- Choice of accommodations
- Hotel taxes and service charges
Frequently Asked Questions
Who should go?
Hundreds of years of history can be encountered in Seoul and the surrounding area, from shrines, temples, and royal palaces to traditional houses.
Seoul is South Korea's shopping capital.
What's the climate like?
How do I get around town?
For travel prior to April 1, 2012, transfers between Incheon International Airport and your hotel are included.
Seoul's subway system is extensive, and it's usually the easiest and cheapest way for travelers to get around, with maps and station names in English. That said, it's recommended you avoid riding during the morning (8-9am) and evening 6-7pm) rush hours, when trains are incredibly crowded.
You can either buy single fares or buy a prepaid pass to avoid the lines. Options are the rechargeable T-money card, the Metro Pass, which is valid for 60 trips within a 30-day period, or the Seoul City Pass (valid on buses or subway and available in 1-, 2-, or 3-day passes, including unlimited on/off privileges on the Seoul City Tour Bus.
You can flag a taxi down almost anywhere in Seoul. All taxis are metered. Tipping is not necessary, but most passengers round up and let the driver keep the change. Keep in mind that taxi fares rise considerably higher during high traffic times and after midnight.
Regular (Ilban) taxis are usually silver, blue, or white and have a light-up "taxi" sign on top. Most drivers don't speak English, so it's best to have your destination written down in English (since most Koreans learn written English in school). Fares for regular taxis increase 20% from midnight to 4am.
Deluxe (Mobeum) taxis, which are black, cost almost twice as much as the regular taxis, but the drivers are trained to serve foreigners and can speak basic English. They also have free phone service and take credit cards.
What kinds of dining and nightlife are available?
Korean cuisine encompasses everything from a simple bowl of noodles to traditional "royal cuisine" and everything in between. Koreans enjoy dishes with bold flavors, such as chile peppers and garlic, and adventurous visitors to Seoul will discover a wide array of unique and delicious Korean foods to try. Traditional preserved foods such as kimchi (fermented spicy cabbage), jeotgal (seafood fermented in salt), and doenjang (fermented soy bean paste) are particularly popular—in fact, you'll find hundreds of varieties of kimchi in Korea, varying by region, season, and main ingredients.
A typical Korean meal includes rice, soup, and several side dishes, all served at once. At most restaurants, diners will be brought stainless steel chopsticks and a spoon for the soup—but can request a knife and fork, if desired. Besides street food and Korean restaurants, visitors can find many dining options, including Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisine—and even restaurants serving vegetarian, continental, or American fare.
Here are some Seoul favorites:
Chef M.J. Park, the first Korean to work under the tutelage of Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, opened this French fine-dining bistro to serve affordable and delicious multi-course dinners of foie gras, marinated tenderloin steaks, vanilla soufflés, and other delights. Located in Gangnam-gu.
This classic Korean barbecue place offers fantastic lunches and dinners featuring galbi-tang, or short rib soup— a steaming hot bowl of golden, rich soup crowded with scrumptious short ribs. The high-quality grilled beef also comes highly recommended. Located in Seocho-gu.
- The Ninth Gate Grille
This continental restaurant blends Asian ingredients into creative international dishes grilled to perfection, and features an exhilarating view over the Temple of Heaven. Located in the Westin Chosun Hotel, Jung-gu.
For a splurge, you might want to visit Palsun, which serves elegantly refined Chinese cuisine made with loving care. You're guaranteed to discover a world of delicious dishes not found in American Chinese restaurants. Located in the Shilla Hotel, Jung-gu.
Specializes in choice, North-Korean-style bulgogi (tender beef, broiled at the table). Dip the bulgogi in a refreshing special sauce made from 12 different kinds of vegetables and fruit, enjoy the affordable international wine list, and soak in the stylish atmosphere. Located in Seocho-gu.
- Sawhuleh Boleebap
Delicious bossam (steamed, fatty pork), great spicy kimchi to eat with the fatty pork, and nutty, warm barley bibimbap—or rice with sautéed vegetables—to mix in. Located in Gangnam-gu.
High-quality, traditional Japanese sushi with a Korean twist, including wonderful Korean spicy fish stews and braises. Enjoy sashimi, broiled eel, fried abalone, fried blowfish, or fried prawns in an elegant setting. Located in Seocho-Gu.
You can find almost any type of nightlife you're looking for in Seoul—from casinos, karaoke bars, disco palaces, beer halls, and jazz clubs to hotel bars and dinner theaters. Popular areas for an evening out are the Myeong-dong, Itaewon, and Apgujeong-dong districts, where cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs are plentiful.
Where should I go shopping?
Seoul is a shopper's paradise. You'll often find good prices and a fine array of goods—although the best deals will be on eyeglasses and sunglasses, shoes, cosmetics, accessories, and non-designer clothes. Amethyst jewelry, hand-fashioned crafts, traditional liquors and teas, ginseng, and kimchi and other Korean foods make lovely gifts or souvenirs.
High-end department stores take most major credit cards and have ATMs with English-language instructions. Keep your receipts so you can get your VAT back at the airport before heading home. The vendors in traditional markets only take cash, and they expect you to bargain over prices.
Top Shopping Areas
Young fashionistas, the Myeongdong neighborhood is for you. Explore boutique shops with clothes, shoes, and accessories galore, all geared toward the young and trendy.
Another great area for young women's clothes and accessories, which extends from the main gate of Ehwa Women's University to Sincheon rail station.
This popular shopping district geared toward foreigners is loaded with stores that sell designer clothes manufactured in Korea, at bargain-basement prices, as well as brand-name casual wear and sportswear (and knock-offs).
Large department stores can be found in every neighborhood in Seoul. For 2 weeks each season, the stores have sales (usually in January, April, July, and October) where you can get good discounts.
E-Mart, Lotte Mart, Homever, and Kim's Club offer similar items (minus luxury goods) to the department stores, but at discounted prices. Be prepared for crowds on weekdays after work hours and on weekends.
Head to the Apgujeong district for upscale shopping in the Shinsegae, Hyundae, or Galleria department stores, as well as tons of boutiques and brand-name shops. Toward Cheongdam 4-way is the luxury shopping area and Rodeo Street, where you'll find Western designer boutiques.
Exquisite mother-of-pearl lacquerware, woodcrafts, hanji paper crafts, and Korean patchwork quilts decorated with fine embroidery will bring you memories of your time in Seoul. Visit the National Souvenir Center, on the first underground floor of the Korean Tourism Organization building, to purchase certified high-quality crafts. For collectible items or genuine artisan pieces, check out the more expensive galleries in the Samcheong-dong neighborhood. Other good South Korean-made souvenirs can be found in the Insadong area, including ceramics, paper goods, and handicrafts from both artisans and factories.
Founded in the 15th century, this is the largest traditional market in South Korea, where vendors in the streets and alleyways sell everything from clothing to housewares, food, and accessories in the city center. Most of the shops sell directly from their own factories, so you can get both wholesale and retail prices. Serious bargain hunters come for the night market from midnight to 4am.
This large market is packed with small shops offering wholesale fashion items and large, modern clothing malls that are open all night. Most are open daily from 10am to 5am the following morning. Concerts and events organized by the malls usually happen around 7 or 8pm and attract a younger crowd.
When are the local events?
Yeouido Spring Flower Festival
April. In cherry blossom time, Seoul celebrates the blossoming along Yunjungno Road with acrobats, inline skaters, traditional Korean percussion music, and fireworks along Han River.
Lotus Lantern Festival
May (date varies). More than 100,000 brightly colored lanterns in the shapes of dragons, pagodas, phoenixes, and lotuses light up Seoul's streets in anticipation of Buddha's birthday. The biggest events occur on the street outside Jogyesa Temple, with stage performances starring monks clad in colorful robes. It all culminates in the beautiful Lantern Parade, said to be Seoul's largest street procession.
Culture and Art in Seoul Plaza
Mid-May through early October. Enjoy free performances of opera, musicals, classical, pop, and traditional Korean music, along with ballet, modern dance, and art events at Seoul Plaza.
Seoul Drum Festival
September. Renowned Korean and international percussionists play percussion instruments from across the globe in 3 days of stage performances set in Ttukseum Seoul Forest, including a percussion parade led by teams from various countries.
Seoul International Fireworks Festival
Second Saturday in October. Teams from around the world put on a dazzling display of pyrotechnics over Yeoido Han River Citizen Park.
Hi Seoul Winter Festival
December – January. Seoul says farewell to the previous year with silvery-white lights decorating major buildings, winter-themed sculptures, and 300 trees lining the streets. Visitors can ice skate in Seoul Plaza, pin their New Year's hopes on wish trees, and catch the nightly laser show.
Where the Streets Have No Name
Small streets in Seoul rarely have names or signs, though larger streets have signs in both Korean and English. Also, buildings are not always numbered—and when they are, the numbers correspond to the order in which they were built, not their street location. The easiest way to find a place is to start from a subway station or a major landmark and make your way from there. Residents are usually willing to help with directions.
Korean shop owners believe that if their first customer of the day leaves the store without buying anything, then the store will have bad business all day, so it is considered polite to wait a bit after the doors open if you're just planning to browse.
Bring Your Own
Public restrooms are often lacking in toilet paper, so always carry a pack of tissues with you.
Good to Know
|Incheon International Airport
||April – June and September
||November - February
||South Korean won
||Seoul is 15 hours ahead of Central Standard Time. Seoul does not use Daylight Savings Time, so is only 14 hours ahead of Central Time in the summer.
|Proof of Citizenship:
||Government legislation requires all people traveling via air to and from the United States and Canada to have a valid passport. For details on passports, visas, and health requirements, see Entry Requirements.
||It is not necessary to tip in Seoul.
||Stylish, conservative dress is common in Seoul. To dress for the weather, be sure to bring a cardigan or jacket from mid-March through late-May and mid-September through mid-November, and short sleeves and shorts/skirts June - August. If traveling late November through early March, you will need a heavier jacket, plus a scarf and gloves December - February.