Sunday, July 23, 2017

South Korea: Seoul: Itinerary for First-time Visitors


Visa

For the guide on visa application, click here.
For embassy rules in Taguig, Philippines.


Helpful Link/s:
Bus routes or walking trail on destinations
English Map
2017 Top Representative Destinations
Budget Travel: How much does it cost to travel to South Korea


Seasons
  • Enjoy cherry blossom starting the 1st week of April (end of March is still too early for sakura). 
  • Stay away during July due to monsoon, there are 2 weeks to 1 month wet summer in between spring and hot summer (August).
  • Autumn colors starts by 1st week of October. 1st of November can be too late for the colors. [2016|2015|2014]

When is the best time to go in Seoul in terms of weather?

I suggest Spring and Autumn.
  • January - definitely for snow, but there might be flight cancellations due to snow storm.  If you are not familiar walking in snow, there are cases of accidents when it is slippery on the streets.  If you are from tropical country, this might be too cold, or you may not enjoy walking outside.  Lunar New Year (Seollal) is mostly celebrated for 3 days, day before and after the actual holiday.  Expect that most of the shops will be closed in the city.  However, it also a good time to see the palaces since you'll have all the space for photo opportunity (with less locals).  Expect traffic on exits going to the provinces as some will be heading back to their home town. 
  • February - if you want to enjoy Valentines on their country.  Try to chase snow  if there are still few frozen river and soil (which will be too muddy to walk).
  • March - still too early for cherry blossom, but try to check the tulips festival.
  • April - try the first week for early or full bloom of sakura, second week for the petal fall experience. [forecast|suggestions]
  • May - possible rose festival. Check-out Seoul Grand Park Rose Festival by end of May to first week of June.
  • June - combination of summer and monsoon summer.  Trees are in full green.
  • July - monsoon summer, it will definitely rain during your stay.  Temperature will be hot, you'll sweat even if it is raining.  Watch out for Sinchon Water Gun Festival held in Sinchon and Yonsei-ro area on last week of July.
  • August - the hot summer that we normally know to spend on beaches.  Too much heat and high temperature, go out with fashionable shorts!
  • September - equinox, start of of the autumn festival.  Stay away from Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) as you might get difficulty in train transfers on provinces as most locals will be definitely going back to their hometown.  Bus from Seoul to Busan is also an option but the normal 4-5 hrs can be 7-10 hrs travel due to traffic during the holidays.  During this long holiday, flights between Incheon and Jeju might also be booked already.  Watch out for KTO's announcement on availability schedule of attractions and shops (announcement for 2016|2017).  Enjoy the cultural tourism program during this holiday period (sample for 2016). 
  • October - chasing the maple and ginko trees. Peak forecast may be on last week.
  • November - least possibility to catch autumn, you'll be lucky if you can still see on the first half of the month.  Make sure to catch Lantern Festival in Cheonggyecheon stream
  • December - where lights will be everywhere in time for Christmas season.  Last week will be for KDrama awards and Idol concerts. 
Weather
If you are concerned about the temperature, rain or precipitation, snow as you are still planning or wanted to see previous reports about the city, you can visit this site (just change on your preferred month): e.g. March 2016, temperature history in tutiempo.net 

If you are then preparing for the upcoming forecast of weather, here's the 14-day extended forecast

If you are catching the sun for sunrise scenes on summer or waiting for it to set for the night light festivals on Winter, visit this site.  This will help you set expectation on your preparation for your trip.



Cheap Flights to Incheon (Seoul) and Busan



I normally fly with Cebu Pacific, their regular airfare range is 6,000-7,500php, bought 7-10 months earlier before the actual flight.  If bought less than a month, it can be 10,000php and beyond.  The cheapest round trip I got on sale was on Christmas eve of 2010, it's 1,629php for  late autumn visit the following year (2011).  So if you can get a price for less than 5,000php it's already a good deal!

Air Asia can go from 7,000 to 9,000 on regular rates.  While Philippine Airlines can run from 12,000php on budget economy to 22,000php on regular economy.


*Starting 2013 or 2016, CEB has new category of DPSC added tax which is Domestic Passenger Service Charge/Terminal Fee.  If you notice we travelers only pay Travel Tax (1620php) at the airport and no longer pay for Terminal Fee of 550php.


Transportation from to the airport: Answer to late arrivals or delayed flights
What is the best way to arrive in Seoul? I prefer to take AREX to commuter train heading to Seoul (cheaper than non-stop), then use Limousine Airport Bus (more expensive, but no need to carry your luggage underground) going back to the airport.

Where to buy T-money card upon arrival?
At the airport, once you exit the arrival gates, go to your right-hand side direction. Look for C.U. (convenience store), then you can tell them that you are buying T-money card.  You can also opt to add the value to the card (40,00 KRW = 1,600 PHP, can already last for 5-7 days around the city).

Guide upon arrival to All-Stop or AREX service

LAST TRAIN (Weekday)

Departure (Incheon Intl. Airport): 23:40 (to Seoul Station)
Transfer (Seoul Station): 00:44:30 (you should be running since this is a long transfer)
Arrival (Myeong-dong): 00:47:30

TO SEOUL CITY

Bus 6015 (for Myeong-dong) (Bus Station at the Airport: (1st Floor) 5B,12A)
For Seoul: First 5:35, Last: 22:50 (every 20-35mins) at 10000
For Airport: First 4:50, Last: 20:35 at 10000krw (400ph); Journey: 1h30m


Option 1: Use the Subway Cyber Station map to navigate and change the departure time from the airport. Start with 23:00, then 23:20 until to catch the last available train on when you can rush upon arrival.

Option 2: If there are transfers required like in Seoul or Hongik Station (for Myeong-dong) or Gongdeok (Itaewon), check the map if you can take 11:40 last commuter train from the airport.  From the transfer station, if there are no more trains to your destination, you can take taxi from there.

Option 3: Take the night bus, departure 00:15, 01:05, 02:00 etc.. @ for Seoul Station. Fares can be paid on cash or T-money.
Direct: http://www.airport.kr/pa/en/d/3/1/1/index.jsp
Navigate from Airport website > To & From the Airport > Public Transformation > Late Night Bus



Accommodation: Where to stay in Seoul?
Myeong-dong area - I prefer this area due to accessibility by Euljiro-1-ga and Myeong-dong area.  Multiple options of cafes, restaurants and shops.  The area is lively with street market and hawkers until 11pm.   It is centrally located, with quick accessibility to Namsan Tower by Bus 05 (Myeongdong Station Exit 1) and to the palaces coming from Euljiro-3 (sam) ga on the same Line 3 for Anguk (Changdeokgung) and Gyeongbokgung.

For delayed flights from Cebu Pacific, be careful as the alleys became dark after 12mn.  Make sure to notify the hotel desk by mail if you are expecting late check-ins.  Some owners are not stay-in on hostels or guesthouses.

Just a tip, better to stay near the subway station than the cheaper guesthouses in the hilly part heading to Namsan Tower.  It was hard to push/pull luggage on that section of the road. [Click here for station guide for escalator or elevator service.]

K Pop Residence II Myeongdong (on the back alley, there is a trash across the street; a decent choice in Myeongdong)
4-2, Myeongdong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul

Green Residence (good on late autumn, winter, but not during summer)
Location: 17F Tae Heung Building, Myeongdong, Seoul

ZaZa Backpackers Hostel (in hilly area of Myeongdong)
Address: 32-3, Namsandong 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul/South Korea (Myeongdong Exit 2)

Hongdae/Hongik - My second preferred area.  Since Myeong-dong is already too familiar and I lost the sense of getting lost, thus I prefer this place.  You have option to stay near Ewha or Hongik universities.  Closer to student's cafes and shops - not necessarily less expensive, but a place for yuppies.  [Click here for station guide for escalator or elevator location (Line 2).|If you are looking for elevator/escalator details on Airport Road/Line-Hongik Station, click here]

24 Guesthouse - Sinchon Style (near restaurants, decent choice in Yonsei)
Address: 24, Yonsei-ro 5na-gil, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul (Changcheon-dong)

Swanhouse Hongdae (Magellan 21, near Exit 2)




You can further read arguments and feedback on Trip Advisor: 1, 2, 3

Location on the City

Itinerary: Places to go, Things to see, What to do in Seoul?
Sharing the itinerary we planned last 2011 during our first visit to Seoul.

Sunday

Going to Gyeongbokgung Palace 경복궁
Take the opportunity to join the English Free Guided Tour: 11:00, 13:30, 15:30

Start of the On-Our-Own walking tour in downtown Seoul

  • Admiral Yi Sun-shin Fountain
  • Haechi Madang
  • Waterways of History
  • Central Square - A site for relaxation and exhibition
  • Statue of King Sejong
  • Flower Carpet

Monday:
Taking shuttle bus to Nami Island

Closed on Mondays: Seoul City Hall, DMZ, Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon, Namsangol Hanok Village, Deoksugung, Culture Station Seoul; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, City Tour Bus does not operate on Mondays

Tuesday:

(Optional to have an overnight stay, to experience the island with less crowd)
or visit Petit France (Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do) or Jade Garden (Chuncheon-si Gangwon-do) or Garden of Morning Calm (Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do)



Closed on Tuesdays: Gyeongbokgung Palace

Wednesday: 
Take the ferry from Nami Island to mainland (back to Seoul)

Take a cab to Gapyeong Station (take several transfers until Myeongdong)

Train:
  • Departure at: Gapyeong Station (Line: Gyeongchun; Direction: Mangu/Sanbong)
  • Transfer at: Mangu Station (take the Jung ang Line; Direction: Jungang/Yongsan)
  • Transfer at: Inchon (take Line 4: BLUE: Direction: to Seoul Station)
Going to Namsan Tower (Teddy Bear Museum-closed last Nov 2013 | Autumn Visit on 2016 | Tower Map)
Head to a market (Namdaemun for shopping or Hongdae for street night party)
If you are in struggle of thinking to put together Nami Island, Petite France and Garden of Morning Calm in one day, read here for more thoughts.

Thursday: (choice of theme park)

Lotte World (Line 2: GREEN: Lotte World, Museum, Exit 4) (If you would like to stay in the city area, would like to enjoy kiddie rides in indoor or outdoor area - this maybe your choice.)
OR Everland (If you don't mind travelling 2 hrs away from the city, would definitely ride the T-express wooden coaster and like to see flower garden and other zoo adventure - this is a place for you.)

Friday: 
(We prefer to separate the traditional palaces and temples in 2 days not to get tired of or be fed up.) 
Going to Changdeokgung Palace (Anguk Station, Seoul Subway Line 3, proceed out of Exit #3)
Try to join the English palace tour or Huwon (Secret Garden Tour)
Optional: Bukchon Hanok Village, InsadongGahoe-dong Catholic Church

Going to Dongdaemun (Doota Mall)


Saturday

(Considered free day, for those you were not able to visit above or other places you wanted to visit.)
  • Try a campus tour
  • or go to Samseong Station: for Kring Museum (not recommended if you are not Drama addict) and COEX
  • or go to Banpo Bridge for Moonlight Rainbow Fountain (not recommended during heavy rains on June-Aug)
Sunday
Cathedral of Saints Mary and Nicholas (Myeongdong)
Free Day

Open all year round: Namsan Tower, Lotte World, Everland, Nami Island, Petite France, Garden of Morning Calm, Seoraksan

(Optional to stay near Incheon airport if the flight is too early in the morning) 

Global Guest House
Address: 801 IBC Daewoo Theoville, 2850 Unseo-dong, Jung-gu,

*No need to spend an overnight stay for Busan on your first visit to South Korea.  What you can find in Seoul, you can also find in Busan (except for Haeundae Beach).  If you want to see Busan, have a separate trip on it, together with other provinces in the southern peninsula.
Or, to have a better plan, in-bound in Incheon Airport for  Seoul, use KTX for your train to Busan, then out-bound back to your home country in Gimhae Airport.

Attractions in and near Seoul
Attractionvisitkorea 2016visitseoul.nettripadvisor 2016travelfeeder 2014tommyooi 2011insight guides
Gyeongbokgung Palace13121-
N Seoul Tower34333-
Insa-dong95-286
Myeong-dong62-12-
Bukchon Hanok Village4--26-
Namiseom Island2--412-
Changdeokgung--4-79
Dongdaemun Market-1--4-
Namdaemun Market76----
Dongdaemun Design Plaza-88---
Seoraksan National Park (Gangwon)----152
Hongdae-9--9-
Lotte World5---14-
The War Memorial of Korea--2---
Cheong Wa Dae----5-
Seoul City Wall-7----
Bongeunsa Temple (Seoul)--7---
Lotte Department Store – Main Branch8-----
Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain10-----
Cheonggyecheon (Stream)-10----
Itaewon----10-
Demilitarised Zone (DMZ)-----10
Jongmyo Shrine----11-
Everland----13-

Reference

SiteArticle
visitkorea 2016TOP 10 Most Popular Korean Attractions of 2016
visitseoul.netTop 10 Attractions
tripadvisor 2016Top 10 Landmarks — South Korea
tommyooi 201115 Must Visit Seoul Attractions & Travel Guide
travelfeeder 2014Korea top 10 places to visit during your holiday
insightguidesSouth Korea: top attractions

Suggested Places to See (Based on Category)


Seoul
Normal Must See First Time Itinerary
Other Suggestions
Culture & Tradition
Gwanghwamun Square, Exit 9 (Admiral Yi Sun-shin, King Sejong)
Changdeokgung Palace, Anguk Exit 3
Secret Garden (Changdeokgung Palace, Anguk Exit 3)
Deoksugung Palace (City Hall Station (Seoul Subway Line 1 – Exit 2 / Seoul Subway Line 2 – Exit 12
Culture Station Seoul (Former Seoul Station)
Landmark
Cheonggyecheon Stream ( Gwanghwamun Exit 5, Seoul Lantern Festival)
Banpo Bridge
Yeouido Hangang Park
Cheong Wa Dae (Blue House)
Theme Park
Lotte World, Jamsil Exit 3
Everland (near Suwon)
Seoulland, Seoul Grand Park Exit 2
Shopping/Market/Food
Insadong, Anguk Exit 3 (arts & crafts)
Myeong-dong (Euljiro 1(il) ga) Exit 5,6 (cosmetics)
Namdaemun Market
Dongdaemun (Doota Mall) (clothing)
Gangnam, Garosugil, Apgujeongdong
Rodeo Street, Munjeong Exit 1
Noryangjin Seafood Market
Common Ground
Itaewon
Day Away
Gapyeong/Chuncheon:
Nami Island
Petite France
Gapyeong Rail Bike
DMZ or JSA (Check Koridoor or TourDMZ)
School Visit
Hongdae Area (Hongik University)
Yonsei University
Kyung Hee University, Hoegi, Exit 1 (+Bus #1)
Museum
Lotte World Folk Museum, Jamsil Exit 3
National Museum of Korea is the sixth largest museum in the world.
Seoul Museum of Art
The War Memorial of Korea
Hike
Seoraksan or Bukhansan

Hanok Village
Bukchon, Anguk Exit 2 (+300m)
Namsangol, Chungmuro Exit 2,3

Joining Tours

If you are still not confident in looking around the area on solo adventure, why not join city tours. Check the following:


Budget

Tip: You can limit your expenses (exclusive of airfare and accommodation) for 5-8 days stay to 25k-30k php/ea.


Where can I go shopping?

  • Myeong-dong - you can enjoy both underground and street shopping
  • Dongdaemun - for returning gifts and whole sale buying
  • Hongdae - for artsy stuff (which were created by students) during weekends
  • Gangnam - if budget is not a question

Tips

  • If you don't want to get lost and time matters on your trip, prepare the transfer stations and exit #s.
  • Make sure you have reference of copy of the Korean/Hangul/Romanized/English names of your selected destinations/stations/terminals
  • Use T-money for cheaper fares (in case you are not able to top-up on subway stations, go to the nearest 7/11 or convenience stores)
  • Don't use fashion boots (with heels) when heading to the mountains, to prevent getting an Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
  • Have a comfortable walking shoes.  Although, the country is well planned with trains and buses, you'll have a lot of walking.
  • Look and print/have a copy of online coupons for discounts. (visitkorea.com|vkc.or.kr|trazy.com) If you are looking for activities with best deals and prices upto 30% cheaper, book with kkday.com.
  • Bring power adapter.  For electric outlet, mostly they have two round holes.  Bring your own power adapter since you'll gonna use it on your future trips.  But you can also borrow it from hotel desk for a minimal price.  For those who have personal tv on your booked rooms, you can use the USB adapter behind the tv to charge your phones.
  • If carrying luggage, make sure there is elevator on your hostel.  Or check the subway exit with escalator or elevator.
  • There are theme parks which has an option for park admission or day pass.  The difference is that the park admission is cheaper because it lets you enter the park but need to pay separate payment for the rides.  The Day Pass will let you use most of the rides and park facilities.
  • Kimchi is not allowed to be bring on-board or hand-carry since it is considered as a "liquid".  If you want to bring home one make sure that the package is sealed due to strong smell and keep it on your check-in baggage.
  • On buying in markets, some vendors can speak less or no English, make sure to politely ask the price before buying anything.  Use extensive hand signs to make the communication easier.  Always say thank you before leaving the store. 
  • If you are interested to know about safe lockers service in subway station, for information on Lines 5, 6, 7, 8, you may visit this link.  KTO confirmed that as of Aug 14 2017, lockers are not available in Chuncheon or Gapyeong station.
  • Children age of 6 and younger: Free of charge.
  • For those who have extended weeks of stay in Seoul and looking for coin laundry service, check-out either this or this link.
Staying Connected
Previously (2011), its easier to have access on the internet.  Just walk along the streets and for sure you'll  be connected for free.

However, most connections now require password.

If you are on solo adventure and staying for about 2 weeks with transfers on your accommodation, and you are visiting mountain side or provincial areas better to get a data local sim, to be online as needed (can cost you about 20000krw=1000php), to the places where English is not used.
I did bought my sim from T-world in Gyeongju

But if you are just staying for about a week on the same accommodation, egg rental can be a better option. At least you can connect more than 3 devices while on the road.  Then, you can turn it off as wifi routers are mostly available on guesthouses or hotels.
Rate: Egg rental from Swanhouse (Hongdae) - @ 5000krw (200php, 2016)

Here's a good read for your assistance on the comparison between service provider of egg.


Discount Tips

Don't think of this country as an expensive tour.  Below are just few tips on how you can find ways to make cheap deals.

Use T-money for you subway and bus transactions since there are discounts offered than using a single journey ticket. Note: T-Money cards have no expiration date and any unused balance will remain on your card until used. [Reference]  So make sure to keep them safe until your next visit in South Korea.

Visit Korea - Imagine your Korea (or click)
You can get coupon booklets for Gyeonggi-do, Duty Free discounts, K-Shuttle promotions, and coupons for attractions like Alive Museum and Trick Museum.

Visit Korea Coupons  
Where you can find coupons for the most of the beauty shops (ie. Missha, Tony Moly, Etude, Banila co., Skinfood, etc) and cafes (Hollys Coffee, Dunkin Donuts, Droptop, etc) in Myeongdong 



Early Flight
There are flights that were scheduled too early where you have to be in the airport by 5am.

By Subway (Journey Time: 67 minutes at 4250KrW)

05:45am - Earliest departure from Myeongdong to Seoul (followed by 5:58)
06:00am - Transfer at Seoul Station
06:43am - Arrival at Incheon Intl. Airport

By Bus 

The first bus departs from Sejong Hotel (Myeongdong station) at 4:50am in the morning.  Arrival will depend on the traffic, normally journey will be 1h15m-1h30m.

By Taxi

If you are not confident to meet your target time in Incheon Airport from Myeongdong via bus or subway, you can use Taxi. [read more information on Taxi Types and Fares]

Nearby Hotel

Stay in the Airport in jimjilbang in he Spa On Air (lowerground).  I have not personally tried the service, hopefully soon.  But you can read more reviews about this place on Trip Advisor.

Or near the airport the night before the departure flight, like Global Guest House.


Unseo Station

From Trip Advisor, ethelman has a good suggestion of staying in Unseo station (Airport Town), 8 minutes away from Incheon.
Earliest Departure (Unseo) - 05:42am
Arrival (Incheon Intl Airport) - 5:47am


Other sample itineraries:

For my further sample itinerary, expense, trip reports and PDF guides, please visit links below:



Read PDF version


This page was last updated: 2017 August.