Planning Out Your Trip To Seoul – Part 2: A Beginner’s Guide
It’s Day 1 of the Seoul experience. You’re in the Seoul ready to meet your favorite K-pop stars, stalk those handsome and pretty actors, and generally have a good time. Flush full of money, and MAX beer and soju shots in your belly, you’re ready to experience the night life. It looks like it’s going to be a crazy night filled with nothing but fun.
There’s just one thing you forgot to do earlier, but heck, that could be put off until tomorrow. After all, it’s almost 11 PM and the clubbing scene is in full swing. That “something” can’t be that important.
Unless that “something” is a place to crash for the night.
Eight hours later…
It’s 7:30 AM and you have a major hangover. As thoughts of diving head-first into a bed fill your mind, you just remembered: “Oh crap, I have no place to stay!” Looks like having a place to stay was important after all…
Welcome to the Korean travelers’ guide, Planning Out Your Trip to Seoul. Written for newcomers to Seoul, this guide will show travelers Seoul’s hot spots, fun places, and more. Although the guide is more for first timers, the guide can also be useful for experienced Seoul travelers and ex-pats as well.
For the previous version, part 1, please go here.
Where Should I Stay for the Night
During you travels to any city, you’ll need to arrange for lodging. Seoul is no different. From pricey five-star hotels to more modest quarters, Seoul has them all.
Of course, price dictates where we sleep every night. For some people, all they need is a bed and a pillow. Small rooms be darned.
For others, however, they may prefer a luxury bed, a spacious room, and the finer amenities of room service.
Let’s take a look at the different options of where you can stay in Seoul:
Note: 1,000 ₩ roughly equals $1.00 USD
1) Friend’s Place
Average cost per night: The best price of all – free!
Unless your friend wants to start their own hotel with you as their first customer, staying with them will be free.
Staying with friends with their own pad is great. The bonuses of staying with them are many: free lodging, a companion to hang out with, and a free travel guide. Bonus points if your friend can cook!
If you’re staying with a friend that lives with their family, this changes the lodging situation a bit. You’ll have to abide by the family rules, be respectful at all times, and will have to keep the noise down.
The upside is that if your friend’s family likes you, they’ll cook you awesome meals, teach you Korean on the side, and if you’re deemed “family”, invite you to the ultimate Korean family activity: watching Korean dramas at night.
Staying at a friend’s house is definitely recommended. It should be one of your first options when looking for places to stay. For people that are not-so-lucky to have Korean (or ex-pat) friends living in Korea, we’ll have to explore other options instead.
· Hanging out with friends
· Can ask your friend to be a travel guide
· Can have “family time” with Korean dramas (If staying with friend’s family)
· Can practice your Korean with friend’s family (If staying with friend’s family)
· Small space
· Little privacy
· Will have to keep the noise down (If staying with friend’s family)
Average cost per night: Anywhere from 50,000 ₩ ($50.00 USD) to over 250,000 ₩ ($ 250 USD) a night, depending where you stay.
For people that need their own room, a comfortable bed, room service, and free breakfast, hotels will be up your alley. Most hotels are in walking distance to Seoul’s hot spots, such as shopping malls, restaurants, tourist places, and subways, as well. The big question for hotels is: how much are you willing to pay for comfort?
If you plan on staying in central Seoul, be prepared to shell out some money – about 100,000 ₩ ($100.00 USD) or more a night. Central Seoul consists of Jung-gu, Yongsan-gu, and Jongno-gu. Trendy places, such as Gangnam-gu and Seocho-gu (south of the river) will also cost an arm and a leg. See the map below for these locations:
Also, if the hotel has either a brand name or cool sounding adjectives in its name, it will cost more as well. If a hotel has two or more of the words below, the price will be in the insane range. Here are some words to be aware of in your hotel finding adventures:
Brand names include: Lotte, Sheraton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Seoul.
Cool sounding adjectives include: Grand, large, majestic, best, suite, and millennium.
So if you stay at a hotel like the Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel, which uses a mouthful of adjectives, you can bet it will cost a lot.
One last note: If you do have a hotel you want to stay at, reserve it in advance. This goes without saying, but booking it at the last moment will most likely be a disaster. Since Seoul is a hot spot here in Asia, rooms get booked out fast.
It is recommended to book at least 3-4 weeks in advance. Hotels will usually ask just for your credit card information, with no down payment. That way, if you end up changing your mind or finding a better hotel, you can back out with no penalty.
· A nice, comfortable bed.
· High speed internet
· Room service
· Free breakfast
· Nice room
· Insanely expensive
· Need to plan ahead of time (reserve a room)
Recommended links for hotels:
3) Love Motels
Average cost per night: Anywhere from 45,000 ₩ ($45.00 USD) to over 75,000 ₩ ($ 75 USD) a night, depending where you stay.
Aren’t love motels a place where you… do the horizontal boogie? Well, yes they are. But despite the reputation they have, they also make great, affordable places to sleep at too. Think of it as staying at a hotel with disco lights and a rotating bed instead.
In a typical love motel room, visitors will have access to a computer, high-speed internet, a large flat TV, and a refrigerator. Heck, some love motels even have Playstations in them with a good selection of games to play.
For the more *ahem* mature folks, there’s a lovetub and dirty movies for your pleasure as well. These amenities will never be used… right?
For the more baller love motels – 150,000 ₩ ($150.00), there are extra services that resemble regular hotels, such as room service and free breakfast.
If you’re looking for a comfortable, yet not too expensive place, and you don’t mind telling your parents where you’re staying for the night, love motels is your best bet.
· Very affordable
· High speed internet
· Comfortable bed
· Spacious room
· Disco lights and a rotating bed (if that floats your boat)
· Awkward feeling telling your friends where you stay
4) Jjimjilbang (Hot Bath)
Average cost per night: Anywhere from 10,000 ₩ ($10.00 USD) to over 20,000 ₩ ($20 USD).
Jjimjibangs are a great place to relax, relieve stress, and get an awesome massage. But did you know that many travelers also sleep here too?
In Korea, Jjimjibangs serve an important role in Korean life. They represent a get-away place for people that can’t leave the city. They also serve as a mini-inn for people, as many of them are 24 hours open.
Many families go here to relax and make a day out of staying in the hot bath. Salarymen stay here after a heavy night of drinking with co-workers. And college students, likewise, crash at Jjimjibangs after a night of clubbing and downing soju.
While some may think that sleeping at a sauna is weird, it’s perfectly acceptable here in Korea. And it’s cheap too.
Many Jjimjibangs are actually in buildings that also have other living amenities. PC cafes, noraebang (karaoke), gyms, and sleeping rooms with bunk beds or sleeping mats are just some of the features you’ll find in a Jjimjibang building.
If you’re hungry, Jjimjibangs are known to serve food as well. Eggs, patbingsu (shaved ice desert), and Sikhye (sweet rice drink) can be found here. The other usuals: Americano, water, and orange juice are also here as well.
If Jijimibangs are so awesome, are there any downsides? There are two big ones: no privacy and they sometimes fill up fast.
Other than that, if you don’t mind sleeping in the same room with others, Jijimibangs are great to both sleep at and to experience Korean modern life.
· Very cheap
· Has many utilities, like a PC room, noraebang, etc.
· Can get a massage or jump into the hot bath
· Open 24/7
· Many Jjimibangs around in Seoul
· No privacy
· Can sometimes fill up fast
Average cost per night: Anywhere from 15,000 ₩ ($15.00 USD) to over 20,000 ₩ ($20 USD) for public hostels. For private hostels, anywhere from 45,000 ₩ ($45 USD) to 55,000 ₩ ($55 USD).
Hostels were once known as cheap, easy-to-find, yet shoddy lodging for travelers. With no privacy, a communal bathroom shared by many, and nothing but a bed, travelers only used their hostels for sleep and nothing more. Further adding to the living accommodations, people are cramped in a small room with five or more other travelers. Staying at one of these locations was anything but comfortable.
Until now, that is…
Due to the Visit Korea Campaign in 2012, which the Korean government has been pushing very hard, new hostels have been springing up at a rapid pace. Old, dirty, once-run down hostels have been newly renovated as well. With flat-screen TVs, refrigerators, and free Wi-Fi, hostels have come a long way from even five years ago. Hostels may be the new place to crash in Seoul.
There are two types of hostels: the normal six-to-a-room hostel, and a private hostel.
A public hostel ranges from 15,000 ₩ ($15.00 USD) to about 20,000 ₩ ($20.00 USD) a night. Travelers will be sharing a room with anywhere from three to six people. Bathrooms are also shared as well. If you don’t mind about privacy, public hostels are a great way to make new friends.
A private hostel is a bit more pricier, ranging from 45,000 ₩ ($45.00 USD) to 55,000 ₩ ($55.00 USD). These hostels resemble a smaller hotel room with less amenities.
· Very cheap
· Can reserve rooms easily - many hostels around Seoul
· High speed internet
· Little to no privacy
· Shared bathrooms
· Small room
Recommended links for hostels:
Five More Recommended Places to Visit in Seoul (#6 – 10)
Once again, it’s the time of the guide to recommend places to visit while in Seoul. We continue from part 1’s list with five new places in Seoul to check out.
There a good variety of tourist, party, cultural, and entertainment recommendations on the list. While there are a lot more than just five places in Seoul, these hot-spots below are a good start to any visitor.
Traditional goods are commonly found in Insadong. Credits: Travel Pages
Want to see the finest in Korean culture? With traditional crafts made here, hanbok (traditional robe clothing), and pottery, Insadong is known to be Seoul’s cultural center. And with good reason too. Just one hundred years ago during the Joeson Dynasty (1392 – 1910 AD/CE), Insadong’s streets were littered with artists and craftsmen. If your trade was into the arts, Insadong was the place to sell your goods and show off your works.
Today it’s no different. According to the Visit Korea website, about 40% of all Korean arts goods are exchanged here. Art goods, such as: calligraphy, paper, textiles, pots, hanja (Chinese character) tablets, and more are easily found here.
If you go inside one of the art buildings, there are art classes (depending on the day) in calligraphy, pottery, paper making, and sewing here. These classes generally range from 6,000 ₩ ($6.00) to 20,000 ₩ ($20.00) for one day.
Insadong also has the oldest bookstore in Korea, Tongmungwan. Kyung-in Art Gallery, the oldest tea place in Korea, also resides here.
For the more mature audience, the exotic and sometimes controversial Asia Eros Museum can also be found just outside Insadong as well. As expected, a person must be 18 or older to visit this museum. While learning about Korea’s sex history, culture, and stigmas, one will also get tea “on the house” to drink.
With three information tourist booths, a nice assortment of traditional Korean restaurants, and no vehicle traffic during Saturday and Sunday, Insadong is definitely a place designed for tourists.
To summarize, here are some places inside Insadong you should check out:
· Unhyeongmung Mansion (Historical)
· Jogyesa Buddhist Temple (Historical)
· Tongmungwan (Bookstore)
· Kyung-in Art Gallery (Art)
· Antique shops (Cultural)
· Pansori performances (Korean traditional music)
· Asia Eros Museum (Mature)
Statistics show that Myeongdong is the number one tourist area in Seoul. And the reason is very simple: shopping.
Some of Korea’s finest shopping, markets, and stores can be found in Myeongdong. It is said that over one million visitors pass through the flooded streets of Myeongdong daily. With the streets spacious, the area modernized, and the brand names here in full-force, it’s no wonder that this place is popular for shopping.
Get ready to “shop till you drop” if you visit this area. To say that Myeongdong is a shopper’s paradise is a vast understatement.
“Konnichiwa” ( こんにちは), “Ni Hao” ( 你好), and “Hello” will be heard from storekeepers. English, Japanese, and Chinese are very common when shopping in Myeongdong. Like many other shopping areas in Seoul, Myeongdong is catered to tourists.
The big, brand names are littered throughout the streets here. Perfume stores can be found on nearly every corner. Two major department stores, Lotte and Shinsegae, also compete with one another to pull in customers. Shopping malls, H & M and Milgore, showcase the finest in skin brands and cosmetics. Shopping has never been so plentiful… or expensive until you go here.
Cosmetics are not the only thing you’ll find here. Shoe stores, K-pop CD stores, clothing departments, many food brands (such as Burger King, McDonalds, etc.), coffee cafes, and ethnic restaurants are also found here.
Massages, bubble tea drinks (also known as boba), and smoothies can also be had here.
Celebrities have also been known to frequent the area from time to time. From movie and drama stars to the occasional K-pop star, they’ll sign autographs for passerbys if you can fight your way through the throngs of people surrounding them.
For the religious folk, the famous, Catholic church, Myeongdong Church, makes its home just outside the shopping area. Built in 1894, the Gothic-designed church is known for its large follower base, as well as architecture and history behind it. On Christmas Eve, a chorus singing hymns like “Silent Night” can be heard from the 2nd floor.
For people into plays and theatrics, the Myeongdong Nanta Theater is also in the area. Nanta can be described as “non-verbal plays with a story and seeped in samulnori (traditional Korean playwright)”. The Nanta Theater has gotten major recognition in recent years, as their plays have been featured on Broadway and is considered a “must-see” for first-time visitors to Seoul.
With Myeongdong, being entertained and finding awesome shopping is the easy part. The hard part is finding the time and money to visit over 300 stores.
To summarize, here are some places inside Myeongdong you should check out:
· Myeongdong Nanta Theater (Theater)
· Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral (Historical)
· Lotte and Shinsegae Department stores (Shopping)
· Kyung-in Art Gallery (Art)
· Antique shops (Cultural)
· Pansori performances (Korean traditional music)
· Asia Eros Museum (Mature)
Known as the “international area of Seoul”, Itaewon really feels like you’re out of Seoul once you arrive. More people here speak English than Korean. The place is known for aspiring English speakers to practice their English here. There’s a good reason for this: Itaewon houses a very large ex-pat community, as well as having a US military base.
People go to Itaewon for four major reasons: To speak English (as mentioned above), to experience ethnic foods, to buy imported goods, and to custom-make their clothing.
Ethnic cuisine in Itaewon is among the finest in Seoul. Kibabs, spaghetti, Indian curry, sushi, Kung-pao chicken, and fish and chips are just some of the food here. Indian, Egyptian, Italian, German, Japanese, Chinese, African, Mexican, Turkish, British, and American delicacies are littered throughout the area.
Western condiments can also be found here. Ketchup, mustard, marshmallows, cheese, and Aunt Jemima syrup are staples here. For first-time travelers to Seoul, this may not be a big deal at all, but for us ex-pats (and even Koreans that want to experience Western condiments), it’s a huge boon.
Custom-made suits and larger sized clothing can be bought here as well. Korean clothing caters to the skinny, so an extra-extra-large shirt (XXL) in Korea really means a medium or large in the US. But here in Itaewon, an extra-large really means XXL.
For people that are fans of reading, one of the largest English bookstores resides here. What-The-Book has all English books and novels you can find back home, plus ample Korean-English learning guides as well.
For fine-eating or experiencing English, you can’t go wrong with Itaewon.
To summarize, here are some places inside Itaewon you should check out:
· Ethnic restaurants (Food)
· Seoul Central Mosque (Historical)
· What The Book (Reading)
· Club Spy (Clubbing)
· Gecko’s Terrance and Garden (Food)
· Hamilton Hotel (Lodging)
9) Namdaemun Market
Which food would you eat? Credits: http://ily-seoulkorea.blogspot.kr/p/place-to-visit.html
Namdaemun, or the “Great Southern Gate” Market, is the oldest and largest market in Korea. It is also known for bargain shopping, as haggling and negotiating are standard here.
Unlike Myeongdong, where modernization and brand name corporations liter the streets, Namdaemun is a throwback to mom-and-pop stores. Souvenirs, traditional goods, clothes, and electronics can be had here. Food, such as kimchi, pigs’ feet, fruit, pork hocks, shrimp, and fish are commonly seen here. To get a true feel on Korean traditional market shopping and a look back in Korean history, Namdaemun is highly recommended.
If you do visit here, however, you will definitely not be alone. Nearly half-a-million visitors visit the market daily, many coming from Southeastern Asia. Many streets will be packed, as the market really feels like a club without the loud music or dancing. In other words, often times, you’ll be standing body-to-body against each other, especially on the weekends.
Since the area is a throwback to traditional, 16th century Korean shopping, the rules also reflect this. Many stores and vendors will not have prices on their wares, so you’ll have to ask how much it is. This is where the true fun begins.
Many times, the initial price a storekeeper will give you is not the final tally. This is where negiotation and haggling come into play. Many merchants expect this. If a Korean souvenir originally costs 15,000 ₩ ($15 USD), with some skillful bartering, you could get it for 12,000 ₩ instead.
The other great thing about Namdaemun is that communication here is seamless. There really is no language barrier here, as many storekeepers can speak decent English.
If you’re ready to battle the crowds of people, experience traditional Korean shopping, and practice haggling, Namdaemun is a great place to start.
10) Sinchon (Ewha’s Woman’s University and Yonsei University)
While nearby Hongdae is known as the party and indie scene of Seoul, Sinchon is also a poppin’ place in its own right. A 20-minute walk from Hongdae will lead you to Sinchon, a mecca for Korean university life.
There are two universities in the area: Ewha’s Woman’s University and Yonsei University. They are literally separated by a street. Ewha – or Edae for short – is an all-girls school (except the teachers, which can be both male or female). Yonsei University is co-ed and is one of the famed “big three SKY” schools in Korea, which are the Ivy-league schools here. SKY stands for Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University. Both Ewha and the mentioned Yonsei University are top-tier, renowned schools in Korea.
Near Edae, women’s stores fill the area. Hair salons, a huge shopping mall, shoe outlets, makeup stores, cosmetic stations, and more will cater to a girl’s needs. Fashion and looking good is apparent when walking on the Edae side of the road.
There is a running joke here in Korea that when taking the subway, when the train stops at Sinchon Station (where Edae is located), all the women immediately get off for their women needs.
The very popular Canadian duo, Simon and Martina from Eat Your Kimchi, did a video segment on Edae as well.
Yonsei University, on the other side of the street, has many cafes, restaurants, and drinking places. Dating is also popular in the area, as wealthy, well to-do students commonly attend Yonsei.
The campus attracts many international students, as well as solid English speakers as well. Like Itaewon, the community around both Edae and Yonsei embrace English. Many of the students are friendly and sociable, making this area a good place to make new friends. Meeting friends here in the Edae-Yonsei area is also popular too.
For other forms of entertainment, street performers sing songs and play instruments every weekend. Small crowds of 50-100 people crowd around these upcoming performers and usually sing and clap along with them.
The logo of Yonsei University. Credits: http://goabroadssu.wordpress.com/
Two movie theaters, Arteon and Megabox, are also found here. Movie festivals, art exhibitions, and special celebrity events are held throughout the year. K-pop stars, knowing the vibrant college scene here, sometimes show up here to hold a mini-concert or meet-and-greet session as well.
If you’re looking for an incredible university atmosphere, a place to meet new people, to see indie-street performers, or to see Korea’s finest universities, check out Sinchon. If you’re older, the area will make you long for your university days. And if you’re a bit younger than college, it will make you wish you were an incoming Freshman.
To summarize, here are some places inside Sinchon you should check out:
· Yonsei University (University)
· Ehwa’s Woman’s University (University)
· Street Performances (Music)
· Sinchon Arteon Theater (Art)
· Eunha Buc (Beauty Salon)
· Megabox (Movies)
· Lucycato (Chocolate-made goodies)
· Sushi Gallery (Japanese food)
· Wan Chai (Chinese food)
· GYROS (Western food)
· Bonkatsu (Japanese food)
Wrapping It Up
Seoul is a majestic, vibrant city to explore. While there are definitely more than these five places to visit, these recommended areas are just scratching the surface. It’s no accident that Seoul is one of the most powerful, visited cities today. It really has everything for everyone. Whether you like shopping, clubbing, cafes, culture, or art, Seoul has them all in spades.
Tell us what you think of this guide. And if you’ve been to Seoul, let us know which hot spots you recommend!
If you haven’t done so yet, please check out part 1’s list of the guide.
Jangta (real name: Jason Yu) has worked with BBC World, the Yonhap News, and other publications. Currently working in the Korean media scene, his passion is to spread Asian pop culture to the world. He currently lives in Seoul, Korea.
Jason has worked with BBC World, the Yonhap News, and other publications. Currently working in the Korean media scene, his passion is to spread Asian pop culture to the world. He currently lives in Seoul, Korea. Check out his Asian pop culture site: