Seoul is some of the most amazing cities in Asia which features an ancient district with well-preserved palaces and villages inside a modern city. This harmonious blend of old and new, along with mouth-watering food and amazing landscape has made Seoul top the list for not-to-be-missed destinations. This blog post will serve as my Seoul travel guide which includes some information about best places to visit, how to get around the city, travel itinerary and budget.
1. Everything you need to know about Seoul
Before showing my Seoul travel guide, let’s talk about some things you need to know about the capital of South Korea:
1.1. Life in Seoul is not what you typically see on K-drama
Seoul is no stranger to K-drama lovers. Seoul’s depiction on screen is what dreams are made of with handsome oppas, glamourous clothes and lavish life. However, life in Seoul is not what you typically see on K-drama.
As the capital city and economic hub of South Korea, nearly 50% of the country’s total population lived in Seoul. The city experiences high population density rates, top-the-global-chart living expenses and also tough competition for work opportunities.
It will be not easy to make ends meet in such a big city like Seoul and the majority of Seoulites suffer from long-term stress. So don’t expect to see exactly what you see in K-dramas when paying a visit to Seoul.
1.2. Seoul is the world capital for plastic surgery
When you see someone whose face is covered with bandages strolling around the streets of Seoul, don’t be afraid. It is not a strange thing in Korea.
Seoul is renowned as the world capital for plastic surgery and having plastic surgery is common for Koreans. Most popular plastic surgery centers can be found in Gangnam, some of the names include Banobagi Plastic Surgery, JW Plastic Surgery, ID Hospital,…
And Seoul now is not only an ideal choice for plastic surgery for Koreans, but also foreigners. However, keep in mind that it will be expensive to have plastic surgeries in Seoul as a foreigner.
2. Best time to visit Seoul
2.1. Seoul climate overview
Seoul experiences four distinct seasons and each has something unique to offer visitors. Below are some quick recaps about seasons in Seoul.
a. Spring (Mar – May): Gentle breezes and warm weather with beautiful blossoms. From the end of March to mid April, the city will be dominated by a pastel pink color from cherry blossoms.
But keep in mind that there will be a huge difference between day and night temperatures. The temperature can drop to 0°C (or less) during the night and it reaches up to 20°C during daytime.
b. Summer (Jun – Jul): Summer is the hottest and wettest time of the year. The average temperature ranges from 22 to 31°C, sometimes it can reach up to 38°C. And the city can be affected by some typhoons and tropical cyclones during this season.
c. Autumn (Sep – Nov): When the heat has gone, the temperature and precipitation start to go down. The transition from summer to autumn also brings some changes to leaves. And viewing autumn colors is one of the most popular activities in South Korea
d. Winter (Dec – Feb): The weather in winter generally ranges between -10 and 0. Snowfalls are relatively rare and not abundant.
However, the first snowfall is definitely meaningful in South Korea as there are romantic customs behind it. If you watch the first snowfall with the person you like, true love will blossom between both and it will be long-lasting.
2.2. Best time to visit Seoul
The best times to visit Seoul are from March to May and from September to November, when the weather is mild and the view is amazing. Spring comes with pinkish cherry blossoms, white fall covers the city with red, orange and yellow.
Air quality is a concern all year round in Seoul, and so is Hanoi (where I live). Make sure to wear a face mask whenever going out (wearing a face mask is common in South Asia and it is a best way to protect yourself not a sign of diseases).
3. Places to stay in Seoul
Seoul has a total of 25 “gu” (or districts), but let’s forget all about gu as it will not help you in finding an accommodation.
Choosing a place to stay in Seoul depends on what you wish to see and do during your trip. Myeongdong, Hanok Bukchon, Hongdae are some of the best places to stay in Seoul
Myeongdong and Hongdae are good places for shopping, while Hanok Bukchon is just a few steps away from popular tourist attractions.
a. Myeongdong: Myeongdong is definitely the best option for shopping lovers as this is where you can find popular brand names and most updated trends.
b. Hanok Bukchon: A good place to experience hanok (a traditional Joseon-era house) which may cost you more than other places in town.
c. Hongdae: Home to Hongik University, the Hongdae area is a great place to experience a more local side to the city and is famous for its nightlife.
d. Gangnam: If you wish to do some plastic surgery during your Seoul trip, Gangnam is definitely the best place. Gangnam is where most famous plastic surgery centers are located such as Banobagi Plastic Surgery, JW Plastic Surgery, ID Hospital,…
4. How to travel around Seoul
4.1. How to travel from Incheon Airport to city center
Located 49km away from Seoul, Incheon airport is the main gateway of the country which received a total of 70 millions passengers in 2019. There are three options to make the 49 km journey from Incheon Airport to the city center, as following:
a. AREX Train Airport Railroad Express (AREX): There are two different services which AREX operated from Incheon International (ICN) airport to Seoul namely, Express Train and the All Stop train.
The express train runs directly in 40 minutes to Seoul Station, while All Stop Train stops at different stations along the way. And that is the reason why the express one costs double than the regular, 9,500₩ and 4,150₩ respectively.
b. Taxi: It takes about 45,000₩ and 60 minutes to reach the city. Keep in mind that there will be some extra charges for tolls and out-of-service-time travel (0:00 – 4:00).
c. Minivan: I booked this service via my hotel as my flight back to Vietnam departed at 4:00 am when the public transports were out of service. I thought it was the same as regular taxis, however it turned out to be another story. When the car arrived, the seat was preheated and blankets were prepared so we could take a short nap on the way to the airport.
4.2. How to get around the city
Since Seoul is such a big city to explore solely on foot, it is recommended to use some public transport to better roam around the city.
a. Subway: Seoul boasts one of the world’s largest urban railway networks (with 9 lines extending 327 km) making it an effective way to get anywhere in the city. The subway system is easy to use and navigate, but don’t forget to return your single-use card to take the deposit back.
b. Taxi: Taxis in Seoul can be hailed everywhere on the street. There are two main types of taxis namely standard taxis which are orange, yellow or sometimes grey; and deluxe taxis which are black. Make sure to get in the right taxis, if you don’t want to enjoy an unincidental higher rate.
c. On foot: The capital city of Seoul is surrounded by a mountainous and hilly landscape, so walking seems like hiking. So forget all about high heels or boots, pack some comfortable pair of shoes.
5. Seoul must visit places
There is no better place to enjoy Seoul to the fullest than Myeongdong. Trendy cosmetic shops, fancy street vendors, top-rated restaurants and a historical cathedral makes Myeongdong a one-stop destination for every visitor.
Myeongdong is always packed with people no matter day or night. Tourists for no reason get lost in the streets of Myeongdong. And when they find the way out, they will take along a handful of shopping bags.
Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is one of the must-see historic attractions in the capital of Korea. As the largest of the Five Grand Palaces, this palace is previously home to Kings of the Joseon dynasty, the Kings’ households, as well as the government of Joseon.
There are so many things to see in Gyeongbokgung other than gorgeous palaces including Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, guard changing ceremony and national folk museum. Don’t forget to wear hanbok (Korean traditional clothes) to enjoy free admission to Gyeongbokgung.
5.3. Namsan Tower
There is no better building to be called an iconic landmark in Seoul than Namsan Tower. Namsan Seoul Tower has served as both a communication tower and a tourist place. Located in the geographical center of Seoul, Namsan Tower offers 360° and unobstructed views of the whole city.
Besides that, Namsan Tower is also a place for lovers. And this is the reason why you can see many lovelocks hanging on the fence (actually they are hanged in any available space of the balcony area).
5.4. Hanok Bukchon
Surrounded by Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine, Hanok Bukchon is home to 900 well-preserved houses originating from the Joseon area. The whole area retains its timeless beauty thought the majority of hanoks are converted into commercial uses such as tea houses, cafes, art galleries
A stroll around Hanok Bukchon seems like a trip back in time with merely any traces of modernity. And it is also the reason why this area becomes such a popular spot for international visitors.
5.5. Namsangol Hanok
Located on the northern foot of Namsan Mountain, Namsangol Hanok offers a glimpse into Joseon-era history by displaying a collection of restored traditional Korean houses (hanok).
The five hanok in Namsangol Hanok represent different walks of life, from the middle class to high government officials, noblemen and aristocrats, which are now used as a venue for educational and cultural programs.
5.6. Lotte World Tower
Soaring 555 metre up into the air, Lotte World Tower, which is the highest building in town, adds a new horizon to Seoul’s skyline. And this 123-floor tower is where you can see every angle, every aspect of the city.
From the observation deck which spans for 7 floors (from 117th to 123rd floor), you can see high rise buildings soaring up the sky, mountains surrounding the city, and the beautiful Han River flowing through the city.
Make sure to board the observation deck before the sun goes down to catch the sunset over the Han River. It will be one of the most amazing things to experience in Seoul.
6. Best things to do in Seoul
Ancient buildings, vibrant shopping and mouth-watering food are some of the amazing things to be found in the capital city of South Korea. As a result, it will be difficult to decide what to do in Seoul during your trip. Here are my recommendations for 10 best things to do in Seoul
- Shopping in Myeongdong
- Eat til you drop
- Visit Gyeongbokgung
- Watch the cherry blossom
- Wearing hanbok
- Step back in time in Hanok Bukchon
- Admire Seoul’s skyline at Lotte World Tower
- Climb up Namsan Tower
- Booze the night out
- Take street style photo
If you wish to know more about this list and how to find things to do in Seoul, kindly see this blog post.
7. Seoul travel itinerary
As the capital of South Korea is massive, it is recommended to spend at least 4 days exploring the city. And remember to add two more days if you have long-haul flights.
When it comes to planning your itinerary for a day, try to pick nearby places for better roaming. For example, as Seokchon Lake and Lotte World Tower are close, I visited these two places in the first afternoon.
Here is my Seoul travel itinerary (please note that this itinerary is only for reference):
DAY 1: Myeongdong – Cheonggyecheon – Seokchon Lake – Lotte World Tower
My flight landed in Incheon Airport at 8:00 am and we took the AREX train to the city center. After getting to the hotel, we had lunch in Myeongdong (we stayed near Myeongdong) and took a short walk to Cheonggyecheon. We returned for hotel checking in and headed to Lotte World Tower and Seokchon Lake.
DAY 2: Itaewon – Garosu-gil – Starfield Library
As it had rained all day, so all the plans were broken off. We do some shopping and eating in Itaewon and Garosu-gil instead. In the evening, we went to Starfield Library to take some photos for Instagram.
DAY 3: Namsangol Hanok – Yeouido Park – Dragon Hill Jimjilbang – Hongdae
The morning was for Namsangol Hanok, while the afternoon was for Yeouido Park and Dragon Hill Jimjilbang. After that, we spent a boozy night out at Crafts Hans Hongdae.
DAY 4: Hanok Bukchon – Gyeongbokgung – Namsan Tower – Dongdaemun Design Plaza
We took a stroll around Hanok Bukchon and visited Gyeongbokgung. At 3 p.m, we moved to Namsan Tower Cable Car and finally made it to see the sunset. In the evening, we went to Dongdaemun Design Plaza to see the LED rose garden.
DAY 5: Hongdae – Myeongdong
We spent the whole day shopping in Hongdae and Myeongdong.
8. What to eat in Seoul
The capital city of Korea is where you can find the best foods and best restaurants of the country. As a result, it’s not difficult to search for a good restaurant in Seoul, just google the name of the food you wish to try and the name of the district you wish to dine in.
Some of the must try foods and restaurants in Seoul: Dakgalbi – Yoogane, Bulgogi – Maple Tree, Chimaek – Crafts Hans, Dakhanmari – Jin Ok Hwa Halmae Wonjo Dakhanmari, Mandu – Myeongdong Kyoja Main, Seolleongtang – Sinseon Seolleongtang,… Kindly find this blog post for detailed reviews.
9. Seoul travel budget
Traveling to Seoul is more expensive compared to other cities in Asia. It takes me about 1100 USD for a 6D5N trip to Seoul which is nearly equal to my 10D9N trip to China (I visited 3 cities Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou).
And one more reason which makes me spend more money in Seoul is shopping. Before traveling to Seoul, I told myself not to buy too much but it turns out to be another story.
You can find my Seoul travel budget below (keep in mind that this table is only for reference)
|1. Flight ticket Hanoi-Incheon
|* Depend on the journey being made
|2. AREX train All Stops Incheon-Seoul Station
|3. 5-day transport
|* Incl metro & taxi
|4. Minivan to airport
|* Apply visa via agency
|6. Pocket wifi rental
|* Get your pocket wifi here
|7. 5-night stay
|8. Lotte World Tower
|* Book tickets in advance here
|9. Namsan Tower Cable
|10. Hanbook Rental
|12. 5-day eating cost
|≈ 1046 USD
10. Summary: Seoul travel guide
10.1. Seoul travel tips
– Visit https://english.visitkorea.or.kr/ to search for places to visit, what to do, how to travel in Seoul and South Korea.
– Tipping is not customary or expected in Seoul or Korea.
– Learn some basic Korean phrases to better communicate with vendors. It will not be any problem if you are a K-drama lover as you can mimic some basic phrases that the characters are saying.
– Google Maps is not so usable in Seoul or South Korea. That is why the Koreans don’t use Google Maps, they use KakaoMap or NaverMap instead.
10.2. Seoul travel vlog
For more information, please see my Seoul travel vlog below
10.3. Summary: Seoul travel guide
Seoul was such an amazing city to be explored. A 5 day trip is not enough for me to see and do all the things that I had planned. So I wish I could go back to Seoul to see Nami Island, Ewha Womans University and Changdeokgung.
Here is my Seoul Travel Guide. If you need any more information about traveling to Seoul, kindly see other posts below:
– MUST-USE WEBSITE TO PLAN YOUR NEXT TRIP –