The Best Photo Locations in and Around Seoul Korea?

“Do you know any good places to take photos in Seoul?” THIS, is the second most popular question I receive – and, I fear it. I fear it because it’s a major decision and there is no easy answer. I fear it because I have strong feelings from a photographer’s perspective on light and location but I don’t want to hijack a young man’s dreams to propose to his girlfriend at Namsan Tower either. I fear it because it I know I’m about to LOSE 30 minutes writing an email I’ve written countless times and should have created a template for by now.

So here it is, possibly the most comprehensive database ever on “good” photo locations in and around Seoul. Here we will cover most every location I’ve photographed a proposal, couple, family, wedding, pet, pink elephant… and my thoughts thereon. I enjoy a good spreadsheet so it should come as no surprise that I’ve created a very orderly list below. Please feel free to add your suggestions and opinions in the comments at the bottom.

THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS – PLEASE FORGIVE MY CRAPPY SPELLING, GRAMMAR AND LACK OF IMAGERY… JUST FORGIVE EVERYTHING
.

Photos at Gyeongbokgung

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Gyeongbokgung is the biggest, and therefore most popular palace in Korea. It was built a long time ago, frequently burned down by the Japanese and just as frequently rebuilt by the Koreans. Whomever the land lord is now, s/he is a tenants dream come true. The palace is kept in pristine shape, frequently repainted and repaired so as not to show any sings of aging and decay. For those who enjoy decay, this is a bit of a bummer.

Accessibility: Situated in the heart of Seoul, Gyeongbokgung is incredibly easy to access by public transit and taxi. This is probably the one place anyone could give you directions to though I bet your taxi driver will still punch it into his/her GPS!

Nearby Attractions:  Gyeongbokgung pairs well with: Samcheongdong, Hanok Village, Insadong, Cheonggyecheon Stream, Myeongdong and Namdaemun.

Pros:
Accessibility
Iconic Korean Architecture – Palaces, court yards, pagodas, bridges, walls, gates, statues…
Nature – Grass, trees, fall colors, streams, ponds, mountains…
Diversity – All of the above
History & Culture
Ideal for families with young children

Cons:
Crowded – but the grounds are large enough and you only need a split second where no one is in the frame to make you and your lover appear to have booked a private party
Huge – if you’re with small kids, wearing heels, or carrying a lot of stuff, it can be a tiring walk around the palace
Sterile – iconic it is, but I find because Gyeongbukgung, the largest and most prestigious palace, it lacks the coziness of neighboring Deoksugung, Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung. The “nature” also feels anything but wild, it is quite manicured and the lawn police are usually on patrol.

Final Thoughts:
It’s hard not to love Gyeongbokgung. It has endless shooting options and offers some truly beautiful backdrops. Now that I found out you can also gain access at the back of the palace (sshhhhhhhtttt don’t tell anyone!) it no longer means the long trek from the front gate. Gyungbokgung is good if you want big, epic, wide, open, modern-y shots and don’t mind lots of people buzzing around. I don’t get tired of shooting there but if I wanted something cozy and romantic this wouldn’t be my first choice.

Samples: Click here to see all my photo sessions tagged with Gyeongbokgung

 

Photos at Changdeokgung

 

Changdeokgung is where the royal family basically went to chill out and throw some parties. The size of the estate is much smaller than Gyeongbokgung and more emphasis was given to creating structures that were in harmony with the natural surroundings. Much of the palace is comprised of garden, the most famous being the secret garden out back.

Accessibility: Situated just one subway stop away from Gyeongbokgung, just east of Anguk Station, Changdeokgung is also easy to get to.

Nearby Attractions:  Changdeokgung pairs well with: Samcheongdong, Hanok Village, Insadong, Cheonggyecheon Stream, Myeongdong and Namdaemun.

Pros:
Accessibility
Iconic Korean Architecture – Palaces, court yards, pagodas, bridges, walls, gates, statues…
Nature – Much more than Gyeongbokgung and more natural feeling, especially the secret garden
Cozy – Smaller area that can easily be seen in an hour or so
Quieter – Less busy than Gyeongbokgung
History & Culture
Modern Cafe – Very modern, well lit cafe near by that’s fun to shoot at
Ideal for families with young children

Cons:
Security – Because it’s a smaller venue it’s a little harder to go unnoticed. The grass police are usually out in full force.
Chaperons – The only way to access the secret garden is on a tour and you must keep pace with the group. It’s possible to wander and hang back a little but if you try and backtrack or stay for prolonged periods the garden cops will usher you forward.

Final Thoughts:
Changdeokgung would have been Goldilocks choice, the middle ground between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung. The gardens are beautiful but be prepared to move quickly if you want a photo session in this area. Tours are also only run at certain times of day.

Samples: Click here to see all my photo sessions tagged with Changdeokgung

 

Photos at Changgyeonggung

Changgyeonggung was yet another residence for queens and concubines. Perhaps it’s the ladies touch that makes this my favorite of the major places in Seoul (Shhhhhhhhh again, our secret). The palace is small, cozy and quite, thus making it much more intimate than the other palaces. It also faces east which means great light in the morning and evening.

Accessibility: I’m guessing it’s kilometer plus walk from the four surrounding subway stations that acts as the crowd control. The shortest route is from Exit 3 of Hyehwa Station but if you get lost navigating one of the many turns you’ll end up walking a lot further than if you went from Exit 1 of Jongro 5 Ga.

Nearby Attractions: Changgyeonggung pairs well with: Gwangjang Market, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul City Wall and Iwha Mural Village

Pros:
Intimate – Small, cozy, empty, beautiful
Nature – Still offers many nice natural scenes despite not having much garden
Lighting – East facing so wonderful soft gold light in the morning falling on the palace and brilliant golden back lighting in the evening
Diversity – Pairs with some very interesting attractions in the area
History & Culture
Ideal for families with young children

Cons:
Accessibility – Takes a LITTLE more effort to get to by public transit

Final Thoughts:
When you look at the above it’s pretty clear Changgyeonggung is a winner. I will simply add “flesh eating zombies” to the cons list when I grow sick of shooting here.

Samples: Click here to see all my photo sessions tagged with Changgyeonggung

 

Photos at Samcheongdong

Samcheongdong is a trendy, cozy little district ticked in behind the north east corner of Gyeongbokgung. Filled with cafes, galleries, boutique stores and cosmetics shops it’s a fusion of old and new, west and east. Some might say it’s a little European looking.

Accessibility: The closest subway access is from Anguk station. The walk into the main district is quite nice.

Nearby Attractions: Samcheongdong pairs well with: Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Hanok Village, Insadong, Cheonggyecheon Stream.

Pros:
Urban Funk – Lots cool little cafes, galleries and boutiques mixed with dabs of nature
Bustling – If you like crowds and energy you can find all that here
Buskers – Many street performers have come to the area so it can be cool to get photos of couples entertained by someone other than myself

Cons:
Crowded – TONS of people move through this area so not an ideal place if you’re looking for peace and quite
Unauthentic – It’s pretty and all but feels a little like a facade and unrepresentative of actual Korea
Not ideal for families with young kids

Final Thoughts:
If you like urban, funky, cute, boutique, vines creeping up walls and new stuff that’s made to look vintage this is a good place. “Trendy”, “gentrification” and “hipster” also come to mind. No judgment here, I appreciate all these things from time to time myself!

Samples: Click here to see all my photo sessions tagged with Samcheongdong

Photos at Bukcheon Hanok Village

Bukcheon Hanok Village is my favorite of the Hanok Villages I’ve visited in Seoul. Situated just above Samcheongdong you’ll find a labyrinth of streets that weave their way past Hanok houses that are actually in use. The area is always busy, especially the two most authentic looking streets, the only streets void of those photo blemishes known as parked cars. I like the area for the fact it offers up a variety of views, textures, highlights and shadows in every direction.

Accessibility: The closest subway access is from Anguk station. It’s about a 1km walk from Exit 2 to center of the village.

Nearby Attractions: Bukcheon Hanok Village pairs well with: Samcheongdong, Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung and Cheonggyecheon Stream.

Pros:
Cozy – The streets are cozy
History & Culture
Bustling – Good place to go if you want a streaky crowd shot
City Views – Being situated on a hill you can look out over Seoul and Gyeongbokgung from parts of the village

Cons:
Crowded – TONS of people on the main streets, so much so it’s virtually impossible to get a clear shot during normal hours BUT the side streets are just as pretty and often empty
Strenuous – Lots of people, steep hills and walking
Not ideal for families with young kids or ladies in uncomfortable footwear

Final Thoughts:
Worth a visit if you like the traditional urban feel. Offers enough variety that there is no need to work in other locations. Just make sure that you’re okay with sharing some frames with other tourists and locals.

Samples: Click here to see all my photo sessions tagged with Bukcheon Hanok Village

Photos at Insadong

Insadong is a lot like Samcheongdong but more focused on souvenirs, art galleries and the arts scene in general. There is a funky market area with an open layout that can make for some cool shots. There is also a street off to the side that offers a much more authentic view of Korea with all it’s food carts and drink stands.

Accessibility: Exit 6 of Anguk station will bring you right into the area.

Nearby Attractions: Insadong pairs well with: Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Hanok Village and Cheonggyecheon Stream.

Pros:
Art – Lots of galleries
Bustling – If you like crowds and energy you can find all that here
Market Area – There are some good photos to be had at the open market area
Street Food – Can be found off the beaten path and make for cool photos

Cons:
Touristy – Feels very touristy and is crowded
Bland – I find the main street doesn’t offer a lot of variety. There are too many people, ugly adverts and all sorts of other things that make their way into the frame
Not ideal for families with young kids

Final Thoughts:
You need to go to this place with a plan as you won’t find a lot of beautiful backdrops wandering the main street. If you want a market feel, street food or shots in crowds then it’s worth a quick visit.

Samples: Click here to see all my photo sessions tagged with Insadong

 

Photos at Gwangjang Market

Gwangjang Market is Awesome. Forget Namdaemun for any kind of photo shoot unless you enjoy getting yelled at my the locals. Gwangjang is a giant covered market with vendors that are just as warm as their interior lighting (that is until every photographer in Korea starts bringing their clients here). If you don’t like strangers in your photos avoid this place.

Accessibility: Exit 8 of Jungno 5 Ga station will put you right in front of the market

Nearby Attractions: Gwangjang Market pairs well with: Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul City Wall and Changgyeonggung

Pros:
Unique – Still not a lot of people getting professional shots done at markets
Bustling – Oodles of people
Interesting – Lots of interesting characters, goods, food and backdrops
Street Food – Funky food court in the middle
Authentic – Still feels like the Korea I came to know and love 9 long years ago

Cons:
Crowded – So cramped and busy it’s impossible to get a shot without people

Final Thoughts:
A great place for unique and atmosphere filled shots. The vendors thus far are extremely kind. I took a newly married couple through the market in full regalia and was amazing by the outpouring of applause and genuine happiness for the couple. I suspect if the venue is used increasingly by photographers this will soon change.

Samples: Click here to see all my photo sessions tagged with Gwangjang Market

 

Photos at Seonyudo Park /선유도 공원

Seonyudo Park is a unique location. For starters it’s an island in the middle of the Han River. If that isn’t reason enough to visit, know that it was also once an industrial water treatment facility it has since been converted into an aquatic botanical garden. If you’re into industrial meets natural this could be an ideal spot for you.

Accessibility: You can access Seonyudo by Yanghwadaegyo Bridge, Rainbow Bridge (pedestrian only) or by boat – so long as you have your own boat and don’t get caught.

Nearby Attractions: Seonyudo pairs well with: Han River Park on either side, Yeouido and Sky / World Cup Park if you don’t mind traveling a little

Pros:
Industrial – Hipsters rejoice, some cool brick walls, concrete, pipes etc. Sadly it’s not in a state of decay which would make it more interesting.
Natural – Lots of nice foliage around including trees, long grass, flowers, etc.
Cozy – It’s a small island surrounded by trees and offers nice paths through dense and open areas. There are benches and picnic areas along the way.
Rugged Nature – If you’re willing to explore a little you can get away from the manicured gardens to something a little more wild looking
Family Friendly – Easy place to get to, walk around and hang out. Definitely more entertaining for kids than a standard park.

Cons:
Too Many Photographers – Seonyudo has become a bit of a hotspot for engagement, wedding, fashion, family, dog… photographers and I personally prefer to go against the grain a little
No Open Views – Being an island, you would expect nice open views of water and city, not so, the area is totally surrounded with vista blocking trees.
Not Close to Much – Seonyudo is close to the Han River park but going there is like eating rice cracker after diorite chips, it’s gonna taste a little bland. Yeouido would offer up some modern views for variation.

Final Thoughts:
If you’re not dead set on an iconic Korean backdrop and would like to escape the bigger crowds Seonyudo is a cozy little island that can offer some unique backdrops. It’s ideal for a one to two hour session. Trying to fit a second location in would require a longer session to do it comfortably.

Samples: Click here to see all my photo sessions tagged with Seonyudo

 

— Template for my next location… it’s a rerun… I wouldn’t read it… unless you like reruns —

Photos at Seonyudo Park /선유도 공원… What will be next???

Seonyudo Park is a unique location. For starters it’s an island in the middle of the Han River. If that isn’t reason enough to visit, know that it was also once an industrial water treatment facility it has since been converted into an aquatic botanical garden. If you’re into industrial meets natural this could be an ideal spot for you.

Accessibility: You can access Seonyudo by Yanghwadaegyo Bridge, Rainbow Bridge (pedestrian only) or by boat – if you have your own boat.

Nearby Attractions: Seonyudo pairs well with: Han River Park on either side, Yeouido and Sky / World Cup Park if you don’t mind traveling a little

Pros:
Industrial – Hipsters rejoice, some cool brick walls, concrete, pipes etc. Sadly it’s not in a state of decay which would make it more interesting.
Natural – Lots of nice foliage around including trees, long grass, flowers, etc.
Cozy – It’s a small island surrounded by trees and offers nice paths through dense and open areas. There are benches and picnic areas along the way.
Rugged Nature – If you’re willing to explore a little you can get away from the manicured gardens to something a little more wild looking
Family Friendly – Easy place to get to, walk around and hang out. Definitely more entertaining for kids than a standard park.

Cons:
Too Many Photographers – Seonyudo has become a bit of a hotspot for engagement, wedding, fashion, family, dog… photographers and I personally prefer to go against the grain a little
No Open Views – Being an island, you would expect nice open views of water and city, not so, the area is totally surrounded with vista blocking trees.
Not Close to Much – Seonyudo is close to the Han River park but going there is like eating rice cracker after diorite chips, it’s gonna taste a little bland. Yeouido would offer up some modern views for variation.

Final Thoughts:
If you’re not dead set on an iconic Korean backdrop and would like to escape the bigger crowds Seonyudo is a cozy little island that can offer some unique backdrops. It’s ideal for a one to two hour session. Trying to fit a second location in would require a longer session to do it comfortably.

Samples: Click here to see all my photo sessions tagged with Seonyudo

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