Seoul, South Korea Travel Guide

Seoul

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!

 

Autumn Leaves in South Korea
Always love the Autumn Leaves

 

  • If you are also meaning to visit Busan and Jeju, here are my Busan and Jeju Island Travel Guides!

 

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

Airbnb in Seoul, South Korea
This was our very minimalist BnB in the heart of Seoul. In front of Seoul Station.

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.

Myeongdong New Stay Inn

Time Traveler Relax Hongdae

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.

K Guesthouse Dongdaemun 5 in Seoul
Free breakfast at K-Guesthouse Dongdaemun 5

HOTELS IN SEOUL:

Grand Hyatt Seoul

GLAD Gangnam COEX Center

Stay Hotel

Lotte City Hotel Myeongdong

L7 Gangnam Hotel

 

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.

Korean Barbecue in Seoul, South Korea
Authentic Korean Barbecue (Black Pig)
Korean Food in Seoul, South Korea
I already forgot the name of the food being cooked here but it’s so YUMMY! Restaurant is in Namdaemun Market. Food looks like Korean Stir Fry Pork Belly with Kimchi and Bean Sprouts.

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.

Seoul Station, South Korea
Seoul Station. Hello Gong Yoo.
Seoul, South Korea
Seoul City

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.

DAY 1

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.

Namdaemun Market in Seoul South Korea
Great place for pasalubong shopping.

DAY 2

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”.

Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul South Korea
You can see lots of Koreans wearing a Hanbok inside the palace.

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.

Hongdae, Seoul, South Korea
Lots of nice clothes to choose from
Bau Haus Dog Cafe in Seoul, South Korea
This Corgi is completely ignoring me because I don’t have any treats for him.

DAY 3

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

Hwaseong Haenggung Palace in South Korea
Forgot how old that tree was, but I’m sure it’s pretty old already
Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, South Korea
Statue of Jang Geum and Captain Min. Most parts of the Korean Series “Jewel in the Palace” were filmed at Hwaseong Haenggung Palace and Suwon Hwaseong Fortress.
Hwaseong Haenggung Palace in Suwon City, Seoul, South Korea
A familiar kitchen scene from “Jewel in the Palace”.

Itaewon, Seoul

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”.

Itaewon Seoul, South Korea
Photo Credit: theseoulguide.com

 

DAY 4

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.

 

Korean War train in South Korea
Train wreckage from the Korean War
North Korea from DMZ, South Korea
Hello from the other side. View of North Korea from the Dora Observatory in DMZ.
Dorasan Station, South Korea
Dorasan Station. You can ride the train to Pyeongyang, North Korea here once the reunification happens.

 

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.

Myeongdong, Seoul, South Korea
Because Skincare is Life!
Street Food in Seoul, South Korea
Found this interesting looking treat in Myeongdong just few steps away from Myeongdong Station, and near Nature Republic store.

DAY 5

Nami Island

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.

Winter Sonata Statue in Nami Island South Korea
You will find this statue of Cholo and Jodi (Winter Sonata Korean Series) in Nami Island. Some parts of the TV series were filmed in Nami Island
Boat to Nami Island, South Korea
Boat to Nami Island
Nami Island, South Korea
I especially love this somehow secluded area in Nami Island. So peaceful.

DAY 6

Insadong, Seoul

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.

Hanbok, Insadong Seoul, South Korea
Tried wearing a Hanbok in Insadong…then it rained!
Insadong, Seoul South Korea
Eun-mi uses water color to draw me wearing a Hanbok

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.

bukchon hanok village in Seoul, South Korea
Lots of tourists and locals in this area. Great for cardio exercise though.

DAY 7

Gangnam, Seoul

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.

Gangnam K Star Road, Seoul, South Korea
This famous Gangnam Doll served as a nice backdrop for this barkada shot.
GangnamDol in Seoul, South Korea
Here’s a BTS GangnamDol or Gangnam Doll along K-Star Road.

 

 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.

Chicken and Beer in Seoul, South Korea
That’s the Chicken and Beer restaurant just below our guesthouse

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.

Biking in Nami Island, South Korea
Better to visit Nami Island early in the morning so you can enjoy the bike ride with less people walking around.

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!

dongdaemun design plaza in Seoul, South Korea
Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a popular shooting location. Some scenes in the Korean dramas like Love Alarm and Record of Youth were shot here.

 

KAMSAHAMNIDA!

 

 

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