5 Places to see in Seoul in one day

It was April 2018 and having signed off at Pyeongtaek, South Korea after another hectic 4 month tenure, it was time to finally experience Seoul. Although I have been in and out of Seoul, Gimpo, Inchon and Pyeongtaek often in the past, however due to lack of time could not gather much insight of this place.

Fortunately this time I had about a day and a half at my disposal, and the mission was to put it to good use.

hotel grand hyatt seoul laid back travellerHotel Grand Hyatt, Inchon

Since I was to fly home the next day in the morning, I had put up at the Grand Hyatt, Inchon, which is a pleasant 5 minute walk to the Inchon International Airport. After a lavish dinner, good nights’ rest and amazing breakfast, it was time to burn some calories. Little did I know that by the evening I would have walked a staggering 22.86 kms (as analysed by Dr. Google). Although, I still had energy to do more, there wasn’t much time. Well, that sounds like a ‘Sofit’ ad. Although I am no John Abraham (who am I kidding), still I hope they at least consider me for some brand integration. 🙂

Disclaimer: I do not drink Sofit, since my body is allergic to healthy stuff. No kidding!

Anyway, the first thing at hand was to reach Downtown Seoul. Hangang river divides Seoul districts in two parts that is north and south side of the river. I chose to visit Downtown Seoul which is north of the river. Perhaps next time, I would have time to visit the south side of the river, especially the Gangnam area which is the more trendy and high-class part of Seoul having various attractions such as designer shops and outdoor cafes. Many would recollect that K-pop Korean musician Psy made Gangnam famous world-wide through his unique style.

 

Seoul Weather


Seoul has a humid continental climate with Summers from June to September being generally hot and humid. August is the warmest month. In contrast, Winters are usually cold to freezing, January being the coldest, temperatures tend to go negative sometimes dramatically to below  −10.0 °C, and on some occasions as low as −15.0 °C.

Check out the latest weather report for Seoul here

Best Times to Visit Seoul


Months from March to May and from September to November are the best times to visit Seoul, when the weather is moderate and travel expenses low. However, if you enjoy being is snow and freezing climates, you’ll want to visit between December and February. It’s definitely best to avoid the summer months during which Seoul is uncomfortably humid and full of tourists. Even the hotel room costs are at a premium during that time.

 

Transportation to Seoul


It is actually quite easy to get to Seoul from Inchon International Airport by A’REX or ‘airport railroad’. It connects the airport to the Seoul Station. From there, various interconnections to the metropolitan subway lines are available.

Transportation cards


T-Money is a prepaid card which can be used for airport limousines, buses, subways and taxis in the Seoul metropolitan area ans also at major convenience stores, lockers and payphone booths. It can be bought at subway stations at Seoul, convenience stores with T-Money signs.

Fare ₩2500 to buy the T-Money card, charge the card with amounts of ₩1,000 and up.

However, I took the MPASS which is a transit card exclusively for international visitors. It can be used up to 20 times a day throughout the Seoul Metropolitan area, including the subway and intercity buses. It can also be charged up with cash for payment to taxis that accept the T-Money card, as well as for purchases at convenience stores and other T-Money affiliated stores.

MPASS can be bought at Inchon Int’l Airport Arrival Halls, in front of Exits 5, 10; Inchon Int’l Airport Tourist Information center; Myeong-dong Tourist Information center.

Fare: 1 Day Pass: ₩10,000, 2-Day Pass: ₩18,000, 3-Day Pass: ₩25,500, 5-Day Pass: ₩42,500, 7-Day Pass: ₩59,500. Not including the ₩5,000 rental fee (Upon returning the card, you get a refund of ₩4,500).

Pro tip 1: If you are planning more than eight rides in a day, go for MPASS since you start to save after that.

So then, after a 43 minute ride on the A’REX along the scenic Hangang river, reached the Seoul station from where took the Subway line no. 1 and got down at Jonggak subway station.

Guanghwamun Square


After just a couple of minutes walk from the Jonggak subway station, it felt like I landed right in the middle of 18th century.

Gwanghwamun square staue of admiral yi sunsin and king sejong

Gwanghwamun Square – Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin

This is the Seoul’s most renowned cultural square. It houses the statues of two most respectable historical figures in Korea, namely Admiral Yi Sun-Sin and King Sejong.

Guanghwamun Gate


Another couple of minutes walk leads to Guanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace

Royal guard changing ceremony at Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace

A few moments back before taking this picture, the royal guards were standing so still while visitors were clicking pictures with them, that most of the visitors incl. me really felt that they were mannequins, that is until they started the royal guard changing ceremony. The stunned look on one visitor’s face who was getting her picture clicked beside one ‘mannequin’ royal guard at that moment was just priceless.

Gyeongbokgung Palace


Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first royal palace built-in the Joseon Dynasty and is where the Joseon Dynasty’s 500-year history began. The largest of the five grand palaces remaining in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace provides a glimpse into Joseon’s royal culture, palace life, and architecture through the Geunjeongjeon, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, and other structures.

Entry for foreigners:


Ages 19-64 ₩3,000, ages 7-18 ₩1,500.

Pro Tip 2: Advanced reservation is necessary for the moonlight tour of the palace which is beautifully lit in the evenings. A must visit for spending an unforgettable evening.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Royal architecture of Gyeonghoeru Pavilion

Glimpse into Joseon’s royal culture

National Folk Museum of Korea


National Folk Museum of Korea

Towards the North east part of the palace complex, is the National Folk Museum of Korea. I spent some time there to learn more about the historical living conditions of the Koreans.

Bukchon Hanok Village


Immediate east to the Gyeongbokgung Palace complex lies the Bukchon Hanok village. This district between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palace has over 900 hanoks, traditional Korean houses. Members of royal family and aristocrats lived here during the Joseon period. It retains the city’s old appearance; so, it has become popular filming location for movies and TV dramas.

I was given a route map to follow by the tourist information center staff who were guiding the visitors through the village. As it is still a residential area, the staff asked the visitors to respect the residents and all were courteous to not to deviate from the walking trail.

bukchon hanok village laid back traveller

Bukchon Hanok Village

After completing the route, walked down to Anguk station and using subway interconnections, reached Dongdaemun.

Dongdaemun


Just outside the Dongdaemun subway station is the Heunginjimun Gate. This gate is one of the eight gates that stood along the Seoul City Wall and is also called Dongdaemun Gate. The fortress walls around the gate were destroyed long ago, but the gate remains the same as it was in the Joseon period.

dongdaemun gate heunginjimun gateHeunginjimun Gate

Cheonggyecheon Stream


Next to it is the Cheonggyecheon stream. This is a 10.84 km-long stream flowing from Gwanghwamun to Dongdaemun. In 2005, a three-year restoration project was undertaken which transformed it into an ecological park.

Cheonggyecheon Stream

Had there been enough time, I would have loved to take a stroll down the walking path along the Cheonggyecheon stream to enjoy the night view of the area and the 22 bridges that is said to shine under fantastic lighting.

Pro Tip 3: If visiting in the month of November, do visit this area as the Seoul Lantern festival aka “hallyu festival” is held here for two weeks in November every year featuring thousands of lanterns along the stream. It highlights the cultural heritage of Korea, including its folk culture, kimjang (making kimchi), and royal culture, through lanterns made of beautifully colored hanji, traditional korean paper. 

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)


In 2014, a new landmark was opened in Dongdaemun designed by the world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid. Dongdaemun design plaza (DDP) features an glistering exterior decorated with 45,133 aluminium panels, none of which are the same shape. It has various exhibition spaces, a design museum, sky lounge and some shops & eateries.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Myeong-dong & Namdaemun Market


Using subway reached Myeong-dong, Korea’s largest & best-known shopping district is the most tourist-friendly fashion area. However, I could recognize only a few brands such as Zara, Forever 21 since most of the other brands although trendy and fashionable, were local Korean ones. Since god has wholeheartedly gifted me with Zero fashion sense, I didn’t have much choice but to move forward.

Just next to it is the Namdaemun market which the best & largest traditional street market in Seoul. It is famous with the tourists and I could see why. The streets are lined up with department stores, clothing, accessories and an unending line of street food. However, I must admit that being an Indian, was not very fond of Korean street food.

Myeong-dong

Sungnyemun (South gate), at the exit of Namdaemun market

Seoul Square

Having spent a day in downtown Seoul, it was now time to head back to Seoul station to catch the A’REX back to Inchon Int’l airport, where first I refunded my MPASS rental fee deposit before heading back to the hotel for another course of freshly prepared made to order pizzas just to recover those lost calories. 🙂

 

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Hope you find this blog post of use to you. Do let us know about your experience at Seoul, South Korea or if I am missing something, please contact us or comment below and I will update this blog post soon. Your comments and/or feedback are most welcome.

 


 

About Manish Samtani

Namaste! A passionate traveller at heart and now a blogger as well. Thanks to my merchant navy career, travelling has always been an integral part of my professional life. Eternally fascinated by the World of Travelling be it either meeting new people, learning new cultures, experiencing their customs or just trying out some new cuisines. Off late, I’ve been exploring places with my family where my job has not taken me. Mail me at manishsamtani@laidbacktraveller.com

17 Comments

  1. Glad you finally got a chance to have a better look at Seoul! It looks like there’s so much to do and see there, it could easily take days or even a week to even see all of this. I would love to walk around the Bukchon Hanok Village and experience the traditional architecture and vibe there.

  2. I’ve been wanting to visit Seoul, and am planning to have a stopover next time I fly to SEA. Really good to see what sites I can see in a single day, including both markets and monuments.

    • Glad you found the post of use to you. If you have time, do visit the Namsangol Hanok Village which is walking distance from Meeong-dong. It is another ancient village from the Joseon period and features well-preserved hanoks (traditional korean houses), pavilions and even a pond. You can experience various korean traditions such as wearing hanbok (traditional clothing) and attending a tea ceremony. This is in my wish list when I get the chance to visit next time.

  3. This is very timely since we will be in Seoul next month. Thank you for the tips. We will be getting the MPASS instead of the T-Money.

  4. Hey! I never thought about visiting Seoul until I read your blog post. Really comprehensive and detailed, excellent work. May i ask you how do you add the table of content in your posts? It’s something I really would like to do too! 🙂

  5. Korea is a country that has fascinated my mom. I hope I’ll be able to take her there in future.
    Royal Guard changing would be nice to witness. I can imagine the reaction of the person! Haha! I’ve witnessed some such reactions in London with Queen’s guard.
    Good to know that some parts of the palace are accessible for general public.

    • I am sure you will have a great time there with your mom.
      Regarding the royal guard changing ceremony, I was lucky to be there at the scheduled time. But you might want to time it with the ongoing schedule. Presently it is scheduled at the Gwanghwamun gate twice daily at 11:00 & 13:00 except Tuesdays when it is closed. Also you may want to witness the opening and closing of the royal palace gates twice daily at 10:00 & 14:00.

  6. I haven’t read much about Seoul before, so didn’t know a lot but now I’m really interested in visiting! Do you have any idea on how easy it is to obtain a visa with an Indian passport? I’m British but my partner is Indian and it’s often difficult to find somewhere we can both actually get to without too much red tape! The Gyeongbokgung Palace looks almost exactly the same as one I saw in China a few years ago, but I can’t remember the name of it to compare.

    • Glad you found inspiration with this post.
      Actually it is not much of a hassle to obtain a visa on India passport. You need to apply for a Temporary visit C-3 visa. Cost for Short term Single entry is INR 2800 with processing time 5 working days. Another option is to go for express visa where the fee is INR 2100 + INR 2800 = INR 4900, with processing time 2 working days.
      Even when I visited China and Japan, I could see the same pagoda style of architecture in their palaces and temples.

  7. We haven’t visited the far east yet. The only thing that comes to my mind when I think about Seoul is incredibly fast internet connections. The palace looks beautiful. Would love to visit South Korea and Japan someday.

    • You are right on the money on the internet connections. The palace is the main attraction in Seoul. There is another palace nearby Bukchon Hanok village, Changdeokgung Palace, which is was added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1997. Do keep this one also in your wish list when visiting Seoul. It is considered the most well-preserved royal residential palace from the Joseon period.

  8. Wow, that is a good one day itinerary. And some really useful tips, including the one on internal transport using Mpass. The names are a bit of a tongue twister so am not even attempting to write those. The palace is the one that intrigued me the most. I think I would have had a blast exploring it myself. Well done with the itinerary.

  9. Seoul is such a fascinating city., When I went there, I went with no expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I like your sense of humour when you said you are allergic to soft drinks 😛

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