Annyeonghaseyo! If this travel guide caught your attention, then you’re probably thinking of visiting the “Land of Oppas” and KDramas soon. Hello, Seoul, South Korea!
If Japan is called the “Land of the Rising Sun”, Korea is dubbed as the “Land of the Morning Calm”. Korea earned the title “Chaohsien”, which meant morning freshness, in 1934, because of its stunning mountains and clear waters, especially in the morning. Of course this was not always the case because Korea was divided in the year 1945 and the “Land of the Morning Calm” was eventually shattered during the ill-fated morning of June 25, 1950, when North Korea attacked South Korea.
The war lasted for three years and ended with an agreement called armistice, but that did not officially end the war because the two Koreas remain divided to this day, divided only by what they call the 38th parallel that demarcates North from South. If you have already watched Crash Landing On You, then you’re already familiar with what I’m talking about.
And even though this is a Seoul Travel Guide, I’ll still include in this guide nearby provinces and some attractions outside the city that are worth visiting like Nami Island, Suwon City and the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
Arasso? Then let’s start!
GETTING TO SEOUL
By Air: Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia fly to Seoul. Travel time is approximately 3.5 to 4 hours. There’s a time difference between Korea and Philippines, Korea being one hour ahead.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SEOUL
Accommodation: There are many hostels and hotels in Seoul. The area where you plan to stay actually depends on your activities or itinerary. A room good for 2-3 people only costs more or less Php2,000 in a hostel and approximately Php4,000++ in a hotel.
Like in any other countries, best to stay in an accommodation where there’s a near train station or Airport Limousine bus stop.
HOSTELS IN SEOUL:
K-Guesthouse Dongdaemun 5 – There are many K-Guesthouses in Seoul but I recommend this one in Dongdaemun 5 because the owner, Amy, was so nice and there’s a cool Chicken and Beer restaurant just below the building, Subway Stations (Lines 2, 4 and 5) are only few steps away, Dongdaemun Design Plaza is just few meters away, shopping mall is few steps away too, and there’s a nearby Airport Bus stop. Very convenient!
G Guesthouse Itaewon – If you have watched Itaewon Class, this is where Jang Geun-soo lives. Same place where Park Saero-yi met Jo Yi-seo for the first time.
Ray’s Place – This Airbnb place is located right in front of Seoul Station and where we also stayed for 4 days and 3 nights. It’s actually a studio condo unit.
HOTELS IN SEOUL:
MEAL. Food in Korea is not really affordable but price of their Korean Barbecue is almost the same as Manila’s. If you want to save, you can opt for Korean noodles but eating noodles for consecutives days is no fun so I suggest you try what they are also famous for – Chicken and Beer. If you love spicy food, you will love Korean food.
TRANSPORTATION. Main mode of transportation in Seoul is their subway. Like in Japan, riding their train is a breeze. There are also buses and cabs everywhere but riding the train is faster, easier and more affordable.
TOURING. No tour guide needed when in Seoul. Just research the places that you wish to visit prior to your arrival and familiarize yourself with the subway stations and exits so you won’t get lost and waste time and energy.
THINGS YOU NEED TO HAVE WHEN YOU VISIT SEOUL
Comfy footwear. You will do lots and lots of walking so you need comfortable shoes to last you all throughout your trip. Sneakers is a good idea.
Camera or Smartphone with a nice camera. You will regret not bringing one when you visit Nami Island.
Money. Bring enough dollars or Korean Won with you. You will need lots of moolah for eating and shopping.
Medicine. If you are allergic to some medicines, it’s always best to bring your own first aid kid, especially if you plan to visit Seoul during Autumn or Winter.
Transit Maps (Korean) Subway App. My best friend whenever I visit South Korea and Japan.
BUDGET: There are so many places to see in Seoul and its nearby provinces so if you are a first timer and have time and budget to spare for your Korean trip, a one week trip is already enough. This is already a very lenient trip so you can actually reduce the days if you see fit.
That being said, a budget of P50,000 per person (exclusive of airfare) is already enough, this is already inclusive of the money for shopping or any contingency that you may need.
SEOUL DAILY ITINERARY
Assuming you arrive in the afternoon, better to settle down first and take a rest before hitting your first destination.
Namdaemun Market, Seoul
This is the best bargain place for “pasalubong hunting”. It’s actually like Divisoria but of course more clean, organized and pleasant. You can actually buy lots of canvas bags, luggages, food and other Korean trinkets here. For photography enthusiast, Namdaemun Market is also a camera lovers paradise.
Changdeokgung Palace, Seoul
This palace is so big that we weren’t able to see all the sites, especially the one I’m really looking forward to – Secret Garden. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the “Five Grand Palaces” built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty during the 15th century. If you want to see all the beautiful spots inside Changdeokgung, I suggest you allot an entire day and make sure your feet is ready for some serious action.
If you plan to visit the Secret Garden, be sure to make prior reservation as this is a guided tour. I’d definitely visit the place soon to check out one of the filming locations of the Korean TV Series “Kingdom”.
Hongdae Shopping Street, Seoul
Hongdae is known for its youthful ambience, underground culture and artistic vibe. If you are feeling artsy or just want to check out street performances or people doing any artsy stuff on the street, Hongdae is the place to be. We weren’t able to really enjoy Hongdae when we went there because we’re so tired already and it’s freaking cold so I cannot say much about this area except that it’s also a good place for shopping clothes. If I were to make a comparison with Japan, this would probably be like Tokyo’s Takeshita Dori Street.
If you’re in the mood for some playtime with some of Seoul’s cute dogs, then you can visit Bau Haus Dog Cafe which is also located in Hongdae.
Hwaseong Haenggung Palace in Suwon City
If you are interested in Korean History and love the period drama “Jewel in The Palace”, then going to Hwaseong Haenggung Palace would definitely excite you. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is actually the shooting location of the popular drama Daejanggeum, the kitchen scenes to be specific.
I recommend that you visit Hwaseong Haenggung Palace during weekdays and just before lunch to avoid big crowd. Travel time from Seoul City to the palace would take more or less an hour and entails subway and bus rides
If you have watched the K-drama Itaewon Class, then this place needs no further introduction. If you love food, booze and nightlife, Itaewon is the place to be. Because of its diverse culture and food, Itaewon is also called the “Global Village in Seoul”.
DMZ or Korean Demilitarized Zone
Get a step closer to North Korea by visiting DMZ. For Captain Ri fans, booking a DMZ tour should top your list when in South Korea. Civilians are prohibited from visiting DMZ by themselves so the only way to check out the place is by joining a group tour by recognised tour agents or operators.
There are few sites to see in DMZ although our chosen tour only covers Imjingak Park, 3rd Infiltration tunnel ( yes, you will go inside. If you are claustrophobic, you can opt to just stay outside), Dora Observatory (check out North Korea from afar or use the binoculars provided) and Dorasan Station (an actual train station to Pyeongyang which will be operational once the reunification of North and South happens).
Tour was very interesting and you will really learn a lot about Korean history so booking a DMZ tour should be included in your “to dos” when you visit Seoul.
Myeongdong Shopping Street, Seoul
Myeongdong is probably the most visited area in Seoul by locals and foreigners alike. This is the cosmetics and skin care haven in South Korea so if you want to shop for brands like Nature Republic, The Face Shop, Tony Moly, Innisfree, Etude House, and other Korean brands, this is the place that should definitely be included in your itinerary. Best month to shop here is every October because the month of October is Korea Sale Festa and you’ll be able to score amazing discounts and promos on their products.
Aside from skin cares, you can also find lots of interesting street food in Myeongdong, cool clothing stores and there’s even a cat cafe in the area.
Coming from Seoul Station, the travel to Namiseom or Nami Island would take more than an hour and entails, a train, bus or taxi and a boat ride just to reach the beautiful island of Nami.
Better to go really early, like be sure to be there at 7:00AM so there would be few people and you can take nice photos in the long row of Korean Pine and Ginkgo trees, and also ride a bike without having to mind all the other bikers and people walking.
Nami Island can get really crowded in the afternoon so be sure to leave before 3:00PM. If you want to leave the island before lunch time, you can opt to visit nearby sites like Petite France and the Garden of Morning Calm.
Also, be on the look out for cute squirrels and rabbits.
Get a taste of Korean Culture when you visit Insadong in Seoul. Insadong is the artistic and cultural hub of Seoul so it’s no longer surprising to see local and tourist alike sporting a Hanbok while walking along the cobbled streets lined up with small shops selling food, trinkets, clothes and bags.
Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul
Since you are already in Insadong, which is just 1.2km away from Bukchon Hanok Village, then might as well take the opportunity to visit this Korean Traditional Village while wearing your Hanbok. Not really a fan of this place because there’s nothing much to see and place tends to get crowded so getting a nice solo photo is kinda’ challenging and the uphill walking is very tiring.
Do the Gangnam style and just stroll along this high end area of Seoul.
If you are into K-Pop or Hallyu Stars, then walking down K-Star Road would definitely excite you. Along K-Star Road or 17 Gangnamdol (Gangnam Idol) representing different popular K-pop groups. If you’re lucky enough, you might be able to see or take a glimpse of your favorite K-Pop idols since many entertainment companies that produce K-Stars are located in Gangnam or K-Star Road.
We did not really wander around that much and just had coffee at Angel-in-us Coffee to kill time. When we were about to head home, there was a big crowd of people near Innisfree store, they said that Lee Min Ho was in the store that time. Not so sure about that though because we did not bother to check anymore.
MUST TRY AND BUY IN SEOUL
Chicken and Beer. If you’ve been watching lots of Korean dramas, you know how Koreans love the Chicken and Beer combo. You can find Chicken and Beer resto in almost every corner of Seoul.
Hanbok. Try it just for the experience. Hanbok rental costs around 17,000 won or less than P1,000 for 3-4 hours.
Korean Barbecue. You’re in Korea so no reason to not try the OG Korean Barbecue.
Bike ride at Nami Island. Riding a bike is a breeze especially around 7:00-7:30AM. Bike rental costs 10,000 Won or more or less Php500.
There are so many places to see in Seoul that I haven’t mentioned yet like the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, N Seoul Tower, Starfield Library, Namsan Park, and many more, so up to you already what you can fit in your itinerary. I chose not to visit so many places in one day because I just want a chill trip, which also means more reason to go back to Seoul soon!