Seoul and South Korea have become a fascination for many people we know. Some are drawn to the beauty products, while others are captivated by the music and TV dramas. But the food is a universal love, including for us.
The global popularity of South Korean technology and pop culture has skyrocketed in recent years. This “Korean Wave” has transformed Seoul into one of Asia’s most sought-after destinations, attracting over 17.5 million international visitors in 2019.
Regrettably, the travel restrictions have hit the tourism industry hard, but we anticipate a strong rebound once borders reopen. In the meantime, you can start planning your future journey with our updated Seoul travel guide.
Discover the top activities, the most exciting neighborhoods to explore, and the most delicious dishes to heighten your anticipation for your trip to the home of kimchee, K-pop, and Korean beauty products!
VISA FOR SOUTH KOREA
You may need a visa and additional travel documents to enter South Korea. This depends on your passport. Visit iVisa.com to understand the prerequisites and apply for a visa if necessary.
For Thai people, there is no need to apply for a visa. Registering for K-ETA, or Korea Electronic Travel Authorization, is an online registration system to request entry into South Korea without a visa. There must be registration and delivery of travel information. Attach evidence and various documents into the system for the Immigration Department Inspected Proceed with approval for those who will travel to South Korea for two years. Once approved, those who will travel to Korea do not need to fill out the information on the Arrival card when arriving at the immigration checkpoint in South Korea.
You can register at https://www.k-eta.go.kr/portal/apply/index.do.
If you want to see how to register for K-ETA, you can click here.
A QUICK OVERVIEW OF SEOUL
Seoul, the capital and the most populous city of South Korea, is home to an estimated 10.29 million people within its city limits. However, when you factor in its surrounding regions, the population rises to a staggering 25.6 million, making it the second-largest metropolitan area in the world. Discover more about this bustling city with our comprehensive Seoul Travel Guide.
Given its massive workforce propelling its economy, it’s not surprising that Seoul ranks as the 4th most economically influential city, trailing only Tokyo, New York City, and Los Angeles in terms of GDP.
In recent years, South Korea has been in the spotlight for its tech, automotive, and entertainment advancements—global brands like Samsung and Hyundai hail from Korea.
K-dramas and K-pop have a worldwide audience, Myeongdong is a hub for beauty products, and Korean cuisine is loved by many. South Korea is thriving, and Seoul is at the heart of this dynamic growth.
OPTIMAL TIME TO EXPLORE SEOUL
Like Japan, South Korea experiences four distinct seasons — Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. The most favored times to explore Seoul are spring (March-May) and autumn (Mid-September – Early November) when the climate is pleasant and the scenery is most vibrant.
Both seasons are marked by a dramatic shift in color – Spring with its cherry blossom hues of pink and white and Autumn with its fiery palette of reds, oranges, and yellows. Here’s a seasonal breakdown of what to expect.
MAR-MAY: Spring is an excellent time to explore Seoul. The climate is comfortable, and the city is adorned with blossoms. If you’re keen on witnessing the cherry blossoms, aim to be in Seoul around the second week of April (approximately April 9-10). This timing offers the best opportunity to see the cherry blossoms. However, remember that the blossoms’ appearance largely depends on the weather, so there’s no guarantee they’ll be in bloom then. Planning your visit around this time or slightly earlier is advisable. Don’t forget to check the Visit Korea website for festival updates.
JUN-AUG: Summer is not the most favorable time to visit Seoul. The weather is hot and humid, there is frequent rainfall, and prices peak due to domestic tourism. If possible, avoid these months.
SEPT-NOV: Unless you want to see the cherry blossoms, autumn is arguably the best season to visit Seoul. The weather is as pleasant as spring, and the fall foliage is incredibly vibrant. Aim for late October or early November.
DEC-FEB: Winter is the ideal season if you’re interested in skiing, snowboarding, or simply experiencing snow. However, winters in Korea are frigid. We visited in early November and were taken aback by the chilly temperatures. If you can tolerate the cold, several ski resorts are accessible from Seoul.
Seoul’s Climate: Yearly Monthly Weather
For more detailed information on Seoul’s weather, visit weather-and-climate.com’s page on Seoul’s climate. For your convenience, I’ve also included graphs of the average temperature and annual rainfall below. The recommended months to visit are highlighted in April, October, and November.
HOW TO GET TO SEOUL
Your mode of travel to Seoul will depend on your location. The majority of international flights arrive at Incheon International Airport. There are multiple ways to reach downtown Seoul from Incheon. For more airport transfer details, refer to this website.
BY AIRPORT EXPRESS (AREX): This is the quickest method to reach the city from the airport. The punctual service will transport you to Seoul Station in precisely 51 minutes. The trains are comfortable and offer free wifi. Tickets can be purchased at the gate (KRW 11,000), but a discount is available if you buy them in advance through Klook. It might feel different when you look at it. How much is Alltrain? But Express will specify seats. It makes us sit comfortably. You can reach your destination.
BY ALL-STOP TRAIN: This is the second, quickest way to reach Seoul from Incheon. It will take you to Seoul Station in approximately 58 minutes and costs about half the price of the AREX (KRW 6,550). Trains operate from 5:23 AM till 11:40 PM. This is our usual mode of transport.
BY BUS: A one-way bus ticket costs KRW 5,000-15,000 and takes longer than the subway (around 80 minutes), so it’s recommended only if you arrive at Incheon during non-peak hours. Late-night airport buses to Seoul Station operate from 12MN-4:40 AM, while buses to Gangnam Express Bus Terminal run from 11:40 PM-4:20 AM. Detailed inquiries on bus routes and stops can be made at the Airport Information Desk on the 1st floor.
BY TAXI: Taxis offer convenience but at a higher cost. A taxi ride to the city takes about an hour and will cost between KRW 65,000-100,000.
BY PRIVATE TRANSFER: This is the most convenient option, though it’s also more expensive. Click on the links to book private airport transfers through Klook.
For more details on airport transfers, visit the Visit Korea website.
CURRENCY EXCHANGE IN SEOUL
The official currency in Seoul is the Korean Won (KRW).
Myeongdong is the optimal location for currency exchange. The area is abundant with money changers known to offer the best rates in the city. We’ve explored several other areas, but the rates were consistently lower.
I recommend exchanging a small amount at the airport, at most USD 100, just enough to cover your travel to the city. You can then exchange the remainder in Myeongdong.
A more favorable option nowadays is to withdraw KRW from an ATM. The rates are competitive and sometimes even superior. Ensure to inform your bank that you’ll use your ATM card overseas to avoid any issues. My ATM card works in some machines, but not all. However, I encountered no issues using it in Seoul.
TIP: Some ATMs may prompt you to proceed “with or without conversion.” Always select WITHOUT conversion. Opting for “with conversion” allows the foreign bank operating the ATM to perform the conversion using rates that favor them. According to this article, the difference in rates can be as high as 10%.
TOP NEIGHBORHOODS TO LODGE IN SEOUL
Based on personal experiences and extensive online research, Myeongdong, Insadong, Hongdae, and Itaewon are the top neighborhoods to stay in Seoul in our Seoul Travel Guide. Each area has its unique charm, so your choice would depend on your preferences.
Myeongdong is a haven for shoppers, while Insadong is the cultural and artistic heart of the city. Hongdae is known for its vibrant and trendy atmosphere, and Itaewon is Seoul’s international district. We explored all four neighborhoods and stayed in Myeongdong and Hongdae, with a preference for the lively Hongdae.
For those with a penchant for shopping, Myeongdong is the perfect place to lodge in Seoul. This bustling shopping district has renowned brands, boutique stores, numerous eateries, cafes, and street food stalls. If you’re a fan of Korean cosmetics, you might need help to leave this place.
- Luxury: Lotte Hotel Seoul Executive Tower
- Midrange: L7 Myeongdong by LOTTE
- Budget: Hotel MIDO Myeongdong
Though we have yet to lodge in Insadong, we’ve spent numerous days exploring its many traditional shops, boutiques, eateries, cafes, and teahouses. It’s also within walking distance of key attractions like Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, and Bukchon Hanok Village.
We like shopping and liveliness, Therefore, we prefer to stay in Hongdae. This area is our favorite area. And we may choose this area again. For future visits to Seoul
Latest time to stay We chose to stay at the Bobo Hotel. We might have to walk a bit. But not too far from Hongdae. If you like Hongdae too, check these websites for other accommodations: Booking.com | Agoda. Here is a list of popular hotels in Hongdae:
Of the four areas, we’re least familiar with Itaewon. It’s one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods, with shops and international restaurants. It also has a vibrant nightlife, making it a popular hotspot among expats. You can explore Booking.com and Agoda for accommodation options in Itaewon. Here are a few top-rated hotels in the area:
You can also book hotels and homestays in Seoul using the handy map below.
SEOUL TOURIST ATTRACTIONS TO EXPLORE
Seoul is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city with a rich history and culture. This Seoul travel guide will highlight some of the must-visit attractions, restaurants, and shopping destinations in the city. We will also provide tips on how to get around Seoul, where to stay, and what to expect when visiting.
1. The Majestic Five Royal Palaces
Seoul has five magnificent Joseon Royal Palaces – Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Gyeonghuigung, and Deoksugung. While we managed to explore only Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, all five are worth a visit.
Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung are the largest and arguably the most stunning among the five. Gyeongbokgung served as the main palace and is one of the two palaces (the other being Deoksugung) where you can witness the changing of the Royal Guard. Changdeokgung, a UNESCO Heritage Site, is equally captivating with its Huwon or “Secret Garden.”
Recommended Duration of Visit: 1-3 hrs for each palace Entry Fee: KRW 1,000-3,000 for each palace
2. The Traditional Bukchon Hanok Village
Despite being a highly modernized city, Seoul still preserves its historical charm in places like Bukchon Hanok Village. Nestled in the city’s heart, this village is a maze of narrow lanes and traditional Korean houses known as hanoks.
Strolling through its interconnected streets will transport you back to Seoul 600 years ago. Like the royal palaces, it’s one of the ideal spots in Seoul to rent a hanbok and enhance your Instagram portfolio.
For more insights and images, refer to my article “Discovering the Old Seoul at Bukchon Hanok Village, South Korea.” If you wish to delve deeper into the history of Bukchon Hanok Village, consider joining this complimentary walking tour.
Recommended Duration of Visit: 1-2 hrs Entry Fee: FREE
3. The Iconic N Seoul Tower
For breathtaking panoramic views, nothing beats the N Seoul Tower. Perched 480 meters (1,575 ft) above sea level, the observation deck of N Seoul Tower offers the city’s most spectacular bird’s eye view.
Situated on Mt. Namsan, the N Seoul Tower can be reached via road or cable car, with most tourists preferring the latter. Tickets for the observatory can be bought at the entrance.
Recommended Duration of Visit: 1-2 hrs Entry Fee: KRW 16,000
4. The Futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is a must-visit for design enthusiasts. It’s a unique blend of a museum, a design marketplace, and a spaceship-like structure.
The DDP is the brainchild of the late Zaha Hadid, the acclaimed architect behind London’s 2012 Olympic Aquatic Centre and the Guangzhou Opera House in China.
Recommended Duration of Visit: 2-3 hrs. Entry Fee: FREE, although some exhibits may require an admission fee
5. Bongeunsa Temple
Bongeunsa Temple, previously known as Gyeonseongsa Temple, is a historic site north of COEX. It was established in 794, during the reign of Silla King Weongseong. In 1498, the temple underwent refurbishment under Queen Jeonghyeon, who also renamed it Bongeunsa Temple. Initially, the temple was near the Royal Tomb of King Seongjong, but it was relocated to its present site during the reign of Joseon King Myeongjong. The temple houses 3,479 Buddhist scriptures of 13 different types, including the works of Kim Jeong-hee. Every year, on the ninth day of the eighth lunar month, the temple hosts the Jeongdaebulsa Buddhist ceremony. During this event, monks carry scriptures on their heads, march, and recite the Beopseongge, a Buddhist rite.
Recommended Duration of Visit: 30 mins – 1 hr Entry Fee: FREE
6. The Instagrammable COEX Mall Library
The COEX Mall in the Gangnam district has gained Instagram fame in recent years thanks to its stunning library in the mall’s center.
Starfield Library is an open-air public library with hundreds of books and magazines. Its striking architectural bookshelf has become one of Seoul’s most photographed spots.
Recommended Duration of Visit: 2-3 hrs Entry Fee: FREE
Activities to Engage in While in Seoul
Seoul, the vibrant capital of South Korea, is a city that beautifully blends rich history and culture with modernity. It offers many activities for every traveler, from exploring ancient temples and palaces to marveling at modern skyscrapers and indulging in retail therapy at shopping malls. Discover the diverse range of experiences Seoul has to offer with our comprehensive Seoul Travel Guide.
1. Experience Wearing a Hanbok
For enthusiasts of Korean culture or historical dramas, donning a hanbok, the traditional Korean attire worn during festivals and special occasions is a must-do.
The Bukchon Hanok Village and the five royal palaces are perfect backdrops for your photos. Hanbok rental shops are conveniently located around these areas, but you can also secure your rental through Klook.
2. Explore a Traditional Korean Market
Markets are often the heart of a city’s food scene, and Seoul is no different with its array of vibrant markets. To taste authentic and affordable street food, visit the Noryangjin Fish Market, Gwangjang Market (as shown below), and Nandaemun Market.
3. Discover Seoul’s Diverse Districts
Seoul, a sprawling metropolis, is home to numerous unique districts. The four most notable are Insadong, Myeongdong, Hongdae, and Itaewon, each offering a unique charm.
Insadong is renowned for its traditional arts and crafts, Myeongdong is a haven for brand enthusiasts and beauty product lovers, Hongdae exudes a hip college-town vibe, and Itaewon is known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere. Each district boasts a fantastic food scene.
4. Enjoy a Leisurely Walk Along Cheonggyecheon Stream
The Cheonggyecheon Stream, an 11 km long waterway, meanders through downtown Seoul. It flows under 22 bridges and past several city landmarks before merging into the Han River. This stream is a popular spot for photography in Seoul and serves as a refreshing retreat during the summer months.
You can explore the stream at your own pace, but if you want to learn more about its history and the landmarks along its path, consider joining this complimentary walking tour.
Explore the Culinary Delights of Seoul with Our Travel Guide
Seoul, renowned for its rich culinary culture, offers many mouth-watering Korean dishes. From the savory ganjang gejang and galbi to the comforting gomtang, and not forgetting the famous street food items like tteokbokki and gyeranppang, Seoul’s food scene is a gastronomic delight that will leave you eagerly awaiting your next meal.
If you’re unsure what to savor in this food paradise, our Seoul Travel Guide includes an article on the top dishes to try in South Korea. For those with a sweet tooth or a love for street food, our guide also provides comprehensive information on Korean street food and desserts.
BEST PLACES TO DINE IN SEOUL
Seoul, a vibrant city brimming with various culinary experiences, offers everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to modest street food stalls. The city caters to every palate, whether you’re craving authentic Korean delicacies or international cuisines. Our Seoul Travel Guide can help you navigate through the myriad of dining options available in this gastronomic paradise.
1. Hongs Zzuggumi (홍스쭈꾸미 홍대본점)
Stir-fried squid with Sauce famous shop in the Hongdae area. Please try this shop. Because even we who don’t often eat squid still like it. We ordered squid and pork belly. The price per person was 16,000 won. After we finished eating, the restaurant would bring a wok to fry the rice mixed with shrimp, eggs, and seaweed. If you like spicy food, I recommend you order Spicy. It’s spicy, intense, and delicious.
2. Pro Soy Crab
Blue crab is chopped and marinated in boiled soybean sauce, creating a unique sweet and savory flavor that harmonizes perfectly with the salty sauce. This dish is typically served with a bowl of rice. A common Korean practice is to place the rice in the crab shell and mix it with the sauce, which infuses the rice with a rich, crab-flavored soy sauce taste. The critical ingredients for this dish are blue crab and soy sauce.
3. BHC Chicken
Soy sauce seasoned fried chicken is prepared by frying the chicken until it’s crispy, then coating it in soy sauce and frying it again, similar to sweet and spicy chicken. Despite its name suggesting a strong, salty flavor, the dish balances the savory taste of fried chicken and the sweet and salty soy sauce. Although it’s now a common chicken variety, the original version was created in Daegu in 1978. In 1991, an employee from Gumi developed this soy sauce seasoned fried chicken and popularized it nationwide. The main ingredients for this dish are chicken, frying powder, cooking oil, soy sauce, and sugar.
4. Andong Zzimdak
Originating from Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do, braised chicken is a delightful dish where chicken and vegetables are boiled, seasoned, and then slowly cooked. The chicken meat is lean and offers a subtle flavor, perfectly balanced with the spicy seasoning. For an enhanced culinary experience, you can add various additional ingredients like glass noodles and rice cake sticks. The primary ingredients for this dish are chicken, soy sauce, and vegetables such as green onions and onions.
5. Pungcheon Jangeo(eel)
Eel is a staple in Korean cuisine for nourishing food—packed with protein, vitamin A, and unsaturated fatty acids. And an amino acid called arginine that helps with blood circulation.
For this restaurant, it’s grilled eel. The outside skin is crispy. The meat inside is very soft. The staff at the shop will grill and teach us how to eat each type. Eel lovers will like it.
Although eel is prepared in various ways around the world, in Korea, grilling is the preferred method. If it’s too oily, pair it with a side dish. Eat with grated ginger, mustard sauce, pickled vegetables, or scallion kimchi. The refreshing flavor helps balance out the oiliness of the grilled eel. It makes it a delicious menu when you finish eating.
6. Culinary Delights at Myeongdong Street Food Market
Tasting street food has an undeniable charm. It’s like tasting a menu on the sidewalk!
A visit to Seoul is only complete for those experiencing Myeongdong’s street food culture for the first time. This bustling food market is a paradise for lovers of Korean street food. They offer mouth-watering dishes such as grilled lobster tails—chicken skewers with spring onions, and tteokbokki, a spicy rice cake dish.
While the eateries mentioned above are some of our top picks, if you’re still craving more, you can explore our article on 25 must-visit eateries in Seoul.
SEOUL’S MUST-VISIT ATTRACTIONS
Seoul, South Korea’s capital, is a dynamic and global city steeped in rich history and culture. It boasts a wide array of attractions, from age-old temples and palaces to contemporary skyscrapers and shopping centers. Whether your interests lie in history, culture, gastronomy, or shopping, Seoul has something to cater to every traveler. Discover the city’s must-visit attractions with our comprehensive Seoul Travel Guide.
Here are some of Seoul’s must-visit attractions:
- Gyeongbokgung Palace: Gyeongbokgung Palace is the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled Korea for over 500 years. It is located in the heart of Seoul and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Visitors can tour the palace grounds and learn about the history of the Joseon Dynasty.
- Bukchon Hanok Village: Bukchon Hanok Village is a traditional Korean village in the heart of Seoul. It is home to over 600 hanoks, which are traditional Korean houses. Visitors can wander through the village and admire the traditional Korean architecture.
- N Seoul Tower: N Seoul Tower is a communications and observation tower on Namsan Mountain. It offers stunning views of the city skyline. Visitors can take a cable car to the top of the tower or hike up the mountain.
- Myeongdong: Myeongdong is a famous shopping district in Seoul. It is known for its street food stalls, cosmetics shops, and clothing stores. Visitors can find a wide variety of goods at affordable prices in Myeongdong.
- Namdaemun Market: Namdaemun Market is the largest traditional market in South Korea. It is home to over 10,000 stalls selling everything from food to clothes to souvenirs. Visitors can find various goods at reasonable prices in Namdaemun Market.
These are just a few of Seoul’s many must-visit attractions. With its rich history, culture, and food, Seoul is a city that has something to offer everyone.
NAVIGATING THROUGH SEOUL
Seoul’s subway system is renowned for its efficiency, making it the preferred mode of transport for most visitors. With our Seoul Travel Guide, you won’t need to rely on taxis or buses unless you’re venturing outside Seoul to places like Paju, Suwon, and Jinhae.
While navigating the subway system may initially seem intimidating, remembering your destination’s subway stop and line number can make your journey seamless. Transfers between lines often involve walking, so knowing your line number is critical to successful navigation. Our Seoul Travel Guide always includes Line and Exit numbers for your convenience.
We recommend investing in a T-money card. This transportation card eliminates the need to purchase single-journey tokens. It allows for smooth transfers between subway lines, buses, or from subway to bus and vice versa (within a transfer time limit) without incurring additional charges.
The T-money card costs KRW 5,000 and can be bought at most convenience stores and subway stations. You can recharge it at any subway stop or convenience store.
Things to Know for Travel in Seoul
Seoul, South Korea’s capital, is a dynamic global city steeped in rich history and culture. It’s a favored tourist destination, known for its delectable cuisine, breathtaking landscapes, and hospitable locals. However, before you finalize your travel plans to Seoul, there are a few key points you should be aware of. Our Seoul Travel Guide is designed to provide you with all the essential information you need for a memorable trip.
Most citizens of developed countries can visit South Korea visa-free for up to 90 days. However, you must still apply for a Korea Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA) at least 72 hours before departure. The K-ETA is a simple online application valid for two years from the approval date.
2. Secure a Portable Wi-Fi Device
In today’s digital age, having a reliable Wi-Fi connection is essential, especially when traveling. It’s crucial for translation, research, using ride-hailing apps, and locating your favorite K-drama shooting spots. We always rent a portable Wi-Fi device before setting off on any trip.
You can stay connected in Seoul by renting a portable Wi-Fi device or purchasing a SIM card. While we typically opt for portable Wi-Fi devices, SIM cards are a viable and often cheaper alternative.
Regardless of your choice, you can rent a portable Wi-Fi device or buy a SIM card through Klook. If you’re based in Asia, it’s worth checking the list as it might be more cost-effective to pick it up from your home country.
3. Purchase an Integrated Palace Ticket
Acquiring an integrated palace ticket is highly recommended for those exploring multiple palaces in Seoul. Typically, entry to the four significant palaces – Changdeokgung (including Huwon), Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung – and Jongmyo Shrine would cost adults a total of KRW 17,000. However, with the integrated palace ticket, you can access all five for just KRW 10,000.
4. Consider a Discover Seoul Pass
If you plan to visit most of the attractions highlighted in this Seoul travel guide, I suggest obtaining a Discover Seoul Pass. This tourist card offers foreign visitors complimentary access to many of Seoul’s premier tourist sites. If you secure a Discover Seoul Pass, there’s no need for an integrated palace ticket, as free entry to all five historical sites is already included.
In addition to free entry to tourist sites, the Discover Seoul Pass also provides T-money functionality and discounts at various shopping and entertainment venues in Seoul. You can purchase a 24, 48, or 72-hour Discover Seoul Pass on Klook.
5. Look for Discount Passes
I enjoy browsing e-commerce platforms for travel bargains. I’ve purchased vouchers from various websites, but for Seoul, my top pick is Klook. They offer the broadest range of options at the most competitive prices.
If you’re seeking discounts on tours, shows, theme parks, and airport transfers in Seoul, explore Klook. Even if I don’t purchase anything, I frequently discover intriguing activities that I might not have considered otherwise, making it always worth a glance.
7. Pack the Appropriate Power Adapter
In South Korea, electrical outlets are typically round, accommodating Type C or Type F plugs. Ensure you pack the correct power adapters for your devices. The standard electrical voltage is 220/230V.
Enjoy Your Trip!
While we don’t claim to be experts on Seoul, we hope that our Seoul Travel Guide, compiled from our personal experiences and insights, will benefit you. Enjoy your journey through this vibrant city!