Capital of South Korea
Seoul (서울) is the capital of South Korea. With a municipal population of over 10.5 million, and a metropolitan population totaling over 20.5 million, Seoul is by far South Korea's largest city and one of East Asia's financial and cultural centers. A fascinating blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge digital technology, home to endless street food vendors and vast nightlife districts, an extraordinarily high-pressure educational system and serene Buddhist temples, a dynamic trend-setting youth culture and often crushing conformism, extraordinary architecture and endless monotonous rows of grey apartment buildings, Seoul is a city filled with stark contrasts, contradictions, and paradoxes.
Administratively, Seoul is divided into 25 districts (구 gu), each with an area and population comparable to a small city. The districts are then further subdivided into 522 sub-districts (동 dong). The Han river splits the city into two halves: Gangbuk (강북), the northern, more historical half, and Gangnam (강남), the southern, wealthier and more modern half. The sheer size of the city means that travelers to Seoul will find it difficult to locate a true "center" of Seoul; instead, Seoul is almost more like a collection of cities that happen to be bunched together, each with their own central business and commercial districts. The two largest core areas are Jongno/Jung in the north, and Gangnam in the south. For travelers with more time, there are many more, smaller centers and districts to be explored, such as the island of Yeoui-do and the college district of Hongdae/Sinchon. For the typical traveler, it would be useful to divide the city into the following areas:
|Jongno (종로) (Jongno-gu)|
The Joseon-era historical core of the city with the famous Joseon Palace, Gyeongbokgung. Bukchon has beautiful traditional Korean house and Insa-dong has the largest antiques market street in Seoul. Cheongyecheon has a renovated stream and park that runs through the heart of the downtown area.
|Jung (중) (Jung-gu)|
This district makes up the other half of the historic core as well as the shopping districts of Myeongdong and Namdaemun Market. This area contains Seoul Station and Namsan Mountain, with the Seoul Tower at its summit.
|Seodaemun-Mapo (서대문/마포) (Seodaemun-gu, Mapo-gu)|
These two districts lie immediately west of Jongro and Jung, and contain dozens of universities and colleges. As such, this area is home to some of Seoul's most active nightlife districts: Hongdae (홍대) and Sinchon (신촌).
|Yongsan (용산) (Yongsan-gu)|
Yongsan is home to the US Army Military Base as well as one of the huge Yongsan Electronics Market. This is also where you'll find Itaewon (이태원), perhaps the most culturally diverse area in Korea and home to dozens of restaurants featuring cuisine from the world over, numerous shops selling everything from custom-tailored suits to antiques, and several Western pubs and bars.
|Yeongdeungpo-Guro (영등포 / 구로) (Yeongdeungpo-gu, Guro-gu)|
Covering Yeoui-do on the Han River as well as an area on the south side, this is often referred to as the 'Manhattan of Seoul'. Guro is one of the IT venture company clusters.
|Gangnam & Seocho (강남 / 서초) (Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu)|
Famed for 'Gangnam Style', this affluent area is the glitzy center of modern Seoul, home to hundreds of glass and steel skyscrapers, neon billboards, and some of the most expensive real estate in the country.
|Songpa-Gangdong (송파 / 강동) (Songpa-gu, Gangdong-gu)|
A residential district east of Gangnam where you'll find Lotte World, Olympic Park, Seoul (Jamsil) Sports Complex, and the Sincheon nightlife district.
|North (Nowon-gu, Seongbuk-gu, Gangbuk-gu, Dobong-gu, Eunpyeong-gu)|
Northern area including Eunpyeong, Seongbuk, Gangbuk, Dobong and Nowon. Mt. Bukhansan and Mt. Dobongsan area.
|South (Dongjak-gu, Gwanak-gu, Geumcheon-gu)|
Area south of the Han river including Dongjak, Gwanak and Geumcheon. This is where you can enjoy fresh seafood at the huge Noryangjin fish market.
|East (Jungnang-gu, Gwangjin-gu, Seongdong-gu, Dongdaemun-gu)|
Dongdaemun, Jungnang, Gwangjin, Seongdong with greenery and some interesting cultural sites.
|West (Gangseo-gu, Yangcheon-gu)|
Western area south of the Han river and including Gangseo and Yangcheon
- "S.E.O.U.L. Call it with me, the beautiful world that makes my dreams come true!" — The Seoul Song by Girls' Generation & Super Junior
With over 10 million people, a figure that doubles if you include neighboring cities and suburbs, Seoul is the largest city in South Korea and unquestionably the economic, political and cultural hub of the nation. By some measures it is the second largest urban agglomeration on the planet, after Greater Tokyo.
Seoul has become a favourite with tourists from China, Japan and Southeast Asia, following the success of Korean pop culture. Aside from the native Korean, travelers will frequently overhear Japanese, Cantonese or Mandarin as well; many restaurants and stores, especially in the more touristy areas like Myeongdong, will have signs in Japanese and Chinese, as well as Korean and English. However, this travel destination, long popular amongst Asians, is still relatively unknown in the West and frequently passed over by Westerners for nearby Tokyo, Kyoto, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.
However, the traveler who does visit will not be disappointed. This sprawling metropolis is truly vast — though the casual traveler can see most of the main sites in a few days, a dedicated traveler could spend months exploring all the alleyways and far-off neighborhoods. As the capital of a country that has gone through massive development in the past sixty years, Seoul is constantly changing at an incredible pace, matched only by the mainland Chinese cities. This frantic pace of life is reflected everywhere — in Seoul's cutting-edge digital technology, in the millions of commuters rushing to work everyday in the world's third largest subway system, in one of the most vibrant nightlife scenes in the world, and in the thousands of high rises and apartment buildings still under construction.
Considering all of this, one may be forgiven for forgetting that Seoul has a long history stretching far back into Korea's dynastic past. There is evidence for settlement in this area as far back as 18 BCE, but Seoul as the capital city of South Korea has a history dating back to the 14th century. Originally named Hanseong (한성; 漢城), the city was the capital of the Joseon Dynasty from 1392 to 1910. The Joseon Dynasty built most of Seoul's most recognisable landmarks, including the Five Grand Palaces and Namdaemun. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the city was renamed to its current name, Seoul. Since the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, Seoul has been the capital of South Korea. Occupied twice during the Korean War by Communist forces from the North, the city was extensively rebuilt and today is one of Asia's primary metropolises. Much of Seoul's infrastructure and facilities, such as the buildings, stadiums and transport systems, are exceptionally modern and clean.
Seoul is a relatively well organized city covering over 600 square kilometres (230 sq mi) with a population of around 10.5 million. It is a new modern city built on an ancient and shining history. The city is in the north-western portion of South Korea approximately 40 km (25 mi) east of the Yellow Sea (황해 "Hwanghae") and 60 kilometers south of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The city is roughly bisected by the Han River (한강 Hangang), which runs east to west across the city. Seoul blurs seamlessly into its surrounding satellite cities and towns, most of which are also served by the Seoul metro. The largest of these is Incheon (to the west), the home of the metropolitan area's main airport and seaport. Other satellite cities include such as Ilsan (to the north), Bucheon (to the west) and Anyang (to the south).
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Seoul lies between a subtropical and a humid continental climate zones. November to April tend to be more continental, while warmer months are more subtropical with hot, humid summers. There are monsoon conditions in June and July and an average of 28 days of snow during winter.
Seoul (SEL IATA for all airports) is served by two airports; Incheon International Airport serves most international flights, while Gimpo Airport primarily serves domestic flights, though it is also served by some international flights to China, Japan and Taiwan.
- Main article: Incheon International Airport
The A'REX train link connects the airport to Seoul Station (for further connections to KTX high-speed services) and Gimpo Airport (most domestic flights), operating from 05:20 until 00:00. Two versions exist: express services to the city (every 40 minutes) take 43 minutes and cost ₩9,000 (with WiFi available on board); while commuter services (every 6 minutes) take 53 minutes and cost ₩3,700. The express train and the regular train leave from different platforms and have different ticket buying booths. The express service offers discounts to passengers with flight or train tickets for the same day, as well as returning passengers with a ticket issued within the past 15 days.
If, however, you have a lot of luggage or are heading to southern parts of Seoul (e.g. Gangnam), the airport buses remain your best option.
A taxi direct to Seoul will cost around ₩50,000/70,000 regular/deluxe.
- 2 Gimpo Airport (김포국제공항, GMP IATA). Closer but older. Caters only to the shuttle services to Taipei-Songshan, Tokyo-Haneda Airport, Osaka-Kansai, Beijing Capital International Airport and Shanghai-Hongqiao, as well as domestic flights within South Korea, mostly to Jeju.
Gimpo Airport is easily reached on the A'REX link from Seoul Station or Incheon Airport, as well as subway lines 5 and 9. All lines intersect Line 2 which runs in a large circle through Seoul. Line 9 (Gold Line), the first privately run subway line in Seoul, has express trains as well. Travelers coming into Seoul should first have detailed directions to their destination from the nearest station then consult the subway map before deciding on which line and route to take. All three lines cost ₩1,000-2,100 (depending on distance), while a taxi to central Seoul will run around ₩30,000. Discounts for subway fare are available with T-Money cards.
Seoul is the northern terminus for most KTX high-speed train services. There are three main stations within city limits:
- Seoul Station (서울역) for trains heading Southeast (Busan, Pohang, Daegu, Daejeon, Changwon) and few heading East (Pyeongchang, Gangneung, Donghae) depart here. Accessible via subway line 1, 4, Gyeongui-Jungang, as well as the AREX (from Incheon International Airport and Gimpo International Airport). The Gyeongui line uses a separate platform in the old station building(Culture Station 284). Some trains bound Southwest depart from Seoul station as well.
- Yongsan Station (용산역) is the main terminus for trains heading Southwest (Mokpo, Gwangju, Daejeon, Yeosu). Metro lines 1 and Gyeongui-Jungang pass through the station. Line 4 is at the nearby Sinyongsan station, about 150m away.
- Cheongnyangni Station (청량리역) serves trains heading east, including all KTX trains bound for Pyeongchang, Gangneung, Donghae, and Andong. Subway line 1 and Gyeongui-Jungang line stops here, with few trains from Suin-Bundang line and Gyeongchun line.
- Some KTX trains heading south stop at Yeongdeungpo Station (영등포역, accessible via subway line 1), and some heading east stop at Sangbong Station(상봉역, accessible via subway line 7, Gyeongui-Jungang and Gyeongchun line). Train stopping at Yeongdeungpo takes longer because they use conventional tracks.
Alternatively, the SRT, a private high-speed rail service, departs from Suseo Station (수서역) and reaches Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, and Mokpo. It is also slightly cheaper than the KTX. Subway line 3 and Suin-Bundang line stop at the station.
The subway system also serves as a commuter rail network for nearby cities and towns in Gyeonggi.
Every weekend approximately 2 million Seoulites leave the city, which goes a long way to explaining why the city has four major bus terminals. Destinations are not strictly divided by terminals(especially intercity buses), so check the exact terminal and schedule on the website(Express, Intercity)
- Seoul Express Bus Terminal, (서울고속버스터미널), (Metro Lines 3, 7, or 9, Express Bus Terminal stn). Also known as Gangnam Terminal and Gyeongbu-Yeongdong Terminal, this is the largest of them all and serves pretty much the entire country, but most services head Southeast (incl. Busan, Daegu, Daejeon). Lines Southwest to Jeolla, however, use the Central City/Honam Terminal right next door. For the most part there's no need to buy a ticket days in advance, except during the holidays. There's even a ticket window labeled "Tickets for Foreigners" where the attendant can speak English. Fare from Seoul-Busan is about ₩20,000 and buses come continuously throughout the day. Small restaurants and snacks are all throughout the station. Journeys longer than 2 hours typically will have a short stop at a rest area. Most buses are very comfortable and extremely safe.
- Central City Terminal, also known as Honam Terminal, (Metro Lines 3, 7 or 9, Express Bus Terminal stn). Directly adjacent to the Express terminal, serves express buses heading Southeast to North and South Jeolla, South Chungcheong, and some routes to Daejeon and North Chungcheong.
- Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, (동서울버스터미널), Gangbyeon stn (Line 2). Served mostly by intercity buses. Most intercity buses to Gangwon and other parts of Korea departs here.
- Nambu Bus Terminal(남부터미널), Nambu Bus Terminal stn (Line 3). Served mostly by intercity buses. Most intercity buses to Southeast to North and South Jeolla and other parts of Korea departs here.
There are ferry services to various points in China from the neighboring port city of Incheon. No services run from Japan to Seoul; many Koreans take the coach or KTX train to Busan, where several ferry and hydrofoil options are available.
No matter where in Korea you start your journey, there will be tolled expressways (Gosok Doro) and national highways (Gook Do) that lead to Seoul; the most important one is the Gyeongbu Expressway, linking Seoul with Busan. To avoid the daily traffic jam on the Gyeongbu Highway near Seoul, take Jungbu/2nd Jungbu, Seohaean, or Yongin-Seoul Expressway.
Traffic jams are all too common in Seoul, so be careful on the streets and head underground when possible. Street and subway signage is usually written in English as well as Korean.
In Seoul, you can visit most places by using the vast subway network. There are nine numbered lines plus a smattering of named suburban lines, all distinguished by different colors. All signs in the subway system are in Korean (both hangeul and if applicable, hanja) and English, as well as Japanese and Mandarin in some stations. The signs leading to the platform for a particular direction of travel on a given subway line typically list the names of a number of stations in that direction. Stations each have a 3 digit number, but locals rarely make use of these numbers, and they're not on most subway maps, so don't rely on them. An English subway map can be found here.
Subway fares are based on the distance traveled, but the shortest ride costs ₩1,250 (base charge) plus a deposit of ₩500 for single-ride cards (refundable if you return the card at designated machines at each station). The base charge roughly covers up to 10 km (6.2 mi) of the journey and ₩100 is added for every 5 km (3.1 mi) beyond that. Cards can be purchased from vending machines only. All vending machines accept coins and bills, up to ₩10,000 notes (and some ₩50,000 notes, but cash exchange machines are at each station). Hang onto your card until the end of your trip, as you'll need it to get out. Most of Seoul's automated card machines are equipped with touchscreen and full English support (along with Chinese and Japanese).
If planning on using the Metro extensively or staying for more than a couple of days, you should consider purchasing a T-money stored value contactless smart card. You can buy this card from staffed desks at most subway stations, many newspaper kiosks near subway entrances, and convenience stores with the T-money logo. The most basic card costs ₩2,500, and cash can be added to the card as often as you like. When entering and leaving a subway turnstile, place the card on the reader (leaving it inside your purse or wallet is fine), and it will deduct the appropriate fare from the card. Using this card will allow you to save ₩100 on all transfers (these are common with Seoul's extensive subway system), and you can get all but ₩500 back if you have unused credit. Any value on the T-money card never expires. Credit refund up to ₩20,000 can be received in most convenience stores. Above ₩20,000 you can still get a refund, but the procedure is more complicated, so it's wise to keep your credit below that figure.
Typically for most travellers staying less than a week in Seoul, purchasing this card may not be cheaper, but other factors should be considered: it can also be used for taxi fares, buses, storage lockers, pay phones, etc. The T-money card is far more convenient than buying per trip ticket. Using a transportation card is highly recommended if you wish to use it between subways and buses, simply for its ability to transfer for free since you will not have to pay for the basic fare twice for a single journey when using two modes of transport. Note that the subway does not operate late at night.
Be aware that any issues (e.g. unsufficient balance) are not displayed in English at the turnstiles. Only the error code is shown in latin letters. The different error codes are listed at the metro website.
If you're using the AREX in Seoul, you still need to buy a ticket or use the T-money card to enter the subway station area from which you reach the AREX platforms. You'll get a refund later on when you buy an AREX ticket.
Here are some things to know when riding the subway.
- Some stations have a similar names, so be sure to check the map and destination. For example, Sinchon subway station(Line 2) is located far from Sinchon rail station(Gyeongui-Jungang Line) and both are not transferrable. And Yangpyeong subway station(Line 5) is in Seoul, but Yangpyeong rail station(Gyeongui-Jungang Line) is located at Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do(about 50km away).
- At the edge of the train car, there are specially marked seats for the elderly and disabled people. It is de facto mandatory to leave this seat for others, unless you really need them. Also, some trains have pink seats for pregnant women.
- Some terminus stations and branch lines like the Gyeongui-Jungang Line between Gajwa and Seoul Station have very, very few trains, sometimes less than one per hour. Be sure to check the timetables beforehand. Also, the platform for Gyeongui-Jungang Line at Seoul Station is separated from the other lines, in the old station building.
- There is also a separate class of commuter trains in Seoul. Lines 1, 4, 9, and several others do operate 'express (급행)' services. They are slightly faster, skipping several stops and passing normal service trains. No extra fees are required to use them. Line 1 also has a 'limited express (특급)' service, which makes even fewer stops. Same fare.
- Seoul Metro (Operator of lines 1 to 8) has some info on their 'Theme Tour' section. You can check the timetable there as well.
- You cannot use metro stations for crossing streets. If you enter a metro station and leave at another exit, the fare for a single ride will be deducted.
- If you entered a metro station at the wrong side by accident and return the card will be blocked (or in case of a T-money card the fare for a single ride will be deducted) even if you exited at the same turnstile.
Seoul also has an extensive bus service. There are four different kinds of buses: yellow, green, blue, and red. Yellow buses have a short circuit usually around tourist areas. Green buses travel around neighborhoods and connect with the subway. Blue buses go across town, while red buses are intercity buses. Buses will only stop at designated bus stops and will not wait for indecisive travelers. Press the red buttons before your stop to let the driver know; some drivers will drive through stops if they see no one waiting at the stop, and no one has pressed the button.
Adult fare is as follows:
Cash – ₩1,200
T-Money Card – ₩1,050
By using a T-Money card, you can transfer between the bus and the subway for free up to 30 minutes after your last scan. That is to say, the base charge of ₩1,050 won't be charged twice. If, for example, you travel 10 km (6.2 mi) by subway, transfer to a bus and travel a further 5 km (3.1 mi), ₩1,050 will be deducted once you leave the subway, nothing will be deducted when you enter a bus, but you will be deducted ₩100 for the extra 5 km (3.1 mi) journey you made on the bus. If you do not tag the machine as you leave the bus, you will be charged the maximum fare possible for the route.
Deluxe taxis are black with a yellow sign and are more expensive than regular taxis but provide better and more comfortable service. Regular taxis are silver. For the most part, regular taxi cabs have leather interiors and the drivers are nice—so, for many people, "regular" in Seoul might be "deluxe" in their hometown. It is easy to hail a taxi any time of the day or night along any relatively major Seoul street.
You can call a deluxe taxi wherever you are by calling 3431–5100. Sometimes, you can find a visitor's guide taxi, a kind of deluxe taxi, the drivers of which know English and Japanese and can guide you around Seoul.
As of March 2019, the basic fare for regular taxis is ₩3,800 (₩4,600 at night), with a surcharge of ₩100 applied according to time and distance. (The basic fare is up to 2 km (1.2 mi), plus ₩100 per 132 m.) In deluxe taxis, the basic fare is ₩6500 and the additional fare increases in increments of ₩200. (₩4500 basic fare for up to 3 km (1.9 mi), plus ₩200 per 151 m). International taxi drivers speak at least one foreign language (generally English) fluently. International taxis use the same basic fare as regular taxis, plus an additional 20%.
If there is more than one passenger, and you are traveling only a short distance (like 1-2 metro stops) it is usually cheaper to catch a taxi than to take a bus or subway.
In general, taxi drivers do not speak English or any other foreign language, so have your destination written in Korean to show to the taxi driver. It is also wise to get your hotel's business card in case you get lost. Some may even reject looking at a map so whenever possible, have the location written in Korean.
All taxis advertise a free interpretation service that can be called if you need help. The phone number for the interpretation is on the window sticker of the back seats. Taxis that have an "On Base Authorized" sticker on the side, or a green sticker on their front bumper, are capable of entering US military bases in Seoul. These drivers are required to speak better English as part of their contract and may thus be easier for any English speaking tourists.
All taxis in Seoul accept credit cards and T-money cards. However, drivers generally prefer that you pay cash, especially for shorter rides. You can also ask for your receipt ("Yeong-su-jeung" 영수증).
As in any other city, there are some bad apples, and some drivers may take you the long way. Although the drivers often have a GPS device on the dashboard of their car, this is relatively meaningless if you do not know the area or cannot speak sufficient Korean to argue the point.
In general, make sure the driver turns on the meter, get an idea of the cardinal direction of your destination (north, south, east, west), and use the interpretation service if you want to agree to a fare beforehand.
However, there is often road construction or protests around Seoul, so sometimes a long route is necessary. If you suspect you are being ripped off, the most a non-Korean speaker can do is write down or take a picture of the driver's ID (above the glove box) and report the details to the company.
Internationally known car rental companies can be found in Seoul; just be prepared for a driving challenge and long rush hours. In addition, parking spaces are hard, if not close to impossible to find, especially during peak hours. Therefore, unless you are planning to head out of the city, it is not advisable to rent a car and you are better off relying on the excellent public transport system instead.
If you like cycling, there are many bike rental stations in Seoul (and other cities). Seoul City government operates Seoul Bike(nicknamed 따릉이(Ttareungyi)), and you can get around easily at little cost. There are many voucher options, but a day voucher is enough for most tourists. At the homepage or official app, purchase the voucher and receive the rental number. At the nearby rental spot, press the button on the bike you want to rent and type the digits. You have to return the bike to the rental station within 1 hour (2 hours if you bought the Premium voucher). You can rent it as many times as you want for 24 hours, as long as you return the bike for respective period of time. A regular voucher is ₩1,000 and a premium one is ₩2,000.
When riding the bike, be sure to obey the traffic rules and try to wear a helmet. Read the warnings on the signage and ride with care. The official app shows the location of rental station and how many bikes are there, so plan your journey while knowing where to return. Naver map or Kakao map can show the bike roads and have a direction search option for bikes.
If you know the Korean and sign up for them, you can use the weekly, monthly, and yearly option.
Other than that, there are other private bike rentals at Han river park and Yeoido.
Getting around in Seoul without a local escort (be it friend or cab driver) can be tricky, since this is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. While Seoul occupies less land than New York City, it can be more confusing. The major roads twist and turn, the various rail lines, rivers and mountains are obstacles and the smaller roads turn into a labyrinth of alleys. Most people will try to help you find your way around but often won't know themselves; best to familiarize yourself with some landmarks and the nearest subway stations. Learn the landmarks closest to where you are staying. The better-known landmarks in Seoul (such as the N Seoul Tower in the center of town) can prove helpful at times. A compass will still work when a GPS fails. Google maps are not that useful in South Korea, for security reasons. Use Naver map or Kakao map, since these support English.
Once you know your immediate surroundings, you'll find that Seoul isn't such a huge place and the pedestrian approach can be an enriching experience.
There's usually a subway stop within a ten-minute walk in any direction. And you can see the local map at the exit of the station.
Whether on bicycle or foot, the best way to escape traffic is to learn the rivers and streams. Most of these waterways empty into the Han River or another tributary to the Han, so look to the direction of water flow at any creek; chances are, it's headed for the Han. The Han runs right through town, generally moving West (sometimes Southwest; sometimes Northwest), so knowing where you are in relation to the Han is helpful. The Han River as well as most streams are lined with massive parks that feature outdoor gymnasiums, multiple-lane bicycle paths, and 24-hour restrooms. Cars are generally not allowed. Pedestrian bridges on the smaller waterways are common. Also, numerous mountains with hiking trails can be found in the city.
- See also: Korean phrasebook
As elsewhere in Korea, a grasp of basic Korean will be helpful. If you plan on an extended visit, consider learning to read the Korean written script, hangeul. It takes very little time to pick up the basics, and it can be endlessly helpful. A quick (free) visit to the Story of King Sejong Exhibition Hall beneath the Statue of King Sejong in Gwanghwamun Square will give you an introduction to the Korean written language and some interactive exhibits to practice. Thirty minutes there will see you recognising and pronouncing some Korean words.
Shops in major tourists areas, including Insadong, Myeongdong, and Itaewon, will probably have staff that speak at least some English, and some may have staff that speak Mandarin, Cantonese and/or Japanese. While all younger Koreans are required to study English in school, due to a lack of practice, proficiency is generally poor, and most residents of Seoul only know a few simple words and phrases. If lost, a useful tip is to write down your question in simple words and show it to someone young. That being said, it is still possible to get by using only English, though a basic grasp of Korean will make your trip much smoother.
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
While Seoul today is mostly known as a super-modern mega-city that is home to skyscrapers, malls, and millions of electronic-mad Koreans, the city contains over 2,000 years of history. The city contains 4 UNESCO sites marking important monuments from its 505 years as the capital of the Joseon Dynasty. Originally a walled city with 20 ft (6.1 m) stone walls and narrow lanes inside. Though many buildings were destroyed or damaged during the violent events of the first half of the 20th century, much of its historic core remains. So, anyone staying in Seoul should visit the many historical treasures the city has to offer, including the many palaces and city gates within the Jongno district.
Palaces, shrines, and walls of Joseon Dynasty and other traditional sites
Seoul has been a capital of Korea since the Joseon Dynasty. Starting from the Gyeongbokgung, many palaces were built for kings and royal family. The most important of them are called Five Grand Palaces (5대궁). Gyeongbokgung Palace is the first and main palace, and holds the site of Joseon Palace Museum and Korean Folk Museum. The main gate of the palace, Gwanghwamun, and its plaza are the center of Seoul. Changdeokgung, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sties, was the most favored palace of many Joseon Royal Family. It also has the beautiful garden named Secret Garden (Also was called 'Forbidden Garden'). Changgyeonggung and Gyeonghuigung are less famous due to extensive damage sustained after the fall of the Joseon Dynasty; Changgyeonggung was once a zoo, and Gyeonghuigung was once a high school. Finally, Deoksugung was used during the last years of the monarchy. It has a harmony of both traditional and western building design. All of these palaces have a thicker, more informative pamphlet for ₩500, which is worth the cost.
- Gyeongbokgung Palace. In 1-91, Sejongno, Jongno-gu. The Gyeongbokgung, Which means "Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven.", was built in 1395 in Joseon Dynasty. It was the heart of Joseon Dynasty because the government ministry district was focused here. Even after it was razed by the Japanese during Hideyoshi invasions of 1592–1598, it was reconstructed in 1876, only for many buildings to be razed again by the Japanese during the occupation from 1910–1945. Nevertheless, Gyeongbokgung remains one of the most magnificent and historically most significant places in Seoul, and restoration to its pre-Japanese occupation state continues to be take place at a painstaking pace. It opens everyday except Tuesday. There is also a free guide tour for tourists every day (English : 11:00, 13:30, 15:30). It is also good to take the opportunity of night opening, which is held a few days every a year, you have to reserve a place online. You can access the palace by subway (Gyeongbokgung Palace station Exit 5, Subway line 3) or Seoul City Tour Bus.
There are several traditional spots in Seoul besides palaces. Jongmyo Shrine is where the royal family of Joseon Dynasty is enshrined, and Jongmyo Jerye ceremony is held every year. Jogyesa Temple and Bongeunsa Temple are notable Buddhist temples for experiencing the Korean Buddhism.
Parks and mountains
Seoul is full of parks. Along the Han River (Hangang, 한강), there are Hangang Citizen's Park. It is in many districts, and each have a distinct spots. You can cycle along the river or buy a snack or souvenir at the night market. Among those, Banpo Hangang Park is most famous. You can see the fountain on the Banpo bridge, go to Some Sevit (an artificial floating island), or exercise at the Seorae island.
There are several unique parks that were repurposed from other uses. Seoul Forest was changed from a racecourse to a park with deer and a greenhouse. Olympic Park was built on ancient fortification walls, and holds many venues used in the 1988 Olympics. Worldcup Park was a landfill, but was turned into a large park with a soccer stadium, and is famous for silver grass. Seonyudo Park was a water filtration plant and was changed to ecological park above the remnants of old tanks and reservoirs. Other famous parks include Children's Grand Park and Dream Forest.
Seoul is also surrounded by many mountains (san, 산). You can hike along the people and feel the nature in the middle of city. Notable mountains are Namsan (남산), Gwanaksan (관악산), Bukhansan (북한산), Suraksan (수락산).
- Hangang Citizen's Park. Alongside the Han River through 13 districts - Gwangnaru, Jamsil, Gangdong, Ttukseom, Jamwon, Banpo, Ichon, Yeouido, Yanghwa, Mangwon, Seonyudo, Nanji, and Gangseojigu. You can see many people strolling or jogging along the trail paths, as well as in-line skaters, bicyclists, and soccer fields or basketball courts. Yeouido, Jamsil, and Ttukseom districts are especially popular because of the cruise services on the Han River.
Seoul has been a capital for more than 600 years, and has a lot of museums. The most important museum is definitely National Museum of Korea at Yongsan. This houses the highlight of 5,000 years of Korean history and its exquisite treasures. Other historical museums include National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, National Folk Museum, Joseon Palace Museum at Jongno.
If you are fan of art, there are many art museums as well. Seoul Museum of Arts is near the city hall and is free. National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Arts, which used to be at Gwacheon, has a separate Seoul branch near Bukchon and inside the Duksugung Palace. Leeum Museum at Itaewon is one of the best private-owned museums in Korea, and the Dongdaemun Design Plaza hosts the exhibition from Kansong Museum.
There are other interesting museums in the city; War memorial of Korea houses military armor and aircrafts, National Hangul Museum shows the history of Korean writing system, Seodaemun Prison preserves the actual prison used during the Japanese Colonization period.
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
Watch the fashionable Seoulites shop and sip coffee in Gangnam.
Explore the huge fresh fish market in Noryangjin and enjoy fresh sashimi afterwards.
Enjoy the nightlife in Yongsan.
Go hiking in the mountains surrounding the city. They are at most 800 m (3,000 ft), accessible by public transit and the trails range from easy to difficult. Mountains include Bukhan, Gwanak, Samseong and Inwang. (Mostly found in the North of the city). If you do not like the mountain, walk along the Cheonggye Stream.
Watch baseball, the national sport, at the Gocheok Sky Dome (Guro-gu, home to the Kiwoom Heroes) or the Jamsil Baseball Stadium (Songpa-gu, LG Twins and Doosan Bears).
Watch the local football teams (FC Seoul, based at the World Cup Stadium in Mapo-gu and Seoul E-land FC, based in the Olympic Stadium in Songpa-gu).
Seoul is home to many universities, including Seoul National University, Yonsei University and Korea University, the three most prestigious universities in Korea, with the former being Korea's uncontested number one university. There are opportunities for potential international and exchange students to enroll in these universities and live in Seoul for an extended period of time. Many of these universities also conduct Korean language classes for foreigners, including some 5-week long summer intensive programmes that might be useful for short-term visitors to learn the Korean language.
Korean ceramics are known around the world for their simple beauty and unique designs. Visitors can learn how to make pottery at the National Museum of Korea and the pottery villages just outside of Seoul in Incheon and Yeoju.
- National Museum of Korea (국립중앙박물관) (Ichon Station, Exit 2. 10 minute walk), ☏ . For class times, inquire in advance.
There is an immense demand for EFL (English as a Foreign Language) instruction in Seoul. See the main South Korea article for details. However, the Seoul municipal government has decided to phase out foreign (non-Korean) teachers of English in all public schools. Although it has yet to be seen if this will succeed, it may have an effect on your options in Seoul.
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
Fashion shopping in Seoul isn't a mere industry, it's an art form. Trends often begin in University areas like Hongdae. Hongik University boasts Korea's most famous art school, thus fashion in this area is often influenced by the students' artistic sensibilities. The shops in this area feature funky, punky, boho, and vintage style. Ewha Women's University also has a big shopping area in front of its main gate, as do many of the Women's colleges. Many trends also originate here. There are even seamstresses who can help you make your own designs come to life.
South Korea is a major shopping destination for Chinese and Japanese these days, with many dedicated duty-free shops available in Seoul. Korean Won, Japanese Yen and US dollars are accepted, along with major credit cards. Most shops have staff who can speak Japanese. There are duty-free shops in both the Incheon airport and the major department stores: Lotte, Shilla Hotel. There are other duty-free shops at Walkerhill Hotel, SKM DFS in COEX Mall.
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
|This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
Much of Korean social life revolves around food and the city is packed with restaurants, so you would have to be determined to starve to death in Seoul. This fate may still befall you if you insist on English menus and meals consisting only of easily identifiable, familiar ingredients, so see South Korea#Eat for a quick Korean menu reader. An alternative is to just point and eat, your hosts generally will accommodate. If you look in the right places, a good meal (lunch or dinner) including side dishes can cost ₩5,000 or less (try basements of large department stores).
In addition to Korean food, Japanese restaurants in Seoul tend to be excellent, featuring excellent sushi and sashimi. Chinese restaurants exist, but are typically adapted to suit local preferences. There are a few Italian restaurants; these are generally excellent, with chefs trained in Italy, although flavors tend to be more or less Koreanized, with sugar in the garlic bread and meatballs.
Bakeries are found throughout, including some of the common big chains.
Seoul has plenty of budget places to eat. Everything from convenience store junk food and noodles to street stall food and lots of 24 hr Korean fast food restaurants. The 24-hour restaurants are great because they've usually got a wide variety of foods, including: mandu, odeng, ddeokbokki, naengmyeon, udong and ramyeon. Prices do vary from about ₩2,000-9,000 at these restaurants. Also open late into the night are Korean BBQ restaurants, which are everywhere in Seoul. These can be very cheap and are usually of good quality. Barbecue options usually are limited to pork and beef, and they often come with a smattering of side dishes. Korean BBQ is, in itself, an experience that makes you feel like a Seoulite. The larger department stores in the city have basement food courts that offer excellent food (not recommended if you care about atmosphere).
Public trash bins around Seoul are rare. If you're eating street food, you can hand back leftover trash, like skewers, to the food vendors or throw it away in their trash bags. Some leave a box for trash in front of their stand. Other places to find trash bins are restrooms and convenience stores.
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
Seoul features a mind-bogglingly large array of nightspots catering to every taste and budget. Hongdae and Sinchon in Seodaemun-Mapo are Seoul's most active nightlife districts. Itaewon in Yongsan is Seoul's international district, with a wide variety of Western-styled venues to eat and drink. Since many foreigners congregate there, Itaewon remains somewhat of a niche nightlife area for Koreans interested in a more international scene. Much nightlife in Seoul revolves around soju. Soju is a traditional Korean spirit that comes in many varieties, including original and many kinds of fruit-flavored soju.
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
Seoul has two unofficial backpacker districts, Jongno (Anguk/Sinseol-dong) to the northeast of the city and Hongdae-Sinchon out to the west. Within walking distance to Dongdaemun Market, Jongno is better located for sightseeing and can be reached directly from Incheon Airport on limousine buses or city bus 6002 to Sinseol-dong stop (₩9,000, 90 min).There are many budget accommodation places across Seoul. Hongdae, Itaewon, Myeongdong and Jongno (Hanok area) are traditional hot spots for Foreign Individual Travelers (FIT). Furthermore, Gangnam is emerging thanks to the huge success of the eponymous song.Hongdae, Sinchon area is in university area. Yonsei Univ., Ehwa woman's Univ., Hongik Univ. and Sogang Univ. are around this area. so there are many restaurants, bar, club and shopping center and easy to be reached from Incheon Airport by limousine bus and Arex (Airport express train) in 1 hour.
Gangnam has a wide range of luxury with the Imperial Palace Hotel, the Park Hyatt Seoul and the Ritz-Carlton Seoul.
Most points of interest are along subway lines 1, 2, 3, and 4. So it's best to reside somewhere near a station on one or two of those lines.
Internet cafes known as PC bang (PC 방) (pr: pee-shee-bang) are ubiquitous in Seoul, and usually cost anywhere from ₩800-2,000/hr.
Most have printers at the front desk. These places cater chiefly to gamers, which translates into fairly fast computers, loud sound systems and large screens. Most PC Bangs have smoking sections. Typically, the computers run a Korean version of Windows 7 or 10 and use Internet Explorer and Chrome.
Console gaming (Xbox 360, PS3) is widely available, and for those with proficiency in Korean language, you might also be able to enjoy a round of online gaming; the fantasy MMORPG Lineage was created in Korea and a slew of MMORPG titles not available anywhere else can be found here.
Post offices are basically everywhere in Seoul, although many are hidden on smaller roads and alleys. If you cannot spot any post office nearby, it is good idea to visit university (most university has its own post office in it). The Korean postal insignia is orange and white. It can be spotted on post office signs. Most post offices sell boxes and packing materials. Even the smaller offices typically have at least one English-speaking member of staff.
- Seoul Central Post Office (서울중앙우체국), 21-1 Chungmuro 1(il)-ga, Jung-gu (Line 4 Hoehyun stn exit #7). M-F 09:00-18:00. Also has a big philately section in basement.
- Gwanghwamun Post Office (광화문우체국), 154-1 Seorin-dong, Jongno-gi (Line 5 Gwanghwanun stn). M-F 09:00-20:00 (and holidays).
- Seoul Gangnam Post Office (서울강남우체국). M-F 09:00-18:00, Sa 09:00-13:00.
Useful contact numbers are as follows:
- Police, ☏ 112.
- Fire Department, ☏ 119.
- Travel Information, ☏ 1330.
- City Information (다산콜센터), ☏ 120.
If you happen to be a non-Korean male walking hand-in-hand with a Korean female, drunk older Korean men might give you a tongue lashing or occasionally worse. This is far less of a problem than it used to be.
If you do end up in a fight, remember that Korean law is possibly different from your home country. You may not have legal protection just because someone else started the fight if the attacker ends up hurt.
Do not try to use drones to take pictures in Seoul, because most of the city (especially north of Han river) is a restricted flight area.
U.S. military personnel have a curfew 01:00-05:00 every day on the Korean Peninsula, although the curfew can be extended at very short notice. If you are a westerner, the American military police have the legal right to request to see your ID and arrest you if you cannot provide it. (This is done to catch American military personnel breaking curfew.)
Unfortunately, crimes by American soldiers against Koreans do happen, and when they do they often receive a huge amount of national attention. If you are a westerner then you should exercise some extra care when such a case hits the media, although it is still highly unlikely you would be in any danger.
Protesting: Large scale demonstrations in Seoul against the government happen from time to time. Often they can result in violence where there are pitched battles between protesters and combat police. People do get seriously hurt, so try to avoid getting too close to the action.
Fake monks have been known to operate in Seoul, notably around the Jogyesa temple. They are dressed as Buddhist monks requesting donations from people on the street in return for blessings, although they do not actually belong to any Buddhist order and just keep the cash for themselves. Actual monks would never seek donations in this manner.
South Korea has undergone a major English language boom over the past 20 years. South Korean families are eager for their children to learn English and usually enroll them in private language schools.
Seoul is probably the easiest place to talk to people in English, although most people will find conversation challenging. Often writing down simple questions in English is more effective. Many of the older generation have learned little or no English at all. A few tourist information centers dotted around Seoul are staffed by English speakers, but do not assume an English speaker will be available at most shops, sites and venues.
English signage is visible everywhere in the city, from road signs to subway maps to shop posters. One exception is in buses where the route information is completely in Korean script.
- The Seoul Global Center, 3rd Floor of the Seoul Press Center, 25 Taepyeongno 1(il)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, ☏ . Provides foreign language assistance with regard to public services, but also beyond including help with awkward coping necessities like purchasing a mobile phone.
Pharmacies are everywhere in Seoul. While most are labeled only in Korean, the signage and Hangul character is easy to recognize, 약. Most pharmacists speak some English. Pharmacists are not shy about asking about your symptoms and selling you what they think you need.
- Medical Referral Service, ☏ , [email protected]. 24 hours daily. Seoul provides an English-language hotline to assist with finding doctors and other medical services.
Medical bills can be expensive, so make sure you have valid travel insurance.
Some people with sensitive stomachs should use caution when dining in Korea as some of the local cuisine is heavily spiced with copious amounts of pepper and garlic.
Air quality in Seoul is fine and improving. However, Seoul inhabitants sometimes wear different types of masks outdoors for allergies, smog and yellow dust storms (mostly in March–April). Mongolian yellow dust storms were regarded as dangerous long before industrialisation began in Asia. Now these storms pick up trace amounts of toxins in the Chinese industry belt. Smog in Seoul is becoming less of a problem. In general, air quality has been improving since the early 2000s. Check the Korean Meteorological Administration for real-time weather info.
South Korea hosts a large number of embassies in Seoul.
- The Korean Demilitarized Zone is the 'last frontier of the cold war', and is very close to Seoul. This includes the famous peace village of Panmunjeom where negotiations have taken place for the past 50 years. Many tour companies offer DMZ tours which is a day trip from Seoul, the highlight of which is a village lying in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. You cannot visit without booking with a tour company, and that some nationalities are not allowed to visit for security reasons while others (including South Koreans and Chinese) require additional procedures.
- Gwacheon — connected by short metro ride, it is home to many attractions such as Seoul Grand Park, Seoul Zoo, MMCA Gwacheon, and Gwacheon National Science Museum.
- Yeongjong Island — Beaches, hot springs and fresh sea breezes.
- Yongin — south of Seoul, home to Everland, Korea's most popular theme park as well as the Korean Folk Village, where traditional Korean arts are regularly performed in a living museum of the Joseon Dynasty, as well as Yongin Daejanggeum Park, an outdoor set built by Korean television broadcaster MBC for the filming of period dramas.
- Incheon — The place where U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed in the Korean War; it also has the biggest and oldest Chinatown in Korea.
- Gapyeong — a popular weekend getaway, east of Seoul. A small town in the mountains of Gyeonggi-do, on the border of Gangwon-do.
- Chuncheon — Filmed in many Korean dramas and movies and now accessible by subway from Seoul
- Suwon — 30 km south of Seoul, the home of Hwaseong Fortress (화성), a UNESCO world heritage site. Subway line 1 can take you there in about one hour. Good for a half-day trip from Seoul.
- Busan — take the KTX down to Busan to enjoy the beach in summer. Makes a nice change of pace from Seoul.
|Routes through Seoul|
|END ←||NW SE||→ Gwangmyeong → Daejeon|
|END ←||NW SE||→ Suwon → Seo-daejeon|
|Kwangwoon University ←||NE SE||→ Yongsan → Suwon → Cheonan|
|Incheon ←||W NE||→ Uijeongbu → Soyosan|
|Incheon International Airport ← Incheon ←||W E||→ END|