Seoul (서울) is the capital of South Korea. With a municipal population of over 10.5 million, and a metropolitan population totaling over 20.5 million, Seoul is by far South Korea's largest city and one of East Asia's financial and cultural epicenters. A fascinating blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge digital technology, home to endless street food vendors and vast nightlife districts, an extraordinarily high-pressure educational system and serene Buddhist temples, a dynamic trend-setting youth culture and often crushing conformism, extraordinary architecture and endless monotonous rows of grey apartment buildings, Seoul is a city filled with stark contrasts, contradictions, and paradoxes.
Administratively, Seoul is divided into 25 districts (구 gu), each with an area and population comparable to a small city. The districts are then further subdivided into 522 sub-districts (동 dong). The Han river splits the city into two halves: Gangbuk (강북), the northern, more historical half, and Gangnam (강남), the southern, wealthier and more modern half. The sheer size of the city means that travelers to Seoul will find it difficult to locate a true "center" of Seoul; instead, Seoul is almost more like a collection of cities that happen to be bunched together, each with their own central business and commercial districts. The two largest core ares are Jongno/Jung in the north, and Gangnam in the south. For travelers with more time, there are many more, smaller centers and districts to be explored, such as the island of Yeoui-do and the college district of Hongdae/Sinchon. For the typical traveler, it would be useful to divide the city into the following areas:
The Joseon-era historical core of the city with the famous Joseon Palace, Gyeongbokgung. Bukchon has beautiful traditional Korean house and Insa-dong has the largest antiques market street in Seoul. Cheongyecheon has a renovated stream and park that runs through the heart of the downtown area.
This district makes up the other half of the historic core as well as the shopping districts of Myeongdong and Namdaemun Market. This area contains Seoul Station and Namsan Mountain, with the Seoul Tower at its summit.
These two districts lie immediately west of Jongro and Jung, and contain dozens of universities and colleges. As such, this area is home to some of Seoul's most active nightlife districts: Hongdae (홍대) and Sinchon (신촌).
Yongsan is home to the US Army Military Base as well as one of the huge Yongsan Electronics Market. This is also where you'll find Itaewon (이태원), perhaps the most culturally diverse area in Korea and home to dozens of restaurants featuring cuisine from the world over, numerous shops selling everything from custom-tailored suits to antiques, and several Western pubs and bars.
|Yeongdeungpo-Guro (영등포 / 구로)
Covering Yeoui-do on the Han River as well as an area on the south side, this is often referred to as the 'Manhattan of Seoul'. Guro is one of the IT venture company clusters.
|Gangnam & Seocho (강남 / 서초)
Recently famed for 'Gangnam Style', this affluent area is the glitzy center of modern Seoul, home to hundreds of glass and steel skyscrapers, neon billboards, and some of the most expensive real estate in the country.
|Songpa-Gangdong (송파 / 강동)
A residential district east of Gangnam where you'll find Lotte World, Olympic Park, Seoul (Jamsil) Sports Complex, and the Sincheon nightlife district.
Northern area including Eunpyeong, Seongbuk, Gangbuk, Dobong and Nowon. Mt. Bukhansan and Mt. Dobongsan area.
Area south of the Han river including Dongjak, Gwanak and Geumcheon. This is where you can enjoy fresh seafood at the huge Noryangjin fish market.
Dongdaemun, Jungnang, Gwangjin, Seongdong with greenery and some interesting cultural sites.
Western area south of the Han river and including Gangseo and Yangcheon
- "S.E.O.U.L. Call it with me, the beautiful world that makes my dreams come true." — SNSD & Super Junior - The Seoul Song
With over 10 million people, a figure that doubles if you include neighboring cities and suburbs, Seoul is the largest city in South Korea and unquestionably the economic, political and cultural hub of the country. By some measures it is the second largest urban agglomeration on the planet, after Greater Tokyo.
In recent years, Seoul has become a favourite with tourists from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, following the success of Korean pop culture. Travelers will frequently overhear Japanese, Mandarin, or Cantonese; many restaurants and stores, especially in the more touristy areas like Myeongdong, will have signs in Japanese and Chinese as well as Korean and English. However, this travel destination, long popular among Asians, is still relatively unknown in the West and frequently passed over by Westerners for nearby Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, and Hong Kong.
However, the traveler who does visit will not be disappointed. This sprawling metropolis is truly vast - though the casual traveler can see most of the main sites in a few days, a dedicated traveler could spend months exploring all the alleyways and far-off neighborhoods. As the capital of a country that has gone through massive development in the past sixty years, Seoul is constantly changing at an incredible pace, matched only by the mainland Chinese cities. This frantic pace of life is reflected everywhere - in Seoul's cutting-edge digital technology, in the millions of commuters rushing to work everyday in the world's third largest subway system, in one of the most vibrant nightlife scenes in the world, and in the thousands of high rises and apartment buildings still under construction.
Considering all of this, one may be forgiven for forgetting that Seoul has a long history stretching far back into Korea's dynastic past. There is evidence for settlement in this area as far as 18 BC but Seoul as the capital city of South Korea has a history back to the 14th century. Originally named Hanseong (한성; 漢城), the city was the capital of the Joseon Dynasty from 1392 to 1910, when Korea was occupied by the Japanese. The Joseon Dynasty built most of Seoul's most recognisable landmarks, including the Five Grand Palaces and Namdaemun. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the city was renamed to its current name, Seoul. Since the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, Seoul has been the capital of South Korea. Occupied twice during the Korean War by Communist forces, the city was extensively rebuilt and today is one of Asia's primary metropolises. Much of Seoul's infrastructure and facilities, such as the buildings, stadiums, and transport systems, are exceptionally modern and clean.
Seoul is a relatively well organized city covering over 600 km² with a population of around 10.5 million. It is a new modern city built on an ancient and shining history. The city is located in the north-western portion of South Korea approximately 40 km east of the Yellow Sea and 60 km south of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The city is roughly bisected by the Han River (한강 Hangang), which runs east to west across the city. Seoul blurs seamlessly into its surrounding satellite cities, most of which are also served by the Seoul metro. The largest of these is Incheon (to the west) in which Seoul's main Airport, and the area's main seaport, are located. Other satellite cities include such as Ilsan (to the north) and Anyang (to the south).
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Korea Meteorological Administration
Seoul lies between a subtropical and a humid continental climate zones. November to April tend to be more continental, while warmer months are more subtropical with hot, humid summers. There are monsoon conditions in June and July and an average of 28 days of snow during winter.
- Main article: Incheon International Airport
The A'REX train link connects the airport to Seoul Station (for further connections to KTX high-speed services) and Gimpo Airport (most domestic flights), operating from 5:20 AM until midnight. Two versions exist: express services to the city (every half hour) take 43 minutes and cost ₩8,000 (with WiFi available on board); while commuter services (every 6 minutes) take 53 minutes and cost ₩3,700. The gates to KTX and A'REX at ICN are separate but face each other (large hall currently with an ice rink is in between them.)
If, however, you have a lot of luggage or are heading to southern parts of Seoul (e.g. Gangnam), the airport buses remain your best option.
A taxi direct to Seoul will cost around ₩50,000/70,000 regular/deluxe.
The closer but older Gimpo Airport (김포국제공항, GMP) caters only to the shuttle services to Taipei-Songhan, Tokyo-Haneda, Osaka-Kansai, Beijing Capital International Airport and Shanghai-Hongqiao, as well as domestic flights within South Korea, mostly to Jeju.
Gimpo Airport is easily reached on the A'REX link from Seoul Station or Incheon Airport, as well as subway lines 5 and 9. All lines intersect Line 2 which runs in a large circle through Seoul. Line 9(Gold Line), the first privately run subway line in Seoul, has three express trains per hour. Travelers coming into Seoul should first have detailed directions to their destination from the nearest station then consult the subway map before deciding on which line and route to take. All three lines cost ₩1,000-2,100 (depending on distance), while a taxi to central Seoul will run around ₩30,000. Discounts for subway fare are available with T-Money cards.
Seoul is the northern terminus of the KTX high-speed line. There are three KTX stations within city limits:
- Seoul Station (서울역) for trains to Busan, Ulsan, Gyeongju, Daegu, Daejeon Cheonan, and Suwon. Accessible via subway lines 1 & 4.
- Yongsan Station (용산역), for trains to Mokpo, Gwangju, Daejeon and Cheonan. Also on line 1 & 4 (Sinyongsan Station).
- The newly added KTX at Youngdeungpo is now running to southern destinations.
Nearly all ordinary (non-KTX) services also use one or both of the above terminals, but services east to Chuncheon or Gangneung and southeast to Gyeongju via Danyang use Cheongnyangni Station (청량리역), to the east of the city on line 1.
Every weekend approximately 2 million Seoulites leave the city, which goes a long way to explaining why the city has five major intercity bus terminals.
- Central City Terminal, also known as Honam Terminal, (Metro Lines 3, 7 or 9, Express Bus Terminal stn). Directly adjacent to the Express terminal, serves buses to North and South Jeolla.
- Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, (동서울버스터미널), Gangbyeon stn (Line 2). Buses to points east of Seoul (Gangwon and some part of North Chungcheong).
- Seoul Express Bus Terminal, (서울고속버스터미널), (Metro Lines 3, 7, or 9, Express Bus Terminal stn). Also known as Gangnam Terminal and Gyeongbu-Yeongdong Terminal, this is the largest of them all and serves pretty much the entire country, but most services head east (incl. Busan, Daegu, Daejeon). Lines to Jeolla, however, use the Central City/Honam Terminal right next door. For the most part there's no need to buy a ticket days in advance except maybe during holidays. There's even a ticket window labeled "Tickets for Foreigners" where the attendant can speak English. Fare from Seoul-Busan is about ₩20,000 and buses come continuously throughout the day. Small restaurants and snacks are all throughout the station. Journeys longer than 2 hrs. typically will have a short stop at a rest area. Most buses are very comfortable and extremely safe.
- Nambu Bus Terminal, Nambu Bus Terminal stn (Line 3). Serves places southwest of Seoul (Southern Gyeonggi, South Chungcheong and northern North Jeolla).
- Sinchon Bus Terminal, Sinchon (Underground) stn (Line 2) or Sinchon stn (Gyeongeui Line). Buses to Ganghwa Island. Note: That's Sinchon station, not Sincheon, which is also on Line 2 but on the wrong side of the city!
There are ferry services to various points in China from the neighboring port city of Incheon. Currently no services run from Japan to Seoul; many Koreans take the coach or KTX train to Busan, where several ferry and hydrofoil options are available.
No matter where in Korea you start your journey, there will be tolled expressways (Gosok Doro) and national highways (Gook Do) that lead to Seoul; the most important one is the Gyeongbu Expressway, linking Seoul with Busan. To avoid the daily traffic jam on the Gyeongbu Highway near Seoul, take Jungbu/2nd Jungbu, Seohaean, or Yongin-Seoul Expressway.
Traffic jams are all too common in Seoul, so be careful on the streets and head underground when possible. Street and subway signage is usually written in English as well as Korean.
In Seoul, you can visit most places by using the vast subway network. There are currently nine numbered lines plus a smattering of named suburban lines, all distinguished by different colors. All signs in the subway system are in Korean (both hangeul and if applicable, hanja) and English. The signs leading to the platform for a particular direction of travel on a given subway line typically list the names of a number of stations in that direction. Stations each have a 3 digit number, but locals rarely make use of these numbers, and they're not on most subway maps, so don't rely on them. A subway map can be found here.
Subway fares are based on the distance traveled, but the shortest ride costs ₩1,150 (base charge) plus card deposit ₩500 (refundable if you return the card at designated machines at each station). The base charge roughly covers up to 10 km of the journey and ₩100 is added for every 5 km beyond that. Cards can be purchased from vending machines only. All vending machines accept coins and bills, up to ₩10,000 notes (and some ₩50,000 notes, but cash exchange machines are at each station). Hang onto your card until the end of your trip, as you'll need it to get out. Most of Seoul's automated card machines are equipped with touchscreen and full English support (along with Chinese and Japanese). Since ticket machines may be crowded, buying two cards (one for each way) is recommended.
If planning on using the Metro extensively or staying for more than a few weeks, you should consider purchasing a T-money stored value contactless smart card. You can buy this card at most subway stations and many newspaper kiosks near subway entrances, as well as convenience stores. The card itself costs ₩3000 and cash can be charged onto the card as often as you like. When entering and leaving a subway turnstile, place the card on the reader (leaving it inside your purse or wallet is fine) and it will deduct the appropriate fare from the card. Using this card will allow you to save ₩100 on all transfers (these are common with Seoul's extensive subway system) and you can get all but ₩500 back if you have unused credit.
Typically for most travellers staying less than 2 weeks in Seoul, purchasing this card may not be cheaper but other factors should be considered: it can also be used for taxi fares, buses, storage lockers, pay phones, etc. However, using a transportation card is highly recommended if you wish to use it for buses as well simply for its ability to transfer between them since you will not have to pay for the basic 900 fare twice for a single journey when using two modes of transport. It also saves the hassle from figuring out how much you need to pay or waiting in line to buy a single-use ticket. The subway is not open 24 hours, so you may be stranded late at night.
Seoul also has an extensive bus service. There are four different kinds of buses: yellow, green, blue, and red. Yellow buses have a short circuit usually around tourist areas. Green buses travel around neighborhoods and connect with the subway. Blue buses go across town, while red buses are intercity buses. Buses will only stop at designated bus stops and will not wait for indecisive travelers.
Adult fare is as follows:
Cash – ₩1,150
T-Money Card – ₩1,050
Note that by using a T-Money card, you can transfer between the bus and the subway for free up to 30 minutes after your last scan. That is to say, the base charge of ₩1,050 won't be charged twice. If, for example, you travel 10 km by subway, transfer to a bus and travel a further 5 km, ₩1,050 will be deducted once you leave the subway, nothing will be deducted when you enter a bus, but you will be deducted ₩100 for the extra 5 km journey you made on the bus. Note that if you do not tag the machine as you leave the bus, you will be charged the maximum fare possible for the route.
Deluxe taxis are black with a yellow sign and are more expensive than regular taxis but provide better and more comfortable service. Regular taxis are silver. For the most part, regular taxi cabs have leather interiors and the drivers are nice—so, for many people, "regular" in Seoul might be "deluxe" in their hometown. It is easy to hail a taxi any time of the day or night along any relatively major Seoul street.
You can call a deluxe taxi wherever you are by calling 3431-5100. Sometimes, you can find a visitor's guide taxi, a kind of deluxe taxi, the drivers of which know English and Japanese and can guide you around Seoul.
The basic fare for regular taxis is ₩3,000 (₩3,600 at night), with a surcharge of ₩100 applied according to time and distance. (The basic fare is up to 2 km, plus ₩100 per 142 m.) In deluxe taxis, the basic fare is ₩4500 and the additional fare increases in increments of ₩200. (₩4500 basic fare for up to 3 km, plus ₩200 per 164 m). International taxi drivers speak at least one foreign language (generally English) fluently. International taxis use the same basic fare as regular taxis, plus an additional 20%.
If there is more than one passenger, and you are traveling only a short distance (like 1-2 metro stops) it is usually cheaper to catch a taxi than to take a bus or subway.
In general, taxi drivers do not speak English or any other foreign language, so have your destination written in Korean to show to the taxi driver. It is also wise to get your hotel's business card in case you get lost. Some may even reject looking at a map so whenever possible, have the location written in Korean.
All taxis advertise a free interpretation service that can be called if you need help. The phone number for the interpretation is on the window sticker of the back seats. Taxis that have an "On Base Authorized" sticker on the side, or a green sticker on their front bumper, are capable of entering US military bases in Seoul. These drivers are required to speak better English as part of their contract and may thus be easier for any English speaking tourists.
Most taxis accept credit cards and T-money cards and thus have a V-shaped orange card sign on the roof of the taxi by the front passenger seat window. However, drivers generally prefer that you pay cash, especially for short rides.
You can also ask for your receipt ("Yeong-su-jeung" 영수증).
As in any other city, there are some bad apples, and some drivers may take you the long way. Although the drivers often have a GPS device on the dashboard of their car, this is relatively meaningless if you do not know the area or cannot speak sufficient Korean to argue the point.
In general, make sure the driver turns on the meter, get an idea of the cardinal direction of your destination (north, south, east, west), and use the interpretation service if you want to agree to a fare beforehand.
However, keep in mind that there is often road construction or protests around Seoul, so sometimes a long route is necessary. If you suspect you are being ripped off, the most a non-Korean speaker can do is write down or take a picture of the driver's ID (located above the glove box) and report the details to the company.
Internationally known car rental companies can be found in Seoul; just be prepared for a driving challenge and long rush hours. In addition, parking spaces are hard, if not close to impossible to find, especially during peak hours. Therefore, unless you are planning to head out of the city, it is not advisable to rent a car and you are better off relying on the excellent public transport system instead.
On bicycle or on foot
Getting around in Seoul without a local escort (be it friend or cab driver) can be tricky, since this is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. While Seoul occupies less land than New York City, it can be more confusing. The major roads twist and turn, the various rail lines, rivers and mountains are obstacles and the smaller roads turn into a labyrinth of alleys. Most people will try to help you find your way around but often won't know themselves; best to familiarize yourself with some landmarks and the nearest subway stations. Learn the landmarks closest to where you are staying. The better-known landmarks in Seoul (such as the N Seoul Tower located in the center of town) can prove helpful at times. A compass will still work when a GPS fails.
Once you know your immediate surroundings, you'll find that Seoul isn't such a huge place and the pedestrian approach can be an enriching experience.
There's usually a subway stop within a ten-minute walk in any direction.
Whether on bicycle or foot, the best way to escape traffic is to learn the rivers and streams. Most of these waterways empty into the Han River or another tributary to the Han, so look to the direction of water flow at any creek; chances are, it's headed for the Han. The Han runs right through town, generally moving West (sometimes Southwest; sometimes Northwest), so knowing where you are in relation to the Han is helpful.
The Han River as well as most streams are lined with massive parks that feature outdoor gymnasiums, multiple-lane bicycle paths, and 24-hour restrooms. Cars are generally not allowed. Pedestrian bridges on the smaller waterways are common.
Numerous mountains with hiking trails can be found in the city.
- See also: Korean phrasebook
As elsewhere in Korea, a grasp of basic Korean will be helpful. If you plan on an extended visit, consider learning to read the Korean written script, hangeul. It takes very little time to pick up the basics, and it can be endlessly helpful. A quick (free) visit to the Story of King Sejong Exhibition Hall beneath the Statue of King Sejong in Gwanghwamun Square will give you an introduction to the Korean written language and some interactive exhibits to practice. Thirty minutes there will see you recognising and pronouncing some Korean words.
Shops in major tourists areas, including Insadong, Myeongdong, and Itaewon, will probably have staff that speak at least some English, and some may have staff that speak Mandarin, Cantonese and/or Japanese. While all younger Koreans are required to study English in school, due to a lack of practice, proficiency is generally poor, and most residents of Seoul only know a few simple words and phrases. If lost, a useful tip is to write down your question in simple words and show it to someone young. That being said, it is still possible to get by using only English, though it goes without saying that a basic grasp of Korean will make your trip much smoother.
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
While Seoul today is mostly known as a super-modern mega-city that is home to skyscrapers, malls, and millions of electronic-mad Koreans, the city contains over 2,000 years of history. The city contains 4 UNESCO sites marking important monuments from its 505 years as the capital of the Joseon Dynasty. Until recently, it was a walled city with 20 ft stone walls and narrow lanes inside. Though many buildings were destroyed or damaged during the violent events of the first half of the 20th century, much of its historic core remains. So, anyone staying in Seoul should visit the many historical treasures the city has to offer, including the many palaces and city gates within the Jongno district.
- Hangang Citizen's Park. Located along the Han River through 13 districts - Gwangnaru, Jamsil, Gangdong, Ttukseom, Jamwon, Banpo, Ichon, Yeouido, Yanghwa, Mangwon, Seonyudo, Nanji, and Gangseojigu. You can see many people strolling or jogging along the trail paths, as well as in-line skaters, bicyclists, and soccer fields or basketball courts. Yeouido, Jamsil, and Ttukseom districts are especially popular because of the cruise services on the Han River.
- Gyeongbokgung Palace. Located in 1-91, Sejongno, Jongno-gu. The Gyeongbokgung, Which means "Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven.", was built in 1395 in Joseon Dynasty. It was the heart of Joseon Dynasty because the government ministry district was focused here. Even if it was razed by Japanese during Hideyoshi invasions of 1592-1598, it was reconstructed in 1876. Until now, Gyeongbokgung is one of the magnificent and historical place in Seoul. It opens everyday except Tuesday. There is also free guide tour for tourists everyday(English : 11:00, 13:30, 15:30). It is also good to get opportunity of night opening, which is held a few days of a year, you have to reserve by online. You can access here by subway(Gyeongbokgung Palace station Exit 5, Subway line 3) or Seoul City Tour Bus.
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
Watch the fashionable Seoulites shop and sip coffee in Gangnam.
Explore the huge fresh fish market in Noryangjin and enjoy fresh sashimi afterwards.
Enjoy the nightlife in Yongsan.
Go hiking in the mountains surrounding the city. They are at most 800 m (3,000 ft), accessible by public transit and the trails range from easy to difficult. Mountains include Bukhan, Gwanak, Samseong and Inwang. (Mostly found in the North of the city).
Seoul is home to many universities, including Seoul National University, Yonsei University and Korea University, the three most prestigious universities in Korea. There are opportunities for potential international and exchange students to enroll in these universities and live in Seoul for an extended period of time. Many of these universities also conduct Korean language classes for foreigners, including some 5-week long summer intensive programmes that might be useful for short-term visitors to learn the Korean language.
Korean ceramics are known around the world for their simple beauty and unique designs. Visitors can learn how to make pottery at the National Museum of Korea and the pottery villages just outside of Seoul in Incheon and Yeoju.
- National Museum of Korea (국립중앙박물관) (Ichon Station, Exit 2. 10 minute walk), ☎ . For class times, inquire in advance.
There is an immense demand for ESL (English as a Second Language) instruction in Seoul. See the main South Korea article for details.
Note that Seoul municipal government has decided to phase out foreign (non-Korean) teachers of English in all public schools. Although it has yet to be seen if this will be successful in practice, it may have an effect on your options in Seoul.
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
Fashion shopping in Seoul isn't a mere industry, it's an art form. Trends often begin in University areas like Hongdae. Hongik University boasts Korea's most famous art school, thus fashion in this area is often influenced by the students' artistic sensibilities. The shops in this area feature funky, punky, boho, and vintage style. Ewha Women's University also has a big shopping area in front of its main gate, as do many of the Women's colleges. Many trends also originate here. There are even seamstresses who can help you make your own designs come to life.
South Korea is a major shopping destination for Chinese and Japanese these days, with many dedicated duty free shops available in Seoul. Korean Won, Japanese Yen and US dollars are accepted, along with major credit cards. Most shops have staff who can speak Japanese. There are duty-free shops in both the Incheon airport and the major department stores: Lotte, Shilla Hotel. There are other duty-free shops at Walkerhill Hotel, SKM DFS in COEX Mall.
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
|This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
Much of Korean social life revolves around food and the city is packed with restaurants, so it would take a determined man to starve to death in Seoul. This fate may still befall you if you insist on English menus and meals consisting only of easily identifiable, familiar ingredients, so see South Korea#Eat for a quick Korean menu reader. An alternative is to just point and eat, your hosts generally will accommodate. If you look in the right places, a good meal (lunch or dinner) including side dishes can cost ₩5,000 or less (try basements of large department stores).
In addition to Korean food, Japanese restaurants in Seoul tend to be excellent, featuring excellent sushi and sashimi. Chinese restaurants exist, but are typically adapted to suit local preferences. There are a few Italian restaurants; these are generally excellent, with chefs trained in Italy, although flavors tend to be more or less Koreanized, with sugar in the garlic bread and meatballs.
Bakeries are found throughout, including some of the common big chains.
Seoul has plenty of budget places to eat. Everything from convenience store junk food and noodles to street stall food and lots of 24 hr Korean fast food restaurants. The 24-hour restaurants are great because they've usually got a wide variety of foods, including: mandu, odeng, dokbokki, naengmyeon, udon and ramyeon. Prices do vary from about ₩2,000-9,000 at these restaurants. Also open late into the night are Korean BBQ restaurants, which are everywhere in Seoul. These can be very cheap and are usually of good quality. Barbecue options usually are limited to pork and beef, and they often come with a smattering of side dishes. Korean BBQ is, in itself, an experience that makes you feel like a Seoulite. The larger department stores in the city have basement food courts that offer excellent food (not recommended if you care about atmosphere).
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
Seoul features a mind-bogglingly large array of nightspots catering to every taste and budget. Hongdae and Sinchon in Seodaemun-Mapo are Seoul's most active nightlife districts. Itaewon in Yongsan is Seoul's international district, with a wide variety of Western-styled venues to eat and drink. Since many foreigners congregate there, Itaewon remains somewhat of a niche nightlife area for Koreans interested in a more international scene.
- Individual listings can be found in Seoul's district articles
Seoul has two unofficial backpacker districts, Jongno (Anguk/Sinseol-dong) to the northeast of the city and Hongdae-Sinchon out to the west. Within walking distance to Dongdaemun Market, Jongno is better located for sightseeing and can be reached directly from Incheon Airport on limousine buses or city bus 6002 to Sinseol-dong stop (₩9,000, 90 min). There are many budget accommodation places across Seoul. Hongdae, Itaewon, Myeongdong and Jongno(Hanok area) are traditional hot spots for Foreign Individual Travelers(FIT). Furthermore Gangnam is emerging thanks to the huge success of the eponymous song. Hongdae, Sinchon area is located in university area. Yonsei Univ., Ehwa woman's Univ., Hongik Univ. and Sogang Univ. are around this area. so there are many restaurants, bar, club and shopping center and easy to be reached from Incheon Airport by limousine bus and Arex (Airport express train) in 1 hour.
Gangnam has a wide range of luxury with the Imperial Palace Hotel, the Park Hyatt Seoul and the Ritz-Carlton Seoul.
Internet cafes known as PC bang (PC 방) (pr: pee-shee-bang) are ubiquitous in Seoul, and usually cost anywhere from ₩800-2,000/hr.
Most have printers at the front desk. These places cater chiefly to gamers, which translates into fairly fast computers, loud sound systems and large screens. Most PC rooms have smoking sections. Typically, the computers run a Korean version of Windows XP and use Internet Explorer.
Console gaming (Xbox 360, PS3) is widely available, and for those with proficiency in Korean language, you might also be able to enjoy a round of online gaming; the fantasy MMORPG Lineage was created in Korea and a slew of MMORPG titles not available anywhere else can be found here.
Post offices are basically everywhere in Seoul, although many are hidden on smaller roads and alleys. If you cannot spot any post office nearby, it is good idea to visit university (every university has its own post office in it). The Korean postal insignia is orange and white. It can be spotted on post office signs.Some post offices are open on Saturdays, Sundays and other holidays (postal service only). Most post offices sell boxes and packing materials. Even the smaller offices typically have at least one English-speaking member of staff.
- Seoul CPO (서울중앙우체국), 21-1 Chungmuro 1(il)-ga, Jung-gu (Line 4 Hoehyun stn exit #7). M-F 9AM-6PM, Sa 9AM-1PM. Also has a big philately section in basement.
- Gwanghwamun Post Office (광화문우체국), 154-1 Seorin-dong, Jongno-gi (Line 5 Gwanghwanun stn). M-F 9AM-8PM, Sa Su 9AM-6PM (and holidays).
- Seoul Gangnam Post Office (서울강남우체국). M-F 9AM-6PM, Sa 9AM-1PM.
Useful contact numbers are as follows:
- Police: ☎ 112
- Fire Department: ☎119
- Travel Information: ☎ 1330
- City Information(다산콜센터): ☎ 120
If you happen to be a non-Korean male walking hand-in-hand with a Korean female, drunk older Korean men might give you a tongue lashing or occasionally worse. Note that this is far less of a problem than it used to be.
If you do end up in a fight, remember that Korean law is possibly different to your home country. Just because someone else started the fight does not provide you with legal protection if the attacker ends up hurt.
U.S. military personnel have a curfew 01:00-05:00 everyday on the Korean Peninsula, although the curfew can be extended at very short notice. If you are a westerner, then the American Military Police have the legal right to request to see your ID and arrest you if you cannot provide. (This is done to catch American military personnel breaking the curfews)
Unfortunately crimes by American soldiers against Koreans do happen, and when they do they often receive a huge amount of national attention. If you are a westerner then you should exercise some extra care when such a case hits the media, although it is still highly unlikely you would be in any danger.
Protesting: Large scale demonstrations in Seoul against the government happen from time to time. Often they can result in violence where there are pitched battles between protesters and combat police. People do get seriously hurt, so try to avoid getting too close to the action.
Fake Monks have been known to operate in Seoul, notably around the Jogyesa temple. They are dressed as Buddhist monks requesting donations from people on the street in return for blessings, although they do not actually belong to any Buddhist order and just keep the cash for themselves. Please bear in mind that actual monks would never seek donations in this manner.
South Korea has undergone a major English language boom over the past 20 years. South Korean families are eager for their children to learn English and usually enroll them in private language schools.
Seoul is probably the easiest place to talk to people in English, although bear in mind that most people will find verbal conversation challenging. Often writing down simple questions in English is more effective. Also note that many of the older generation have learned little or no English at all. A few tourist information centers dotted around Seoul are staffed by English speakers, but do not assume an English speaker will be available at most shops, sites and venues.
English signage is visible everywhere in the city, from road signs to subway maps to shop posters. One exception is in buses where the route information is completely in Korean script.
- The Seoul Global Center, 3rd Floor of the Seoul Press Center, 25 Taepyeongno 1(il)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, ☎ . Provides foreign language assistance with regard to public services, but also beyond including help with awkward coping necessities like purchasing a mobile phone.
Pharmacies are everywhere in Seoul. While most are labeled only in Korean, the signage and Hangul character is easy to recognize, 약. Most pharmacists speak some English. Pharmacists are not shy about asking about your symptoms and selling you what they think you need.
- Medical Referral Service, ☎ . 8 am to 8 pm (with emergency only coverage after hours). Seoul provides an English-language hotline to assist with finding doctors and other medical services.
Medical bills can be expensive, so make sure you have valid travel insurance.
Some people with sensitive stomachs should use caution when dining in Korea as some of the local cuisine is heavily spiced with copious amounts of pepper and garlic.
Air quality in Seoul is fine and improving. However, Seoul inhabitants sometimes wear different types of masks outdoors for allergies, smog and yellow dust storms (mostly in March–April). Mongolian yellow dust storms were regarded as dangerous long before industrialisation began in Asia. Now these storms pick up trace amounts of toxins in the Chinese industry belt. Smog in Seoul is becoming less of a problem. In general, air quality has been improving since the early 2000s.
South Korea hosts a large number of embassies in Seoul.
- The Korean Demilitarized Zone is the 'last frontier of the cold war', and is very close to Seoul. This includes the famous peace village of Panmunjeom where negotiations have taken place for the past 50 years. Many tour companies offer DMZ tours which is a day trip from Seoul, the highlight of which is a village lying in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Note that you cannot visit without booking with a tour company, and that some nationalities are not allowed to visit for security reasons while others (including South Koreans and Chinese) require additional procedures.
- Yeongjong Island — Beaches, hot springs and fresh sea breezes.
- Incheon — The place where U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed in the Korean War; it also has the biggest and oldest Chinatown in Korea.
- Gapyeong — Popular weekend getaway, east of Seoul. A small town in the mountains of Gyeonggi-do, on the border of Gangwon-do.
- Chuncheon — Filmed in many Korean dramas and movies and now accessible by subway from Seoul
- Suwon — 30 kilometers south of Seoul, the home of Hwaseong Fortress (화성), a UNESCO world heritage site.
- Busan Take the KTX down to Busan to enjoy the beach in summer. Makes a nice change of pace from Seoul.
|Routes through Seoul|
|END ←||NW SE||→ Gwangmyeong → Daejeon|
|END ←||NW SE||→ Suwon → Seo-daejeon|
|Soyosan ←||NE SE||→ Yongsan → Suwon → Cheonan|
|Incheon ←||W NE||→ Soyosan|