First time to Seoul, South Korea? Fret not! Everyone knows that when it comes to planning a trip to a country you’ve never been to before, things can get… quite complicated and confusing. Furthermore, given the language barrier and cultural differences, things can get 100000 times more daunting. That’s where this post comes in!
This post is here to save your trip and hopefully, with these tips and tricks, you’ll be able to have a better understanding of Seoul and learn how to better navigate (and survive) like a pro. Time to get out your handy dandy notebook and let’s get on with it!
1. Start the trip well by booking a flight at a good price
As much as you can, stay away from school & public holidays as prices can soar as high to SGD$1,400 for a return flight! Of the many times I’ve stalked airline websites, I’ve seen prices go as low as SGD$600-$650 for an all-in round-trip economy flight (on Singapore Airlines/Korean Air/Asiana Airlines) so always keep a constant lookout to score for the best deals. Better yet, sign up for their newsletters! Remember to check the airline’s baggage allowance because ~Seoul is shopping heaven~
Tip: Use the Hopper app to stay updated on the price trends, then use the data from it to decide when is the best period to book a ticket!
2. Deciding on the right place to stay
This is very important and when it comes to Seoul, you’ll be spoilt with the variety of options. Seoul is so big and diverse that different districts have different characteristics and for you to make the best decision, here is a list of the more common locations that tourists usually stay at and what each district is well-known for.
Myeongdong (명동): This is a good place to stay for the first timers! Though it’s a very touristy location with tons of cosmetic and fashion shops, salespeople (knowing that you are a foreigner) can sometimes be too pushy with their sales that it can be quite a turnoff but if you’re looking for a convenient location that’s near a lot of the main attractions, this is your best bet.
Dongdaemun (동대문): The fashion and art mecca of Seoul! If you like midnight shopping and art exhibitions, this is the right place for you. This place is also foreigner friendly like Myeongdong, just more shopping and less congested!
Insadong/Gwanghwamun (인사동/광화문): To live and breathe Korea, head on over to the center of Seoul for a more cultural immersive experience! The area is filled with traditional Korean houses (called Hanok 한옥) and palaces fit for royalty.
Tip: Wearing a traditional Korean costume (called Hanbok 한복) allows you to enter the Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁) for free!
Hongdae/Ewha (홍대/이대): Close to universities, both streets are well known for selling stylish yet affordable clothing targeted towards the younger crowd. The food there is cheap with many options to choose from!
Tip: Explore the area near Sangsu station (few streets from Hongdae) and discover lots of hidden gems. Places you can look out for are Dukes Coffee Roasters, Paul310, ChikaLicious and FELL+COLE!
Gangnam (강남): The Orchard Road equivalent in Seoul, just way bigger. Do you know that a lot of the Korean Entertainment agencies are also around the district? Gangnam spans a large area so there’s definitely lots to explore – Think Korean designer boutiques and high-end cafés! But make sure you’re staying in the shopping district (E.g. Garosu-gil) and not where all the offices are. For a list of things you can do at Gangnam, you can check this post out!
3. Plan your itinerary well!
Seoul is an incredible and exciting place. There is always something to eat, see and do, you’ll never get bored at the endless options. From mouth-watering food to unique experiences, you can never tire! For the ultimate Seoul experience, here are of some of the city’s must-visit places, tried and tested.
Bukchon Hanok Village – Busk in the rusticness of traditional Korean houses in this small village with a big history. The surrounding architecture will somehow make you feel as if you’ve traveled back in time. It is only a 9 minutes walk from Anguk station exit 2.
Everland – Your trip to Seoul is not over till you visit the local theme park! With 5 huge themed zones, you have to be ready to spend your entire day here! To get there, take a shuttle bus from Jeondae Everland station or Seoul.
Noryangjin Fish Market – When in Korea, do as the Koreans do and eat Hwe (Sliced raw fish)! This seafood market is filled to the brim with the freshest seafood, your stomach will be in for a gastronomic journey. It’s a 13 minutes walk from Noryangjin station, line 9 exit 7.
Lotte World Tower – This is the new skyscraper everyone should be visiting. Get a 360-degree panoramic view of the city and take a look down from the World’s Highest Glass-floor Observation Deck (PS: Not for the faint-hearted). It is a 9 minute walk from Jamsil station line 2 exit 2.
Han River – The icon of Seoul has got to be the Han River. Spend a lazy weekend at the scenic waterway that wends through Seoul. However you choose to wind down and relax, it’s all up to you but we highly recommend you to check the Han River cruise out!
4. Some other tips for you to take note of
– GST refund is eligible for purchases over 30,000KRW. Make sure that the shop you’re at has these signages up before asking for a refund!
– If you’re departing Seoul via any of the airlines listed here, you can check your luggage in early at the City Airport located at Seoul/Samseong station. This is especially useful if you have to check out from your accommodation early yet still want to shop. Alternatively, you can also try the Luggage Services that transport your bulky luggages directly from the hotel to airport.
– If you’re staying in Seoul for more than a day, having a T-Money (Korea’s version of Singapore’s Ez-Link) card on you is very handy! Definitely much more convenient than having to buy single trip tickets all the time. You can use it to pay for buses, subways, and even taxis! It is available at all major convenience store chains.
– After arriving at Incheon, why not opt for a ride on the Incheon Airport Bus instead of taking a taxi? It’s fast, affordable (~12,000KRW) and comfortable. It stops at major hotels and tourist attraction, and you can save yourself the hassle of being potentially cheated by a taxi driver.
Tip: You can also enjoy a fuss-free and comfortable limousine bus ride from Incheon airport to Seoul city center via the KAL Limousine Bus which gets you to downtown Seoul within an hour or so. Don’t forget to get your unlimited 4G WiFi coverage across Korea on a pay per day basis and connect up to 3 devices on the same pocket WiFi from as low as S$3/day! (If you’re sharing with 2 other friends, that’s $1/day/person!)
As a frequent traveler to Seoul, these are the handiest tips I can come up with and I really hope these helped you as much as it has helped me. Good luck and have fun in Seoul!