It was an early morning in January, the snow was coming down at a rapid pace which meant a snow day from work! As I was waking up, my first instinct was to check what flight deals were going on. So I went on one of my favorite websites, The Flight Deal, and saw a sale going on to Asia. I instantly sent a text out to my siblings to see if they’d be interested in doing a family trip there. Of course, they were all for it. So, we all agreed that Seoul would be the ideal destination. Within minutes, I had booked four roundtrip tickets to Seoul for Thanksgiving week with the family. The total came out to be $2,032.00 ($508 per person), an amazing deal!
I had 10 months until the trip, so plenty of time to plan everything out. Luckily for me, a few of my friends had previously visited Seoul and many stayed there for months. They gave me tips on where to stay, what to do, and what to expect. That information along with extensive google searches on where to eat allowed me to feel completely prepared for my trip come November.
Here you will find just about everything you need to know about visiting Seoul.
Subway: The best means of transportation in Seoul. There are stations located all around the city. Keep in mind that these stations are HUGE. It’s important to know which exit to walk out of since there are numerous exits in each station. The maps are also easy to read and navigate, so you’ll know exactly which stop to get off at. Download the app City Mapper. This app will let you know which train to take, which stop to get off at, and what exit to walk out of. It was an absolute life saver during my trip!
Uber: Uber is available in Seoul, but there are limited drivers. Although we mainly took the subway, there were a few occasions where we ordered an Uber instead. We did this for subway routes that had 2 or more transfers in order to save ourselves some time. However, since there are limited drivers we sometimes had to wait 15 minutes or more for a driver to be available.
Airbnb: The apartment I booked through Airbnb was ideal for our trip. Located in Hongdae, it was right next to the Hongik station and near many cafes and restaurants. During my search for the perfect place, I came across so many options. My advice would be to find a place near a subway station. As always, be sure to read the reviews for each posting on Airbnb! Also read the details and know exactly what the place offers.
A few things we noticed while staying in Seoul:
- Body towels are limited. The size of towels provided were the size of hand towels in the US.
- Beds are stiff and do not have bedsheets
- Wifi is extremely fast
- Shower space is small
- Price of toiletries were high
THINGS TO KNOW
- AIRPORT TRANSFERS: There is a subway train at both airports (Incheon and Gimpo) that will take you directly into Seoul. Tickets can be purchased at the information booth located in the airport or at kiosks. They have an English option, so it’s extremely easy to navigate.
- AREX All Stop Train: This line heads to Seoul Station, but makes multiple stops on the way. It is about a 50 minute ride all the way to Seoul Station.
- AREX Express Train: This train takes you directly to Seoul Station without any stops. If your stop isn’t available on the All Stop Train then you can take this line to Seoul Station. From there you can transfer lines to get to exactly where you need to be.
- CURRENCY: The Korean Won is used in Seoul. Although cards are accepted in many restaurants and shops, you will need cash for all street food. Banks in Seoul actually offer a good exchange rate, so it is best to exchange your money there.
- COSTS: The prices in Seoul were pretty comparable to that of the United States. However you can find bargain deals for cosmetics! Also, the grocery at Lotte was extremely cheaper than what you would find at the Lotte stores in the US.
- TIPPING: Tip is not common nor expected in Seoul.
- LANGUAGE: Not many locals spoke English besides at the airport. Store fronts were in Korean characters, which sometimes made it hard to find a specific restaurant. Surprisingly, it was fairly easy to get around even with the language barrier. Majority of menus at restaurants had English, so you could simply point to what you wanted to order.
- SAFETY: I never felt unsafe in Seoul even when I walked around by myself. Of course you always need to be aware of your surroundings. Like many places, be cautious of pick pocketers.
THINGS TO DO
- SHOP, DRINK, AND EAT IN HONGDAE: The “hip” part of Seoul filled with cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops. This is where I stayed during my trip and I loved it! There were times where we didn’t even need to leave the area because there was so much to do in Hongdae. The nightlife here is also top notch since it’s around the universities.
- TRY ALL STREET FOOD IN MYEONGDONG: Seoul is filled with street vendors serving up delicious food. I wrote a whole post on the different vendors you can find in Myeongdong.
- EXPLORE THEMED CAFES: One of the activities I was looking forward to most on my trip was exploring all the different themed cafés. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go to every single one I had written down because there’s just so many! Check out my post on the ones I was able to visit.
- CHANGDEOKGUN PALACE: A gorgeous palace located within a park in Jongnu-gu. Built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty, it is definitely a site to check out. Closed on Mondays.
- GWANGJANG MARKET: Although I personally wasn’t able to visit this market due to time constraints, add it to your list if you’re able to! After exploring Changdeokgun Palace, you can walk over to Gwangjang for traditional Korean food. This is one of the largest and oldest traditional markets in Seoul serving up delicious food for you to try.
- VISIT BUKCHON HANOK VILLAGE: This charming traditional village is fun to visit because it’s in the middle of the city. It’s as if you’re transported to a small town in Seoul. It is great for photo opportunities and there are plenty of cute teahouses that you can visit. Be sure to be respectful of the property and keep the noise to a minimum because people actually live in these homes!
- GO TO NORYANGJIN FISH MARKET: This fish market has all the seafood you could dream of. Even better, they’re at an affordable price. You can purchase your items at any one of the set ups and then take them to the corresponding restaurant (upstairs) where they will prepare your selection for you at a reasonable price. This is where I was able to check off a bucket list item: eating live octopus sashimi.
- CREATE YOUR OWN FLIP BOOK: This small store creates a lifetime memory and souvenir. It’s simple and quick. We made two flip books that we continue to look back on and laugh about.
- GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE: The largest palace located in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung is a must visit. Be sure to check out the Guard Changing Ceremony that takes place daily at 10Am and 2PM. Closed on Tuesdays.
- DONGDAEMUM DESIGN PLAZA: One of my favorite spots in Seoul. This modern display of art is simply breathtaking. There is a variety of exhibits to check out and also restaurants in the main building for when the hunger kicks in. Visitors can easily spend a few hours at this plaza.
- CHEONGGYCHEON STREAM: Located near the Dongdaemum Plaza, this stream runs along the center of the roads. We walked along the stream at night, but I can only imagine how lovely it’d be during the day. People flock here during the warm weather to dip their feet in the cool water.
- GO ON A DMZ/JSA TOUR: Book in advance! I wasn’t able to partake in this tour of the joint security area (a look into North Korea) due to no vacancy with any tour companies. I contacted two different companies (Cosmojin and Seoul City Tour) about three weeks before my trip and they were all booked for the week I would be there. After extensive research, I read that the JSA tour is ideally what you’d want to go on to get safely near North Korea without supporting that regime.
WHERE TO EAT
- MAPO JEONG DAEPO (183-8 Dohwa-dong, Mapo-gu): The Best Galmaegisal
- SOBOK (58 Eoulmadang-ro, Mapo-gu): Brown Rice Ice Cream
- EULJI MYUN OAK (72-1 Chungmu-ro, Jung-gu): Naengmyeon – Cold Noodles
- PIGGY BANK STONE GRILL KOREAN BBQ (331-1 Seokyo-Dong, Mapo-gu): Korean BBQ
- COCO BRUNI (Donggyu-dong, Mapo-gu): Dessert
- YEOLBONG CHICKEN (Seokyo-Dong, Mapo-gu): Fried Chicken
- KOREAN GINSENG CHICKEN SOUP (170-3 Gahoe-dong, Jongno-gu): Variety of ginseng chicken soup
- YOOGANE (13, Myeongdong 10-gil, Jung-gu): Chicken Galbi with Cheese
- GOPCHANG in HONGDAE: Beef Intestines – This restaurant served up some delicious intestines, which is something I never thought I’d say. We didn’t catch the name or address of this place because everything, including the menus, was in Korean. We actually didn’t know what we were ordering, but glad it turned out okay! Definitely try beef intestines while in Korea, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Seoul was such an amazing experience. The food was spectacular and pretty much ruined me as far as Korean BBQ expectations goes. I loved the culture, the people, the shopping, and everything in between. I encourage each and every one of you to add this city to your travel bucket list!