located in Byeoloreum Theater at the National Theater of Korea. The first floor features temporary exhibits for children and performing arts archives and the second floor is home to the permanent exhibition, divided into two categories of “Behind the Scenes” and “History of Korean Performing Arts.” While the museum is not as grand as others, the chance to get a unique look at stage props and try on costumes makes ones time spent at this museum a precious memory.
* Museum-viewing Tip: Visitors can take a photo of themselves on stage through the use of an interactive system at the ‘Behind the Scenes' exhibit on the second floor. The photo can then be sent by photo-mail as a keepsake.
Grevin Seoul Museum
Photo: Wax statues of Hyun Bin, Kim Su-hyun, Lee Min-ho (Top, L-R) / Wax statue of Marilyn Monroe (bottom left) / Wax statue of G-Dragon (bottom right)
With 133 years of history, the famous Parisian wax museum Grevin opened their fourth international and first Asian museum, the Grevin Seoul Museum, on July 30, 2015. The museum features life-like wax statues of hallyu stars and Korean celebrities in 14 unique areas. Among the 80-some-odd figures on display are Kim Su-hyun, PSY, G-Dragon, Madonna and George Clooney. Visitors can hear explanations in four languages including English, Japanese and Chinese, by scanning the QR code at each display. More information on the displays can be found on the official website.
Trick Eye Museum
Photo: Funny trick art exhibitions
If a day at an art museum sounds like a snoozefest, you haven't visited Trick Eye Museum where the paintings are so realistic, they appear to pop right out of the canvas and into real life. The Trick Eye Museum is popular among international tourists and families alike for this very reason.
The fun paintings are grouped in various themes, including Water World, World Masterpieces, Syncro Zone, and even a mirror room. Strike many poses, by turns both funny and lovely, to star in your own personal masterpiece collection. In addition to the paintings, the museum is also home to an open-year-round ice museum, where you can find ice sculptures of many famous landmarks, and a carnival street, where you can pay to play many popular carnival games like darts and ball tossing.