After living in Seoul for three months and getting used to the rhythm of the city and the pace of its people I can now look back and remember all the struggles that I had when I first arrived, and now as many friends of mine are eager to visit in the near future, I have started to mentally compile a list of tips and information I would give to any of my friends or family members to facilitate their upcoming trips to Seoul.
So in this ultimate guide to visiting Seoul, I hope to do the same for you, provide a resourceful amount of information for your Seoul trip, from how to get data in Seoul, how to use public transportation in Korea, where to stay in Seoul, top places to visit in Seoul, best day trips from Seoul, cultural tips, and much more.
So let’s get into it!
Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting Seoul
Is Seoul worth visiting?
After having not known much about Seoul before moving there for three months for work, I have to say that Seoul truly took me by surprise in the best way possible.
Seoul has everything a big city has to offer, but it somehow feels a bit more slow-paced, cozy even, with plenty of cute neighborhoods to explore, delicious foods to try, an amazing craft cocktail scene, the most concentrated amount of cafes that I have ever seen, breathtaking nature just outside the city, rich culture and history, and much more, Seoul is definitely worth visiting no matter the type of traveler that you are.
How to get data in Seoul
After checking your passport, checking how to get data on your next destination should be step number two of every travel plan, whether it is for writing friends and family back home during your trip, posting on stories, or like me, checking the reviews of every coffee shop and restaurant I come across, having data while traveling abroad is super important.
Luckily, getting data in Seoul is a very simple thing to do if your phone is compatible with e-sims.
During our three-month stay in South Korea, all I used to have data in Seoul in my day-to-day life was an e-sim data plan from LGU+, which you can get through the Airalo app, and it worked flawlessly!
One thing to note is that to make reservations and order things online in South Korea you will probably need to have an actual phone number, which you won’t get with a data e-sim, but if you are visiting Seoul for a short period of time you can probably get by without it, I managed to live like this for three months.
Google Maps in Korea
Something that might throw you off a little bit as soon as you arrive in Seoul is the fact that Google Maps in Korea won’t work as well as it does in the rest of the world.
Korea uses Naver and Kakao apps, as its main options for maps, chatting, and booking appointments/making reservations, and while every blog recommends downloading those two, I honestly did not find them very useful during my three-month stay in Seoul, in fact, I rarely even opened them.
Naver and Kakao maps are what locals use for maps, so it is also where you will find the most accurate local reviews of businesses, however, Naver maps English option is non-existent, unless a business has an English name, everything in the app will be displayed in Korean, which makes it impossible to find anything on their maps, same with Kakao, and Kakao I found even more confusing.
So during the three months that I lived in Seoul, I just used Google Maps like normal to get places, luckily the public transportation directions work as normal on Google Maps, so I could get from A to B.
However, the walking directions on Google Maps don’t work at all, so if I knew I was not too far from the place I needed to go, I would just follow my blue dot on the maps and guide myself there, and that worked pretty well, much better than spending quite a few minutes stressing on Naver maps trying to find something on the map in Korean.
Is there Uber in Korea?
Yes, there is Uber in Korea, and it is actually way more affordable than in your average North American city!
As soon as you open the Uber app in Korea you will see it update itself to the Korean version of it, but everything in the app works as normal.
The only thing to keep in mind is that occasionally the driver might have trouble getting the address from the app, so just in case this happens is always good to have the address of your destination ready on your phone to show to them in the Korean alphabet in Google Maps.
Taxis: If you are trying to catch a taxi on the street, a good thing to know is that a green light turned on on top of the taxi means the taxi is taken, and a red light means is available.
How to use transportation in Korea: T-money card
Okay, now we know how to find the directions to get from A to B, now how do we actually move around while visiting Seoul?
To use public transportation in Korea you need to get a T-Money card from the GS25 convenience store and load it, the T-money card is what you will use to tap in to get in and out of metros and buses in Korea.
When you buy the T-Money card at the GS25 is good to load it right away, and for this, you will need cash, the same applies if you decide to load it at the machines at the metro stations.
The T-money card also functions as a type of debit card around the city, since you can use it to pay for things at convenience stores, vending machines, and some establishments.
Reusable one-time ticket: If you forgot or lost your T-money card and don’t have the time to go buy a new one, you can always buy a reusable one-time ticket/card at the metro machines, just remember to return the card after exiting the gate to receive your deposit back.
Metro in Seoul
The public transportation in Seoul is simple and straightforward, all the metro lines are connected, which makes it very easy to change lines when necessary, it is also a very affordable way to get around the city and changing lines won’t add any extra fees—I’m looking at you Tokyo.
Every metro station in Seoul also has public bathrooms, some of them have lockers for you to safely leave your belongings for the day, and you will normally also find vending machines on most platforms with drinks and snacks, and even books, so whatever you need, you will probably find it in a metro station in Seoul.
How to pay in Seoul: Cash or card?
Do I need to carry cash in Seoul? The answer is yes, especially for refilling your T-money card when necessary, it is also easier to buy street food whenever you need a bite on the go and to buy from smaller shops.
Manners and personal space
If you ask me if there is anything that I didn’t like about Seoul in general, there’s only one thing, and that is the concept of personal space and general manners when it comes to it.
While walking in the city, and especially in the metro stations, it will not be uncommon to get strongly bumped into by Koreans with absolutely no remorse or second thought. I was shocked about this, and honestly really really annoyed, but don’t let this put you off.
Talking to a local friend I asked her about this, and if maybe this was happening because I look foreign, but she informed me that this was not the case and that this behavior is something that is more typical of older generations, with younger generations disapproving of it.
So if this ever happens to you while exploring Seoul just know that is nothing personal, and that they do it to everyone.
And even though I got quite annoyed at this behavior, the number of amazing experiences we had with locals, far outnumbers the bad ones, mostly with younger people willing to help us in English whenever they saw us struggling with all types of machines, whether it was at the metro or at the ordering screen at restaurants.
Where to stay in Seoul
One of the things that I love the most about Seoul is its big city feel with numerous fun neighborhoods spread around for you to visit and explore, but all within a reasonable commute distance, which means you won’t need to spend hours in the metro to get somewhere inside the same city.
However, it really helps to be well located to be able to explore as much as possible and that’s why you need to choose wisely where to stay in Seoul.
During my three months in Seoul, I was based in Insadong, a neighborhood in the heart of Seoul, just a few steps away from Gyeongbokgung Palace, the Bukchon Hanok Village, the Insadong shopping street, a few minutes walking from Myeongdong shopping street, and much more.
And every single local I talked to and asked where I was staying made a point to say that that was the absolute best area to be in to experience all of Seoul.
So by unanimous decision, Insadong Seoul is definitely the place to be if you are looking for where to stay in Seoul in order to get the most out of your trip.
Best places to visit in Seoul
Seoul is a buzzing city with an endless supply of things to do, foods to eat, and places to visit, but to give you a good base, these are the best places to visit in Seoul:
- Bukchon Hanok Village
- Gyeonbokgung Palace
- Gwangjang Market
- Insadong Street
- Myeongdong Shopping Street
- N-Seoul Tower
- Gangnam neighborhood
Make sure to check out our post on the 10+ best places to visit in Seoul for a first-time visitor to get all the details.
Best day trips from Seoul
If you have enough time in Seoul to take a day trip, these are the best day trips from Seoul that you should consider:
- Bukhansan National Park
- Nami Island
- DMZ tour
I hope you found this guide on visiting Seoul useful, and I hope it provides you with all the information you need before your Seoul trip. Is there any other burning question that I forgot to answer in this post? Please let me know in the comments so I can make this post as useful for you as possible.
If you are curious about what to eat in Seoul, here is our post on the best Korean street food you should try while visiting Seoul.