Here for a long layover? Visiting for less than 24 hours? Here are 5 different ways to spend one day in Seoul!
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They always say Incheon Airport is one of the best places to have a layover as there’s so much to do without even leaving. However, it’s also great because of how easy it is to get into the heart of the city and get around to see all the best of Seoul in a day! Of course, I generally spend a lot longer in my favorite city, but I thought I’d outline some fun one day itineraries in case you happen to have a quick weekend break or long layover!
Since there are so many ways to enjoy Seoul, I split it up into five different itineraries to make it easier. You can click to skip!
Quick Tips for Seoul
Before I dive into the itinerary ideas for your day in Seoul, here are some quick tips so you’re not running around an wasting time! I have a complete Seoul travel guide here if you need even more in depth tips.
How to Get to Seoul from Incheon
If you have a layover and are coming from Incheon, here’s how you can get into Seoul from the airport. All these methods should take an hour or less depending on where you take them to!
- Airport Buses – There are a ton of airport buses that go into Seoul (and all around Korea). You can see all the routes here.
- Subway – By far the cheapest way is to hop on the subway! Make sure to download the Seoul Subway App and you can see exactly which lines to take from the Airport Railroad track! For sure it goes right to Seoul Station & Hongdae, which is quite convenient. There’s also the AREX Train which goes straight between Seoul Station and Incheon and is more comfortable, but it’s also, of course, more expensive.
- Van Transfers – Of course, the absolute easiest way to book an airport transfer ahead of time. I’d probably book this if I was traveling with kids or something that made the subway and bus super inconvenient. Book a shared transfer here or book a private transfer here
While Seoul is mostly covered in wi-fi, if you do want a SIM card, you can pre-order one here and pick-up. I recommend this because it’s a bit cheaper than getting one on arrival. You should also download these apps for your travel. Remember things like Uber/Grab/Lyft and Google Maps don’t work as well in Korea! You want KakaoTaxi and KakaoMap instead!
Travel Subway Card
All of these itineraries basically involve you getting around by subway. Even though you’re here for the day, I recommend getting a T-Money card as it’s easier to use. You can always buy the mobile version here, but it’s also super easy to stop in a convenience store and get one there.
If you need to find somewhere to ditch your luggage, you’re in luck! There are some storage options at Incheon, including this one. However, if you can’t get in there, there are pretty much lockers at every subway station, so you can just stuff your luggage in one of them. I tend to leave my in the Hongdae lockers, though there’s also a storage service there if you’d rather do that.
Staying in Seoul Or Incheon?
So if you have one of those crazy, 24 hour layovers, then obviously you’re going to have to sleep somewhere! All of these itineraries end in a pretty popular neighborhood that’s about an hour back by airport shuttle, so you’ll be able to get back to Incheon with ease. Check my guide on where to stay in Seoul for a better overview!
However, if you’re paranoid about missing your flight, you can also stay back at the airport. There’s a sauna in the basement level of Terminal 1 where you can shower and then sleep on the mats with a bunch of other people. I also thought this was the best hotel to be nearby with a free shuttle but have a comfortable, private room!
One Day in Seoul: An Itinerary Guide for Everyone
Okay, now onto the itinerary ideas! Like I said above there’s a little something for everyone and they’re all pretty packed days. I figure it’s easier to give you a busier schedule and you can choose to get rid of one or two things than to give you a sparse schedule and leave you bored and researching! There are so many things to do in Seoul, it’s ridiculous, and I don’t want to waste a minute on confusion or getting lost. Enjoy!
1. A Seoul Highlights Tour
This is a pretty jam-packed day where you’ll get a little history, some shopping, some of Seoul’s quirkier things, and some of the fun, touristy things to do all in one!
What you’ll visit:
- Bukchon Hanok Village
- Samcheondong + the Innisfree Cafe
- Insadong + the Poop Cafe
- Namsan Tower
First things first, I’d go to Gyeongbokgung, one of the five palaces of Seoul. Get there by going to either Gyeongbokgung Station, Exit 5 or Gwanghwamun Station, Exit 2.
Gyeongbokgung is by far the epicenter of Korean traditional culture and should not be missed. I’d allow at least 1-2 hours to explore the palace grounds, starting right at 9 am when it opens. It’s massive and the architecture is absolutely stunning. Don’t worry if it seems crowded in the beginning, it’ll get quieter the further you go in.
After you leave, you’ll go through the front gate which will point you to Gwanghwamun. When you see the giant statue of a warrior and a sitting king, you’re here. It’s nice to see and often there’s something going on in the area.
From Gwanghwamun, you can walk to Bukchon Hanok Village. Hanoks are traditional Korean housing, and they’re stylistically a thousand times more interesting than the concrete, dully colored apartment complexes taking their places. If you can find it, head to one of the observatories. The one I always find is this little house owned by a sweet older lady who charges maybe 3,000 KRW to come up and see the views. You’ll get this kind of scene on a clear day:
Relax here for a little bit and take in the views. The lady will probably bring you a drink!
Nearby the hanok village is a Samcheondong, which is a street of different shops. The Innisfree Cafe is there, and I always like visiting for a quick drink and some skincare products if you can fit them in your luggage.
Circle back to go to Insadong from here. If you’re looking for more traditional Korean souvenirs, then you’ll want to visit the shops! Some traditional ideas:
- Korean wedding ducks
- Anything made with hanji paper
- A stamp of your name in Hangul
- Ceylon pots
The Poop Cafe is in Ssamziegil here too if you want to do one of the quirkier things in Seoul!
Then, I’d check out Namsan Tower. It’s a little cheesy, but it’s definitely a landmark in Korea! You can get there by taking the orange line from Jongno-3ga in Insadong to Chungmuro Station, Exit 2.
If you’re with your significant other, buy a little lock to put up there. The area around the tower is free, but it costs a little to actually go up. It’s fun but not necessary if you’re on a budget. Depending on when the sun goes down, you may be able to catch the sunset and also see the tower all lit up at night.
Depending on when you need to be back at the airport, I’d head back to Incheon now. If you go back to Chungmuro Station, head to Exit 8. There’s a bus stop there with airport shuttles.
However, for those that have a bit longer, you can get back on the subway and stop over in Myeongdong! It’s a huge shopping area, but more importantly, it’s a street food haven! There’s also this incredible restaurant called Hadongkwan, which has been around since the 1930s. If you need to sleepover in Seoul, there are also plenty of Airbnbs, hostels, and hotels in Myeongdong to choose from.
2. A Seoul History & Palace Buff Tour
With this tour, it’s all about Korean history and palaces! Really dig your feet in and learn all you want to know about this country.
What you’ll visit:
- Seoul History Museum or the War Memorial of Korea
- Bukchon Hanok Village
- Deoksugung for sunset
Start early with a visit to one of Seoul’s museums. It’s been a while, but I really liked the War Memorial of Korea. I think it’s such an important part of their recent history, it’s worth a visit all its own. You’ll want to give yourself around 2 hours to walk around each exhibit and learn more about Korea’s wartime past, especially with the recent war and split between North and South. You can get there by going to either Samgakji Station, Exit 1, 11, 12 or take the Namyeong Station, Exit 1.
Another museum I really liked is the Seoul History Museum, which is is also on the same grounds as Gyeonghuigung if you wanted to fit in another palace as well! To get there, just go to Seodaemun Station, Exit 4. Walk straight and it’s on your left (really can’t miss it).
From here, your itinerary will look similar to the one above, where you’ll go first to Gyeongbokgung Palace and then walk over to Bukchon Hanok Village. Where you’ll want to get lunch somewhere in between. If you went to the War Memorial, head to Gyeongbokgung Palace Station, Exit 5 or Gwanghwamun Station, Exit 2. If you’ve been at the Seoul History Museum, then you can quite literally walk back over and through Gwanghwamun to get to Gyeongbokgung’s entrance.
*Note: For more museum options, you could just go straight to Gyeongbokgung and visit the National Palace Museum and the National Folk Museum on palace grounds.
Instead of going to Insadong, you’re going to keep going over to Changdeokgung, which has the prettiest garden ever. Make sure you book tickets for this ahead of time! You need to a tour to visit the Secret Garden, and they sell out quickly on more popular days.
Once you’ve enjoyed Changdeokgung, head over to the Jeongbong Obsveratory to see the sunset over Deoksugung:
This puts you in central Seoul, so you should be able to find somewhere to eat nearby. If you go down and to the entrance of Deoksugung, the street to the left (if your facing the entrance) has a bunch of restaurants all clustered together.
If you have to get back now, then the easiest way is to get on the subway at City Hall Station and then transfer at Hongdae Station to the line that goes to Incheon.
However, if you have a little more time, I’d recommend checking out the sauna scene! You can walk from the area to Siloam Sauna, which is my favorite. You can even sleep there if you’re on a budget! It’s right behind Seoul Station, so whenever you need to leave, you can hop right over and get to Incheon from there.
Bonus: Seoullo 7017 is right here too if you’re have time at night!
3. A Shopping + Beauty Tour of Seoul
Alright, I’m going to be honest. I’m not a big shopper in Seoul! Unless you’re tiny, most clothes don’t fit, and even then they’re not often made from material I like (cotton, linen, etc). However, I’ve scored some gems in random shops and, of course, there are the huge markets and malls spread out. I think the best course is to check out some of the more unique shopping areas and mix it in with some pampering and beauty treatments!
Where you’ll go:
- Seoul Station
Start off with pampering! Get on the subway and get off at Seoul Station. From here go to Siloam Sauna which is one my favorite jimjilbang, and it’s quite foreigner friendly. I recommend paying extra for a scrub down and an oil massage. You’ll come out feeling fresh and clean! If you’re hungry, there’s also a Korean restaurant in Siloam to get something to eat.
From Siloam, you’re off to your first shopping spot: Insadong! I’ve already gone over Insadong above, but I’ll say it again: this is the best area to find more traditional Korean souvenirs. Walk along the main street and pop into the different shops! There are also a lot of popular beauty stores here if you want to start stocking up. The big highlight is Ssamziegil Mall which is an outdoor mall with tons of random shops all ending in the Poop Cafe at the top.
Afternoon & Evening
This could be later morning or early afternoon depending on when you get into Seoul. Pop over to Dongdaemun to check out one of Seoul’s markets. This is also where Dongdaemun Design Plaza is, and if you’re here in I think March or October, you’ll be able to see Seoul Fashion Week. One of the tall shopping buildings nearby is full of clothing and also gets you a cool view over the top of DDP!
Depending on how crazy you go with shopping, you could spend hours here picking through racks! If you’re only curious, though, head over to the next area: Hongdae.
While you could also do Myeongdong, I find they have similar franchise stores, but I like Hongdae’s random shops better as they have the franchises and random shops. Additionally, you can pop over to Ehwa University to shop there! I remember going here as a college student for cheap clothes. If you didn’t buy enough beauty products in Insadong, you’ll be able to find all the same beauty stores like Innisfree or Etude House in Hongdae too!
Of course, another big reason I recommend coming to Hongdae is for the beauty options! My favorite hairdresser is here at Juno Hair. You can DM her on IG about setting up an appointment; I’ve been very happy with my haircuts since I went to her two trips ago. If she’s busy, you could also book this experience, though I don’t have personal experience with them.
Depending on how early you get to Hongdae, you could also sign up here for your own skincare or lipsticking making experience. The skincare starts at 1:00 PM and the lipstick starts at 3:00 PM, so you’d spend a decent amount of time in Hongdae.
From here, you can hang out around Hongdae and get on the subway to get back to Incheon! I noted below, but there are lots of restaurants, cafes, and hotels in Hongdae depending on how late you plan on staying.
4. The Trendy Cafe Path
I mean, if you’re ready to get buzzed off caffeine, here’s how to see my favorite cafes in Seoul. They are not close to each other at all, but here are the routes to take if you want to. Godspeed, my coffee addict friend.
Where you’ll go:
- Greenmile Cafe in Bukchon Hanok Village
- The Poop Cafe in Insadong
- Zapangi Cafe in Mangwon
- Different Cafes in Hongdae & Yeonnam-dong
First things first head over to Bukchon Hanok Village to visit Greenmile Coffee. I haven’t been yet, but I’m hoping to on my next visit! It’s got this gorgeous view of the hanok’s tiled roofs and is open as early as 8 AM on the weekdays.
From there you can walk over to Insadong to visit the aforementioned Poop Cafe at the top of Ssamziegil Mall. Drink another latte out of a toilet bowl and have fun with all the poop decor.
Next take the subway over to Mangwon, and walk to the fun Zapangi Cafe.
Afternoon & Evening
Once you’ve had fun with the pink vending machine entrance and one of their mermaid cupcakes, you have two options, both of which include eating something more of sustenance to offset all the sugar you may have been consuming.
If you’re still in Mangwon, there’s a great little Thai food place called Kung Fu Thai (쿵푸타이). Or you could wait and take the subway over to Hongdae and eat at one of the restaurants there before continuing your cafe quest!
There are an absurd amount of trendy cafes in Hongdae, so you’re going to have a lot of options. For the more obvious ones, you can start with CaFace, which is in the Trick Eye Museum building, so you might want to check out the other exhibits while you’re there!
There’s also the famous Stylenanda Pink Pool Cafe here, which is where I feel like every Instagrammer who’s in Seoul for five seconds photographs. You can also stop over at 943 Kings Cross, aka the Harry Potter Cafe.
The real gems are all around Yeonnam-dong. It’s basically cafe after cafe including Cafe Layered, Coffee Nap Roasters, Cong Caphe, the 2D Cafe, Grain (good place to eat something with sustenance), Nakrangpara, Thanks, Oat, and more!
If you’re really dedicated to your cafe hopping, this area will take up pretty much the rest of your time! There are plenty of affordable hotels in Hongdae, so you can book a place here to stay overnight. Otherwise, get back on the subway and head straight back to Incheon.
5. The K-Drama Lover Route
Alright, my K-drama readers. I’m not that up to date on what’s hip in dramaland these days (though I am watching the new Hyun Bin one!). One of my favorite things to do when I watch a drama is see if there are any cool places they’ve filmed.
Anyway, if you’re a fan, here’s how to maximize your visit.
Where you’ll go:
- Petite France
- Garden of the Morning Calm, and/or
- Nami Island
- Namsan Tower or Yeonnam-dong
- Seoullo 7017
Morning & Afternoon
First of all, the three big places to visit right outside of Seoul are Petite France, the Garden of the Morning Calm, and Nami Island. They’re all pretty spread out and take quite a while to get to by subway. If you want to be out all day (like 12+ hours), you can book a full day tour that will bring you to all three. However, I’d still want a little time back in Seoul, so I’d pick two and book this tour.
From there, you could get off at either Hongdae or Myeongdong depending on where you wanted to go from there. If you get off at Myeongdong, you can head up to Namsan Tower to see the sunset and the lights at night ala “Boys Over Flowers.”
Or you could get off in Hongdae and wander around Yeonnam-dong, which is where they film some of the newer dramas like “My First Fist Love” and hit up some of the cafes I mentioned above.
If you want to, you can squeeze in one more site if you go to Seoul Station and walk along Seoullo 7017!
No matter where you end the evening: Myeongdong, Hongdae, or Seoul Station, there are direct shuttles or subway trains right back to Incheon and, of course, there are plenty of hotels to stay in all three areas.
And there you have it! Five ways to spend one day in Seoul. Anything you’d add that I’m missing? Let me know!