South Korea was never on my radar as a must-visit destination in Asia. My travels always took me to the exotic southeast - Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, etc., land of rice fields, ancient ruins and exotic islands. Little did I know how much I was missing by not setting my sights a bit further north. I've been lucky enough to visit South Korea twice in the last six months with the Korea Tourism Organization, and I love it more and more with each visit. The country is modern; the food is delicious; the people are kind (I've made so many great friends in Seoul!); and it's absolutely an amazing place to travel. These days, so many people decide where to go based on photos they see on social media - Instagram is so visual, and photos often tell a story about a place. So I've put together a South Korea guide to all the best spots for Instagram photos. Most of the locations are in Seoul, but there are also a few off-the-beaten-path gems tucked away in the southern part of the country. South Korea really has it all - tea plantations, cute cafes, Seoul rooftop views, colorful murals, libraries, iconic temples, etc. And it's one of the safest placed I've traveled to - that always makes taking photos so much easier.
1. Jogyesa Temple, Seoul
Known to many as the heart of Korean Buddhism in Seoul, the Jogseya Temple is a kaleidoscope of color adorned in thousands of perfectly placed lanterns. It's absolutely beautiful, and quite possibly the most Instagrammable spot in Seoul. The temple can get busy with both locals and tourists, so I suggest visiting early to avoid the crowds of people. I arrived at 6:30 AM and the place was pretty empty for the hour I was there. The temple's main courtyard is covered in a rainbow of colorful lanterns, while an alleyway of white lanterns is tucked away in the back. Both are beautiful, and a must for photos! (55 Ujeongguk-ro, Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul; Open 24 hours)
2. Starfield Library, Seoul
First Singapore, and now Seoul. I've quickly learned that Asia has the most Instagrammable libraries in the world! The Starfield Library located in COEX Mall is stunning - a double decker book haven lined with 43-foot tall book shelves and more than 50,000 books. My favorite spot for photos was on one of the escalators (there are two sets to choose from) with one of the epic bookshelves as a backdrop. As amazing as the library was, it did leave me with a very practical question. What happens if I want a book from the top shelf? (COEX Mall, 955-9 Daechi-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul; 10 AM-10 PM daily)
3. Ihwa Mural Village, Seoul
For the most colorful place in Seoul, head to the Ihwa Mural Village. It's an older area of the city that was revitalized in 2006 with colorful paintings and art installations created by nearly 70 artists. From angel wings to rainbow alleys, the little gem is a fun place to explore on foot, and a nice escape from the more bustling parts of the big city. Have that camera ready, there are plenty of Instagram backdrops to choose from. (49 Naksan 4-gil, Ihwa-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul; Open 24 hours)
4. Boseong Tea Plantation, Boseong
And now we head to the southern part of the country. This part of South Korea can be reached via a quick flight, or comfortable three hour train ride. Most tourists head straight for Busan, but I was based a bit further east, in Yeosu. From Yeosu, I spent a couple of days exploring the surrounding regions on daytrips by car. We squeezed a lot into two days, but by far the prettiest place I visited was the Boseong Tea Plantation. About an hour drive from Yeosu, the place was a dream - one of most picturesque photo spots in South Korea. And because it's a bit more off-the-beaten-path, the number of visitors at the tea farm was completely manageable. I visited between 9 AM and 11 AM. (763-65 Nokcha-ro, Boseong-eup, Boseong; 9 AM-6:30 PM daily)
PRO TIP: For a fun food photo, grab a matcha soft serve cone from the little cafe next to the tea fields, and snap a photo with the tea as a backdrop (see photo below).
5. Cafe Yeonnam-dong 239-20, Seoul
It's not a photoshopped graphic, or an art installation at a museum. This place is an actual cafe in Seoul, serving up coffee, cupcakes and treats. The 2-D cafe in Yeonnam-dong has been designed with painstaking detail to create a sketch drawing that resembles a black and white cartoon. Everything from the chairs to the light fixtures add to the illusion that guests are sipping coffee inside a picture. The cafe got busy right when it opened, I can only imagine what it will be like when it becomes a true Instagram phenomenon. I arrived at 10:45 AM, and made sure I was the first person in the cafe to snap a couple of photos before the place filled up with people. (11 AM-9 PM daily)
6. Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul
Wandering the pedestrian alleys of this traditional village almost made me forget I was in Seoul. Locate near the Gyeongbok Palace and Changdeok Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village is a maze of hundreds of hanok (traditional Korean houses) preserved to make visitors feel like they are stepping back in time. Best to just spend a morning getting lost on foot - there are so many picturesque corners and streets to discover, not just a single spot. (Open 24 hours)
6. Oedo-Botania Island, Geoje
Another gem in the south that is worth a visit if you happen to be in the Geoje part of South Korea. The island can be accessed via a quick 20-minute ferry ride that takes passengers past clusters of picturesque offshore islands. Oedo-Botania itself was once a barren island . efore it was transformed by a husband and wife in to a botanical dreamland. The island is small place, and can be seen in about an hour. Visitors follow a marked path through gardens that channel a variety of places - everywhere from Marrakech to Europe with palm trees, manicured hedges, blossoming flowers, exotic plants and more. (Accessible via a 20 minute ferry ride; 8 AM-6 PM daily)
7. Geyongbokgung Palace, Seoul
Quite possibly the most iconic tourist destination in South Korea. This 14th century royal palace is home to nearly 8,000 rooms; 500 buildings; gardens; lotus ponds; bridges; and gates. There's a lot to see, but the highlights can be experienced in a few hours. And for anyone that really wants an outfit for the setting, there are several places outside the palace walls that rent traditional hannok attire for photos inside Geyongbokgung. (161 Sajik-ro, Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul; 9 AM-6 PM Wednesday to Monday)
8. Common Ground, Seoul
Located in eastern Seoul, Common Ground has been open since 2015, but I haven't seen many photos of the shopping center on Instagram. The place looks like it was designed for social media, thanks to the 200 shipping containers stacked three levels high that have been transformed into boutiques, shops and restaurants. Common Ground absolutely oozes with hipster vibes, a fun, funky spot to hang out, grab a coffee or have dinner at one of the food trucks or rooftop restaurants. (200 Achasan-ro, Jayang 4(sa)-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul; 11 AM-10 PM daily)
9. Seoulism Cafe, Seoul
For the best view in Seoul, head to Seoulism! This cafe offers a delicious selection of drinks and treats, but the highlight is a terrace view that stares Lotte World Tower right in the face. For anyone that wants something resembling a Seoul rooftop view, the setting is great for a quick Instagram snap before or after coffee. (48-7 Songpa-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul; 11 AM-11 PM daily)
10. Myeondong District, Seoul
I loved the energy of Seoul's Myeondong District, a vibrant neighborhood packed with shops, cafes, boutiques, restaurants and so many people! This is a place where crowds should be in photos - this part of the city is all about mayhem. And for anyone in search of the elusive "Hello, Beautiful!" pastel rainbow wall, it's located here in the Myeondong District, right across from the Adidas store. It's a perfect backdrop for Instagram photos!
11. N Seoul Tower, Seoul
Whether it's by cable car or on foot, a visit to N Seoul Tower is a must while in South Korea. The views of the city are lovely, and the love locks that hang around the famous tower offer the most colorful of backdrops for photos. We wanted to see the famous views from the path, so we took the cable car up, and then walked down. (105 Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul; 10 AM-11 PM daily)
Pro Tip: If you visit during the fall, there are several tree-lined pathways that are perfect to see fall foliage - you'll find yourself completely surrounded by orange and yellow.
12. House N Garden, Namhae
For a place that is truly off-the-beaten path and missing from most Korean travel guides, visit House N Garden in Namhae. I wouldn't change up an itinerary to make it here, but it's a lovely spot to visit for anyone in the area. Tucked away near German Village, the place is made up of a variety of gardens from all over the world - Italy, Japan, France, etc. It's also home to one of Instagram's favorite photo opps - a pink flower arch! House N Garden is a local spot, not many foreign tourists. We visit in the middle of the day, and it was very easy to take photos. (39, Yesul-gil, Samdong-myeon, Namhae-gun)
13. Seopirang Village, Tongyeong
For travelers that can't make it to the Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, Seopirang Village is an alternative. The little gem of Tongyeong isn't quite as colorful as its Busan neighbor, but there are lovely vantage points for photos along the trail overlooking the village. (Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do Province; Viewpoint open 24 hours)
What are your favorite Instagram spots in Seoul? And any travel tips for South Korea? Please drop me a note and share!
Special thanks to the Korea Tourism Organization for sponsoring this post! xx
All honest opinions are my own.