Seoul, South Korea
The capital of South Korea is a cool, modern city with a firm grasp on tradition. And with over 25 million residents and an amazing 44,776 people per square mile, this is the fourth most populated city in the world! We’ll help you navigate through this mega-city, with plenty of tips on what to do and where to stay in Seoul.
What to do in Seoul:
If you’re looking for what to do in Seoul, you really can’t go wrong. However, here are a few sights that you shouldn’t miss!
Eat Everything at Gwangjang Market
This traditional street market is one of the oldest and largest in all of South Korea. With a whopping 65,000 daily visitors and over 1800 vendors this visual overload of a market will leave your belly full and wallet lighter. Expect countless food stalls, alongside booths featuring handicrafts, souvenirs, and even traditional medicinal items. Get an up-close and personal feel for Gwangjang Market with Episode #2 of “Weird Food Challenge,” starring yours truly!
Spend a Day at Gyeongbokgung Palace
Located in northern Seoul and built in 1395, this walled complex is Korea’s largest royal palace. With picturesque main gates and countless bridges and pavilions to explore, one can easily spend a whole afternoon exploring the sprawling grounds.
Head To The Top of N Seoul Tower
This landmark tower, sometimes referred to as YTN Seoul Tower or Namsan Tower, is the highest point and the number one attraction in Seoul. We recommend visiting at night to take in all the lights of Seoul. The N Seoul Tower is situated on top of Namsan Mountain, so the views of Seoul are fantastic from the bottom, but head up the Observatory for 10,000 won (about $8.50 USD) per person, and be blown away!
Take a Stroll Around Deoksugung Palace
Also known as the “West Palace,” Deoksugung was inhabited by royal members of the Joseon Dynasty during the 17th century. Have a walk around the beautiful grounds of Deoksugung Palace and you’ll understand why this is a popular tourist attraction. **BONUS** Don’t miss the Royal Guard-Changing Ceremony, complete with traditional military costumes from the Joseon Dynasty, taking place each day at 11:00am, 2:00pm, and 3:30pm, just outside the main Daehanmun Gate.
Getting to Seoul:
Getting to Seoul by air can easily be done for less than $100 from most surrounding countries. Find flights as low as $79 from Japan, $71 from the Philippines, $81 from Vietnam, $95 from Laos, $100 from Hong Kong with our favorite flight search site, Skyscanner.
Seoul Flight Deals
Technically you can get to Seoul by ferry from China or Japan, but with painful 13-hour travel times, and similar prices as airfare we would absolutely recommend flying.
Airport to Downtown Seoul
Fly into Incheon International Airport and head towards Seoul’s downtown, about 30 miles away. How will you get there?
From Incheon International Airport:
Airport Railroad Express(AREX)
Two AREX trains depart from the 2nd-floor basement from Incheon International Airport to Seoul Station. The express line takes about 43 minutes and costs $7, while the commuter line costs stops at 9 major subway stations and costs about $4 for the 60 minute ride. Purchase tickets from the Airport Railroad Travel Center desk or from machines near the entrance to the ARX platform.
Airport Limousine Bus**Recommended**
About an hour ride Seoul’s downtown, the Airport Limousine Bus takes a bit longer ride than the AREX, but will deliver you directly to your hotel in comfort. At about $9/ticket, we highly recommend this door to door service. Find Bus Ticket stands inside the Arrivals terminal Gates 4 and 9, or Bus Ticket vending machines outside the terminal near Gates 4,6,7,8,11,13, and 9C. You can also purchase tickets from the driver, but we recommend buying from the ticket stand as the attendents can guide you to the correct bus.
Find the taxi stand just outside of the arrivals area and expect to play a flat fare of 65,000won(About $58) for the hour-long ride to Downtown Seoul. UBER is available, and is called Incheon Black, but costs nearly twice as much as a taxi.
Getting around in Seoul
The extensive subway system is clean, efficient, and is widely used by both locals and tourists visiting Seoul. Purchase single journey tickets from vending machines located within each station. Tickets cost 1350won(about $1.20usd). Be aware that an additional 500won deposit will be required, but is returned when exiting the subway. If the wrong ticket is purchased, the turnstiles will not permit your exit. Just look for the nearby fare adjustment machines and add the additional funds to your ticket. If planning on spending some time in Seoul, you might look into purchasing a TMoney Mpass from any of Seoul’s 24 tourist info centers. Starting at just $9, the TMoney Mpass gives you 20 subway and bus rides per day, free entry or discounts to many great Seoul museums, and several discounts throughout the city.
The bus system in Seoul well-connected and cheap, with tickets ranging between $1-$2. A lack of English signs may make things a bit difficult for non-Korean speaking tourists, although the Android-based app,
KakaoBus may help, showing realtime bus route information in English.
Taxis in Seoul are inexpensive, and can easily be found lined up at taxi stands or hailed from the street. Expect to pay 3000won(about $2.70) for the first 2 km and about .10usd for each additional 142m. Be aware there is an additional 20% surcharge after midnight. UBER Black is available in Seoul as well, although rates are typically about 33% higher.
Walkscore.com gives Myeongdong, Seoul’s downtown a score of 100, calling it a “Walker’s Paradise”. We also found this to be true and highly recommended exploring Myeongdong by foot.
Where To Stay in Seoul:
Where To Stay in Seoul: HOTELS
As one of Asia’s business hubs, Seoul offers a vast range of hotels to choose from. Go hihgh-end with Banyan Tree or Four Seasons for $400 a night, or save with hotels like Hotel PJ or Best Western for $75 a night. We recommend shopping Agoda.com, far and away the most competitive resource when searching for hotels in Seoul.
Seoul Hotel Deals
Where To Stay in Seoul: HOSTELS
With over 150 hostels in Seoul, you’re sure to find one that fits all of your needs. Prices generally range from $20-$30 a night for a dorm room, while private rooms cost around $70-$80 per night. Hostelworld is our recommended resource when searching for hostels in Seoul.
Seoul Hostel Deals
Where To Stay in Seoul: AIRBNB
We love Airbnb! From private rooms to entire homes, there are plenty of choices when visiting Seoul. If you’re a first-timer with Airbnb, use this coupon and enjoy $35 off of your stay.
Where To Stay in Seoul: NEIGHBORHOODS
Choosing a neighborhood is an important part of trip-planning that should not be overlooked! Here are some neighborhoods worth considering when deciding where to stay in Seoul.
This neighborhood is the Beverly Hills of Seoul and exhibits a kind of “work-hard, play-hard attitude.” In Gangnam, you’ll find tons of posh night clubs, high-end restaurants, and endless shopping.
Insadong is the home of Seoul’s contemporary art scene and is crammed with gallery-lined streets, teashops, boutiques, as well as Seoul’s oldest bookstore.
Known as “Western Town”, this multicultural neighborhood is full of tourists and expats. If ever in the mood for non-traditional Korean restaurants featuring cheeseburgers or fried chicken, Itaewon is the place.
Also known as Seoul’s downtown, Myeongdong is the city’s financial and tourism hub, hosting over 2 million visitors daily.
Known as Seoul’s family-friendly neighborhood, in Jamsil you’ll find the world’s largest indoor amusement park, two professional Korean baseball teams, as well as Olympic Park.
This hip and lively neighborhood is home to a vibrant indie music and nightclub scene. In Hongdae, you’ll also find plenty of vintage shops, theme cafes, and street festivals.
Seoul Travel Tips:
Seoul travel tips: Visa
Not to be confused with North Korea, entry requirements for US citizens are fairly simple in South Korea. US citizens with a valid passport can stay up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes, visa-free.
Seoul travel tips: Money
South Korea’s national currency is the Won and is currently exchanging at just over ₩1,123WON to $1USD. Credit cards are accepted at most places and ATM machines are readily available.
Seoul travel tips: Tipping
Typical Korean restaurants won’t expect tips, but western type restaurants may expect 5%-10%. 5%-10% is pretty standard for tour guides as well. Taxi drivers will not expect tips.
Seoul travel tips: Insurance
Traveling through Seoul is exciting and safe, but you never know when some good travel insurance could come in handy. World Nomads offers the best coverage in the business, is affordable, and is quick to act should something go wrong. For more info, check out our recent World Nomads blog post.