Seoul Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know

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This Seoul travel guide has everything you need to know to plan your visit to the charming capital city of South Korea including where to stay, places to eat, things to do, and more!


Seoul Travel Guide

This was a once in a lifetime trip I went on with my mom in March of 2023. We spent 5 days in this beautiful city and absolutely fell in love with it.

Here are all the details to help you plan your own trip and inspire you to visit Seoul one day!

Do You Need a Visa to Visit Seoul?

If you have a US passport, you currently do not need a visa to visit Seoul, South Korea.

The Korean Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA) is temporarily exempt for US citizens traveling for short-term business or tourism from April 1, 2023 to December 31, 2024.

Make sure to check the K-ETA or the US Department of State website before you travel.

When to Visit Seoul

The best time to visit Seoul in my opinion, is during cherry blossom season which is around March to April.

However, it is a very short season that only lasts one to two weeks.

Although short lived, the soft pink flowers covering every tree branch is such a magical sight to see.

As the wind blows, the petals look like snow falling to the ground.

It’s hard to predict exact dates but I think it’s worth trying to plan your trip around.

The Korea Tourism Organization usually publishes a cherry blossom forecast every year so you can get a better idea of when it will be.

We visited a bit too early but fortunately still saw some blooms.

Also it’s important to note that it can get pretty cold in Seoul, the weather in the spring is about 30-60°F.

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Language in Seoul

People in Seoul speak Korean. However you will find people that can speak English especially in popular tourist areas.

Neither my mom nor I can speak Korean but we tried to learn phrases like hello (안녕하세요 annyeonghaseyo) and thank you (감사합니다 gamsahabnida).

Although there was a language barrier, I never felt like it was an obstacle.

A lot of places like restaurants have pictures and a there was a lot of communication through pointing.

I recommend downloading the Google Translate app for more difficult conversations and it can translate images directly.

Korean to English Google Translate Google Lens

Money in Seoul

Seoul’s currency is the South Korean won (KRW). About 1,300 KRW (₩) is $1 USD.

Most places like restaurants and stores accept credit cards.

However, you will still want some cash for street vendors and as back up.

You can exchange at the airport but airports typically have bad exchange rates.

There are also ATMs throughout the city but generally, money exchange offices have the best rates.

You can find them in popular tourist areas like Myeongdong and Hongdae.

How to Get From Incheon Airport to Seoul

The main ways you can get from Incheon Airport to Seoul is via subway, bus, or taxi. They all take about 1 hour.

Check out Incheon Airport’s website for more information on transportation to and from the airport.

Subway

The cheapest is via subway which costs about 4,000 KRW ($3) via the Airport Railroad Express (AREX). You can buy tickets on vending machines at the airport. However this can be inconvenient if you have luggage or arrive late at night.

Bus

We took the 6002 bus because it drops off right in front of our hotel in Hongdae. You can buy tickets at a booth right before exiting the airport. It costs about 10,000 KRW ($8). The bus may take longer during high traffic hours.

Taxi

Lastly you can take a taxi which is about 60,000 KRW ($50). This is a good option if you are traveling with a group, late at night, or have a lot of luggage. Travel time may also be longer during high traffic hours.

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How to Get Around Seoul

I highly recommend downloading the Naver Map app since Apple and Google Maps don’t really work in Seoul. It includes driving, walking, and public transportation directions that are easy to follow in English.

Seoul has an amazing public transportation system, particularly the subway. They are clean, have air conditioning, wifi, and information in multiple languages including English.

It’s very easy to navigate and I’m saying this as someone who lives in a city with no subway system.

You can buy single tickets or a refillable T-money card at convenience stores for 4,000 KRW ($3). You use this to scan in and out of the subway. It also works for buses and reusable in other cities like Busan.

Fares are about 1,400 KRW each trip with 100 KRW discount for T-money card users.

This was the main mode of transport during our trip. We spent about $12 per person during our 5 days.

Where to Stay in Seoul

L7 Hongdae hotel view in Seoul

Seoul has many distinct neighborhoods, each with their own personalities. Popular neighborhoods to stay in include Myeongdong, Hongdae, Itaewon, Gangnam, and Insadong.

Here is a quick summary of each neighborhood:

  • Myeongdong: central location to popular attractions and lots of street food
  • Hongdae: university neighborhood, young and artsy environment
  • Itaewon: popular neighborhood for foreigners, expats, and nightlife
  • Gangnam: upscale modern neighborhood and designer shops
  • Insadong: neighborhood known for unique cafes, art galleries, and shops

For first time visitors, I recommend staying in Hongdae or Myeongdong.

Hongdae

Hongdae is a university neighborhood in Seoul near Hongik University.

It’s a lively environment with lots of street food, restaurants, shopping, and nightlife.

It attracts a younger crowd but I was in my late 20’s with my mom and we never really felt out of place.

We always felt safe walking around in the day and at night.

We chose to stay a L7 Hongdae because of it’s convenient location across the street from Hongdae Street, close enough to walk to but far enough not hear the noise.

The hotel is also next to Hongik University Station so it is easy to explore other parts of Seoul via subway.

We stayed in the Standard Double room, it was modern, clean, and overall great experience! Also the lobby check-in area of the hotel is on the top floor and has amazing views.

L7 Hongdae hotel Standard Double room in Seoul

Myeongdong

Another neighborhood we considered staying in was Myeongdong.

It has a reputation for being touristy but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing if you are a tourist. However, it can be loud since it is a busy area.

The location is central to popular attractions like Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village, and Namsan Tower.

I also think Myeongdong is one of the best neighborhoods for street food. As a foodie, I was in heaven.

The streets are full of different food carts selling all kinds of goodies!

Restaurant Etiquette in Seoul

When I travel, I like to try a lot of different food but don’t want leftovers. Therefore I like to share food and especially traveling with my mom who doesn’t eat a lot.

We learned that many, if not most restaurants, will not allow you to dine unless each person orders at least one entree.

It is somewhat considered rude since you are taking up space at a restaurant and not ordering, which is understandable.

Sometimes I just can’t eat that much without having leftovers so we ended up eating a lot of street food, which I am not mad about!

Additionally, tipping at restaurants is not a cultural norm in Korea like it is in the US. You do not need to tip and oftentimes prices are inclusive of tax as well so what you see is what you pay.

Where to Eat in Seoul

Seoul is a great city for foodies so if you’re anything like me, you will be in heaven!

There is so much to try from street food to Michelin star spots to Netflix famous markets.

These are some of my favorite bites and where to find them!

Street Food

street food in Seoul

Seoul is one of the best cities for street food.

Everything is pretty cheap and it’s easy to snack on while you walk around.

You can find yummy street food everywhere so if you see something good, try it!

I don’t have a favorite vendor per se so I am just going to share some of my favorite items.

However, if you’re looking for a one stop shop, I highly recommend going to the Myeongdong neighborhood.

Myeongdong seems to have the most street food vendors and lots of options.

Hongdae Street is also a good area for street food, although not as big as Myeongdong.

Tanghulu

tanghulu Chinese candied fruit

Tanghulu is a Chinese candied fruit snack that is also very popular in Seoul.

It has a satisfying crunchy sugar coating around juicy fruit.

Vendors sell these fruit skewers with all kinds of fruit, the most popular being strawberries and grapes.

It’s also worth noting that Korea has amazing fruit, so much better than the US!

They are plump, juicy, sweet, and just on a whole different level.

If you want to try making this candied fruit snack at home, check out my tanghulu recipe!

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Egg Bread

 egg bread gyeran-ppang

This was my first time trying egg bread or gyeran-ppang and it was probably my favorite street food from this trip.

The bread is a warm and fluffy loaf with a whole egg in the middle and some have cheese as well.

It tastes slightly sweet and savory kind of like corn bread but fluffier.

We loved it so much that we got multiple!

Fish Cake Soup

Fish cake soup odeng guk eomuk guk

Fish cake soup is also known as odeng guk or eomuk guk.

This seemed to be the most popular street food when we visited, maybe because the weather was chilly.

Vendors typically sell these fish cakes on skewers simmering in hot broth with spicy and non-spicy options.

You pay for each skewer and they give you a cup for the soup that you can refill.

The fish cake is on the skewer in a squiggly shape which made me think it was intestines at first.

However, they’re so yummy, bouncy, umami, savory, and comforting with the hot broth to sip on!

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Gwangjang Market

88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu | website

Netflix Gwangjang Market in Seoul

Gwangjang Market is a super popular market that you might’ve seen on Netflix’s Street Food Asia.

Vendors that are on the show proudly have a Netflix sign displayed in front of their stall.

Although the market is mainly known for its food stalls and restaurants, there are also vendors selling produce, meat, seafood, kitchenware, and more.

There are many stalls that specialize in the same dish so our strategy was to pick one that looked busy but not too busy.

These are some of my favorites and some noteworthy items:

Raw Marinated Crab

Netflix Honglim Banchan raw marinated crab Gwangjang Market

Spicy raw marinated crab is known as yangnyeom gejang and soy marinated crab is known as ganjang gejang.

At the time there were no places that sold this where I live in Austin, TX so this was my first time trying raw crab.

It was a high priority item for me to try during my Seoul trip.

Honglim Banchan was the stall I had it at. It was also one that was featured on Netflix but surprisingly no wait.

I got one spicy and one soy marinated.

The man at the counter was very nice and showed me how to eat it.

It’s very rich in seafood flavor. I love it with rice but I don’t think I could eat more than what I got.

The soy marinated one was my favorite because you can really taste the crab and it had lots of orange roe.

Mung Bean Pancakes

Gwangjang Market Mung bean pancakes bindae-tteok

Mung bean pancakes are also known as bindae-tteok.

It’s a delicious savory snack made with ground mung beans and fried in a round flat pancake shape.

You can also get it with vegetables and meat, we got it with pork.

They cut it up for you so it’s perfect for sharing and snacking on as you explore the market.

Japchae

Gwangjang Market food stall

Japchae is one of the most popular Korean dishes made of stir fried glass noodle and various veggies.

The noodles are savory, light, and bouncy with lots of sesame flavor.

The stalls that sell it at Gwangjang Market are typically sit down spots.

You share a bench with other patrons and it’s a communal dining experience.

Kalguksu

Kalguksu is a handmade, knife-cut noodle soup.

Gohyang Kalguksu is perhaps the most famous stall at Gwangjang Market because it is on Netflix’s Street Food Asia.

It is located at the center of the market with a huge line surrounding it so you won’t be able to miss it!

I was a bit intimidated by the line and we just had kalguksu at Myeongdong Kyoja the day before so decided to skip this one.

Raw Beef

Raw beef is also known as yukhoe. It is seasoned, marinated, and served with egg yolk.

You can find this dish at multiple restaurants on the edge of the market.

This was a dish I wanted to try but my mom did not. It is a pricier item and I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish it myself so opted out of getting it.

Although it is on my foodie bucket list to try one day!

Raw Octopus

Raw octopus is also known as san-nakji.

It is typically made with baby octopus tentacles that are chopped up and served with sesame oil and sesame seeds.

Even though it is no longer alive, the nerves in the tentacles still move.

You can also find this at restaurants on the edge of the market.

Similar to the raw beef, this was not something I tried on this trip but it is on my foodie bucket list!

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Myeongdong Kyoja

multiple locations | website

Myeongdong Kyoja Michelin Bib Gourmand kalguksu in Seoul

Myeongdong Kyoja is a Michelin Bib Gourmand awarded restaurant.

A Micheline Bib Gourmand award is an award given for good quality and good value.

This restaurant specializes in kalguksu with only four dishes on the menu.

There was no wait and we were immediately seated.

We ordered the kalguksu knife cut noodle soup and mandu pork dumplings.

The noodles had perfect thick and chewy texture. The chicken broth was light and comforting. It also comes with byeonsi mandu pyramid-shaped dumplings.

The order of dumplings we got were round in shape. The wrapper was super thin and transparent with lots of filling made of pork, leeks, veggies, and sesame oil.

It was a very comforting and relatively affordable meal.

Jaedong Sundubu

Jaedong Sundubu in Seoul

Jaedong Sundubu is a restaurant that is known for sundubu jjigae or soft tofu stew.

It is located in a small alleyway by Anguk station.

This is spot that is popular among locals.

The stew comes bubbling hot and served with a bunch of different banchan.

The banchan is also unlimited and you can refill it yourself.

My mom got the bibimbap. Both were delicious but the stew was the highlight.

The broth is spicy and flavorful with chunks of silken tofu and an egg. It’s so comforting!

This is one of my favorite soups. Here is an easy shortcut sundubu jjigae recipe if you want to try making it at home.

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Lotteria

multiple locations | website

Lotteria chicken sandwich

Lotteria is a South Korean fast food chain and fast food in my opinion is so much better in Asia.

They have some unique menu items like a teriyaki and shrimp burger.

There was one was conveniently next to my hotel in Hongdae and open late at night.

This location is modern and high tech. You order everything on a machine and the food is put into cubes so you never have to interact with anyone.

It’s worth a try if you want something quick and cheap.

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Things to Do in Seoul

Seoul is a beautiful mix of old and new. There are so many things to do!

As a first time visitor with a limited number of days, this was what was on our itinerary.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu | website

Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul

There are five palaces in Seoul with Gyeongbokgung Palace being the largest.

It is the main palace of the Joseon dynasty and was built in 1395.

Since we were only here for 5 days, this was the only palace we visited, and I have no regrets.

The main areas can get crowded but the grounds are so big that you can find secluded spots.

The architecture is absolutely beautiful and if you go during cherry blossom season, you’ll see some blooms here too!

You can also watch the changing of the guards ceremony at 10am and 2pm daily (except Tuesdays because the palace is closed). It occurs at Gwanghwamun Gate and lasts for about 20 minutes.

The cost of admission is 3,000 KRW ($2) or free if you wear a hanbok!

Rent a Hanbok

wear hanbok for free entry to Seoul palaces

As I mentioned above, you can get into any of the royal palaces for free if you wear a hanbok which is traditional Korean clothing.

Many Koreans and tourists dress up to visit the palaces so you won’t feel out of place.

Everyone looks so pretty and handsome walking around the palace, it almost transports you back in time.

There are many shops around the palaces that offer hanbok rentals. Some require advance reservation.

Yeonhwadang Hanbok rental in Seoul

However we were able to walk in at Yeonhwadang Hanbok and they are very conveniently located right next to Gyeongbokgung Palace.

There are a lot of different options for men and women.

Our rental costs about 16,000 KRW ($12) per person for two hours which includes the outfit and purse.

We also got our hair styled for an extra 5,000 KRW ($4).

You can rent for longer or shorter amounts of time but two hours was enough for us to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace.

They also have lockers there so you can store your stuff while you explore.

It was such a fun experience to play dress up and take photos, I highly recommend!

I think it was a highlight of the trip for my mom.

Bukchon Hanok Village

37 Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu | website

Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul

Bukchon Hanok Villange is a neighborhood full of hanoks or traditional Korean houses.

These houses are beautiful, many of which have been restored and renovated. Some are even converted into shops that you can visit.

However, this is a residential area so it is important to be respectful.

It is a little bit of a steep walk up the row of houses but it makes for a beautiful photo op.

Bukchon Hanok Village is close to Gyeongbokgung Palace so I recommend visiting on the same day.

Namsan Tower

105 Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan-gu | website

Love Locks at Namsan Tower N Seoul Tower

Namsan Tower also known as N Seoul Tower is located on Namsan Mountain.

We took the Namsam Cable Car there so we could enjoy the beautiful views.

To get there, go to Myeongdong Station and take exit 1. From there, there is a free yellow and green shuttle bus labeled “Nam San Cable Car” that comes about every 30 minutes that will take you to the cable car.

You can also walk but note that it is an inclined walk.

The cost of the Namsam Cable Car is 15,000 KRW ($11) per person round-trip.

The cable car drops you off right by the Cherry Blossom Path in Namsan Park which is the longest trail of cherry trees in Seoul.

Cherry Blossom Path in Namsan Park

From there you can walk up towards Namsam Tower and visit the observatory for views of the city.

However, even if you do not go into the tower itself you can still enjoy beautiful views from the N Plaza.

We didn’t go into the tower and had a wonderful time walking around and taking in the sights.

You may also catch a free cultural performance.

There are areas to sit, hang out, dining, and a cute love locks terrace.

N Seoul Tower Namsan N Plaza

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Explore the Neighborhoods

Insadong in Seoul

Like I mentioned previously, Seoul has neighborhoods each with their own personalities.

They are worth exploring even if your accommodations are elsewhere.

We didn’t have time to explore every neighborhood but these are the three that we did explore:

Hongdae

Hongdae Street food in Seoul

Hongdae Street is an area full of restaurants, street food, art, shopping, and street performers.

It’s a lively area but doesn’t feel too crowded.

We visited multiple times during our trip since our hotel was so close.

It’s a fun casual place to walk around, browse, shop, and grab a bite to eat.

Myeongdong

Myedongdong in my opinion is the best neighborhood for street food.

There were so many food carts and vendors everywhere.

This is also a great spot for shopping and souvenirs.

Myeongdong is where the Namsan Cable Car shuttle is located so I recommend doing both of these in the same day.

Insadong

poop-themed cafe called Ddong Café in Insadong Seoul

Insadong has an artsy vibe. It is full of interesting shops, art galleries, and unique cafes.

We even came across a poop-themed cafe called Ddong Café.

It’s a fun spot to spend a couple hours walking around.

Trips from Seoul, South Korea

trips from Seoul via KTX trains at Seoul Station

Seoul is a great starting point to visit other cities in South Korea.

Not only does it have a major airport but also Korean Train Express (KTX) high speed trains operated by Korail.

The KTX trains at Seoul Station are easy to get to via subway and there are conveyor belts along the way to help so you don’t have to carry so much luggage up and down stairs.

I love traveling by train because it is so relaxed. You don’t need to go through security or show up hours in advance.

Seoul Station also has a bunch of food stalls and restaurants where you can grab a bite while you wait for your train.

A popular trip from Seoul is taking a 3 hour train to Busan (50,000 KRW or $40), which is what we did (stay tuned for a Busan travel guide).

I recommend booking tickets and seats directly on Korail’s website or in-person at Seoul Station.

I do not recommend booking through Rail Ninja which is a third party site that for some reason always show up first in search results.

Save This Travel Guide to Seoul, South Korea!

I hope this travel guide helps you plan a future trip or at least inspire you to visit Seoul one day.

It’s one of my favorite cities! It has a charming mix of modern and traditional.

There are endless things to do, beautiful sceneries, and amazing food.

Make sure to save this guide and share with your travel buddy!

If you have any questions or want to share your experience, recommendations, or favorites, please leave a comment below!

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2 thoughts on “Seoul Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know”

  • Thank you for writing this informative blog. I am currently in Korea, had just arrived and this blog is so helpful as I had no itinerary for once unlike the Japan trip where I preplanned everything. I felt a little lost at first until I saw your blog. Thanks again!!! Great blog!!

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