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10 Absolutely Necessary Seoul Travel Tips for First-Timers

Korea is a beautiful place to visit and can be somewhat intimidating if you do not know the language. In South Korea, there are lots of things to do, tons of food to try, and plenty of friendly people. Many Koreans in Seoul are knowledgeable in English but are shy in speaking the language. If you are traveling to Seoul for the first time, then these Seoul travel tips will be the best to help you navigate around Seoul, know what to buy and where to go.

Royal Cafe in Seoul, South Korea - Seoul Travel Tips

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TRAVEL PLANNING RESOURCES  

  • Car RentalExpedia is a reliable platform to book rental cars.
  • Luggage: It depends on what type of bags you like. If you are looking to backpack around Europe, I highly recommend the Osprey Fairview 40L.
  • What to Pack: Use this ultimate Carry On Essentials list for things you should pack for every trip.
  • Send Money Anywhere:  WISE is the best account for transferring funds abroad.
  • Stay Connected: Staying connected abroad is important for safety and travel. Using Airalo will save you time and money for your trip by getting an eSIM right from the start.

Seoul Travel Tips – do’s and don’ts in south korea

Seoul can be quite an overwhelming city of newcomers. It’s incredibly busy with millions of residents and tourists filling up the city. Learning the way of how to get around is important which is why I provided these extensive Seoul travel tips.

Seoul Travel Tips – Currency

The Korean form of currency is called a won. Approximately 1000 won is about a dollar. You will have to check daily about what the exchange rate is. Most banks in Korea will exchange the currency for free.

Credit and debit cards are used frequently in South Korea. Most Korean stores take any form of credit card, so if you are hesitant to carry a large amount of cash while traveling, this will be a safe bet.

However, if you happen to be in an open market or even some clothing markets like in Dongdaemun Market, you will need to bring cash. This market is most common for store owners trying to get clothing for their stores. I oftentimes bring my credit card while traveling. Mostly because if there are any issues with the card, I can notify my credit card company about the item in question. Second, there are no foreign exchange rates, which can be expensive with a debit card depending on the bank you use.

Travel Tips to save money in Seoul

  • Use public transportation
  • Take a free guided tour
  • Wear a Hanbok to gain free access to the palace (2 birds with one stone – you will save more money if you don’t wear a Hanbok though, so this is only valid if you want to do both.)

Tipping Culture in South Korea

This Seoul travel tip is one of the most important. Korea has a no-tipping culture, it is considered rude to provide a tip. However, there are a few foreign restaurants and bars that do accept tips. The price given includes tax and everything so don’t expect to pay more than what is on the receipt or tag.

Temple in Yongin

Seoul Travel Tips – Religion and Culture

  • Religion – Most of South Korea are mixed with Christian, Buddhist, and Catholic. However, many of them are nonpracticing. South Koreans, however, are pretty conservative when it comes to dressing.
  • Clothing – You will see many that have their shoulders and chests covered. However, you will see many in very short skirts, shorts, or dresses. My Seoul travel tip is that It’s okay to dress however way you feel is comfortable, but I want to let you know, you may get stares because of your outfit or because you are a foreigner in general.
  • Tattoos – South Koreans absolutely love American culture so many will not be bothered by seeing tattoos, however, there are still many older generations who are very traditional when it comes to seeing tattoos. There may be some Jimjilbangs you will have to worry about that do not accept tattoos.

Seoul Travel Tips – Language

The language spoken in Seoul is Korean. Most Koreans were taught to speak English from classes from primary school, however, many are too afraid to speak it or may have forgotten the skills since they do not need to speak it often.

Do not be worried about getting around Seoul, as there are many useful apps out there now that can help with translation if there is an issue. Additionally, there are many words in Korean that are in English like Latte, Coffee, etc.

If you are looking for some apps to use to assist with translation, I suggest Papago or Google Translate.

Key Korean phrases and words you should know

Knowing a little basic Korean will go a long way and it’s important of all of the Seoul travel tips I provide. Knowing just hello and thank you will be great ways to show respect to the culture.

Hello/Goodbye – 안녕하세요 – An-nyeong-ha-se-yo
Nice to meet you – 반갑습니다 – Ban-gap-sum-ni-da
Thank you – 감사합니다 – Kam-sa-ham-ni-da
Excuse me/just a moment – 잠시만요 – Jam-shi-man-yo
I’m sorry -죄송합니다/미안합니다 – Chway-seong-ham-ni-da/Mi-an-ham-ni-da
Please (Please give) – 주세요 – Ju-se-yo

Seoul Travel Tips – Best time to visit Seoul

My Seoul travel tips for the best time to visit Seoul is in the spring, March-May, or fall, September–November, months. The weather is more temperament and comfortable to travel in. In the summer, it is very muggy and hot. There is also heavy monsoon season so humidity with rain.

The winter months are good times to travel as well if you don’t mind the freezing cold temperatures. However, during the spring you may be traveling during heavy find dust times and you may need to bring a mask. If you are only staying in Korea, temporarily, it won’t be a big deal, however, if staying long-term it’s good to have one on hand. You can easily purchase them in any convenience store in Korea.

Holidays in Seoul

There are quite a few Korean National holidays held throughout the year. Some are dates you may need to avoid due to places being closed for the holidays. My travel tips for traveling in Seoul are to avoid some of those holidays including Seollal, Chuseok, Christmas, and New Year’s.

  • January 1 – New Year’s Day
  • January – February – Seollal – Korean New Year’s based on the Lunar Calendar
  • March 1 – Independence Day
  • April 8 – Buddha’s Birthday
  • May 5 – Children’s Day
  • June 6 – Memorial Day
  • August 15 – Liberation Day
  • September – Chuseok
  • October 3 – National Foundation Day
  • October 9 – Hangeul Day
  • December 25 – Christmas Day

Seoul Travel Tips – What to pack for Seoul

Koreans dress a bit more dressed up than back in the US. So if you are into casual wear, it’s fine, but you might get some stares.

  • Winter – Heavy coats, good walking shoes, thick sweaters, thick socks, lots of layering and thick scarves. You may need some gloves or you can also purchase a rechargeable hand warmer here as well. You will get hot going in and out of the subway, so make sure you are able to take some clothes off to cool down.
  • Spring – Layering clothing. Lightweight should be good, but it can still be cold at night. T-shirts, long sleeve shirts, a sweater for colder days, pants, and jeans.
  • Summer – Sandals, good walking shoes that dry quickly, lightweight clothing like linen or things that dry quickly, and an umbrella for the rainy season.
  • Fall – Layered jackets (some nights can get very cold and you will need a winter coat), tights or leggings, scarves

Seoul Travel Tips – Where to stay in Seoul

My Seoul travel tips are to stay in Myeongdong or Hongdae within Seoul. You want to be centrally located and around areas where you can get some entertainment and delicious food nearby. Hongdae has better access to the subway straight to the international airport which is why I suggest that location. You can read more about all the popular neighborhoods in Seoul below. Read my detailed post on where to stay in Seoul.

Neighborhoods to visit in Seoul

  • Myeongdong – Myeongdong is one of the popular shopping areas in Seoul. Here you can get a lot of delicious street foods, skincare, and shop until you drop.
  • Itaewon – Itaewon is mostly for tourists or foreigners. You will see many foreigners here. It is a popular area to be in if you like to go out drinking at night. You can also find some great bargains on socks and souvenirs.
  • Dongdaemun – This area is a popular area for traditional street food and night markets. Shop like the locals deep into the wee hours of the night. Find some of Seoul’s popular Korean fashion.
  • Insadong – The most popular neighborhood for the palaces, shopping for souvenirs, hanbok rentals and more.
  • Gangnam – Known for the COEX Library and mall, popular due to plastic surgery, and Psy’s “Gangnam Style” K-POP song.
  • Hongdae – This is literally my favorite neighborhood in Seoul. Hongdae is where I recommend a lot of people to stay when visiting Seoul.
  • Jamsil – Popular for sports fans who want to see a baseball game or families who want to visit Lotte World.
  • Namdaemun – Like Dongdaemun, Namdaemun has some popular night markets to shop at as well.

Seoul Travel Tips – Transportation

Korea probably has one of the most advanced ways to travel. There is no need to have a vehicle at all while being in Korea. Renting a car would be a waste of money and not truly experiencing the culture of being in Korea. For someone new to public transportation in Korea, it can be overwhelming. These are a few of my favorite Seoul travel tips to help you get around the city.

T-Money

How much is a T-Money Card

Around 4,000 won + money to reload for the subway costs

Where to get a T-Money Card

The best place to get a T-Money card is right at the airport. I highly suggest you buy one at the airport at one of the convenience stores / Incheon International Airport Passenger Terminal 1 Store on B1 (07:00-22:00) / Incheon International Airport Passenger Terminal 1 Travel Center (07:00-21:30) / Gimpo Airport Station Int’l Travel Center (07:00-21:30)

You can either reload your T-Money card at a local convenience store or any subway station. There are reload locations at every subway station. You place the card on the appropriate spot and select how much you want to load on the card. These machines are available in English as well, so don’t worry about not knowing Korean.

Taxis

There are plenty of taxis all over Korea. However, there is a lot of public transportation in Korea, so taxis for most are not used often. Subways and Buses are cheaper ways to commute to any destination. It can be intimidating to take a taxi since many of the taxi drivers do not know English although there are a few who do.

Rideshare Taxi Service

The best way to take an uber like service is to download the Kakao taxi app. You can use the app and change the payment to pay in person. The Kakao taxi app only takes Korean Bank Cards, so it is best to change the payment to pay in person. The app will include the license plate of the taxi and you will know which taxi to take when it arrives. Read more about the app below.

Subways

One of my favorite travel Seoul travel tips is to take public transportation, most specifically the subway. The subways are very advanced in Korea. There are about 19 different lines and counting. The subways are written in English and Korea which is very helpful to anyone traveling in Korea. If you don’t know the language, don’t worry as this is very helpful and most of the people in the city of Seoul know some basic English skills.

The best way to learn the subway system is by downloading the Kakao Metro App. You have the option of reading it in Korean and English. There are many features to this app. You can select the location you are nearest to and find the stop on the map you need to reach and the app will find the quickest and cheapest route for you.

Kakao Metro App will break down where you will need to get off to transfer to the next line. It will also give you the prices and how long it will take for you to reach your destination. This app does not need Wi-Fi or phone service to be used, however, you will need Wi-Fi to download it, so I suggest you download it prior to leaving for Korea.

The Kakao Metro app is the best one to use because it also has a timeline and lets you know what time the subways should arrive.

Buses

The Seoul Bus phone app will help you to get where you need to go, however, I believe it needs Wi-Fi or service to be used. So make sure you know your route beforehand or try to get to a coffee shop to use it. The buses can be definitely confusing, so sometimes a taxi will be a better option.

Korail

These are more for longer transportation, but cheaper than a plane. It will cost about $50USD/50,000 won each way or $100USD/100,000 won round trip from Busan to Seoul. This is actually a very relaxing and comfortable way to travel. There is Wi-Fi on the train so if you have work to do it would be very convenient, but you have to have a local internet/cell phone service in order to access it or pay for the use.

Plane

This is the best way to travel to Jeju Island (제주도). There are constant plane flights from Gimpo Airport to Jeju Island. It is a very popular tourist attraction.

Seoul Travel Tips – Must-have Apps

Honestly, these will be some of the best Seoul travel tips. You’ll need a lot of these apps to kind of navigate around town and if you plan to live in South Korea, they are an absolute must.

Kakao Talk

Great local messaging app in Korea. Perfect for talking to locals, but also family and friends at home. However, KIK messenger is still available in Korea.

Kakao Taxi

Kakao taxi is a ride share service similar to Uber that is used in Korea. Uber is not accessible in Korea, so I suggest you download this app prior to coming to Korea. It only takes payments on the app with Korean banks, however, you can select to change the payment to pay in person on the app.

Kakao Maps

Kakao Maps is the best map service app to get around Seoul. You will quickly notice that google maps don’t always work so well in Korea. Many things will not be in the correct locations or be quite accurate. However, that is pretty much all of Korea.

Kakao Bus

The Kakao maps app does a pretty good job if telling you which bus or subway to take to get to each destination. However, if you want a more detailed bus map or want to know where each bus goes, you can download the Kakao Bus app. It will tell you all the local bus stops and where the buses go.

Naver

This is the Google of Korea. Unfortunately, Google is not popular and does not work very well in Korea. Naver is the better version and all Koreans use Naver for their maps and search engine.

Papago Translator

My Seoul travel tips if you do not speak Hangul or Korean, I highly suggest you download the Papago app. This app is a great app that can help translate from Korean to English or vice versa. Papago is more popular in Korea and works best since it is part of Korea’s Naver program. Unfortunately, Google Translate can be translated incorrectly and can cause communication issues. You may even offend someone if it is not translated correctly.

Additionally, let’s say you see a sign or a picture that you need to be translated, you can use this app to take a picture of what you want to be translated and it will do that for it. It’s seriously a lifesaver for those traveling in South Korea.

Seoul Travel Tips – Top Attractions

  • Banpo Bridge
  • Visit a Themed Cafe
  • Coex Library
  • Eat street food
  • Shop for skincare
  • Get a facial
  • Visit Hanok Village
  • Shop at Dongdaemun
  • Namsan Tower
  • Lotte World
  • Gangnam Style
  • Rent a Hanbok
  • Gwangjang Market

Seoul’s Top Parks

  • Seoul Grand Park
  • Bukhansan National Park
  • Hangang Park
  • Seoul Forest
  • Namsan Park
  • Seoul Botanical Garden

Seoul’s Top Temples

  • Jogyesa Temple
  • Gagwonsa Temple
  • Bongeunsa Temple
  • Haedong Yonggung Temple
  • Tapsa Temple
  • Sudeoksa Temple

Seoul’s Palaces

  • Changdeokgung Palace
  • Gyeongbokgung Palace
  • Changgyeonggung Palace
  • Deoksugung Palace
  • Gyeonghuigung Palace

Major Festivals in Seoul

  • Yongdeungpo Yeouido Spring Flower Festival
  • Lotus Lantern Festival
  • Jungnang Rose Festival
  • Sinchon Watergun Festival
  • Go, Go Jongno Culture Festival
  • Seoul International Fireworks Festival
  • Seoul Kimchi Making & Sharing Festival

Travel Tips – What to eat in Seoul

  • Korean BBQ
  • Jjajanmyeong
  • Budae Jjigae
  • Kimchi Jjigae
  • Mandu
  • Tteokbokki
  • Bibimbap
  • Gimbap
  • Japchae
  • Naengmyeong
  • Bingsu

Street Food to eat in Seoul

  • Hot dogs
  • Tornado Potato
  • Odeng
  • Lobster
  • Mandu
  • Gyeran-Bbang
  • Squid
  • Kimchi Pancake
  • Roasted Chestnuts
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Hotteok
  • Bungeoppang
  • Waffles
  • Strawberries on a Stick
  • Dragon’s Beard

Seoul Travel Tips – What to buy in South Korea

Skincare

Skincare is a big deal in South Korea and they have so many products to show you why it matters. Koreans are innovators for natural skincare products, they care about makeup and natural-looking skin.

Phone Cases

I have never seen so many cute cell phone cases in my life. I know Amazon has a lot, however, many of these cases are super convenient as well. Many of the cell phone cases have card cases that are great for subway stations and very stylish.

Clothing

Korea is the fashion mecca for many Asian countries. In Korea, you will find some of the best knock-off products that are very high quality. If you are plus size and like Korean fashion, it is a bit harder to find clothing, However, I do suggest shopping at Romi Story.

What are some of your Seoul travel tips? List them below in the comments.

Seoul Travel Tips

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