Seoul Travel Guide
Estimated reading time: 15 minutes
Seoul, where the rush of a bustling subway meets the serenity of ancient palaces. It’s where neon lights wink at traditional hanboks, and street food stalls turn your taste buds into a K-pop dance party. If you’re looking for a place where history grooves with the future and where every corner reveals a new secret, Seoul is your jam!
In this Seoul travel guide, I will share with you everything you need to know for your first trip to the Korean capital. You will learn about the best time to visit Seoul, where to stay, what to do in Seoul, the Seoul itinerary and more. By the end of this guide, you will be ready to book your flight and pack your bags for a trip to Seoul!
Best Time to Visit Seoul
Seoul is a year-round destination that offers different charms and attractions in each season. However, some seasons and months are better than others depending on your preferences and interests. Here is a quick overview of what to expect in each season and month in Seoul:
Spring (March-May): Spring is one of the best times to visit Seoul as the weather is mild and pleasant, and the city is adorned with colourful flowers such as cherry blossoms, azaleas, and forsythias. You can also enjoy various festivals and events such as the Yeouido Spring Flower Festival, Lotus Lantern Festival, and Seoul Jazz Festival. However, spring is also one of the busiest and most expensive seasons in Seoul, so be prepared for crowds and higher prices.
Summer is the hottest and most humid season in Seoul, with temperatures reaching up to 35°C (95°F) and frequent rain showers. You can still enjoy some outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, or river cruising, but you might want to escape the heat by visiting some indoor attractions such as museums, galleries, or shopping malls. You can also experience some unique festivals and events such as Boryeong Mud Festival, Water Gun Festival, and Seoul International Fireworks Festival.
Autumn is my favourite time to visit Seoul as the weather is cool and crisp, and the city is transformed into a stunning palette of reds, yellows, and oranges. If you visit Seoul in Autumn you must add these spots to your Seoul itinerary: Seoul Forest, Secret Garden and Bukhansan National Park. You can also enjoy some cultural festivals and events such as Chuseok, Seoul International Film Festival, and Seoul Kimchi Making & Sharing Festival.
Winter is the coldest and driest season in Seoul, with temperatures dropping below zero and occasional snowfalls. You can embrace the winter wonderland by indulging in some winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, or ice skating at some of the nearby resorts or rinks. You can also celebrate some festive occasions such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or Lunar New Year.
How to reach Seoul from Incheon International Airport
Next on my Seoul travel guide is the burning question- How to reach Seoul from Incheon International Airport (ICN)? Seoul is well-connected to the rest of the world by air, with two major airports serving international flights: Incheon International Airport (ICN) and Gimpo International Airport (GMP).
If you are flying from an international destination, chances are you’ll land at ICN. The easiest and cheapest way to get from Incheon Airport or Gimpo Airport to downtown Seoul is by train. Both airports have their train stations that connect to the subway network of Seoul. You can take either the express train or the all-stop train from Incheon Airport or Gimpo Airport to various destinations in Seoul. The express train is faster and I recommend taking that, you can buy the ticket online. But I suggest booking the seat offline at the kiosk since the time taken at immigration could vary.
Another option to get from Incheon Airport or Gimpo Airport to downtown Seoul is by bus. Both airports have several bus terminals that offer different types of buses such as limousine buses, standard buses, or city buses. If you are travelling from ICN, hop on a limousine bus that takes about 1 hour to reach Myengdong and costs 17,000 won per adult.
How to get around in Seoul
Seoul is a well-developed city that has an efficient and convenient public transportation system. You can easily get around Seoul by using the subway, bus, taxi, or bike. Here is a brief description of each mode of transportation and how to use it:
This is the fastest and easiest way to get around Seoul, as it covers most of the city and connects to many attractions. You can use one of the 10 subway lines that are colour-coded and numbered for easy identification. I recommended purchasing a rechargeable card called T-Money at any subway station or convenience store. You can also buy a single-journey ticket from the kiosk. Download Naver Map to get the updated subway map, routes, fares, and schedules.
This is another cheap and convenient way to get around Seoul, as it covers more areas than the subway and runs more frequently. You can use one of the four types of buses that are colour-coded for easy identification: blue (main line), green (branch line), yellow (circular line), or red (express line). Simply pay with cash or a T-Money card when you board the bus. Naver Map is your best friend to find bus routes.
This is a more comfortable and flexible way to get around Seoul, but also more expensive than the subway or the bus. Choose from one of the three types of taxis that are colour-coded for easy identification: grey or white (regular), orange (deluxe), or black (premium). You can hail a taxi on the street, call one by phone, or book one online. And pay with cash, a T-Money card, or a credit card when you get out of the taxi. I recommended downloading Kakao T, a cab-hailing app in South Korea.
This is a more eco-friendly and fun way to get around Seoul, especially in the spring or autumn when the weather is nice. You can rent a bike with a credit card or a T-Money card at any station. Or download the app Seoul Bike to book one online.
Do International credit cards work in Seoul South Korea?
The currency of South Korea is the won (KRW), which is divided into 100 jeon. The exchange rate as of October 2023 is about 1 USD = 1,200 KRW. During my 2 weeks in South Korea, I made all the payments using my credit cards, 90% of the establishments accept international bank cards (visa, masters & Diners Club). A couple of establishments (maybe 2-3) needed cash or a domestic card.
The KoRail vending machine only accepts domestic cards, but the ticket counter accepts international cards. Street vendors are strictly cash only.
For the next part of my Seoul travel guide let’s hop on to the best areas to stay in Seoul.
Where should I stay in Seoul?
Seoul is a huge city with many different areas and neighbourhoods to choose from. However, for first-time visitors, I recommend staying in Myeongdong, which is one of the most convenient, safe, and fun areas in Seoul. Here are some of the reasons why Myeongdong is the best area to stay in Seoul:
- Location: Myeongdong is located in the heart of Seoul, close to many must-visit Seoul attractions such as Namsan Tower, Gyeongbokgung Palace, and Cheonggyecheon Stream. It is also well-connected to other parts of Seoul by subway (Line 4) and bus.
- Shopping: Myeongdong is one of the best shopping areas in Seoul, where you can find everything from international brands to local boutiques, from cosmetics to souvenirs, from street stalls to department stores.
- Food: Myeongdong is also one of the best food areas in Seoul, where you can taste a variety of dishes from Korean cuisine to international cuisine, from street food to fine dining, from snacks to desserts. You can try some of the delicious vegan or vegetarian options such as bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables), japchae (stir-fried glass noodles with vegetables), or sundubu-jjigae (soft tofu stew) at some of the recommended places such as Oh Se Gae Hyang, Loving Hut Cafe Myeongdong, or Sanchon.
- Entertainment: Myeongdong is also one of the best entertainment areas in Seoul, where you can enjoy some cultural shows, musicals, or performances at some of the nearby venues such as Myeongdong Theater, Nanta Theater, or Klive Hologram Concert Hall. You can also have some fun at some of the quirky attractions in Seoul such as Trick Eye Museum, Alive Museum, or Running Man Thematic Experience Center.
Some other areas to stay in Seoul:
Calling all artsy peeps! From art galleries to live music venues, and indie shops to flea markets. And if you’re into fun stuff like escape rooms, VR cafes, and karaoke bars, you’re in the right place! Close to Hongik University and Trick Eye Museum.
Luxe lovers, this one’s for you! Skyscrapers, shopping malls, K-pop stars, designer boutiques – it’s swanky and upscale. Perfect for the trendy traveller. Explore COEX Mall and Bongeunsa Temple.
Seoul has plenty more to offer in areas like Insadong, Itaewon, and Dongdaemun. Pick the one that vibes with you the most.
Places to Visit in Seoul
Seoul is a city that boasts a rich history, culture, and art, as well as a vibrant and modern lifestyle. You will never run out of places to visit in Seoul, as there are so many attractions that cater to different tastes and interests. Here are some of the best places to visit in Seoul that you must add to your Seoul itinerary:
The grandest palace in Seoul, it’s been here since 1395 when the Joseon dynasty kings ruled the roost. The place is all about jaw-dropping buildings, lovely gardens, and colourful ceremonies. While you’re here, check out the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea inside. Oh, and do yourself a favour – rent a hanbok (that’s a traditional Korean dress) for some epic photos.
This 236-meter-tall (that’s a whopping 774 feet!) tower sits on Namsan Mountain, gifting you a killer view of Seoul. You can either ride a cable car or go for a hike – your call. Up top, there’s an observatory, a spinning restaurant, love locks, and a teddy bear museum. Plus, it’s the ideal spot for a killer sunset or a mesmerizing night view of Seoul.
Go, Cafe Hopping
This holds a special place in my Seoul travel guide because Seoul has some of the most aesthetic cafes that I’ve ever been to! Yes, that is a strong statement and I mean it. From minimalist, monochrome cafes to ones overflowing with flowers and vibrant colours, there’s no shortage of backdrops for your photos. For a taste of Korea’s rich culture, explore the traditional tea houses or visit a Hanok cafe. I’ll soon share a list of must-visit cafes in Seoul. But for now, refer to my Twitter thread.
Bukchon Hanok Village:
Imagine a village frozen in time, with old-school Korean houses dating back to the Joseon dynasty. That’s Bukchon Hanok Village. Walk around, and soak in the charm of these traditional houses, and some are even open for you to explore as museums, galleries, cafes, or guesthouses. If you’re up for it, you can dive deep into the culture and lifestyle of the good ol’ days in the village’s cultural centres and workshops.
Take a Day Tour:
Do you have some extra time to spare and itching to venture beyond Seoul? Join a day tour to explore the beauty around the city. Your options are pretty rad. There’s Nami Island, famous for its dreamy tree-lined paths and romantic vibes. Or the DMZ, which takes you right to the spot that separates North and South Korea, offering a peek into the history and reality of the Korean conflict. And if you’re up for some adventure, there’s Everland, a massive theme park with thrilling rides, adorable animals, and fun seasonal events.
This is a basic list, I will share a list of top things to do in Seoul soon on the blog. Subscribe and stay tuned!
Cost of Travelling to Seoul
As always I’m sharing the average cost of travelling to Seoul for three different kinds of travellers. You can be somewhere in between a backpacker and a mid-range traveller! The suggested budget for travelling to Seoul would help you get an approximate idea of your trip.
Backpackers’ Cost of Traveling in Seoul.
Total Daily Seoul Budget: Approximately 40,000 – 90,000 KRW per day.
- Accommodation: Hostels or guesthouses (15,000 – 40,000 KRW per night).
- Food: Street food and budget restaurants (10,000 – 20,000 KRW per day).
- Transportation: Public transportation, including the subway and buses (5,000 – 10,000 KRW per day).
- Activities: Free or low-cost Seoul attractions, such as palaces and parks (10,000 – 20,000 KRW per day).
Mid-Range Cost of Traveling in Seoul.
Total Daily Budget for Seoul: Approximately 125,000 – 290,000 KRW per day.
- Accommodation: 3-star hotels or guesthouses (50,000 – 150,000 KRW per night).
- Food: Dining in mid-range restaurants and trying various Korean dishes (30,000 – 60,000 KRW per day).
- Transportation: Using a combination of public transport and occasional taxis (15,000 – 30,000 KRW per day).
- Activities: Visiting museums, cultural shows, and paid Seoul attractions (30,000 – 50,000 KRW per day).
Luxury Cost of Traveling in Seoul.
Total Daily Seoul Budget: Approximately 450,000 – 850,000+ KRW per day.
- Accommodation: 5-star hotels or luxury boutique accommodations (200,000 – 500,000+ KRW per night).
- Food: Dining in upscale restaurants and experiencing gourmet Korean cuisine (100,000 – 250,000+ KRW per day).
- Transportation: Comfortable private transportation, including taxis or car rentals (50,000 – 100,000+ KRW per day).
- Activities: High-end experiences like spa treatments, exclusive tours, and performances (100,000 – 300,000+ KRW per day).
Please note that exchange rates can fluctuate, so it’s a good idea to check the current rates before your trip to get a more accurate conversion from your home currency to Korean Won. Any shopping is over and above the basic costs of travelling. Moving on with the Seoul travel guide.
How Many Days Is Ideal for a Holiday in Seoul?
Seoul is a city that has so much to offer that you can spend weeks or months exploring it. However, not all of us can spend months. So if you (just like me) have limited time and budget for your trip I suggest spending at least 5 days in Seoul to see the highlights and get a taste of the city.
In this Seoul travel guide, I’m sharing a general Seoul 5-day itinerary below. If you are looking for a customised itinerary for Seoul, reach out to me.
Seoul 5 Days Itinerary
Day 1 in Seoul
Arrive in Seoul and check in to your hotel in Myeongdong. Explore the area and enjoy some shopping and street food. Visit Namsan Tower and watch the sunset or the night view of Seoul.
Day 2 in Seoul
Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace and learn about the history and culture of Korea. Rent a hanbok and take some photos at the palace. Visit Bukchon Hanok Village and admire the traditional Korean houses. Visit Insadong and shop for some souvenirs and handicrafts. Watch a show at Myeongdong Theater or Nanta Theater.
Day 3 in Seoul
Take a day tour of Nami Island and enjoy the scenic and romantic atmosphere. Visit Petite France and feel like you are in a fairy tale. Visit the Garden of Morning Calm and marvel at the beautiful flowers and plants.
Day 4 in Seoul
Visit Cheonggyecheon Stream and walk along the green and peaceful oasis in the city. Later on, visit the Gangnam district, and take this time to pamper yourself at one of the many spas or salons. After that visit the Starfield Library, The two-story library has a 13-meter-tall bookshelf with over 50,000 books. If you are not into reading, the library is in COEX Mall, take this time to go shopping.
Day 5 in Seoul
Take a day tour to DMZ and learn about the history and reality of the Korean conflict. Visit Imjingak Park and see the Freedom Bridge and the Mangbaedan Altar. Dorasan Station and see the signboard that says “To Pyeongyang”. Visit Dora Observatory and look across the border to North Korea. Then go to the Third Tunnel and experience the tension and danger of the underground passage.
I hope this Seoul travel guide has given you some useful information and tips for your first trip to the Korean capital. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me on my website or social media channels. I would love to hear from you.