Over the years, I have had so many people ask me for travel tips in Seoul such as where to go, what to eat and how to get around the city. So I have decided to write it down here and refer people to this post in future. The caveat here would be that my suggestions are most suitable for people travelling without children, and are reflective of what I like. I will describe the options available based on what I know and then state my personal preferences.
Where to stay: I tend to orientate myself in Seoul as a city that is divided by the Hangang River. You can choose to stay north of Hangang where the palaces, museums, markets, Namsan and other attractions are situated, or stay south of Hangang where you have easy access to the high-end shopping areas such as Gangnam and Apgujeong. Whichever area that you choose to stay in, try to pick a hotel that is close to an airport bus stop and a subway station.
I have always stayed north of Hangang, usually in Myeongdong and occasionally, in Insadong or Seodeomun. I love the convenience of staying in Myeongdong. It is an area where I can find plenty of fun, shopping and local food options the minute I step out of my hotel. Strolling along the bustling streets of Myeongdong at night, tasting a variety of Korean street food at the numerous food carts lining the streets, wandering in and out of the plethora of cosmetics and skincare shops are activities that I never seem to tire of. Myeongdong has access to two subway lines: the green subway line (Line 2) and the light blue subway line (Line 6). It is also an easy walk to the palaces, Insadong, Cheongyechon stream, Namdaemun market etc.
How to get to and from Incheon airport: Seoul city is accessible from Incheon by taxi, the airport Express train or the airport bus. It would take anything between 45mins to two hours depending on traffic conditions.
Taxi: I have not taken the taxi to the city before so I am not sure what the cost would be. I reckon that it would cost a bit given the distance between the airport and the city. The taxi option would be worth it if there are at least three to four of you in the group. If you do, check that the taxi has enough boot space to carry all the luggage.
AREX Express: The non-stop Airport Railroad Express Train (AREX) from Incheon to Seoul Station costs 8,000 Won per person. It is a quick and convenient option, especially if your hotel is within close proximity to Seoul Station (which is north of Hangang). For those who are not staying near Seoul Station, you have to get off the AREX and commute to your hotel by subway or a taxi. For some reason, I have never taken the AREX Express before, and I should give it a try one day.
Airport Bus: This is my preferred option as the bus is comfortable, convenient, affordable and frequent. It usually takes about an hour to get into the city. [Travel tips in Seoul: Depending on the traffic condition, the bus could take up to two hours especially during peak hours.] The airport bus ticketing counter is located right outside the departure hall of Incheon. Tell the staff at the counter the name of your hotel and they will let you know the airport bus number and the bus-stop. Ticket price varies depending on destination – I pay 14,000 Won to go to Myeongdong. You can also find the bus routes here.
The bus handlers will carry your suitcase into the luggage compartment of the bus, and you can snooze your way into the city. Once the bus enters the city, you will start to hear announcements of the stops being made in English. At each designated stop, the bus driver will alight from the bus and remove the pieces of luggage from the compartment based on the luggage tag. Pick up your luggage and off you go. Easy-peasy!
How to get around: My preferred mode for travelling around in Seoul is by the subway, and where possible, on foot. The subway is cheap, convenient and reliable. Travel tips in Seoul: Get the T-money stored value card so you do not have to deal with buying subway tickets and loose change. The T-money stored value card is available at the subway stations and some hotels sell the card too. The T-money card is super handy as it can be used at the convenience shops, on the airport bus, in taxis and for lockers at the train stations.
Unlike Tokyo, taxis are very affordable in Seoul. They charge metered fares with a flat flag-down rate. No peak hour surcharges too! Just be sure to take the white and orange taxis – the black ones charge are pricier. Travel tips in Seoul: The taxis also have a free English translation service to help foreigners with difficulty communicating with their taxi drivers. I have used it several times and found it to be extremely helpful. The taxi driver calls the translator on his phone in the taxi, passes the phone over to you for you to speak to the translator and the translator will let the taxi driver know what your instructions are.
Travel tips in Seoul: I avoid taking taxis during peak hours due to the congestion, especially if you are travelling across the Hangang River. The roads around the Hangang get very congested during peak hours so you are better off taking the subway. For those of you who wonder about safety, I frequently travel to Seoul on my own and have found taxis to be safe for a lone female traveller.
When to go: For nice weather and scenery, I would suggest spring time or autumn. I find the Korean weather to be too hot in summer and too cold in winter.
Spring time is lovely especially during the plum blossom season. Lots of gorgeous flowering trees to be enjoyed in the city. My favourite season to visit Korea is during fall, sometime between end October and the first two weeks of November. The autumn foliage in Korea is intense and wild. The sights of the vibrant orange, red and yellow colours never fail to take my breath away. The autumn air is crisp and cold, and perfect to indulge in piping hot pots and kimchi stews. I have been fortunate to have acquired many happy autumn memories in Seoul.