Seoul, South Korea
Seoul: Modernity rooted in culture
Anyoung! Kudos on picking up Seoul for your next adventure! Boasting over 700 museums, numerous theatres and galleries, as well as seasonal and cultural celebrations, you will never find a dull time in the city.
To get the most out of your adventure, please make sure to read this itinerary from front-to-back. It is sectioned into three parts: prep, daily itineraries, and an appendix identifying everything you need to print (lodging, train tickets, etc).
This is an interactive PDF, which allows you to add your own notes in the text boxes provided and check the boxes as you complete tasks. All the links are active, so all you have to do is click!
Unforgettable Moments (Highlights)
Seoul is an ideal amalgamation of the old and new. With its rich history through ages, it has four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Modern times manifest their mark on the city as Lotte World, an indoor theme park recognized as the largest in its category in Guinness Records, Moonlight Rainbow Fountain, and the world’s largest cinema screen.
Day by Day breakdown (overview)
Seoul is immense and diverse enough to keep the average visitor occupied for far longer, but a few days are enough to take in the city's major highlights, as well as a few lesser-known attractions, and come away a sense of what makes the city tick. From soaring heights of its skyscrapers to the rooted grandeur of its ancient palaces, Seoul is sure to enthrall you.
There are two world-class international airports in the city of Seoul: Incheon International Airport and Gimpo International Airport. Both airports offer easy transportation options to downtown Seoul by train, bus, or taxi. Taking the Airport Limousine Bus is probably the cheapest and most convenient way to get to the city.
Check into your lodging, settle down, and get something to eat.
THE OLD SEOUL
Start your visit with a stroll among the imposing gates and towering halls of Gyeongbokgung, which even in the throes of restoration is the largest remnant of the city's royal legacy. Leave via the palace's cast exit and head up the street into trendy Samcheong-dong, where you can browse work by contemporary artists in top-ranked galleries like Gallery Hyundai and stop off for some justifiably famous noodle soup at Samcheongdong Sujebi. After lunch, explore the winding lanes and dignified old homes of nearby Bukchon Hanok Village, stopping at the small but charming Gahoe Museum to take in some folk art if time permits.
Head south towards nearby Insadong to browse dozens of stalls and shops displaying traditional crafts. Have dinner at one of the area's many fine hanjeongsik (set course meal) restaurants. Vegetarian eatery Sanchon, run by a former Buddhist monk, is a particularly character-filled choice. Cap off the evening at Dawon, a traditional tea shop, or at the Pureunbyol Jumak pub sampling local rice wines.
MORNING & AFTERNOON
DISCOVER CONTEMPORARY KOREA
An early breakfast will allow you to beat the crowds up Namsan to the N Seoul Tower, where the sweeping views will give you a sense of just how massive the metropolis really is. The tower complex contains a revolving restaurant, an outdoor garden, performance areas, and a food court but the main draw remains the stunning view from the tower's observatory. On a clear day you can see past Seoul's sprawling cityscape all the way to North Korea. For those who don't want to make the trek up the hill, the tower is also accessible by cable car.
After a stroll around the mountain's pleasant paths, if you've got some cash to burn head straight for Poom, a restaurant on Namsan that offers pricey but delectable "new Korean" cuisine in a stylish setting. Head down the mountain to get acquainted with Myeongdong, a constantly buzzing shopping and entertainment district, where it's easy to fill up on street food.
Wander north a few blocks to decompress on the banks of the restored Cheonggyecheon waterway, then take a cab (or walk, if you're feeling ambitious) to Changdeokgung in time for the 3:30 P.M. palace tour. The tour will introduce you to its beautiful hidden gardens and some of the city's most magnificent examples of Joseon-era architecture.
Wash away fatigue (and perhaps recover from the previous night's excesses) at the Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan. When you're suitably relaxed you can explore the nearby Yongsan Electronics Market, which, while specializing in miraculous gadgetry of all kinds, also houses a number of good food courts and restaurants. The culturally inclined may want to head straight for the National Museum of Korea, a facility of staggering proportions that houses many of the country's most important relics.
If you’re in search of tradition (or perhaps some peace and quiet) can stroll among the tombs of ancient rulers in Samneung Park or Bongeunsa, one of the city’s largest and most active Buddhist temples. The COEX Mall outside Samneung Station is also worth visiting. In addition to a wealth of shops, it houses excellent restaurants, museums, and a convention center that regularly hosts major events.
Catch the subway or a taxi over to the Itaewon area to visit the sobering War Memorial of Korea and the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art. Both are a short distance from the internationally themed delights of the Itaewon strip, where there are dozens of different cuisines to choose from for dinner and an equal variety of places to enjoy a nightcap.
Day 4 - Day Trip
Seoul’s fortress walls, erected centuries ago to defend the capital from marauding Japanese and Mongol invaders, once defined the city. They've fallen into disrepair or vanished completely in many areas, but an intact stretch still snakes across Bugaksan, the mountain that rears up behind the official presidential residence, Cheong Wa Dae.
Make sure to bring your passport along, and begin the trek from Samcheong Park, after a light breakfast and coffee in one of Samcheongdong’s many cafes. The climb to the wall is exhausting but worth it, with spectacular views over central Seoul.
HIKE THROUGH SEOUL’S HILLY COUNTRYSIDE
Some of Seoul's greatest assets are natural, including the dramatic peaks that ring the city, the river that courses its way through it, and an ever-expanding network of bike paths and parks. If you aren't above a little exertion on their holidays, venturing into Seoul's green spaces will pay dividends that go beyond health. Many of its protected areas are also repositories of culture and history, and you'll gain a better understanding of the national affection for nature.
After presenting your ID at a check-in post you'll be free to follow the wall all the way to Changuimun, a historic gate that opens up into the tranquil neighborhood of Buamdong. The walk takes around three hours, and by the time you finish you'll be in need of sustenance, so stop into Cheers for a cold beer and what many claim is the best fried chicken in the city. Or try renowned dumpling house Jaha Son Mandu if you're in the mood for something more traditional. After lunch, spend some time soaking in Buam Dong's village-like atmosphere, and it's then a relatively straight and pleasant stroll all the way down to the Cheong Wa Dae and Gyeongbokgung area, where plenty more sightseeing and dining options await.
Your Korean contacts would be most impressed if you suggest a meal at the nearby Noryangjin Seafood Market, which makes up for what it lacks in sophistication and decor with freshness and low prices. After nightfall Yeouido quiets down considerably, so if you've still got some energy left head across the river to the Hongik University district, which is bursting with good local and international restaurants and venues.
INTO KOREAN TRADITIONS
Kick off the day with another hike - this time on the mystical mountain of Inwangsan. Find your way to Sajik Park, just west of Gyeongbokgung. After contemplating the elaborate ceremonies that must have once taken place on the still-visible Sajik altar, make your way to the rear, where clearly marked trails point the way to Inwangsan's slopes. The mountain is rocky in places and the going sometimes tough, but it's a place rich in history. On your explorations you're likely to circumvent temples, shamanist shrines, even ancient archery venues.
If you bear west, you'll eventually connect with paths leading down to Dongnimmun and Seodaemun Prison History Hall, which delve into the darker aspects of Korea's colonization by Japan in the early 20th century. The prison was a frequent venue for torture, executions, and nefarious experiments - a history graphically brought to life in many of the hall's no-holds-barred exhibits. The Prison History Hall is part of a larger Independence Park that also contains various monuments to Korea's freedom fighters, including Dongnimmun (Independence Gate), a structure vaguely reminiscent of Paris's Arc de Triomphe.
SOUVENIRS AND STREET FOOD
Gwanghwamun Square is one of the more recent manifestations of the Seoul government’s drive to boost the city’s visible appeal. Heading eastward, you'll soon run into Gwangjang Traditional Market, the perfect place to pick up a few handicrafts for friends back home and to get a final fix of Seoul street food.
Start the day over an exquisite and healthy Korean lunch at Congdu in the Seoul Museum of History. It’s an elegant, understated venue that's the ideal place for a gathering and a hit with locals and visitors alike. Give the mountains and downtown a rest and head instead for the river. Seoul Forest is an impressive park and leisure complex that's one of the newer additions to the riverside.
It is an ideal place for a leisurely stroll or jog, with outdoor cafés, gardens, and even a resident animal population to enjoy. If you rent a bike here it's possible to cycle west along the riverfront all the way to the Ichon area, taking in several impressive bridges and a whole lot of other sights en route. Once you've reached Ichon-dong area and relinquished your vehicle, head up the road to the National Museum of Korea to steep yourself in the country’s storied past.
If you have an interest in military history, you will also want to stop by the War Memorial of Korea, while the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art will be a better choice for contemporary art enthusiasts. Your last night in Seoul should be spent in Itaewon, where stylish new dining and lounge outlets like The Spice, Sortino's, Bliss, and Between await if you need to cram in a final bout of fun (or just the final few cocktails).
One last photo-op
Getting an evening flight out of Seoul is ideal so you can soak up every bit of the city on your last day.
If you are hankering for a Western-style breakfast or brunch, start off the day at Butterfinger Pancakes near Gangnam station. Was there something you read about that didn’t have time to do or see? Get out there and do it! You may have just enough time to make one last memory or see one last attraction. But, beware of traveling too far out of the city; missing your flight home is not how you want to end your magical trip! Head to Namdaemun, the grandest of Seoul's remaining old city gates, designated national treasure number one. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a short walk away, as are the many exotic culinary delights of Seoul's own Central Asia Village, such as Restaurant Kazakhstan and Samarkand.
Luxury Hotels & Villas List
FLIGHTS / BUS / TICKETS
Flight costs are annoyingly unpredictable. You’ll save the most money if you book 3-6 months out. The Seoul bus network and metro system are extensive and the quickest way to see all the sights. Renting a car is about the same as it is in the US. For an even greater choice of destinations, several coach companies run services daily.
Seoul has hundreds of amazing culinary and cultural experiences to enjoy - it would be a shame to miss out. It’s best to book your outings and tables in advance as a steady mix of tourists and locals make this city a busy one. Heard of a must-try sushi restaurant in Gwanghuidong? Call ahead to avoid super long waiting times - trust us.
Better safe than sorry
While Korea is a safe country with a top-notch medical system, it’s always safer to travel with insurance. Not only does it protect personal belongings, but ensures access to expensive medical treatment should the worst happen. If you think you might take part in adventure sports make sure to check whether these are covered too.
Visa on arrival
Nationals of most Western countries, including the United States, Canada, and European Union members, are granted visas on arrival to Korea that entitle them to stays between 30 days and six months. Try to ensure you're traveling on a passport with over six months' validity.
For this itinerary, allow 6 nights, 7 days.
ARRIVE: SEOUL (ICN) in the morning of DAY 1
DEPART: SEOUL (ICN) in the evening of DAY 7
There are plenty of lodging options available—hotels, B&Bs, hostels—just be sure to secure your accommodation in advance. Airbnb is a great option if you are traveling as a group. (See next page for recommendations.)
Seoul, South Korea | DAY 1 - 7, 6 nights
Some tickets and reservations can be made 1-2 months in advance.
Transfer from Incheon International Airport to Lodging | DAY 1
Samcheongdong Sujebi | Lunch DAY 1
Poom | Lunch DAY 2
Congdu | Lunch DAY 6
Butterfinger Pancakes | Brunch DAY 7
Recommended Airlines & Routes
Direct connections to Seoul from the following cities:
North America: Mexico City, Toronto, Vancouver, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Washington DC
Australia and Oceania: Auckland, Sydney
Europe: Moscow, Paris, Rome, Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid, Vienna, Zurich
Asia: Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, New Delhi, Tokyo, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Jakarta, Manila, Singapore, Tel Aviv
Africa/Middle East: Dubai
Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, the two largest airlines of South Korea offer the best connectivity of Seoul with international destinations.
Apps, Transportation & The ‘Gram
Splitwise | eliminates the headache of bill splitting & a must for group travel
Tripadvisor | a favorite resource for finding off-the-beaten-path restaurants and things to do. However, all reviews are subjective, so don’t obsess over scores
Whatsapp | free text messaging to other Whatsapp users
NobelApp | make cheap calls locally and back home
TRANSIT BOOKING SITES
skyscanner.com | easy to use the website for finding low airfares
google.com/flights | helpful fare prediction technology
https://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/TRP/TP_ENG_6.jsp | for metro timetables and hours
http://info.korail.com/mbs/english/index.jsp | Korea’s regional train service
https://www.uber.com/en-CA/cities/seoul/ | Uber is a popular mode of transportation in Seoul as well!
For re-posts of your shots, @tag and use the following hashtags:
Seoul | @seoul_official @seoul.southkorea #seoul #seoultrip #seoullovers
South Korea | @visit.southkorea #korea #koreatravel #koreastyle
Bukhansan | @bukhansan_love #bukhansannationalpark
Travel Noire | @travelnoire #travelnoire
People who are in the tourism industry, hotel and restaurant employees, and taxi drivers understand basic English in Seoul. Learning some Korean words goes a long way. Locals will be impressed by your efforts and won't be shy to help you out.
Annyeong! means Hi!
Seoul has hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988, the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and the 1986 Asian Games.
12:00 - 1:00 PM LUNCH
7:00 - 10 PM DINNER
VISITORS TO SEOUL IN 2017.
5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Seoul
Changdeok Palace, Namhansanseong, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine, and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
CHEERS! = GEONBAE!
Don’t be afraid to ask locals for directions. Seoul locals are used to tourists and many also speak English.
Seoul is twice as dense as New York City and 8 times denser than Rome.
Incheon International Airport has been named as the best airport in the world for the 12th year in a row.
Seoul is known to have the world’s fastest internet connection, reaching up to a speed of 1 GBPS. South Korea also has one of the best 4G network coverages in the world.
TIPPING RULE OF THUMB
Restaurants | Korea has a no-tip culture.
Cabs | Taxi drivers don't expect tips.
SEE YOU, SEOUL!
Getting to the airport is easy as long as you’re in Seoul. Take the Airport Railroad Express Train (AREX) to the airport. Make sure you leave at least 3 hours in advance to avoid the last minute hassle. You can pass the time waiting at the airport by reminiscing and looking through all of the amazing photos from your journey through Seoul.