Seoul Travel Guide – Essential Visiting Tips

By Mark Wiens 52 Comments
Seoul Travel Guide
Seoul Travel Guide Information

Seoul, South Korea, is a wonderful city – modern and trendy yet traditional and charming.

Like any large city, residents have to be a little aggressive to do anything. Get on the subway and you might be pushed and bumped or elbowed going up the escalator. But don’t worry, people in Seoul are actually extremely kind, willingly giving you directions and excited to see foreigners – sometimes it’s just necessary to be aggressive in a city of 25 million inhabitants!

While confused looking at a map, there were a number of times when a local Seoulite just stopped by and asked if I needed help.

After spending a little over 2 weeks in the Seoul, here is a Seoul travel guide including the most practical travel information I recorded during my stay:

The Seoul Metro Subway
The Seoul Metro Subway

Transportation in Seoul

It’s possible to walk to many of the central attractions in Seoul, but to get to other neighborhoods you’ll need to take transportation.

Subway: With 8 main lines and a few others, the Seoul subway system is extensive, convenient, timely and affordable. To be honest, I guess unless you’re out very late at every night, the subway will be your main method of transportation when you travel to Seoul. I didn’t even take a taxi and I only took one bus during my entire 2 week stay.

At first the Seoul subway stations map can be a little confusing, but after a few days it gets much easier. Signs within the subway are written in both Korean and English. Just about everything in this Seoul travel guide can be covered by subway.

Shorter journeys cost 1,150 Won ($1) and I took one trip about 30 stations away that cost 1,850 Won ($1.62).

Taxi: Taxis are available all over the roads, but being honest, I didn’t even set foot in a taxi while in Seoul. CNN Go has a pretty good guide about taxis in Seoul if you’re interested.

Bus: Buses are widely available and are very clean and safe. I actually only took a bus once while in South Korea, and it cost me 1,100 Won (a little less than $1) for the ride. If you want to take the bus around Seoul, take a look at this useful bus guide.

Seoul Travel Guide
Bustling are of Myeongdong – Seoul Travel Guide

Areas of Town

While there are countless neighborhood suburbs surrounding Seoul, these are a few of the main neighborhoods that I visited that would make a great homebase while you’re visiting the city. Here are some areas I recommend in this Seoul travel guide:

Myeongdong is Seoul’s ultimate shopping headquarters. It’s here that you’ll find shopaholics hustling form store to store purchasing bags of cosmetics and the latest bright colored tennis shoes. But don’t worry, along with shopping comes lots and lots of restaurants and an everlasting supply of Korean street food. As a very central area, you can walk to many other places or just take a short subway trip.

Insadong, located near the Bukchon Hanok traditional village, the Gyeongbokgung Palace, and not far from the awesome Gwangjang Market, is one of the more touristy areas of town. However, because it’s located smack dab in the center of vibrant Seoul, you can walk all over and be surrounded by local life. Insadong makes a great central location if you want to be in the busyness of Seoul for a few days.

Hongdae, referring to Hongik University, is located east of central Seoul – maybe a 10 minute subway ride away. With more shopping, tons of restaurants, lots of boutique shops and cafe’s, Hongdae makes a wonderful place to stay. It also happens to be the biggest club nightlife area of Seoul famous for its monthly club hop.

Itaewon is probably Seoul’s most international district and the place where I first stayed when I was in Seoul. You can find loads of international restaurants (as well as Korean restaurants), a few international supermarkets, great shawarma stands, Turkish ice cream, and lots of international bars and pubs. You’ll also find lots of street shopping, mostly fake designer type goods, as well as indoor stores selling authentic stuff. Located just south of central Seoul, Itaewon is also in a very central location.

Of course there are lots more areas in the city, but for this Seoul travel guide, these are the main famous areas.

There a lot of food to choose from in Seoul!
There a lot of food to choose from in Seoul!

Eating and Food

Food is  more expensive than I had thought – so unlike eating while backpacking Southeast Asia, I did have to hold myself back in order to stick to my budget. That being said, there’s tons and tons of food in Seoul and it’s ambrosial.

Kimchi

Kimchi, as I’ve mentioned about South Korean food, is a vital part of life in Korea. It’s so important that I don’t think a trip to Korea would be the same without it. Luckily it’s delicious and goes well with just about everything. I could probably survive for years on just kimchi and rice alone.

Seoul Street Food

Korean street food in Seoul is more along the lines of snacks and greasy things on sticks rather than full meals. Normally you’ll be served while standing in a tent or on the side of the road. If you love to snack, there are lots of Korean things to taste!

Koran Restaurants in Seoul

For more filling meals, there’s a seemingly everlasting array of tantalizing restaurants with beautiful food images covering the windows. It’s hard to resist the temptation to eat everything – I had to tie myself down. Cheaper meals like kimchi stew cost in the 4,000 – 5,000 Won ($3.51 – $4.38) range and include the delicious side dishes and often a tin of rice. If you go for Korean barbecue, you’ll likely wind up spending 10,000 Won ($8.77) or more per person.

Note: For ordering your food (if you don’t speak a word of Korean), the pictures outside of each restaurant makes it easier to point to order. With barely any knowledge of the Korean language, I did a lot of pointing! Also, be sure to check out this food list to be able to order better.

Some hostels and guest houses serve free rice and sometimes kimchi (see officetel accommodation in the guide below), which is a good way to save a little money.

Living in Bangkok, I’m used to eating insane amounts of fruit for cheap. Fruit in Seoul on the other hand can be quite pricey. 1 stalk of banans runs around 3,000 Won ($2.63) while oranges cost around 5,000 Won ($4.38) for 6. Strawberry’s were the best deal when I was there, for 3,000 Won ($2.63) per box.

Itaewon
Itaewon

Drinking and Partying

The cheapest way to drink in Seoul is to stop by a local supermarket or convenience store where you’ll find little bottles of soju for just 1,000 Won (less than $1) or so. You’ll also find small bottles of beer around 1,000 Won (less than $1) and larger bottles of beer from 1,500 Won ($1.32) to 2,000 Won ($1.75).

At clubs and bars you’ll pay around 3,000 Won ($2.63) for a bottle of soju, 2,000 Won ($1.75) for a small bottle of beer and 2,000 – 3,000 Won ($1.75 – $2.63) for a larger bottle of beer.

Despite Seoul being relatively expensive to travel to, it’s still rather affordable from a Western standpoint if your’re looking for alcohol. Cheap booze is one of the reasons to love South Korea.

Here are a few of the most popular areas for partying nightlife in Seoul:

Itaewon is Seoul’s most international neighborhood. There are lots of foreign restaurants as well as many bars and clubs that can cater to someone watching their budget.

Hongdae, located near Hongik University, has a large young club scene. Some of the most well known clubs in the entire city are located in Hongdae, and it’s a great place for a big night out.

Apujeong is a little on the more elegant higher society level of nightlife. If you’re looking to drop cash, you may want to head out for a night in Apujeong.

You can check out this site for more information about Seoul nightlife.

Where to Stay in Seoul?

Accommodation in Seoul is what really drives up the prices in this Seoul travel guide. On the low side, it’s easy to drop $15 – $30 a day per person to stay in the city.

Phil House is one of the BEST guest houses I’ve ever stayed at! It’s affordable (for Seoul) located at the Achasan Subway station, about 20 minutes from the central area of Seoul.

Private rooms at Phil House go for about $50 per night (for 2) while dorm beds run at about $11 per night (very cheap for Seoul). It’s clean, new, and I’d highly recommend Phil House as an excellent place to stay.

Officetels: Looking to spend as little as possible on accommodation, yet have your own privacy? You may want to check out the mini rooms offered by a number of officetel buildings in Seoul.

These rooms are TINY, basically an office cubicle made into a room where you can touch 4 out of 6 walls at one time. The coolest part was the free rice and kimchi! You can get a room for about $15 – $20 per person per night, with a shared bathroom.

For more great deals on Seoul accommodation, be sure to check out this link.

Seoul Trave Guide
Attractions in Seoul

What to Do

In a city the size of Seoul, there’s a plethora of things to do and see. From shopping and eating to ancient palaces and mountain hiking, you’ll surely find something of interest in the city.

In this travel guide, I won’t go into all the possibilities, but make sure to check out my complete list of best things to do in Seoul.

Costs and Prices in Seoul

$1 USD = about 1,150 South Korean Won

Visiting Seoul was quite a bit more expensive than I had thought before going. Here’s a quick list of some of the things I bought and how much they cost:

  • Hostel dorm bed: $15 – $20 per night
  • Private single room at guest house / hostel: $30 – $50 for 1
  • Private double room at guest house / hostel: $40 – $70 for 2
  • Gyeongbukgung Palace entrance: 3,000 Won ($2.63)
  • War Memorial: Free
  • National Museum: Free
  • N Seoul Tower: 9,000 Won ($7.89)
  • Subway ride: 1,150 – 1,850 Won per ride ($1 – $1.62)
  • Bus ride: 1,000 Won and up ($1)
  • Taxi ride: starts at 4,500 Won ($3.95) and goes up from there by time and distance
  • Loaf of bread at supermarket: 1,500 Won ($1.32)
  • 500 ml water: 500 Won ($0.44)
  • Big bottle of water: 900 Won ($0.79)
  • Beer at 7-Eleven: 1,000 Won ($1)
  • Beer at bar / club: 3,000 – 5,000 Won ($2.63 – $4.38)
  • Street food snack: 1,000 – 3,000 Won (less than $1 – $2.63)
  • Cheaper Korean meal at a restaurant: 3,000 – 5,000 Won ($2.63 – $4.38)
  • Meat barbecue: 8,000 Won ($7) per person and way up
  • Nicer meal: expect to pay 10,000 Won ($8.77) and up

How much money will you need per day to travel to Seoul:

There’s NO 10 dollar a day traveling in Seoul. I averaged out to a little over $30 per day (including accommodation), but let me tell you it would have been easier to spend more.

Low End: $20 – $40 per day

Mid Range: $40 – $60 per day

Higher: limitless, you could go through money like water

Seoul is not really a budget travel destination, but it is a great city to explore, to get lost in, and is full of fun and adventure. I spent two weeks in the city, and while that was plenty of time to do many things, I didn’t get to see everything.

If you have a chance to visit Seoul, I hope this Seoul travel guide (video) will be useful in your travel planning!

Do you have any other essential information? Please leave a comment!

52 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Gabe

    5 years ago

    Hai! Danggg thank you so much for the information? I’d love to visit Seoul! I’m in love with Korea beauty products and I’m sure Seoul offers a lot of them
    This helps a lot… Thank you so much!!

  • Kurt Russel

    5 years ago

    Hi Im a Pilipino i just want to ask if i can stay in Korea with just 150k ??

    • Kurt Russel

      5 years ago

      I just stay in Month

  • Kat D.

    5 years ago

    Hi! I’m just wondering if you have a sample 2 days itinerary in touring Seoul? My friend and I are travelling there this December for 4 days (Seoul-Jeju-Seoul ) and I am open to suggestions on where to go. Thanks very much and I hope you have a god day! =)

  • yda

    6 years ago

    Hi maam! Is 25,000 pesos per person will be enough to travel seoul in south korea for 4 days?

  • Nori

    6 years ago

    I’m travelling from Canada to Seoul in a few months. So, is it better to take cash or pay with my credit card when in Seoul?

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Nori, good to hear from you. I think the best thing to do is take a Debit card / credit card, and pull money from the ATM. That way you get the current exchange rate and don’t need to carry that much cash at one time.

  • shin

    6 years ago

    I really like your blog. Such a shame that I didn’t find this when I went to SK last year. I could’ve prepared for SK better before going there. By the way, there is a “10 dollar a day” in SK excluding the hostel fee, of course, but I didn’t go to amusement parks or palaces, because I want to be more of like a native so that is why it’s cheaper. Haha! But I will be coming back this year and your blog helps me a lot. I am currently planning our itinerary. Thanks to you 🙂

  • yam

    6 years ago

    I would like to know the price here could be the same in November 2014.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hi Yam, I haven’t been to Seoul for a while now, but I think prices are still quite similar.

  • Diana

    7 years ago

    Hi Mark. Came across this post via Google search. I’m from Singapore and am planning my very first trip to Seoul in about a month’s time. I must say that this entry has been very helpful indeed in setting my expectations and thinking about how I should spend my 10 days there. Thank you! I look forward to reading more of your travel adventures. 🙂

    Cheers, Di. 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hi Di, thank you so much for your kind words, and great to hear that you’ll be going to Seoul soon. Glad this post has been helpful. Hope you have a wonderful trip!

  • Shaami

    7 years ago

    Hi Mark!
    Thanks a lot for such helpful post!
    How can I book an officetel? I’ve been googling it but no luck.
    Is it possible to stay in a single room for two people in an officetel? I consider myself as petite, and my husband is also an average-sized Asian guy… so, I think we might fit, but dunno, do you think it’s ok? :))

    Thanks!

  • barkl

    7 years ago

    If you do want to buy souvenirs, head to Namdaemun Market and find the whole sale store (there is no way I could explain you how to find it, but it is on the second floor of a building). All the stuff you can buy in souvenirshops is there at whole sale price.

    Like Mark said; Seoul is not the city you travel to on a budget. However why just visit Seoul? Incheon and Busan are great cities as well. In the country the food is even better and cheaper.

    Don’t spend your money on hotels, find a motel.

    When going for food, avoid the tourist areas. Oh, and Itaewon is the last place you should visit unless you want to get drunk with other foreigners.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey, thanks a lot for your additional tips. Next time I go to South Korea, I’m definitely going to try and visit Busan as well.

  • Jas

    7 years ago

    Thank you Mark! this guide is truly amazing and helpful. Will be looking forward to read your future travel guide soon! A Tokyo guide will be great if you plan to visit!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Jas, glad it’s helpful. Actually I’m on my way to Japan in a couple weeks, will be taking notes and trying to write as much as possible. Do you have plans to visit Tokyo soon?

      • Jas

        7 years ago

        Hey Mark, and yes, i’m planning to visit Tokyo right after Seoul. Will be waiting for your travel guide soon! Have a safe journey!

  • Jung

    7 years ago

    This is a great, and very informative, blog. I grew up in Seoul and want to take my family back to Korea – but haven’t been back since 1990 – and was looking for practical information. Really appreciate all the work!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Glad to hear this is useful Jung. Hope you and your family have a great trip back to Seoul!

  • Tash

    8 years ago

    Wow.

    Seoul is so much cheaper than Tokyo!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Tash, I’ve never been to Tokyo, so thanks for sharing.

  • Marcos Stolac

    8 years ago

    I would like to know where is the best place to stay in Seoul? Near the express rail station. Thanks.

  • fred

    8 years ago

    Can u help me about korea trip….do you have facebook , twitter or something….

  • jack

    8 years ago

    Thanks for the info, come this April, I will be heading to Seoul & your info is very helpful.
    keep up the good work. God bless you bro….

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Jack, great to hear you’ll be going to Seoul, hope you have a great visit!

  • Allison

    8 years ago

    You left out the best museum in Korea. The National Museum of Korea is not only the best museum in Korea but it has the best gift shop and souvenirs. Much better than Insadong.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thanks for the addition Allison – will have to check it out next time!

  • Craig

    9 years ago

    Hey there

    I lived in Korea for 4 years, with my last 2 years living in Seoul. Man, I miss that place!

    Here’s another tip for all you travelers! To save some money whilst traveling around the city, stop in at a Family Mart (Korea’s 7/11 – although they do have them too!) and get a metro card. I used to put about 20,000won on it and it would last me a week. It reduces the fare from 1,150 to about 900 (I think). And ii also allows you to make one transfer without being charged, as long as it’s within an hour.

    My route to work would involve a subway then a bus, and I’d pay 900won for the entire 40mins journey.

    And, if you happen to be in Korea for more than a few days, explore the country! Don’t just stay in Seoul! Take a train from Seoul Station or a bus (which is cheaper, but takes longer) from Seoul Express Bus Terminal (in Gangnam) to anywhere in the country.

    Check out Gyeongju (4 hour bus ride from Seoul), stay a night or two, then head to Busan (an hour’s journey from Gyeongju on the bus). You’ll find food, accommodation, drinks 50% cheaper once you leave Seoul.

    Have fun!

    • Mark Wiens

      9 years ago

      Thank you for adding this very useful information Craig!

      That tip about getting a metro card from Family Mart is great. I was in Seoul for a little over 2 weeks and I definitely should have ventured out of the city a little further, but ended up remaining most of my time in the city. Hopefully will go back to explore more next time!

      Thanks again for these tips!

  • Kieu ~ GQ trippin

    9 years ago

    Fantastic! Thanks for the detailed guide. Appreciate all the info!

  • sully86

    9 years ago

    mark: awesome..you are like a walking and talking encyclopedia on travel

  • Vicky

    9 years ago

    This post in INCREDIBLY helpful! We are starting our trip in Japan but heading to South Korea next so this is a great guide for us! Think we’ll definitely try out the officetels : )

    • Mark Wiens

      9 years ago

      Cool to heat that Vicky – if you’re looking for more privacy, but still a cheaper price, the officetels are a decent options – though tiny! Have a great visit to South Korea!

  • Jack

    9 years ago

    Thanks for the article…Any info on where to buy tech stuff….While we wait for Samsung Galaxy 3 SmartPhone release world wide….I think if you are in Korea…you would be the first one to get a hands on it that too way cheaper than the west 🙂

    Korea is the mecca of smart phones and other electronic stuff

    Any electronic markets in Seoul like Akihabara in Tokyo?

    Thanks

    • Mark Wiens

      9 years ago

      Hey Jack, thanks for stopping by. I didn’t actually make it to any electronics markets in Seoul, but I have heard of the Yongsan Electronics Market – that seems to be the main popular one. Hope you have a great time and can get some great deals!

    • Ecofri

      9 years ago

      Hi. I’m native in Korea now.

      Yongsan Electronics Market is very big and complex market.
      You can roam market for a day.

      However in native aspects, I don’t recommend that market if you want to buy some electronic devices.

      After services are poor and they are unkind.
      It may be fine if you are not going to buy and visit for just looking.

      Especially for samsung products, you can visit Samsung d’light shop located near gangnam station subway line 2.

      https://plus.google.com/105086293081780471982/about?hl=en

      You can find ten of Galaxy 3 smartphones in Samsung d’light.

      P.S. You can also buy phones with non-contract offer in Olleh Square which is operated by Korean Telecom.

      https://plus.google.com/117735129827534342449/about?hl=en

      • Mark Wiens

        9 years ago

        Hey Ecofri, thanks for sharing this extra information about electronics in Seoul!

  • Daniel

    9 years ago

    Thank you very much for posting this.

    2 points I’d like to mention:

    1) TYTYTYTYTY, this guide is definitely handy and great start for gauging how much I need to spend and what to do in Seoul as I’m planning to go there with my partner next year. Sharing this around.

    2) I’ll be using this as a basic template to whip up a similar post for Sabah, ha! Thanks for the idea 🙂

    Best regards,
    Daniel Wong

    • Mark Wiens

      9 years ago

      Thank you for sharing Daniel and glad to hear this guide will be helpful for you upcoming trip to Seoul. Glad you could use the idea as well, I know your Sabah article using a similar template to this will be packed with useful information as well!

    • Daniel

      5 years ago

      Ah it’s been 3 years ago since I said I wanna go Seoul! Ended up only my girlfriend (now wife) went there. Time past so quickly, Mark!

      -Daniel