In this Seoul travel guide, I’m just laying down all the basics for your first trip as well as answering any of usual questions I have when I’m researching new cities to visit.
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My first experience with Seoul was as a bright-eyed 18-year-old fresh off her first year of university. Six months prior, studying in the city had been a mere pipe dream, but there I was getting off the plane at Incheon Airport, ready to greet the students sent to pick me up.
I would then spend six weeks studying at Yonsei University where I hung out with friends from around the globe, ate street food and BBQ galore, and even did the occasional sightseeing.
And by sightseeing, I mean trekking through a monsoon to the Olympic Stadium in the hopes of seeing G-Dragon make a special appearance at the Superstar K auditions. (Spoiler Alert: saw him!)
Since that summer, I’ve made a number of weekend trips back to Seoul and even stayed there for about a week at the end of my first teaching contract. I just love the city. There’s a certain frenetic energy mixed in with the historical architecture and mountainous outdoors that’s mildly addicting.
Of course, Seoul is the first and sometimes only stop for many people coming to Korea, so if you’re planning a trip, here’s all the basic information you need to know!
Your Nifty Seoul Travel Guide
Where is Seoul exactly?
Seoul is in the northern, slightly western side of South Korea.
What Makes Seoul Special?
As the capital of South Korea, it’s one of the largest metropolises in the world!
When should you go to Seoul?
If you can, go during the fall, spring, or early summer. Winter is okay, but it’s not as pretty and it can get freezing cold, especially with the tunnel effect. Mid to late summer is absolutely brutal in terms of humidity, so personally, I would avoid the area unless you like sweating buckets walking for five minutes outside.
I think my absolute favorite months are either September or late October. The weather is perfect in September, and if you go during Chuseok, it’s a bit less crowded as everyone goes home to the countryside.
Late October is great because the fall foliage is usually in full swing, so everything is absolutely beautiful.
How is the weather in Seoul?
You know, someone described it like this to me once and I agree wholeheartedly: Seoul has Boston winters with Atlanta summers. It has four very distinct seasons, so dress accordingly.
How to Get to Seoul
If Seoul is your first stop, then you’ll most likely fly into the city. Incheon is one of the cleanest, most efficient airports in the world.
If you want you can book transport to your hotel, but it’s also really easy to just take the subway into the city. Here are some options:
- Book the AREX Train, which will take you to Seoul Station*
- Book a private airport transfer to take you directly to your place*
If you’re coming from other parts of the country, then the train is always a great option. You’re either going to come in via Seoul Station or Yongsan Station depending on where you’re coming from. If you book via Let’s Korail, it’s super easy (you just need your passport).
If you look, some of the times can be twice as fast but twice as expensive. The KTX is your best bet for speed (and free WiFi), but Mugunghwa is reliable as well. It’s just a bit painful to be on a train for 4 hours when the other option is only 2…
Another option, and more available, is taking the intercity buses! Look at Kobus for times. I’m pretty sure every town and city in Korea has at least one bus that will go to Seoul. (*Note: To change the language to English, look for 한국어 in the upper righthand corner)
They buses vary in size and comfort. The cheaper one is usually 2 seats on either side of the aisle. If you can get the middle one in the very back, you’ll have leg space, and it’s comfortable enough. The regular one is two seats on one side and one on other, and they’re lovely. They did just introduce a “Premium Bus,” but I tried it, and it’s not worth the price. You’re better off just taking the KTX.
How to Get Around Seoul
Standing on a bus in Seoul is an experience to say the least. I’m still scarred by my first ride and that was in 2011! Sometimes the bus is faster, but really the subway is so well connected you can just ride that or use the Seoul City Bus for tourist destinations!
Easily one of my favorite city subways! It’s crazy extensive, easy to navigate, and always so clean. Download the Subway App and you can even narrow down which car is the best to use.
Taxis are great in a pinch or at night after the subway has stopped. I don’t use them too much because it’s usually faster to take a subway and significantly less expensive. Also, I think taxis in Seoul and Yeosu are my least favorite…
It’s possible to drive in Seoul, and God bless your soul if you want to try.
Top 5 Things to Do in Seoul
Tour the Palaces
While it no longer exists today, Korea actually has a huge royal history! Seoul was the capital during a lot of this history, so you can pick between four palaces: Gyeongbokgung, Chandeokgung, Changgyeong, and Deoksugung. I have some posts on a few of them:
Shop in Myeongdong or Dongdaemun
If you like good shopping, then head to any of the places in Seoul to buy clothes, beauty products, and more. A lot of it is “free size.” This means it’s either so big it’s oversized on me at a size 12 or it’s so small, it looks like it was designed for a small child.
Visit Namsan Tower
There are a number of different places to get a view of the city, but Namsan Tower is one of the most popular. If you’re a K-drama fan, you’ve definitely seen it provide a backdrop for some magical kiss scene.
And if you’re with your boyfriend or girlfriend, bring a lock to hang up! Unlike other places in the world, Korea encourages this. Get tickets here
This photo is from 2015, so not entirely sure that bench is still there, but look at all those locks.
Eat alllll the delicious food
If Seoul is your only destination, then get ready to eat until you burst! There’s a reason I haven’t done a full Korean food post yet — every time I go to eat, I forget to take a photo and am halfway through my kalbi-tang before I realize it!
Some tours to try:
- Cooking Class in Bukchon
- BBQ & Street Food Tour
- Namdaemun Food Tour
- Dongdaemun Street Food Tour
- Seoul Food Tour
Admittedly I haven’t done this hike yet. I know, I know, I need to finally go! Hiking in Korea is a big deal in general, and Bukhansan (Mt. Bukhan) is the easiest to access in the city. Try this guided experience
Where to Stay in Seoul
I’ve stayed in a few different areas and have a whole post on where to stay to stay in Seoul! Basically, if you want to be central or near big points of interest, stay near Hongdae, Myeongdong, Gangnam, or Dongdaemun. Here’s where I’ve stayed so far:
- Airbnb in Gangnam
- Cocoa Guesthouse near Hongdae
- Hotel Maui DDM nearish to Dongdaemun
- Seoul Mansion in Hongdae
- Airbnb nearish to Gyeongbokgung
- Hans House* (right near Gyeongbokgung)
- Mom House in Myeongdong (I stayed here for the Kyuhyun images everywhere, but it’s actually really close to one of they Myeongdong station exits)
Money, Safety, + Internet Matters in Seoul
About 1,000 KRW = $1 USD. You’ll want to take out cash for some of the smaller stalls, but most places take credit card. Any convenience store ATM should be able to take an international card, and the cost is usually only $1-2.
If you’re budgeting, I’d put Korea right in the mid-range in terms of Asian countries. It’s definitely nowhere near as inexpensive as Vietnam or Cambodia, but it’s much more reasonable than Japan or Singapore.
Safety in Seoul
Korea is one of the safest countries in the world. I think the most “dangerous” place is Itaewon, which is actually the foreigner neighborhood. And trust me, it’s not dangerous. It’s actually a great place to go if you’re craving foreign food. I’ve gone back to grab a meal at Plant Cafe (Vegan), Braii Republic (South Africa BBQ), and Coreanos (Korean-Mexican fusion).
Be aware of your belongings, but honestly if there’s one country where you have to worry very little, it’s Korea.
If it’s North Korea you’re worried about, let me point you to this post. Let me just put it this way — I actually forgot to add in this part until I was finished writing this whole guide because that’s how little I worry about an attack.
Korea is home to one of the best internets ever! I’m pretty sure Seoul is nearly all covered by some sort of WiFi at this point. If you want, you can rent a WiFi egg or, with an unlocked phone, get a tourist SIM Card:
And there you have it! A quick guide to Seoul, Korea. Let me know if you have any questions!
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