Weekend Getaway: A Guide to Seoul, South Korea

Welcome to our Weekend Getaway series! While it’s our preference to discover a country slowly and thoroughly, realistically time often only allows for a long weekend of exploring. Each week we’ll focus on a different city and highlight how to get the most out of a 2-4 day stay. Sometimes we write about the city ourselves, while other times we’ll have awesome guest bloggers giving us the low-down.

If you’re interested in guest blogging on this series, shoot us an email!  

 

Welcome! Tell us a little bit about yourself, your blog, and where you’re currently traveling.

I’m Meg from Dopes On The Road. I’m one half of a lesbian couple traveling the world. I’m currently in the US exploring some of the best American cities, but I spent a year as an expat in South Korea. On my blog I write about travel and adventure as well as LGBT culture.

What’s the best way to travel to Seoul? 

Fly into Incheon International Airport and take the AREX airtrain into Seoul. Make sure you buy the correct ticket. There are two trains and the correct ticket is for non-stop AREX. Plan to be on the train for about 20-30 minutes before arriving in the city center. You can exchange your money at the airport if you are worried about it, but you’re likely to get a better rate if you change your money in Seoul. You can easily find a currency conversion place in Myeong-Dong.

Public transportation: Is it available in this city, and is it easy to navigate?

The train system is so easy it’s nearly impossible to get lost. The train runs all over the entire country and they have the KTX high-speed rail in case you want to make a quick trip to the other side of Korea. Korea literally has colored lines painted on the ground and walls in train stations. Follow the colored paint to the correlating subway platform and you’re on your way to your destination. Korea is an easy place for English speaking travelers. Most signs are written in Romanized letters and Hangul and many people have at least a basic understanding of English. Getting around isn’t hard with some basic understanding of how Seoul is set up and where you’re going.

Do you have any recommendations on a luxury or boutique hotel in the area?

If you’re looking for an actual hotel and have a bit more money to spend, the Ritz Carlton in Seoul’s famous Gangnam district is incredibly beautiful and luxurious.

How about those looking for a more budget friendly option? 

The Birdsnest Hostel is a great option if you are looking for a quieter low cost option. Prices range from $19 to $35 per night for a single bed in a dorm.

Kimchee Guesthouse is the perfect low cost location if you’re looking to make friends to explore and connect with. Be forewarned; it can be a bit of a party house depending on when you are staying. A Saturday night might get a bit loud for those who want a quiet night. Prices range from $15- $50

One of our favorite things to do while exploring a new city is to take part in the outdoors scene. What are some adventure and/or outdoors activities (such as hiking, biking, waterfall rappelling, skiing, skydiving, etc.) to enjoy here?

Hiking is a favorite past time of many Korean people. It comes from the abundance of hills and mountains. Bukhansan National Park is just outside of Seoul and close to a train stop. You can hike the trails up to a beautiful Buddhist temple. The shortest trail is about three miles on nicely organized rock trails. Once you get to the top the temple offers you soup and tea while you take in the views.

Are there any local entertainment events that we should know about when planning a trip to Seoul (such as South By South West in Austin, a Football match in England, or running with the bulls in Spain)?

Buddha’s Birthday Lantern Festival is one of the bigger weekends of celebration in Korea. Seoul hosts a huge parade and strings beautiful colored lanterns around the city.

Name one phenomenal museum that shouldn’t be skipped.

Gyeongbokgun Palace isn’t really a museum, but it’s definitely a historically significant cultural landmark. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and a great introduction to ancient Korean culture and tradition. Built in 1395, it served as home to Korea’s Joseon Dynasty. Behind the palace, there are gorgeous sprawling gardens and ponds. They can be easily missed if you do not know they’re there. This is the perfect place to take some great pictures and people watch. Some of my favorite pictures in Korea were taken here during the spring and summer months. Admission is 3,000 Won or roughly $3. For $10 you can get a one month admissions pass to all 5 of Seoul’s palaces. For more information on things to do check out my guide to Seoul.

Where should I go if I want to blend in with the locals?

Hongdae is a really fun neighborhood that is filled with local young people in their 20s and 30s. It’s a bar and party district near Hongnik Unviersity. It’s one of my favorite places to people watch in all of Korea.

Let’s talk about an important aspect of travel: Food. What are your absolute favorite restaurants in the area?

My favorite places to eat are actually in soju and street food tents all around Korea. You can get mandu (Korean meat dumplings) for 2000 won and enjoy fish cakes and sausages for about the same price.

What’s one local dish you’d recommend someone to try while they’re here?

Korean BBQ is a must. You sit at a table with a built in grill. The server brings you platters of uncooked marinated meat and loads of veggie-based side dishes. You grill small pieces of meat on your grill and eat it with kimchi, lettuce and other vegetables.

We’re from the US where waiters and waitresses make a living solely from tips. What is the tipping etiquette in Seoul?

There is no need to tip in Korea. Servers are paid in full.

If we’re craving a night out on the town, what are some cool local spots we should check out?

Check out Itaewon or Hongdae. Itaewon is a multicultural foreigner mecca. You’ll find lots of Korean bars playing Korean music, but you will also find many foreigner friendly bars as well. Hongdae is a nightlife district where you can learn how to do the rounds of Korean nightlife.

Anything we should know about the local culture and customs (so you don’t offend people, or get offended by something!)

Remember to use two hands when you are handing something to someone. For example, when you are paying for a purchase, you should hand the cashier the money with two hands rather than one. Bowing is a way to show respect in Korea. When you are introduced to someone, you should bow your head slightly to show respect.

What is the currency here and how much would a typical pint of beer cost or glass of wine cost?

The currency is called won. 1000 won is roughly 1 USD give or take for the exchange rate of the day. A bottle of SoJu at an average 7/11 type store is about 1500 won or $1.50.

Where should we go for the city’s best photo op?

Nansam Tower and the palaces are great photo opportunities. N. Seoul Tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in Seoul. The tower is a very common couple’s date that offers incredible views of the city. The palaces as I mentioned above are also great places to take pictures and get dressed up in traditional Korean Hanboks. 

Written by Meg from Dopes on the Road

 

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Cheers, 

Jimmie & Shelly