Seoul, South Korea: A Beginner's Guide
March 28, 2019
by Lis Florencio
With the rise in popularity of the Hallyu or more commonly known as the Korean Wave, South Korea has been a popular destination among tourists coming from different parts of the world, most especially in what has been deemed as the city of infinite possibilities – Seoul.
For someone like me who had been a fan of anything Korean since 2010 – may it be gushing about the latest K-drama, bopping to the latest K-pop songs and dance moves; or following the latest trends in K-fashion – I find myself coming back to the Land of the Morning Calm again and again.
Since my first visit back in 2013, I’ve been to South Korea for 7 times already, making me quite familiar with the roundabouts of the place, especially in Seoul since I spent most of my visits there. I wouldn’t exactly call myself an expert but I know a few things I would love to share with all of you, especially if you are a first-time visitor.
Finding affordable and cozy accommodation is already quite common in Seoul. When you browse various travel portals and apps for options, you might even find yourself overwhelmed by the number of selection to choose from!
One important thing to consider when booking accommodation would be its accessibility to the transportation system. In my experience, all of the hotels that I have stayed at were situated nearby subway stations and bus stops, which makes sightseeing more convenient. I will be delving more about how to use the transportation system in the next point, but for now, here is a consolidated list of recommended accommodations I’ve stayed at in no particular order:
- Hotel First Stay
- Wons Ville Myeongdong Hotel
- M Cherville
- Hotel Manu
Most of these hotels are also nearby local restaurants, convenience stores (e.g. GS25 and CU) and even shopping districts like Namdaemun Market and Myeongdong Shopping Street; where various food stalls are stationed all over the area. Those are also good things to take note of before locking down that booking.
As mentioned earlier, navigating the transportation system in Seoul, or South Korea, in general, is quite convenient as it is designed to be very tourist-friendly. The railway systems and buses are the most common types of transportation.
From the Incheon International Airport Going to Your Hotel
Upon your arrival at the Incheon International Airport, there are a number of budget-friendly and convenient options available to take you to your hotel accommodation:
- Taking the Airport Limousine Bus
- Taking the Airport Railroad Express (AREX)
- Booking a Taxi Service
Several transportation maps are available in the airport and it is highly recommended for you to take one especially if you are planning to take the AREX or the Limousine Bus. It will be helpful for you in taking note of the designated stops.
You may also want to consider the number of baggage and company you have. If you and your companion are feeling a bit more adventurous and don’t have many pieces of baggage on hand, then taking the Airport Limousine Bus or AREX might be more suitable for you. Otherwise, you may want to opt for booking a Taxi Service which you can arrange with your hotel’s concierge prior to your arrival. It offers a door-to-door service from the airport going to your hotel accommodation; and vice-versa.
Going Around Seoul
One of the best parts of traveling in Seoul is getting to experience it like a local. Traveling via public transportation is one way to do it.
The Seoul Metropolitan Subway and Seoul Buses are the most popular modes of transportation. As mentioned earlier, having a map on hand will put you at an advantage. Navigating the subway and bus stops will be as easy as ABC as long as you’re familiar with the stops.
Tip: It is highly recommended to purchase a T-Money Card especially if you will be frequently riding the subway or bus. It can help save money as it offers a discounted price for transportation fares. It has no expiration date and is reloadable up to 500,000 Korean Won (500 US Dollars).
Places to Visit
A modern city where a rich culture has been preserved, Seoul has definitely a lot of worthy sightseeings to offer. The below list is highly recommended to visit for first-timers. It’s not a complete Seoul experience without dropping by these places:
- Bukchon Hanok Village
- Historical Palaces: Gyeongbeokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, and Deoksugung
- Gwanghwamun Plaza
- Cheonggyecheon Stream
- Myeongdong Shopping Street
- Dongdaemun Design Plaza
- N Seoul Tower
- Namdaemun Market
These below tourist spots located a few hours away from Seoul are also worth-visiting:
- Namiseom Island
- Petite France
- Incheon City
Food Guide: What to eat?
A vacation trip is not complete without a food trip! Just like any tourist destination out there, South Korea has a very rich local cuisine that is sure to satisfy one’s gastronomic cravings, starting from banchan (side dishes) down to desserts!
You may have probably heard the likes of kimbap, kimchi, and samgyupsal as these are the most common dishes which have already conquered the other parts of the world. It still wouldn’t hurt to get a taste of these sumptuous staples at their land of origin.
Other than those, below is a list of must-try local delicacies which you should not miss out on:
- ChiMek (Korean Chicken & Beer)
- Cheese Dak Galbi (Korean Spicy Stir-Fried Chicken)
- Soondae (Cow Intestine)
- Tteokbokki (Spicy Rice Cake)
- A variety of Korean street foods including roasted lobster and scallops oozing with cheese!
- Odeng (Korean fish cake)
- Hotteok (Korean pancake)
- Jajangmyeon (Black sauce noodles)
- Bingsu (Ice shaved dessert with sweet toppings)
I could go on and keep listing down some more food suggestions but the list may never end.
Well, this wraps up my Beginner Guide for first-time Seoul travelers. So, what are you waiting for? Buy that plane ticket, pack your bags and get ready to do some Seoul-searching in the city of infinite possibilities!