When you want to learn about the culture and history of your destination, the city’s best museums should be on your itinerary. And if you’re planning to travel to Seoul in South Korea, you’ll never run out of options, whether you’re a history, culture or food lover. Check out this list of must-see museums for your next visit in this stunning tourist hotspot!
1. Panoramic Past: National Museum of Korea
Your travel to Seoul is not complete without visiting its largest museum. Located in Yongsan, the National Museum of Korea houses an impressive collection of over 220,000 relics. These showcase the country’s advancements from paleolithic to modern times. The museum has three floors dedicated to artefacts of Korean civilisation, calligraphy art and paintings, and Buddhist sculptures and ceramics. You’ll also find international pieces here from India, China, and Japan as well as from Central Asian and Southeast Asian nations.
Aside from its historical objects, the National Museum of Korea also doubles as a complex for educational and cultural activities. So, when you can, schedule a Saturday trip to the museum for its featured exhibition spaces as well as free concerts and film viewing.
- Location: 137 Seobinggo-ro 137, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
- Fun fact: Make sure to stop by the Pagoda Garden to see the seven-story pagoda built during the Goryeo dynasty. Also, visiting the Dragon Falls and its traditional Korean landscape is perfect if you need to take a break.
2. Old Meets New: Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
South Korean art enthusiasts will feel right at home in Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art. This museum aims to preserve both ancient and contemporary art. In Museum 1, its stunning display of weapons and ornaments, Buddhist art and paintings will transport you back in the 14th century. Here, you’ll also see traditional ceramics, including Celadon pieces of the Goryeo dynasty and Buncheong stoneware of the Joseon dynasty. Museum 1 also houses 36 artefacts tagged as national treasures!
Step inside Museum 2 to see modern art, sculpture, photography and video collections of local and foreign artists. From here, you’ll see how art mediums have evolved from past to present time. Aside from its permanent galleries, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art also features a new exhibit every three months.
- Location: 60-16 Itaewon-ro 55-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
- Fun fact: The name Leeum originated from the museum founder, who also happens to be an avid art collector. Three world-renowned architects, Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas, also designed the art museum itself.
3. Traditional Life: National Folk Museum of Korea
If you’re keen to learn how South Korean people live during ancient times, then travel to Seoul and visit the National Folk Museum of Korea. It’s hard to miss as its located in the grounds of the largest palace in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace. Over 98,000 artefacts are inside its three exhibition halls and purely dedicated to showcasing traditional Korean life. Agricultural, domestic and religious Korean customs are the highlights of your trip here. The exhibits will make you feel like walking in a Korean village in the past. Inside, there are other facilities worth visiting, like the children’s museum, folk video room and traditional culture learning space.
- Location: 37, Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Fun fact: The National Folk Museum has open-air exhibits that feature grinding mills, pits for kimchi pots and rice shelters. One thing you need to see are replicas of spirit posts called Jangseung, which were once used by villagers when praying for calamity protection and a bountiful harvest.
4. Veterans and Patriots: The War Memorial of Korea
Thousand-year-old South Korea has its fair share of war stories and heroes. And the people aim to honour and immortalise all of them here in The War Memorial of Korea. The museum is also hopeful that a glimpse of a chaotic past will make way for the future reunion of North and South Korea. Visitors come here to see weapons, armour and battle uniforms from paleolithic times and the Korean War in the 1950s.
Aside from indoor galleries, people visit the museum for its outdoor exhibition where you can see and even get inside wartime mega machines. The sight of restored tanks, aircraft and heavy artillery of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War will surely bring mixed emotions.
- Location: 29, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
- Fun fact: The combat experience room of the museum gives you the feeling of what it’s like to be in actual battle. The video, sound, cannon smoke and even gunpowder smell make the re-enactment more life-like and scary.
5. Historical Cuisine: Museum Kimchikan
Now, here’s a museum made for culture and food lovers like me. If you’re dedicating your travel to Seoul to everything food, then going to Museum Kimchikan is an absolute must. Here, you’ll get to know more about Korea’s favourite fermented vegetable, kimchi, and its 1500-year old history! The food museum has been open to the public since 1986, primarily to honour and promote this beloved superfood. What’s more is that you can come here in groups, experience an elaborate kimchi-making demo, taste various kimchi varieties and even take some samples home!
- Location: 35-4 Insadong-gil, Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Fun fact: Museum Kimchikan is one of the top food museums in the world selected by CNN. It’s also a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Tradition site.
6. Touch of Quirkiness: Trick Eye Museum
Finally, experience the funny side of Seoul with its entertaining Trick Eye Museum. This tourist attraction encourages visitors to be free and silly with its array of Trompe-l’oeil art. Here, you can touch the artwork and take as many photos as you like. With optical illusion, museum-goers can take snapshots of themselves while riding on a sea dragon, climbing bamboo trees with pandas and more. Make the most of your stay here by trying on a hanbok, having your caricature portrait drawn and playing games at carnival street. Adjacent to the Trick Eye Museum is its Ice Museum, where young children can enjoy zooming down the ice slide or posing with the giant ice sculptures. On your way out, prepare to be dazed and confused when you pass through the mirror maze!
- Location: #B2 Seogyo Plaza 20 Hongikro-3gil, Mapogu, Seoul
- Fun fact: For mature (and naughty) visitors, you can also visit its adults-only Love Museum. Though centred on erotic themes, interactive paintings and sculptures are light-hearted and mostly humorous.
Seoul has a museum for every traveller. But if you prefer being one with nature, Japan and its breathtaking views have something for all flower lovers!