The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Seoul, South Korea (2020)

The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Seoul, South Korea (2020)

NOTICE: Your health and safety come first. Please adhere to the WHO recommendations and avoid any non-essential travel at this time. If travel is unavoidable for you, then you can check the Flatten the Curve website for information on global travel restrictions.
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Nearly everyone we know is obsessed with Seoul and South Korea. Some are into the cosmetics. Many are hooked on the music and television dramas. And almost everyone, including us, is in love with the food.

South Korean technology and pop culture has exploded into the global mainstream in recent years. This “Korean Wave” has turned Seoul into one of the hottest destinations in Asia, bringing in over 17.5 million international tourists in 2019.

Unfortunately, the global pandemic has brought this tourism wave to a halt, but expect it to surge with a vengeance when borders open up. Until then, you can plan your future trip with the latest edition of our Seoul travel guide.

Read about the best things to do, the coolest neighborhoods to visit, and the tastiest dishes to eat to get you even more excited about visiting the land of kimchee, K-pop, and Korean cosmetics!

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Changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung

GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Travel Restrictions
  2. Seoul at a Glance
  3. Best Time to Visit
  4. Traveling to Seoul
  5. Where to Exchange Currency
  6. Best Area to Stay
  7. Places to Visit
  8. Things to Do
  9. Day Tours from Seoul
  1. Korean Food Guide
  2. Where to Eat
  3. Points of Interest (Map)
  4. How to Get Around
  5. How Many Days to Stay / Sample Itinerary
  6. Budget / Summary of Expenses
  7. Travel Tips
  8. Visa Information (for Filipinos)

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

Because of the global pandemic, travel guidelines change frequently. Our friends at SafetyWing created a website that lists containment measures, testing and treatment information, and travel restrictions around the globe.

Before planning a trip to Seoul, be sure to check the Flatten the Curve website for information on travel restrictions to South Korea.

SEOUL AT A GLANCE

Seoul is the capital of South Korea (Republic of Korea) and its biggest city. The estimated population within its city limits is 10.29 million people, but factor in its surrounding areas and that number jumps to 25.6 million, making it the second largest metropolitan area in the world.

With a workforce that large driving its economy, it’s no wonder Seoul is now the 4th most economically powerful city, behind only Tokyo, New York City, and Los Angeles (as measured by GDP).

South Korea has been making headlines in recent years in the tech, automotive, and entertainment sectors. Korean brands like Samsung and Hyundai are globally recognized brands.

People worldwide watch K-dramas and listen to K-pop. Myeongdong has become a hotbed for cosmetics and nearly everyone I know loves Korean food! Needless to say, South Korea is booming, and at the center of all that excitement, is Seoul.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Like Japan, South Korea has four distinct seasons — Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. The most popular times to visit Seoul are during the spring (March-May) and autumn (Mid-September – Early November) months when the weather is ideal and the landscape is at its most striking.

Both seasons are characterized by a dramatic change in color – Spring for its cherry blossom pinks and whites, and Autumn for its fiery reds, oranges, and yellows. Here’s what you can expect during every season.

MAR-MAY: Spring is one of the best times to visit Seoul. The weather is ideal and the city erupts with flowers. If you want to catch the cherry blossoms, then you should plan on being in Seoul around the second week of April (around April 9-10). That will give you the best chance to see the cherry blossoms. With that said, keep in mind that the blossoms are largely dependent on the weather so it’s still no guarantee they’ll be blooming then, which is why I think it’s a good idea to go around that time or a little earlier. If they aren’t blooming yet in Seoul, then you’ll have the option of taking a day trip to Jinhae, home of Korea’s biggest cherry blossom festival. Be sure to bookmark the Visit Korea website for updates on the festival.

JUN-AUG: Summer isn’t an ideal time to visit Seoul. It’s hot, it’s humid, it rains a lot, and prices are at their highest with summertime being the peak of domestic tourism. Avoid these months if you can.

SEPT-NOV: Unless you’re chasing after the cherry blossoms, then the fall is arguably the best time to visit Seoul. Like spring, the weather is ideal and the foliage is at its most striking. Shoot for late October or early November if you can.

DEC-FEB: If you want to go skiing, snowboarding, or just experience snow, then winter is obviously the time to go. However, winter in Korea is freezing. We went in early November and we were surprised by how cold it already was. If you can stand the cold, then there are several ski resorts you can visit from Seoul.

Climate: Annual Monthly Weather in Seoul

Check out weather-and-climate.com for more on the weather in Seoul. For your convenience, I’ve also created the average temperature and annual rainfall graphs below. Suggested months to visit are highlighted in orange.

Average Temperature
Average Temperature in Seoul, South Korea

Annual Rainfall
Annual Rainfall in Seoul, South Korea

TRAVELING TO SEOUL

Almost all international flights land at Incheon International Airport. There are several ways to get to downtown Seoul from Incheon.

BY AIRPORT EXPRESS (AREX): This is the fastest way to get to the city from the airport. It runs like clockwork and it’ll get you into Seoul Station in exactly 43 minutes. The trains are comfortable with free wifi onboard. You can purchase tickets at the gate (KRW 9,000) but you can get a discount if you get them in advance through Klook or Get Your Guide.

BY ALL-STOP TRAIN: This is the second fastest way to get into Seoul from Incheon. It’ll get you to Seoul Station in about 58 minutes and costs less than half the price of the AREX (KRW 4,150 from Terminal 1). Trains run from 5:23AM till 11:40PM. This is the train we usually take.

BY BUS: A one-way bus ticket costs KRW 9,000 and takes longer than the subway (around 80 minutes), so I suggest taking it only if you’re arriving at Incheon during off hours. Late night airport buses to Seoul Station run from 12MN-4:40AM, while buses to Gangnam Express Bus Terminal operate from 11:40PM-4:20AM. Detailed inquiries on bus routes and bus stops can be made at the Airport Information Desk on the 1st floor. Click on the link for more information on late night airport buses.

BY TAXI: Going by taxi is convenient but also expensive. A taxi will get you into the city in about an hour and will cost you anywhere between KRW 55,000-75,000.

BY PRIVATE TRANSFER: This is the best and most convenient option but also more expensive. Click on the links to book shared or private airport transfers through Klook or Get Your Guide.

Check out the Visit Korea website for more information on airport transfers.

WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY

The unit of currency in Seoul is the Korean Won (KRW).

Myeongdong is the best place to exchange your currency. There are plenty of money changers in the area and they’re known to give the best rates in the city. We scoped out a few other areas and the rates were never as good.

I suggest changing a small amount at the airport, no more than USD 100, just to get you in to the city. You can then change the rest in Myeongdong.

A better option these days is to withdraw KRW from an ATM. The rates are competitive, sometimes even better. Just be sure to let your bank know that you’ll be using your ATM card abroad so you don’t run into any problems. In my experience, my ATM card works in some machines but not in others. I didn’t have any problems using it in Seoul.

TIP: Some ATM machines may ask you if you’d like to proceed “with or without conversion”. Always choose WITHOUT conversion. Proceeding “with conversion” allows the foreign bank operating the ATM to perform the conversion at rates favorable to them. According to this article, the difference in rates can be as high as 10%.

BEST AREA TO STAY

Based on our own experiences and what I’ve read online, Myeongdong, Insadong, Hongdae, and Itaewon are the best places to stay in Seoul. They offer different things so it all depends on what you want.

Myeongdong is ideal for shopping, Insadong for culture and the arts. Hongdae is young and hip while Itaewon is Seoul’s international district. We’ve visited all four areas but we’ve only stayed in Myeongdong and Hongdae. Personally, we prefer Hongdae.

I’ll go through each area in more detail below but you can search for hotels in Seoul on Booking.com and Agoda.

To make it easier, I’ve created the color-coded map below so you can see where all these recommended areas are. Click on the link for an interactive version of the map. (Please note that marked areas are approximations only)

RED – Myeongdong
ORANGE – Hongdae
PURPLE – Insadong
AQUA – Itaewon

Seoul area map

MYEONGDONG

If you’re planning on doing a lot of shopping in Seoul, then Myeongdong is definitely where you need to stay. It’s a hyper shopping district filled with big name brands and boutique shops, as well as many restaurants, cafes, and street food stalls. If you like Korean cosmetics, then there’s a good chance you’re never leaving this place.

The place we stayed at doesn’t seem to be available anymore but you can search through Booking.com and Agoda for hotels in Myeongdong.

INSADONG

We haven’t stayed in Insadong but we’ve spent many days exploring its wealth of traditional shops, boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and teahouses. It’s also walking distance to several key attractions like Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, and Bukchon Hanok Village.

You can search through Booking.com and Agoda for accommodation listings in Insadong.

HONGDAE

Bingo House, Hongdae, Seoul, South Korea

Ren and I aren’t into shopping so we preferred staying in Hongdae. It refers to the area around Hongik University. It’s a fun and youthful area with an easygoing college town vibe. This was our favorite neighborhood in the city so we’ll probably stay here on every return trip to Seoul.

Bingo House is a small 5-room guesthouse just a short walk from Exit 6 of Hongik University Station. There’s a 7-Eleven and a GS25 convenience store nearby, as well as a few restaurants and cafes. There’s a common area with free water and kitchen supplies but no breakfast. You can book a room here through Agoda.

If you like Hongdae but don’t think Bingo House is the right place for you, then you can check these sites for alternate listings in Hongdae: Booking.com | Agoda.

ITAEWON

Among these four areas, Itaewon is the place we’re least familiar with. It’s one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods boasting plenty of shops and international restaurants. It has a bustling nightlife as well which is one of the reasons why it’s a popular hotspot among expats.

You can search through Booking.com and Agoda for accommodation listings in Itaewon.



Booking.com

PLACES TO VISIT

1. The Five Grand Palaces

There are five Joseon Royal Palaces in Seoul – Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Gyeonghuigung, and Deoksugung. We visited only the first two but you can easily visit all five if you like.

Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung are the biggest and arguably the most beautiful of the five. Gyeongbokgung was the primary palace and one of just two (the other being Deoksugung) where you can watch the changing of the Royal Guard. Equally impressive is Changdeokgung which is a UNESCO Heritage Site and home to the Huwon or “Secret Garden”.

Check out my article on Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung palaces for more pictures and information. You can visit on your own or go on a guided tour (Klook | Get Your Guide). If you plan on visiting multiple palaces on your own, then you may want to invest in an Integrated Palace Ticket.
Changdeokgung & Gyeongbokgung Palaces in Seoul, South Korea

Suggested Length of Visit: 1-3 hrs per palace / Admission: KRW 1,000-3,000 per palace

2. Bukchon Hanok Village

As ultramodern a metropolis as Seoul is, it’s nice to find a place like this right in the middle of the city. Bukchon Hanok Village is an atmospheric labyrinth of narrow alleyways and traditional Korean houses called hanoks.

Exploring its network of streets will take you back in time and give you a glimpse of what Seoul was like 600 years ago. Like the royal palaces, it’s one of the best places in Seoul to rent a hanbok and level up your Instagram game.

Check out my article on Bukchon Hanok Village for more pictures and information. If you’d like to learn more about Bukchon Hanok Village, then you may be interested in joining this free walking tour or going with a guide.
Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul, South Korea

Suggested Length of Visit: 1-2 hrs / Admission: FREE

3. N Seoul Tower

When it comes to great views, this place towers above the competition. Standing 480 meters (1,575 ft) above sea level, N Seoul Tower’s observation deck is the best place to get bird’s eye views of the city.

N Seoul Tower is located on Mt. Namsan and accessible via road or cable car, though most tourists will opt for the latter. You can purchase tickets to the observatory at the gate or in advance through Klook or Get Your Guide.
N Seoul Tower, Seoul, South Korea

Suggested Length of Visit: 1-2 hrs / Admission: KRW 11,000

4. Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)

This place is incredible. If you like design, any kind of design, then you need to put Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) on your itinerary. It’s like a museum, design supermarket, and space ship all rolled into one.

DDP was designed by the late Zaha Hadid, the renowned architect who created the 2012 Olympic aquatic centre in London and the Guangzhou Opera House in China.

I suggest devoting several hours to this place if you can. Be sure to come back at night as well when the building really comes to life. Check out my article on Dongdaemun Design Plaza for more pictures and information.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul, South Korea

Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Admission: FREE but some exhibits may charge for admission

5. Jogyesa Temple

Jogyesa Temple is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Korea. It’s the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and serves as the main venue for many Buddhist events, rituals, lectures, and ceremonies.
Buddha statues at Jogyesa Temple

Suggested Length of Visit: 30 mins – 1 hr / Admission: FREE

6. COEX Mall Library

COEX Mall in the Gangnam district has become Insta-famous in recent years, all because of this beautiful library located in the middle of the mall.

Starfield Library is an open-air public library that features hundreds of books and magazines. It’s stunning architectural shelf of books has made it into one of the most popular picture-taking spots in Seoul.
Starfield Library in COEX Mall

Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Admission: FREE

THINGS TO DO

1. Dress Up in a Hanbok

If you’re a fan of Korean period dramas or just the culture in general, then you’ll probably want a selfie wearing a hanbok. It’s the traditional Korean form of dress worn by both men and women during festivals and celebrations.

Bukchon Hanok Village and any of the five royal palaces make for great photo backdrops. You’ll find a few hanbok rental shops around those areas but you can also rent one in advance through Klook or Get Your Guide.
Hanbok Rental, Seoul, South Korea

2. Visit a Market

We love visiting markets on trips because they’re often the best places to find great street food in any city. Seoul is no exception with its many interesting markets like Noryangjin Fish Market, Gwangjang Market (pictured below), and Nandaemun Market. Check them out if you’re looking for cheap and authentic street food in Seoul.
Inside Gwangjang Market

3. Explore Seoul’s Neighborhoods

Seoul is a massive city with many interesting neighborhoods. Four of its most popular include Insadong, Myeongdong, Hongdae, and Itaewon, each with its own distinct personality.

Insadong is known for its traditional arts and crafts, Myeongdong for its brand names and cosmetics, Hongdae for its trendy college town atmosphere, and Itaeown for its international vibe. All have terrific food.

Check out my article on Seoul’s neighborhoods for more pictures and information.
Insadong, Myeongdong, and Hongdae in Seoul, South Korea

4. Take a Stroll Along Cheonggyecheon Stream

Cheonggyecheon Stream is an 11 km stream that runs through the heart of downtown Seoul. It passes underneath 22 bridges and through a number of city landmarks before opening up into the Han River. It’s a popular picture-taking spot in Seoul and a great place to cool off in the summer.

You can walk along the stream on your own, but if you’d like to learn more about it and the places you’ll be passing along the way, then you may be interested in joining this free walking tour.
People relaxing by Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul

5. Go on a K-pop/Kdrama Tour

As described, many people have been turned on to South Korea because of the popularity of Korean pop music and its film and television industry. In fact, we know of a few diehard fans who routinely fly to Seoul just to attend music concerts!

If you have a fascination for Korean pop culture, then you may be interested in booking a K-pop tour (Klook | Get Your Guide). You may find a few sightseeing tours as well that take you to filming spots made popular by hit television dramas.

6. Watch the Cookin’ Nanta Show

If you’d like to watch a show or performance in Seoul, then the Cookin’ Nanta Show is one to consider. It’s entertaining and funny and reminds me of a Korean version of Stomp, but with food.

There are two Nanta theaters – one in Myeongdong and another in Hongdae. You can purchase tickets at the gate but you can sometimes get a discount if you buy them in advance through Klook.

7. Take a Cooking Class

We haven’t done this in Korea but taking a cooking class is something we try to do on every trip. It’s a fun, hands-on way of getting to know the local cuisine.

If you’re interested in taking a cooking class in Seoul, then I suggest searching for one on Cookly. Cookly is an online booking platform that offers cooking classes in many cities around the world, including Seoul.
Ingredients on kitchen counter

DAY TOURS FROM SEOUL

If you’re staying long enough in Seoul, then you may want to explore beyond the city and go on a day trip. Listed below are four of the most popular but you can check our article on 18 of the best day trips from Seoul for more suggestions.

1. Nami Island

We skipped out on Nami Island on our first trip to Korea because we thought it could only be appreciated by fans of the television drama Winter Sonata. We were wrong.

Nami Island is achingly beautiful and a must-visit for anyone traveling to Seoul. We went in winter when there was a thin sheet of fresh powder blanketing the island. It was beautiful, though perhaps not as magical as the fall when the leaves turn fiery shades of red, orange, and yellow.

You can visit Nami Island on your own but it may be easiest to go on a guided tour (Klook | Get Your Guide). You can refer to my article on Nami Island, Gangchon Rail Park, and Petite France for more pictures and information.
Nami Island, Gangchon Rail Park, and Petite France from Seoul, South Korea

2. The DMZ

This was one of the most interesting tours I’ve ever been on. DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone and refers to the 4 km wide buffer zone that divides North and South Korea.

When I went, they were still offering visits to the JSA or Joint Security Area. Nicknamed “the most dangerous place in Korea”, it’s the only portion of the DMZ where North and South Korean soldiers can stand face to face. Check out my article on the JSA and DMZ tour for more pictures and information.

I checked and the JSA tour doesn’t seem to be available anymore, perhaps due to the cooling relations between north and south, but you can still book a DMZ tour on Klook or Get Your Guide. It isn’t as intense as the JSA tour but it’s still worth doing, especially if you have an interest in Korean history.
JSA & DMZ Tour from Seoul, South Korea

3. Everland Resort

Many tourists, especially those traveling with young children, will probably want to visit one (or both) of South Korea’s biggest theme parks – Everland and Lotte World.

Lotte World is located in central Seoul while Everland is about an hour away. We visited Everland and it made for a fun day trip from Seoul. You can check out my article on Everland Resort for more pictures and information.

If you don’t have time to visit both and can’t decide between the two, then you can refer to this Everland or Lotte World comparison post to help you decide. When you figure out which theme park you’d like to visit, you can save on the cost of admission by purchasing tickets through Klook (Everland | Lotte World) or Get Your Guide (Everland | Lotte World).
Everland Resort or Lotte World from Seoul, South Korea

4. Hwaseong Fortress

Hwaseong Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located about an hour south of Seoul by metro. It’s name means “Brilliant Castle” and it was built in 1796 by King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty to house and honor the remains of his father, Prince Sado.

Hwaseong Fortress offers terrific views of Suwon and is a great place to do some hiking, perhaps even trying your hand in traditional Korean archery. Check out my article on Hwaseong Fortress for more pictures and information.

I visited Hwaseong Fortress on my own but you can also go by guided tour through Klook or Get Your Guide.
Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

KOREAN FOOD GUIDE

There is so much good food to be had in Seoul. From Korean delicacies like ganjang gejang, galbi, and gomtang to popular street food staples like tteokbokki and gyeranppang, Seoul will have you counting down the minutes to your next meal.

If you’re wondering what to eat in this food lover’s Shangri-La, then check out our article on the best dishes to eat in South Korea.
Korean street food

WHERE TO EAT IN SEOUL

1. Yeontabal BBQ Restaurant

Gogigui or Korean BBQ is one of our favorite things about Korean food. Marinated meats like bulgogi and galbi barbecued over a charcoal grill are absolutely delicious.

These grilled king beef ribs at Yeontabal were some of the best we’ve ever had. Smokey, savory-sweet, and super tender, they were to die for, especially when eaten with steamed white rice and kimchi.

Keep in mind that meat is typically expensive in Korea, so expect Korean BBQ to be one of your more expensive meals. You can get a small discount at Yeontabal if you purchase a voucher through Klook.
Yeontabal BBQ Restaurant, Seoul, South Korea

Expect to Spend: At least KRW 34,000 per person

2. Woo Lae Oak

I’ve been wanting to try naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles served in cold broth) ever since I saw a documentary about North Korea. It’s originally a North Korean delicacy that became popular throughout the peninsula after the Korean War.

I searched for the best places to try naengmyeon and Woo Lae Oak, one of Seoul’s oldest restaurants, often came up. They’re a Korean BBQ restaurant that’s equally famous for their naengmyeon.
Woo Lae Oak, Seoul, South Korea

Expect to Spend: Around KRW 15,000-20,000 per person

3. Myeongdong Kyoja

Myeongdong Kyoja is widely regarded as having the best kalguksu in the city. Kalguksu is a noodle dish consisting of handmade, knife-cut wheat flour noodles served in a large bowl with broth and other ingredients.

Myeongdong Kyoja has been in business for over 50 years and is located in the heart of Myeongdong. It’s a great place to have lunch or dinner when shopping in the area.
Myeongdong Kyoja, Seoul, South Korea

Expect to Spend: Around KRW 10,000-15,000 per person

4. Manjok Ohyang Jokbal

I asked my Korean sister-in-law (who’s a former chef from Seoul) which dishes we should try, and jokbal was one of the things she recommended. Jokbal is a delicious dish of the most tender pig’s trotters cooked in soy sauce and spices.

I did a google search for “best jokbal in seoul” and Manjok Ohyang Jokbal was frequently cited. They’re a TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice awardee with a stellar 4.5 star rating. Serious yum.

We bought a voucher for this medium portion of the spiced pig’s trotters bossam set menu from Klook. It’s good for 2-3 people and comes with jokbal, bossam (pork belly boiled in spices), dumpling soup, and a slew of sides.
Manjok Ohyang Jokbal, Seoul, South Korea

Expect to Spend: At least KRW 28,500

5. Oksang Dalbit

If you like Korean fried chicken, then you can’t visit Seoul without eating at a chimaek restaurant. Chimaek is a compound word for chi-cken and maek-ju – the Korean word for “beer” – so it refers to the popular duo of Korean fried chicken and beer.

What makes Korean fried chicken so good is that it’s double-fried, resulting in crunchier and less greasy skin. There are many recommended chimaek restaurants in Seoul, one of them being Oksang Dalbit in Hongdae.
Oksang Dalbit, Seoul, South Korea

Expect to Spend: Around KRW 15,000 per person

6. Wonjo Masan Halmae Agujjim

We skipped out on ganjang gejang on our first visit to Korea so I made sure to try it on our next trip.

Ganjang gejang is raw crab marinated in soy sauce. Considered by many to be the ultimate Korean dish, I waited over two years to try it and the experience blew me away. It’s so good and unlike anything we’ve ever tried.

If you like crab, then you have to try this dish. Like Korean bbq, ganjang gejang is expensive so expect to pay at least KRW 30,000 per small crab.

We had it at Wonjo Masan Halmae Agujjim. It’s one of several restaurants in Ganjang Gejang Alley that specializes in this interesting and supremely delicious crab dish.
Wonjo Masan Halmae Agujjim, Seoul, South Korea

Expect to Spend: Around KRW 30,000-40,000 per person

7. Myeongdong Food Street

As much as we love visiting restaurants, there’s something uniquely thrilling about eating street food. It’s like having a degustation experience right there on the street!

No first-time visitor’s trip to Seoul will be complete without eating street food in Myeongdong. With mouthwatering delicacies like grilled lobster tails, chicken and scallion skewers, and tteokbokki, Myeongdong is a Korean street food lover’s paradise.
Myeongdong Food Street

Expect to Spend: Anywhere between KRW 2,000-15,000 per dish

The restaurants above were some of our favorites, but if seven isn’t enough to satisfy your appetite, then you can check out our article on 25 must-eat restaurants in Seoul.

It includes plenty of other restaurant recommendations like where to find the best gomtang (beef bone soup), the most authentic Jeonju bibimbap, and cheap but delicious Korean BBQ. It’ll even tell you where to find Seoul’s oldest restaurant, a 110+ year old institution specializing in seolnongtang or ox bone soup.
Korean bbq in Seoul, South Korea

POINTS OF INTEREST IN SEOUL

For your convenience, I created a map so you get a better sense of where everything is. All the places recommended in this guide are pinned on this map. Click on the link to open an interactive version of the map in a new window.
Map with pins

HOW TO GET AROUND

Seoul’s subway system is very efficient, so much so that you probably won’t need any other form of transportation when you’re there. We never took a taxi and the only times we ever got on a bus was to go to places outside of Seoul like Paju, Suwon, and Jinhae.

It can be a little confusing at first but as long as you remember your destination’s subway stop and the line number that it’s on, then you shouldn’t have any problems.

You sometimes have to walk far to transfer between lines so it’s important to know the line number of your stop. Otherwise, you won’t know which way to go to transfer lines. Whenever I include directions in our Seoul travel guides, I always try to indicate Line and Exit numbers.

It’s a good idea to invest in a T-money card. It’s a transportation card that eliminates the hassle of buying single journey tokens, plus it saves you KRW 100 per journey. It can be used to transfer between subway lines, buses, or from subway to bus and vice versa (within a transfer time limit) at no extra charge.

The card itself costs KRW 2,500 and it can be purchased at most convenience stores and subway stations. You can top it up with any amount at recharge stations found at every subway stop. If there’s any amount left over at the end of your trip, then you can have it refunded at a convenience store or refund station (minus a KRW 500 service charge).

Another option is to get a Korea Tour Card which is a variation of the T-money card. It has the same benefits as the T-money card, plus it gives you small discounts at some tourist spots, shopping centers, restaurants, and theaters.

HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY / SAMPLE ITINERARY

Seoul is a massive city with much to see. We don’t like to rush so we stayed over a week on each of our three trips to Korea. I think staying a week in Seoul is great, but if you’re pressed for time, then 5 full days will be enough for most first-time visitors to the city.

Here’s a quick 5D/6N Seoul itinerary I put together to help you plan your trip. Be sure to click through to our full 5-day Seoul itinerary for more details.

DAY ONE

• Gyeongbokgung Palace
• Bukchon Hanok Village
• Changdeokgung Palace
• Changgyeonggung Palace
• Jongmyo Shrine
• Ikseondong Hanok Village
• Insadong
• Jogyesa Temple
DAY TWO

• Gyeonghuigung Palace
• Deoksugung Palace
• Namdaemun Market
• N Seoul Tower
• Myeongdong
DAY THREE

• Noryangjin Fish Market
• Hongdae
• Bongeunsa Temple
• COEX Mall
• Gangnam Shopping Street
DAY FOUR

• Cheonggyecheon Stream
• Gwangjang Market
• Ihwa Mural Village
• Dongdaemun Design Plaza
• Itaewon
DAY FIVE

• Nami Island

BUDGET / SUMMARY OF EXPENSES

I was a bit surprised after our first trip to Seoul in 2015 because the city turned out to be less expensive than I thought. But that was probably because we ate street food most of the time and only visited a handful of restaurants. In reality, Seoul is more like Osaka when it comes to travel costs.

Assuming you’ll be staying in Seoul for 5 full days and sharing inexpensive accommodations with one other person, then a daily budget of around KRW 65,000-70,000 per person should be good. This takes into account your accommodations, transportation, modest meals, and pocket wifi rental. Here’s a quick breakdown of expenses:

ACCOMMODATIONS

Everyone has their preferences, but on our most recent trip, we stayed at a guesthouse in Hongdae for around KRW 60,000 per night. This is the room rate for two people for a room with a private bathroom. Expect to pay considerably less if you’re staying at a hostel.
MEALS

This is also subjective but based on our experience, I’d say around KRW 30,000 a day per person. Inexpensive but filling dishes like gomtang or seolnongtang typically cost between KRW 10,000-15,000. Add more to your budget if you plan on eating Korean BBQ.
POCKET WIFI RENTAL

If you’re sharing the cost with one other person, then you’ll each be paying around KRW 1,500 per day.
TRANSPORTATION

If you have a T-money card and use the subway, then you’ll be paying at least KRW 1,250 per journey. Assuming you’ll be taking around three subway journeys per day, expect to spend about KRW 4,000 a day for transportation.
TOTAL

This comes out to around KRW 65,500 a day per person. Keep in mind that this baseline estimate doesn’t include tour costs, entrance fees, or shopping. Be sure to add the cost of any tours you want to do to this amount. Ren and I are middle of the road travelers who enjoy good food and drink, so the recommended budget is a good baseline for travelers like us. Adjust accordingly based on your own travel habits.

TRAVEL TIPS

1. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel

Some people may find trip planning a little tedious or daunting. This free trip planning can make it easier and more fun.

What Sygic Travel does is allow you to visualize everything on a map, so you can easily group places of interest by location and put them all together in an efficient itinerary. Check out my article on the Sygic Travel app for more information.

DOWNLOAD: iOS / Android

2. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device

A constant wifi connection is a necessity these days, especially when you’re away on a trip. You’ll need it to translate, do research, use ride-sharing apps, and find your favorite K-drama filming locations. We never go anywhere now without renting a pocket wifi device first.

You can stay connected in Seoul by renting a pocket wifi device or buying a sim card. We always rent pocket wifi devices but sim cards are perfectly fine too. They’re even cheaper.

Regardless of your preference, you can rent a pocket wifi device or buy a sim card through Klook. If you’re in Asia, then be sure to go through the list as it may be cheaper to pick it up from your origin country.

3. Get an Integrated Palace Ticket

If you want to visit as many palaces as you can in Seoul, then you should definitely get an integrated palace ticket. Entrance to four major palaces — Changdeokgung (including Huwon), Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung — plus Jongmyo Shrine will normally cost you a total of KRW 17,000 for adults. With the integrated palace ticket, you’ll have access to all five for just KRW 10,000.

4. Check for Discount Passes

I love going through e-commerce sites to find travel deals. I’ve bought vouchers from several different websites but for Seoul, my favorites are Klook, Get Your Guide, and KKday. They have the widest selection at the best prices.

If you’re looking for deals on tours, shows, theme parks, and airport transfers in Seoul, then check out Klook, Get Your Guide, and KKday. Even if I don’t buy anything, I often find interesting activities that I may not think of myself so it’s always worth a look.

5. Get Travel Insurance

Whether or not to get travel insurance depends on where we’re going, how long we’re staying there, and most importantly, what we’ll be doing. If all we’re doing is visiting Hong Kong and feasting on street food for a few days, then we may not get it. But if we plan on doing more physical things, things that could get us hurt, then we’ll definitely get travel insurance.

We buy insurance from World Nomads or SafetyWing. They’re both reliable travel medical insurance providers used by many long-term travelers. Check out my article on why we buy travel insurance for more information. You can follow the links to get a free quote from World Nomads or SafetyWing.

6. Bring the Right Power Adapter

Electrical outlets in South Korea are round so plugs are typically Type C or Type F. Be sure to bring the right power adapters for your devices. Electrical voltage is 220/230V.

VISA INFORMATION (for Filipinos)

If you’re a Philippine passport holder, then you’ll need to secure a tourist visa to South Korea. Provided that all your documents are in order, then you shouldn’t have any problems. Check out my article on how to apply for a South Korea visa for a step-by-step process.

Have fun!

By no means am I an expert on Seoul but I do hope that you find this guide helpful. I’m only sharing some of the things I’ve learned from our trips. If you have any questions, then please feel free to ask us in the comment section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well.

Thanks for stopping by and have fun in the land of K-pop and kimchi!

OUR GEAR

These are some of the things we brought with us to Seoul. If you’d like to see what other gear we bring with us on trips, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)

Disclosure

This travel guide contains affiliate links, which means we’ll earn a small commission if you make a booking at no extra cost to you. We only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as this helps us make more of these free travel guides. Thank you!

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There are 79 comments for this article
  1. karen at 4:42 pm

    interesting and thank you for the great ideas???

  2. Florence Joy Octaviano at 6:00 am

    Thank you so much for this. It’s very helpful. My son and I are visiting Seoul in May 2019. I hope we can go into all tourist spots in 5 days.

  3. Cecilia at 5:05 pm

    Hi your post is very useful for 1st timer like me.
    Tks a lot.

  4. Crissy at 5:47 pm

    This is a good read. Thanks!! 🙂
    I just wish that I read this before I booked our trip. Booked for Sept 4-10 this year which is probably too early to experience the vibrant colors of Fall season. 🙁

  5. Fe at 2:30 pm

    This is a good read especially for our coming trip this April. Very helpful info.. Thank you so much?

  6. Farida at 6:10 am

    This article is so useful. Thanks a lot.

  7. Jessica at 12:07 am

    hi, I am planning to visit seoul by the end of this year. I hope you don’t mind me asking this question. How much is your total expenses? 🙂

  8. JB & Renée Macatulad at 8:16 am

    Hi Jessica, I’m sorry but I don’t recall exactly how much we spent but you can refer to the BUDGET / SUMMARY OF EXPENSES section of this article for budget suggestions. Hope that helps and have a great time in Korea. 🙂

  9. Bjoy at 5:21 pm

    Awesome article.. Thanks a lot.

    I just would like to ask regarding filling-up the application form, the item there about “Estimated Travel Cost” , does it include the airfare and accommodation? or it’s just the pocket money you’ll be spending once you arrived Korea?

    Thank you in advance.. 🙂

  10. Salma S. at 9:38 pm

    Thank you so much for this amazing post with great visuals! This is such a help to me as an American moving to Seoul for two months. This helped me to create an optimal plan to knock everything off of my bucket list. I appreciate you writing this!

  11. JB & Renée Macatulad at 8:47 am

    You’re welcome Salma! Happy to hear that it helped you out. Enjoy your time in Seoul! Looking forward to going back there ourselves in a few months. 🙂

  12. Cla at 8:01 am

    These are all gem! Thank you for the tips! Cant wait for my trip in 2 weeks time.

  13. Lyn Mape at 2:14 pm

    Hi! Can you comment on the Discover Seoul Pass sold in Klook? Based on the good reviews, I am thinking of buying but am not sure if I will be able to maximize the 72 hour pass. Thanks!

  14. JB & Renée Macatulad at 8:44 am

    Hi Lyn, I’m sorry but we’ve never used the Discover Seoul Pass so I can’t say from experience. Based on what people have said though, it seems like the 48 or 72 hours passes are easier to maximize so yes, it might be a good idea. Hope that helps and enjoy Korea! 🙂

  15. joms at 12:04 pm

    Hi. May I know if the lines are long in Everland right now? I plan to go to Everland this April 17,2019 (wednesday). How many minutes does it take to ride? Thanks.

  16. JB & Renée Macatulad at 2:44 am

    Hi Joms, I think the lines at Everland are always long no matter what time of year you go. Best to go straight there soon as the park opens.

  17. George at 7:36 am

    Thank you for the very informative blog. Certainy a great help for our first trip to Seoul.

    We plan to be in Seoul last week of May for 10 nights. Would you be kind enough to suggest a feasible itinerary for us. We are 3 and staying near Seoul station. It seems that 10 nghts is a little too long for just Seoul.

    We like to try some authentic Korean food. Since we are all in the early 60s, we can take it in a little more leisurely. Kindly send your suggested itinerary to our email. Any tips and sugestion will be most appreciated

  18. Fati at 6:19 am

    concerning Heyri Art Valley, we should take hapjeong subway, it will take us to which station next ? Before taking the bus that will drive us to the museum.
    Thank u

  19. Vanessa at 10:10 pm

    What an amazing article! Beautifully comprehensive!! I spent 2 weeks in South Korea in May and will be returning in Sept. I wondered if you had any tips on how to meet up with people for the evenings. I’ll be going alone again. I really felt that I missed out on the “night life” and sociable restaurant gatherings the last time I went and don’t want to do the same thing this time! I’m female, late 30’s but could honestly make friends with a rock LOL I will be staying in hotels because hostels just aren’t my thing but maybe I should change that thought process???? Would be great to hear if you have any ideas! Thanks ! 🙂

  20. JB & Renée Macatulad at 8:25 am

    Hi Vanessa, happy to hear you enjoyed Seoul so much! We love it too and are planning a return trip in 2020. 🙂 Were you looking to meet locals or expats?

  21. Jennifer at 3:44 pm

    Hi thank you for these infos. Helps a lot to my inquiries. But I would like to ask where to purchase the integrated palace tickets?

  22. Lawrence at 3:41 am

    Thank you for these! I wanted to get an idea how I should plan my trip to Korea and these most def helped. My girlfriend had been convincing me to go there since we were together but I do not know much about Korea. Next year on May timeframe, I will surprise her a trip to Korea.

    Lawrence
    From San Diego, CA

  23. Ferdinand at 5:23 pm

    Hi, I would like to ask if you had an idea about Korean visa for family travelling. One of my cousins daughter is planning to travel with us in Korea. She is a college student, legal age. My brother will be sponsoring her expenses. The requirements for student is the same? Or do we had to comply with the Parents documents requirements as stated on the requirements for Korean visa for students?

  24. JB & Renée Macatulad at 8:11 am

    Hi Ferdinand, that’s a good question. I think student requirements would be most applicable but best to consult with the travel agency to be sure.

  25. Kerst at 12:24 am

    Hi, thank you for being informative and detailed. We are planning to travel next year to Korea. Maybe 4D & 3N ( for budget) and hopefully to be back again. But, can I ask for the T Money Card, does every person need to purchase or one card is enough for 4-5 persons traveling?
    Thanks!

  26. Krista Lois at 12:42 am

    Wow. 1st time search I didnt expect that it covers all we need to know. Thank u so much. We are 3 (my sid and boyfriend) and 8 days tour. Do u have 8 day diy itnerary… maybe we can stay to 4 places in korea…

  27. Jerome Martin Pangan at 12:48 am

    Hi we will be at korea on June 16 to 25.2020. will this season be ok? I read that we should avoid this month.. but we had choice because this is promo flight and I saved a lot hehehe.

  28. JB & Renée Macatulad at 8:49 am

    Hi Krista, no sorry but I don’t. It’s easy to stretch out our suggested itinerary to 8 days though. You can spend a few days just relaxing and shopping or even taking more day trips. Bukhansan National Park and Jeonju come to mind. You can refer to THIS ARTICLE for day trip suggestions. Hope that helps and enjoy your trip. 🙂

  29. JB & Renée Macatulad at 8:55 am

    Hi Jerome, June should be ok. Ren went to Seoul in mid to late June of this year and she said it wasn’t as hot as she thought it would be. It was still pleasant. Hope that helps! 🙂

  30. Elizabeth at 7:41 am

    Thank you for such an in depth article! Currently planning a 10 day trip for next spring.

  31. Alya at 3:33 pm

    Thank you so much for these much information, it’ll surely help us alot,
    Thank you

  32. Joel at 12:19 pm

    Wow, what an awesome, thorough guide to Seoul. Thanks very much for all this information 🙂

  33. Melissa at 11:44 am

    will definitely follow your tips here…esp the food finds.

  34. Andrea Tan at 9:03 am

    Thanks for your very informative article. May I ask which Guesthouse in Hongdae did you stay in and how was your experience with it? Thanks!

  35. Alice at 12:45 pm

    Hi, thank you so much for sharing your experience and all the details . It’s a real useful and helpful guide for a 1st timer like me. My husband and I are planning a trip this coming Nov, based on your itinerary, which area is the most convenience place to stay, in term of transportation, can you advise? Thank you

  36. JB & Renée Macatulad at 8:35 am

    Hi Alice, happy to hear you found it useful! The metro system in Seoul is excellent so it’s super easy to get around. Many people stay in Myeongdong because it has everything – shopping, food, entertainment, etc. It’s near metro and bus stops so transportation won’t be problem. Hope that helps!

  37. fe at 11:38 pm

    very useful information. i will really use these for our november 2019 travel itinerary.

    just wanna make sure of the schedule of buses travelling from Incheon Airport to Seoul because we will arrived in Incheon Airport by 11pm
    i wanted to know if there are still buses going to Seoul by midnight

  38. Charlie at 4:03 pm

    Hi!!! We have just returned from the most amazing trip to Seoul, and I had to come on here and thank you guys as your wonderful advice made our adventure so much more varied and interesting, and a lot less stressful than it might have been.
    We used your sample itinerary as a basis, just adapting it a little. Can I make a few observations / suggestions? 🙂

    Cookin’ Nanta show – this is an absolute must-see. We were laughing for nearly 2 hours – my (7yo) daughter was picked to go up on stage (the lady nanta clearly took a shine to her whooping it up near the front row) – and they give her a chef’s hat and token to redeem after the show – this token was then swapped for a photograph of my daughter taking her bow on stage – such a wonderful little keepsake.

    Nami Island / Petit France / Railbike – As you’ve said, the Petit France visit was the “weakest” part of the trip. The guide told us that the order of the day gets swapped about depending on the slot the group has been given for the railbikes, so Petit France was first on the list, and it really was quite special as the fog was still hanging around on the surrounding hillsides. Nami Island was as beautful as you have already described it, and not too busy in Mid-October. I’m glad we did the railbikes last as they are the true show-stopper and the best way to see the scenery up close – and the day had warmed up nicely by 4pm. I think because of the Rail-bike, you can only book this trip on Mon, Wed and Friday in the week.

    Palace visits : It might be worth making clear that one of the palaces is closed on Monday and another on Tuesday so if you go on one of those days you will only get to see one of them – I see that you do mention the opening times etc but I didn’t really take it in. Also, with the Secret Garden you can choose not to take the guided tour, but you can still only gain entry at certain start-times (that match the guided tours).

    The highlight of my daughter’s visit was undoubtedly the day spent at Lotte World. However, there is quite a few attractions you still have to pay for that I wouldn’t have expected. There is mini “zoo” which really isn’t worth the extra money, some of the exhibits are stuffed. Also, beware of height restrictions on the rides if you’re with little kids. My daughter is tall for 7, and certainly much taller than most similarly aged Korean kids on site, but the height restrictions seem much more draconian than what I am used to here in the UK. Even the bumper cars / dodgems had a height restriction.

    The Lotte World Aquarium was a real revelation and much much more impressive than I might’ve expected. You will easily spend 2 hours in here there is so much to see.

    The Lotte Tower itself is utterly breathtaking. Having visited the N-Seoul tower earlier in the week, I thought I might be towered-out, but this really is on (excuse the pun) another level. And the show-manship on display when you get to the top of the elevator is really quite something.

    Oh, and one more thing – don’t let the poor Trip Advisor reviews of the N-Seoul cable car put you off using it. Yes, they do cram you in a little, but the view from the car really isn’t that great, especially when you consider the view you’ll be getting at the top anyway…

    So, again, thankyou for all your amazing advice.

    Oh, and on a food tip, the amazing pizza restaurant Candle 1978 near the cable car station (bottom end) is well worth a visit – their breaded pork was out of this world.

  39. Vicki Sloan at 5:13 am

    Very insightful! Planning my trip from scratch and this provided me with a lot of small details that will make a world of difference once I get to South Korea. Thank you so much!

  40. JB & Renée Macatulad at 9:01 am

    Oh wow! Thank yo so much for the very detailed post Charlie! This will be very helpful to other travelers. Really happy to hear that you had an amazing time in Seoul. It really is a great city to visit, especially if it’s your first time. And that’s wonderful to hear about your daughter’s experience at the Cooking Nanta show! It’s always great to travel then come home with unexpected memories like that. Thanks again and all the best! 🙂

  41. Lau at 12:11 pm

    Hi,

    May I know the date that you went to Korea?

  42. Jonny at 10:52 pm

    Hi we are visiting korea on nov 13 to 18. Is it going to be very cold? Could you suggest the type of outfit we can bring?

  43. JB & Renée Macatulad at 8:47 am

    Hi Jonny, you can refer to THIS WEBSITE for the weather in Seoul. Are you accustomed to traveling to colder countries in winter? If not, then you may find it fairly cold in Korea. We were there in early December once and it was pretty cold, especially the wind. Sweaters, thicker jackets, thermal underwear, gloves, and hats may be necessary. I had all of that except for the thermals and I remember my legs getting really cold from the wind. Hope that helps and enjoy your trip. 🙂

  44. Wendy at 2:43 pm

    Hi, I am planning for a tour to Korea and this is my first trip to visit this country. We have 4 pax in a group. I am wondering if its a good idea to do DIY tour or hire a local guide?

  45. JB & Renée Macatulad at 4:10 pm

    Hi Wendy, that’s really up to you. Personally, we rarely hire guides because we like to explore on our own. It’s easy to do in a city like Seoul that has an excellent public transportation system. But if you want to learn more about a place, then getting a guide isn’t a bad idea. Hope that helps and enjoy Korea. 🙂

  46. Larissa at 11:48 am

    Very helpful insights for first time travel like me, thanks a ton!! Looking forward to more of your great travel sharing 😉

  47. V at 5:20 pm

    will you recommend to stay in a same place or stay in 2 different places, though visiting in Seoul only? usually does anyone stay at 2 different places for a 7 days trip in Seoul?

  48. JB & Renée Macatulad at 12:00 pm

    Hi V, it’s easy to get around Seoul using public transportation so no need to stay at two different places. Hope that helps and enjoy your trip! 🙂

  49. Jay at 8:32 am

    If you have already decided to go to Seoul and want to take a snap or shoot in Seoul, you can enjoy this program with the cheap price.
    I would like to recommend to enjoy it if you want to record something in your memories.

  50. Harlene at 10:24 pm

    this is a very detailed blog for first timers like me. thank you.

  51. Sam Minjae at 3:16 pm

    Woah, what an incredible guide!

    Was planning on visiting Korea for the first time this year (my family are originally from Busan) but obviously that has changed! Hopefully we will be able to go next year.

    Can’t wait to eat authentic food! Have bookmarked some of these places

    Sam xx

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