Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, has become a powerhouse city in recent decades. Since it’s rocky beginning after the Korean War ended in 1953, Seoul has become the 5th largest city in the world, home to one of the world’s best airports, and even the busiest air route on Earth, between Seoul and Jeju.
From World Heritage Sites, to a bustling city and beautiful countryland, there is so much to explore in this exciting city. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your first trip.
Seoul’s Location & Time Zone
Seoul is the capital city of South Korea, located in the northern area of the country. They follow the Korean Standard Time Zone (GMT +9).
Getting To Seoul
Incheon International Airport (ICN) is the main airport in Seoul and the one you will arrive to if you’re travelling from another country. The airport is located about an hour out of the main city of Seoul.
There are actually no direct flights between Melbourne and Seoul, with all airlines including a layover in Asia along the way. We travelled to South Korea with AirAsia, which is one of the most affordable ways to visit South Korea, with flights starting from as little as $520 AUD for a return trip.
There are regular flights to Seoul from all major airports in Australia with AirAsia, with many different flying times to choose from, so you can really organise the most convenient route for your trip.
From the airport the easiest way to get into the city is with the Airport Limousine Bus. The bus runs every 15 to 25 minutes, with plenty of stops around Seoul to get you close to your accommodation. The bus is fitting out with luxurious spacious seating, making your whole journey super comfortable.
If you’re staying around the Myeong-dong area, catch the 6015 bus from the airport which will drop you off around Myeong-dong train station, as well as various stops in the area.
You can buy your tickets right at the counter in the airport which cost us 14,000 won per person. When you’re coming back to the airport from the city you can simply catch the Airport Limousine Bus the way you would catch any other bus, and pay your fare when the bus arrives. Reservations aren’t required.
A taxi from Incheon Airport to Myeong-dong was going to cost us about 90,000 won, so the bus was a much cheaper option.
Visa Requirements for South Korea
If you’re visiting South Korea on an Australian or USA passport, visas are not required for stays of under 90 days. This also applies for many other nationalities, including Canada, most of the European Union, Thailand, Singapore and more, but check your countries visa requirements to double check.
Don’t expect a stamp in your visa when you arrive in South Korea though! Unfortunately, South Korea stopped stamping passports in 2018, replacing them with an ‘entry confirmation’ print out, which definitely doesn’t seem that more efficient but it’s how they do things these days.
Language spoken in South Korea
Korean is the natural language spoken in Seoul and the rest of South Korean. Don’t expect everyone to be able to speak English around the city either. While most people working in hotels and established shops speak excellent English, we struggled with many restaurants and even visitors information people that you can find around the city.
Local restaurants, even in the busiest areas of Myeong-dong is where we had the biggest struggles, with many of the people working in restaurants speaking almost no English. Most of the time we got by with a collection of hand gestures, pointing to menu pictures and high eyebrows, surprisingly understanding each other even through the language barrier.
Getting Around Seoul
The Seoul Metro is the easiest way to get around the city, with subway stations positioned close together and next to all major attractions and landmarks. A one way ride on the subway costs about 1,250 won, with an extra fee added if you took an extra long ride.
To make your subway life easier, purchase a T-money card from the station. These cards can be reloaded with extra funds so you can get around the city with easy, and conveniently tap on and tap off at each location. The T-money card itself cost us 3,000 won per person, and then you can load however much you need onto them.
T-money cards can also be used on the local buses and for taxi fares, as well as at some of the convenient stores around the city. There’s a refund scheme as well if you return them, and you can get back any unused funds.
Currency & Money in Seoul
South Korea use the South Korean Won (KRW), which exchanges to about 800 won per 1 Australian Dollar (as of March 2019).
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted around the city, with no limits on minimum spends in most places. It’s a good idea to carry some cash on you for markets or street food if you would like, but apart from that your card should be fine.
ATMs are also widely accessible and generally accept international and foreign debit and credit cards at their facilities. There is generally a 2,000 – 3,000 fee for an international card, but it’s super easy to access your money!
Internet Access in Seoul
Almost everywhere you go in Seoul has free internet, making it super easy to get online no matter where you are. From the subway stations, shopping centres and hotels to restaurants, some buses and even some street corners, we could find a little bit of free wifi whenever we needed it, which was incredibly handy.
As always, it’s a good idea to load up some of your Google maps before you leave your hotel room, just to make sure you always know where you’re going on the 0ff chance there isn’t any internet access. We would even load up our directions from the subway and the bus to different attractions, which was super helpful when we needed a quick direction.
Best Time To Visit Seoul
The shoulder seasons of Spring and the later months of Autumn are often the best time to visit Seoul. Around May is when you can start to see the cherry blossoms come into the bloom, and the whole city is bright with new life and leaves growing back on all the trees.
Summer time can be hot and humid, with flash rains often occurring throughout the warmer months. The winter time is super cold, with temperatures dropping below zero and snow and ice a regular occurrence.
Top Things To Do In Seoul
+ Walk around the lively streets of Myeong-dong, the major shopping area in the city
+ Visit the DMZ and learn about the history between North and South Korea
+ Check out the views from the N Seoul Tower if you get a clear sky day
+ Explore the Gyeongbokgung Palace – one of Seoul’s original Royal Palaces
+ Take a walk along the Seoullo 7017, the garden in the sky floating over the highways
+ Step back in history at the Bukchon Hanok Heritage Village
+ Rent a local hanbok (Korean traditional outfit) and experience life like a local
+ Hit up Common Ground for a truly unique shopping experience in a market made completely out of shipping containers
+ Have a day of fun out at Seoul’s local amusement park Lotte World, and check out the near by Lotte World Tower and Lotte Department Store
+ Visit a cat or a dog cafe, whichever you prefer
+ Try the local Korean BBQ
+ Try your bartering skills at the local Namdaemun Market
+ Learn more about Korea’s history by checking out the National Museum of Korea, the War Memorial of Korea or the National Folk Museum of Korea
Helpful information for your visit to Seoul
Seoul is one of the largest cities in the world, and if you’re looking for a cheap Asian holiday you’re not going to find it here. Expect prices for food and drinks similar to what you would at home, with even street food costing around $7 – $10 AUD per person if you get a whole meal.
Another thing we absolutely loved about Seoul is that no one is yelling at you from their market stalls, asking if you need a taxi or trying to convince you to eat at their restaurant. The locals Korean people generally are unfazed by tourists and won’t be hassling you for anything at all as you check out their stalls or shops. It’s such a wonderful change.
We visited South Korea in collaboration with AirAsia. As always, all opinions are our own.
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