Seoul Travel Guide

I‘ve written on Seoul and Korea extensively but I wanted to refine all of those posts and put them into one clear, organized page. Seoul may not be somewhere I’d ever want to live, but it is a place that holds incredibly fond memories. In fact, one might say it’s where the travel bug bit me! I hope this Seoul travel guide helps you plan your next trip!

Index

  • Costs
  • Top 5 Things to See
  • Weekend Itinerary
  • Where to Stay
  • Where to Eat
  • How to Get There
  • Conclusion

Costs (prices in Korean won)

T-Money Card: 2,500

Subway Ride: 1,250-2,000

Local Bus: 1,250 (most common)

10 Minute Taxi Ride: Around 5,500

Coffee: 5,000

Meal: 6,500 and up

Hostel Room: 12,000

Entrance Fees: 1-3,000

 

Top 5 Things to Do

1. Any Palace (3,000w)

Depending on how much time you have I would actually go to two palaces. But, if you can only make it to one, choose between Gyeongbokgung or Changdeokgung. Gyeongbokgung is the most famous and if you get there early it’s very easy to distance yourself from the crowds because it’s so large. Changdeokgung has the “secret garden” which you can generally only enter on a tour for an extra 5,000won. I like both palaces equally, and I think the secret garden tour is worth it.

Unless you are in the off season I would recommend not going on the “Free day.” Every last Wednesday of a month is “culture day” and you can get in free. But it will likely be very crowded. If you’re already planning to wear a hanbok, make sure you rent it on the day you’re visiting palaces, as you’ll get in free!

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Even with the crowds, Gyeongbokgung offers stellar views

2. Insadong

This is simply an area in Seoul. They have great shopping, the best dumplings, the best streetfood, and it’s a nice historical experience. In the last couple of years its become increasingly tourist-oriented but it’s still a good experience. It’s also the only place in the world where Starbucks is written in another language 😀 The requirement to have a shop on Insadong’s main street is that the main name must be written in Korean! It’s one of my favorite areas in Korea but I hope the authenticity doesn’t continue to fade.

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One of many lovely sidestreets in Insadong

3. Hongdae Nightlife

You will experience real young Korea in Hongdae. No Seoul travel guide would be complete without a recommendation to head out to Hongdae at night. And when I say “at night” I mean after 10PM. Seoul is the real city that never sleeps. Except in the mid-morning! From from 4AM to 9 you’ll see the last stragglers stumbling out of clubs or bars, and by then the streets will be deserted. And next to nothing will be open until 11 or later! But until the morning expect restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes, and more to be open to the wee hours of the morning.

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Doesn’t look like much in the morning, does it? Ha!

4. Cheonggyecheong Stream

This is my favorite spot in Seoul. Absolutely every trip I take to this city, I just have to walk along this stream. Whether it’s during the blazing heat of the summer, a cool winter’s night, or a spring evening, Cheonggyecheong is an escape from the city while being in the city. All the noise fades away, locals walk about, sitting on rocks – maybe daring to dip a toe in. Exclaim over the fish that roam the stream and take in what I consider the “real” Seoul.

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A beautiful evening view

5. Han River Cruise (15,000)

I like taking river cruises wherever I go. It gives you a great feel for a city. The Han River cruise leaves from Yeouido Island. Which is honestly worth a wander around as well. It’s not really an island as it’s pretty firmly attached to the mainland, but it is very nice. Often people are day camping, there’s open air convenience stores, and music. The cruise itself is a nice addition to all of this, with various options ranging from dinner cruises (which seem really overpriced for Korea at around 75,000) to fireworks, to music. Or just a plain cruse! I opted for the evening music cruise for 20,000 and fully enjoyed myself. When I tired of leaning on the railing I headed inside to listen to the music. Watching some Korean people run away from seagulls is also amusing 😛

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A view from the evening cruise

Weekend Itinerary Seoul Travel Guide

10AM – Getting Started

This is when some things in Korea begin to open. If you’re interested in renting a hanbok (Korean traditional dress with rentals for around 35-50,000) head there first. Then, head to your chosen palace. If you are planning to go to Changdeokgung and go on the Secret Garden tour, budget an extra 30 minutes.

12PM – Lunch

Either stay next to the palace and go to a random cafe (if you’re wearing a hanbok you often will get a discount) or head off to Insadong. Insadong has the best fried dumplings in Korea. You’ll have to walk down the whole street to get to Bukcheonson Mandu (which thankfully has invested in better signage). Feel free to stop in and shop but don’t get distracted by the streetfood (yet!).

After your dumpling lunch consider heading to any of the many tea houses which all offer essentially the same options. They’re nice to relax in before more walking. If not, grab yourself some streetfood and shop in the large arcade next to the dumpling store.

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One of your typical tea houses in Seoul!

2PM – Cheonggyecheon Stream & Shopping

If it’s a hot day, dipping your feet into the cool waters of the stream can feel like a miracle. There’s plenty of shade along the walking paths. A lot of people will want to be doing shopping and Myeongdong is one of the best places to do it. Getting a bit of a breather in before making your way through the crush of people is a good idea.

I particularly recommend the Style Nanda and Chuu flagship stores, and the Style Nanda cafe on the upstairs level, where they have very cool drinks 😀

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The displays in the flagship stores are always worth a look!

6PM – Hongdae!

Get ready, because you’re going to be here for the rest of the night (and maybe some of the morning!). Don’t worry though, there is always a ton to do in Hongdae. Spend an hour just wandering the streets, popping into shops and cafes as you like. When you’ve finished, head on over to Yun ssi Milbang for dinner. They’ve got a great fusion of a Korean dish known as budaejigae and…American? And Japanese? I honestly don’t know but it’s a fusion of something. But don’t worry about authenticity! That’s the entire point of this Korean dish. But beware, it is super spicy, hence the tissue boxes hanging from the wall. Get yourself a Coke with it, it goes so well. You’ll need a big meal for going out tonight!

For the rest of your evening spend your time figuring out where the best club spots are. If you’re a woman you can generally collect club wristbands and stamps by heading in early, then leaving. Clubs will generally be pretty empty until midnight. Tuesday Party is a staple in every Korean town, where both foreigners and Koreans tend to mingle. If you’re looking to practice your Korean skills, this is one of the best places.

NB2 is generally regarded as the best club in Hongdae. There used to be better ones but alas, NB2 is all that remains of my early clubbing days. The music is pretty good, the drinks are fine, and it’s almost always packed.

Day 2! 11AM – Sauna

I‘m assuming that you’ll be waking up late this morning. You should probably sweat out all of those toxins you ingested last night and head to Siloam Sauna. If you didn’t crash in a sauna the night before already! Saunas are very popular spots to sleep one off until the morning 😀

2PM – A Goodbye Bingsu

Even Korean people will recommend the chain Sulbing. They’re everywhere so simply search for the one closest to you. Bingsu is a popular Korean dessert consisting of shaved ice and a variety of toppings. Make sure to bring friends with you, though – they’re huge! I’ve only met one person who could finish one by themselves 😛 

4PM – Seoullo7017

If you trip is taking you elsewhere after Seoul, you’ll probably be leaving from Seoul Station. There is a great little walk above the streets much like the Highline in NYC. It’s not much in the winter but every other season is lovely, with tons of plants and great views. Then head off to your next destination!

Where to Stay

Budget: Bunk Guesthouse Or Cocoa Guesthouse

The Bunk Guesthouse owner is super lovely, even if it’s a bit more expensive than some other hostels (around 18,000 a night in the high season). It’s also quite well located and very clean. It’s a bit quieter at night and the crowd it attracts is lovely. Over the 10 days I stayed here, consistently the people checking in were amazing! If you’re looking for more of a party scene though, check out Cocoa Guesthouse, which runs around 10,000 a night. It’s a good deal louder and it’s not as nice but it’s still good. Both options include breakfast and both are in Hongdae.

Mid-Range: Huayuan House in Hongdae

The single rooms (40,000 a night) are spacious and clean, and it’s location is excellent but set back away from the party streets so it’s quieter at night. They don’t skimp on the air conditioning or heating and the stay includes breakfast. The setting is what sold me here, the terrace and the garden are easier to access than most. Highly recommend!

High-End: Seochon Guesthouse

I normally wouldn’t recommend staying in a hanok in Seoul, as there are cheaper, more relaxing options in Jeonju or elsewhere. But, this one is an exception. Unlike the previous options, Seochon (70,000 a night) is located nearer to the Gyeongbokgung palace. The owners are incredible and provide a homemade breakfast and tips for your stay in Seoul. This is the best option for staying in a traditional house in Seoul 🙂

What to Eat

Bukcheon Sonmandu (Insadong)

Open: 11~22:00

Average $: 4,000won

These are simply the best mandu (or dumplings) I’ve ever had. Make sure to opt for the fried version (튀김만두), it’s crispy and huge (and cheap!). They are a chain but I think the ones here are better than anywhere else.

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Look for this sign!

Sulbing

Open: 10:30~22:30

Average $: 10,000w per dish

The best chain for this Korean dessert. Split it with your two closest friends (or more!) and enjoy in the sweaty Korean summer.

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Yummmm

Yun Ssi Milbang

Open: 11~22:00

Average $: 10,000w

If you’re looking for someplace fun and spicy, I recommend this restaurant. It’s a little pricey but the portions are huge. Order a Coke and keep some tissues handy! If you want a more traditional version of this style (AKA, minus the hamburger in the soup) look for 부대찌게 in KakaoMaps. But imo it’s very faithful to the original concept of this soup, which is simply throwing in all the random stuff you have in your house. So noodles, spices, cream, cheese, spam, rice, egg, rice cake, and maybe hamburgers 😛

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I’ll be honest it doesn’t look terribly Korean, but it is and it’s delicious

Korean BBQ

Open: 11:00~23:00 typically

Average $: 8,000-16,000

I don’t have a specific place for where you should go. Frankly almost every one I’ve gone to in Seoul has been excellent. Just look for places that are full. Korean BBQ, while expensive, is an experience everyone should have in Korea. Just be prepared to bring along friends (you’ll have to order a double portion if you’re solo) and to cook your own meat.

Chicken

Open: 16:00-2:00

Average: 17,000 per plate

Yeah, I know, expensive again. But you’re meant to share between two or three people – it’s a lot of food. When I go with just one friend we never finish. There are a many many places all over Seoul and, again, it’s kinda all mostly the same. I would avoid the super big chains like Mom’s Touch – not that they’re bad, but you probably want a more delicious experience. Personally, I like Outdark because it comes with fries free and they don’t try to sneak in random Korean spices. I like my chicken to stand on its own.

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You can often order split plates to try multiple flavors and sauces

 

How to Get to Seoul

I‘m going to assume you’re coming from the Incheon Airport. There are several ways to get to Seoul from Incheon (which may be further away than you think! It’s around 45 minutes away).

Taxi: Personally, I recommend you just take a taxi. It will cost you around 45,000won but it’s worth it to avoid the confusion of a new country/jetlag. Make sure you have the exact address you want to go to pulled up. Korean taxi drivers rarely have any clue where you’re headed if you just give a name, but the Seoul drivers are better than most.

Bus: I took this my very first trip to Seoul. I don’t really recommend it, but it’s only 10,000won. If you speak Korean or are an experienced traveler, it’s probably fine. As long as you can get into Seoul you will still save money if you get lost and need a taxi. Once you’re in the city center a taxi won’t generally cost more than 10,000. The problem I had with the bus is that the stop names are often way too similar sounding. And I speak Korean fairly welll!  I was told to get off at “Sinchon.” Turns out there’s around 7 stops starting with the word Sinchon and I got off at the wrong one.

Subway: If you have only one bigger bag or less, this is the way to go. Buy your T-Money card at the airport (the main transport card for Korea) and load it up with 10,000won just to be safe. The main fare from the airport to Seoul should only be around 5,000won but if you’re transferring or something else, it could be a little more. Use Kakao Maps to find your correct stop and you’re good to go. The Korean subway is incredibly easy to use 🙂 But if you have lots of bags, give this a miss as it will be too cumbersome.

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Bukcheon Hanok Village views – worth it if you have time!

Conclusion

Seoul is one of the best cities in the world. I hope this Seoul travel guide helps you plan your trip. I miss Seoul constantly. Just looking at that skyline can bring back the memories of my 19 year old self, so new to the world! It’s funny, because I would never want to live in Seoul permanently, but I hope I get to visit for years to come <3

 

Check out my other posts!

Where to Go in Korea Besides Seoul

Jeonju Travel Guide: Step Back in Time

Why Teach in Korea

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2 Responses

  1. Xinyan

    Thanks for the post! I have always wanted to go to Seoul so bad, partly out of my obsession with Kdramas;), partly to see the blend of traditional and fashion for myself. Will definitely go a sauna, the Mandu house and a fried chicken place when I can visit!

    Reply

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