Did you know that thirteen isn't an unlucky number in many places like it is in the United States? In Korea, four is given the same treatment as thirteen in the US. This is because the Korean word for 'four' is pronounced the same as the Mandarin word for 'death.' So if you see the letter F next to an elevator button, it most definitely means four and not, well, whatever else it would mean.
I gotta say, Korea, I don't understand! Everyone knows what that F means. They're still going to say the word for death in their head when they see it, whether they want to or not. Is it taboo to just openly acknowledge the death connection? Do Koreans read the 'F' in English instead? More information, please.
When I first visited Seoul back in 2019, before the pandemic, the first thing I noticed was the adorable character on my train pass. It was a little yellow rabbit holding a daisy in the air, and I remember thinking: "Wow, that's adorable. This is so much cuter than a Charlie Card or a MetroCard." It's little quirks like these that make me love Seoul and all of South Korea for its strong personality. No part of my experience there was mundane.
So, without further ado, here are thirteen quirky things to do in Seoul. I hope they're quirky enough for you too! Plan your trip accordingly.
1. Visit Poopoo Land
I almost didn't think this was a real place. This is the museum the author of Everyone Poops would start if they weren't busy raking in cash for writing a matter-of-fact children's book around a basic human bodily function.
Explore the digestive system through interactive, excrement-themed exhibits to include a digestion maze and a poo party zone. Take a picture in a toilet, learn about toilet paper varieties, and exit via a slide meant to simulate, um, you can probably guess.
According to TripAdvisor, this place is pretty popular with the kids. User Margaretllc said it best: "Poo poo and wee wee are the two of the most intriguing human elements for young children." If a poop museum isn't quirky, I don't know what is.
Oh, and what kind of museum doesn't have a cafe? The one at Poopoo Land is, you guessed it, poo-themed. Who doesn't want to eat curry out of a toilet-shaped bowl?
2. Drink at Coffee Hanyakbang
When you're sick of shopping in Myeongdong or need an energy boost, you can explore this super-secret hidden cafe. Okay, so it isn't a secret, but it's definitely off the beaten path and hidden down an unassuming alley that's been described as "shoulder-width." You get to pick your beans before they're ground and prepared in a pour-over fashion. Great music, perfectly selected antique furniture, and a retro vibe all await you at Coffee Hanyakbang—you just have to find it first. And once you find it, see if you can find each room (hint: go upstairs).
3. Get a (Maybe Illegal) Tattoo
Tattoos have a very fraught history in South Korea. Not only does the military prohibit them (in a country where service is obligatory for those assigned male at birth), but they're tough to get (legitimately) in the first place. Partly because of the stigma associated with tattooing, a stigma resulting from its association with criminals and other 'social delinquents' (also, Confucianism) only doctors with a medical license are allowed to open a tattoo parlor and give tattoos. As such, many parlors are underground and technically illegal.
Take one look at Instagram pages, like @studiobysol, and you'll see that this isn't having much of an effect on Korea's huge tattoo industry. Social media is evidence that though most parlors in SK are inconspicuous—no signage and they often appear in random buildings—the tattooing scene in Seoul is massive. Schedule an appointment through Instagram or email and they'll tell you where to go. Just the same as you would in the US, don't expect to see a medical license.
4. Climb the Stairs to Ihwa Mural Village
Ever been to a mountainside mural village? No? Well, now's your chance. Ihwa mural village was once set to be destroyed since it was seen by some as being too run-down. However, in 2006, The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism added murals to revitalize the area under the “Art in City Project.” You can find art on stairs, rooftops, walls, everywhere in Ihwa. Take a picture with some angel wings, climb stairs covered in flowers, and take in an impressive view of the city. Just remember that this is a residential area! So, try not to block traffic taking any selfies (definitely not speaking from personal experience).
5. Sample Food at Museum Kimchikan
As you know from our last post, I love kimchi. Apparently, so does the person who dedicated an entire museum to kimchi. And who could blame them? It's been an important food in Korean culture and history. This museum will tell you everything you need to know about kimchi's significance in Korea. It also offers demonstrations of the kimchi-making process, tastings, and cooking classes. Sign me up!
6. Drink by the Rainbow Bridge
Banpodaegyo Bridge sits over the Han River. It's a pretty average bridge by day, but a rainbow fountain bonanza by night. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest bridge fountain in the world can be found right here. Do you know what else can be found here? A lot of teenagers drinking by the water, taking it all in. Korea has no open container laws in outdoor public spaces, so stop by the convenience store and grab a kimbap, some soju, and Cass beer to have at it. After you've drunk a little bit, return to 7-11 to do the next activity on our list.
7. Make Ramyeon at a Convenience Store
This honestly might be the coolest thing to do on here. For me, it is, anyway. Not only can you buy hundreds of tasty instant ramen at convenience stores everywhere in Seoul, but some stores even have a machine that will cook your ramen for you! I'm not kidding, look it up on YouTube. What a time to be alive and in Seoul.
8. Visit a Themed Cafe
There are so many themed cafes in Seoul it'll be hard to visit them all, so you'll want to prioritize (remember the poo-themed cafe I mentioned earlier? yeah, sorry). You can also find a Hello Kitty-themed cafe, a raccoon cafe (with actual raccoons you can interact with), a sheep cafe (with sheep), a Harry Potter cafe, the list goes on. There's a quirky cafe for everyone here.
9. Use a Squatting Toilet
I noticed there were a lot of squat toilets in the restrooms at subway stations in Seoul. I know this isn't exactly quirky from a non-western perspective, but I feel like a lot of westerners have never experienced a squat toilet and you know, it's different. Most of the time, you don't have a choice, but I think everyone should experience this at least once. One of the best parts of travel is the constant reminder that a lot of things we presume to be normal are really not that normal elsewhere or weren't in the past.
10. Order Dominos
Dominos is definitely different in South Korea (same with Japan—hello corn and mayonnaise on pizza) and some might even say next level with flavors like 30 Cheese & New York Strip Steak + Potato, Cereal Chilli Crab, and Korean Sweet Potato. Pretty sure you can also get octopus and shrimp on pizza at Dominos Korea. That's certainly interesting!
11. Watch a K-pop Show
When I visited Seoul, my friend took me to a production of "The Show" a popular South Korean music television program broadcast by SBS MTV. I was so jet-lagged I somehow fell asleep next to screaming fans waving illuminated batons in the air, but the parts I do remember were pretty cool. Choreography off the charts. Cute boys, impeccable matching outfits, and flashing lights.
I imagine this experience would be insanely entertaining for someone into K Pop, but anyone could have fun at a K Pop concert. If you can't get into a show, concert, or meet and greet, there are tons of K-pop bands "busking" (live, free programmed shows outside aka street performing) in Hongdae all the time.
12. Rent a Noreabang
Renting a singing room is one of the most popular things to do on a night out in Seoul. These karaoke spots can be found everywhere. As someone from the US who has only ever witnessed karaoke at a few dive bars and honky-tonks, the concept of renting out an entire room where you and friends are expected to hold a private concert for each other is pretty wholesome and weirdly comforting.
While most songs will typically be in Korean, if you're an English speaker you will likely find some English-language songs too (think classic 80s and 90s rock, 2000s pop). Sing your heart out, don't hog the mic, and have fun. I really hope this becomes less of a quirky thing to see in the US someday. Noreabang for all.
13. Wear Matching Outfits
Okay, so I know this isn't exactly quirky but pretty common in Korea. With that said, when is the last time you saw a couple wearing matching outfits in your home country? Or any country you've visited for that matter? In Korea, it's totally normal for couples to wear matching outfits to show their love. Relationship goals.
As you can tell, this list is only based on my own very western ideas of what constitutes quirky. Do they seem that way to you too?
If you're planning a trip to Seoul or South Korea, plan your trip on RoadGoat!