TIPS FOR TRAVELING TO SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
Seoul with its 11 million+ people is one of the largest cities in the world. It is a city with gleaming skyscrapers and traffic jams as well as centuries-old architecture and traditional culture. K-pop has taken the world by a storm, and then of course, there is the deliciously spicy Korean food. Seoul may not be on everyone's radar, but if you have decided to go, you will not be disappointed. Here are some tips for traveling to Seoul for the first time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT SEOUL
Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to early November). While in the spring you can admire the cherry blossoms, October and November bring the vibrant fall colors and festivals from Kimchi Festival to the Lantern Festival around the Cheonggyechon stream.
WHERE TO STAY IN SEOUL
Stay at the Palace District or Myeongdong area. This is the city center and most tourist sites are nearby, including several palaces, Cheonggyechon stream, Bukchon Village and Insadong. There are tons of restaurants and cafés to choose from and the nearby City Hall Plaza with the "I Seoul U " sign seems to always have some festival going on. Gangnam may seem attractive but it is very far from the tourist sites and traffic is bad in Seoul.
Savvy & Fine recommendation is the Four Seasons Hotel because of its location, views, and impeccable service.
HOW TO GET TO THE CITY FROM INCHEON AIRPORT
Even though there are express trains and buses, the most convenient way is to take a taxi. We had the Four Seasons send a taxi to pick us up and the driver waited for us at the arrivals hall. It could not have been easier. Get some cash before you leave the terminal. ATMs that accept foreign cards can be hard to find in the city.
Regular taxi costs about 50,000 and deluxe taxi 125,000 KRW and it takes about an hour to get to the city center. That is, if there is no traffic. TIP: If you have to travel to the airport during rush hour, give yourself plenty of time. The trip can take two hours in traffic. Also, if you can, fly with an airline that operates in Terminal 2. The old, Terminal 1 is very tired.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN SEOUL
Seoul has an extensive metro system, however for a first-time visitor who enjoys a little more comfort, taxi is the way to go. There are different types of taxis in Seoul: standard, deluxe and international. All take cash and credit cards. Standard taxis are usually orange or white and charge 3,800 won for the first kilometer. Deluxe or Black Taxies are larger and charge 6,500 won for the first kilometer. International taxis are standard taxis, except they feature the words "International Taxi" on the body of the car and the driver speaks English, their rates are higher than standard taxis.
One thing to know about taxi drivers is that very few speak English. They may not understand the place names in English nor know even the most recognized hotels and restaurants. TIP: have your destination written out in Korean when taking a taxi.
The Palace District, Bukchon Village, Insadong, and Myeongdong are all walkable. But, Google maps only gets you this far in South Korea. It does not give you exact walking distances and directions.
Take cash out when you arrive at the airport. It is hard to find ATMs that take foreign cars, as a lot of them accept only Korean cards. Have some dollars or other currency that you can exchange as a backup. Credit cards are widely accepted in taxis and restaurants.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN SEOUL
Visit at least one of the five grand palaces. Even though Gyeongbokgung is the most visited, the more picturesque one is Changdeokgung Palace and its secret garden. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Changdeokgung was completed in 1412 and served as home to royalty as recently as 1910. The highlight though, is its secret garden, Huwon, truly a serene and lush oasis in the middle of a metropolis. Visitors are only allowed to the secret garden with a tour. The tour (it is more like a walk in a beautiful forest) lasts 1.5 hours and they tend to get booked very quickly, even though 100 people are allowed at each tour. Book your tickets here: http://www.cdg.go.kr/eng/
Visit a Korean Tea House at Bukchon Village. Bukchon Village is an area with traditional houses (hanoks) where people still live today, as well as artisan workshops and tea houses. Dressing up in traditional Korean clothing, hanbok, and taking pictures in historic places is popular among visitors and locals a like. If you want pictures of yourself wearing a hanbok, then Bukchon Village is one of the best places to do it. The hanbok rental agencies are everywhere. Don't miss having tea in one of the tea houses and try their sikhye, sweet tea made of fermented rice and omija, tea of five-flavor tea.
Visit the War Memorial of Korea. It is a huge complex with indoor and outdoor exhibits of Korean history, focusing on the 1950-53 Korean War.
Take the cable car or hike to Namsan Mountain. The views are spectacular from the 265-meter peak, and from the N-Seoul Tower, one of Seoul's most recognizable landmarks. To get there, take the taxi to the cable car station in mid-mountain or the Namsan Oreumi Elevator from Myeongdong Station.
WHAT TO EAT IN SEOUL
From bibimbop to galbi there is no shortage of delicious ad exotic food in Seoul, from three-starred Michelin to street food and anything in between. Read more about what and where to eat here: TASTE OF KOREA: WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN SEOUL