Seoul x South Korea : First-time Itinerary & Things To Do
Seoul is a place where contains historical attractions with modernized buildings, as well as shopping districts, street food vendors, and nightlife. Finally, I have a chance to deliver my first travel guide review of South Korea, which, of course, I will start my journey with ‘Seoul’, the well-known and bustling capital city of South Korea. In this review, I’d like to take you to majority locations whether wearing a hanbok, traveling around the Korean palaces, visiting a must-see museum, including the popular shopping district whenever you come to Korea, you should stop by to grab some items. I was a bit disappointed that on this trip, I didn’t hop onto many cafes due to insufficient time. If any chance of visiting next time, I’ll definitely write another review about a styling cafe.
Warm-Up with the Seoul Tour Video
From Hashcorner with Traveloka and KTO Thailand ❤️
Seoul Itinerary + Access
How to Get to the City from Incheon Airport
There are 2 most convenient ways to access the city; 1) AREX Incheon Airport Express is a direct train from the airport to Seoul Station. 2) A bus from the airport. The pros and cons of each transport are different. AREX trains are fast, punctual, but you may have to change the train at Seoul Station to reach another location. It will be easier for those who stay at the hotel next to a train station. As for a bus, you can choose the line to get off near the hotel without connecting other vehicles. Now, it depends on your convenience. The city bus lines from the airport are recommended to check at the Incheon Airport website (click here).
⚡️ If you want to use the AREX Incheon Airport Express, I suggest buying a train ticket from the KLOOK website that is cheaper than the ticket office’s regular price for about 1.4 USD. You can view and buy train tickets in advance from this link (FYI: When buying via the website, you must also select a start date of train travel service). Click here to buy AREX Incheon Airport Express through Klook
City Check-In on the Return Journey Before Heading to the Airport!
Tourists who taking the Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, Jeju Air, T’way Air, and Easter Jet (updated info on November 2018) back to your home country. There is one excellent option which you can In-town Check-in at Seoul Station in the heart of the city. But it’s under the condition of using the AREX Incheon Airport Express only. I already used the train service, it’s very convenient and fast.
⚡️ In the morning, I came to buy AREX and chose the returning time to the airport, then, check-in + load luggage with the airline. The superb is… we can have an exit stamp at the immigration office and pass through the special lane for quick access to the airport gate. You don’t have to queue up with other passengers. It was so convenient. Whoever has boarded the Korean Airline, as mention, this is my most recommendation.
T-Money Card for Train + Bus Use
Traveling in Seoul are mostly used the subway, and there are some chances of bus taking. For this reason, getting on public transports with cash is a pain in the head. So, I advise buying a T-Money card that allows you to pay for everything whether you take the subway, the bus, or even spending in convenience stores. You should buy it before boarding the train from the airport, the ticket machines are available there.
Pocket Wifi Used in Korea
A further recommendation is to use a Pocket Wifi during the Korea trip. As for my trip, I rented the Pocket Wifi through KLOOK with pick-up and returning service at the airport. I ensure this indeed the best choice since the rented Pocket Wifi from KLOOK is unlimited internet, and the rental price is only 2.2-2.7 USD per day. It’s very cheap. I’m highly recommended this finest service because I practically used it without inclination. If you’re interesting, you can see the selected ones from Klook below.
Information Tight, Let’s Start Over!
Seoul Day 1:
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
Since the first day, I arrived in Seoul in the late evening. I didn’t do anything much, just wandered around at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). In this review I’ll briefly call it as DDP, which I recommend you come in the evening because the place provides the spectacular nighttime atmosphere, the building has a light on, also, there was a LED Rose Garden that illuminates beautifully. Yeah, I saw the picture so I wanted to see it. Pitifully, during my visit, it was taken off due to it was a special temporary exhibition. LOL
⚡️ Dongdaemun Design Plaza or DDP is considered to be another landmark in Korea that purposes art exhibitions representing the creative spirit of modern Korean whether it is an architecture or a fashion. Seoul Fashion Week is also organized here every year. The architect who designed the DDP is famous Zaha Hadid, who best-known for designing a Deconstruction Architecture, the postmodern movement that characterized by an absence harmony or symmetry, which makes the building looks like a freeform design without limited to straight lines or rectilinear polygon shapes.
Regularly, DDP holds a rotating exhibition. If you go and come across an interesting artwork or meet your favorite artist’s exhibition, you can buy a ticket to participate in. For other parts, you can explore at no extra charge, you’re free to do various activities such as sightseeing, rambling, taking pictures, or even shopping. DDP has a lot to offer. Personally, I rather walked around and took pictures, since this is another perfect photo spot to spread out on Instagram. Hahaha
Tourists who come to DDP with some free time left, and have a desire for shopping. I suggest walking to the opposite side of the main building. There are several wholesale clothing shopping malls, in which you can take cute Korean clothes back to your hometown. Don’t miss out because of its merchandise a great variety of styles.
Seoul Day 2: Korean Royal Palaces
For Korea first-comers, visiting the palaces is a great start as you can learn about the history and the charming beauty of Korean culture. There are five essential grand palaces consist of: 1) Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is the first royal palace in Korea, 2) Changdeokgung Palace, 3) Deoksugung Palace, 4) Gyeonghuigung, 5) Changgyeonggung Palace
⚡️ Only 2 palaces I’ll introduce you to pay a visit in this travel guide review, that is Gyeongbokgung Palace + Huwon Secret Garden, and Changgyeonggung Palace.
Actually, there is another place I want to make a review, the Gyeongbokgung Palace is the most important in Korea. As it is the largest and most stunning royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. But I didn’t reach there on this trip because I had been there several years ago, plus, I had not enough time. Consequently, I have to skip writing this part, I don’t want to write base on the past possess reference which was a long time ago, and I have no beautiful images to show you as well. Please go on your own.
Integrated Ticket of Palaces
💵 If you wish to travel to multiple palaces in Seoul. The ticket office provides a combination ticket for 4 palaces + Huwon Secret Garden + Jongmyo Shrine. The ticket price costs 10,000 won. If calculated with the price of individual tickets altogether, the total will cost you 14,000 won. This integrated ticket will save you 4,000 won.
The regular ticket to each palace is as follows:
1. Gyeongbokgung: 3,000 won
2. Deoksugung Palace: 1,000 won
3. Changdeokgung Palace: 3,000 won + Huwon Secret Garden : 5,000 won
4. Changgyeonggung Palace: 1,000 won
5. Jongmyo Shrine: 1,000 won
This must be calculated to see if it is worth buying the integrated ticket. In short, if you like to visit the Korean palaces and want to learn deeply about history. It’s advisable to visit all of the list above in one go. So, you don’t have to re-visit palaces over and over.
💵Apart from Chandeokgung Palace, there is also housed Huwon Secret Garden for you to traverse. Like the aforementioned, you have to pay an additional 5,000 won for the secret garden admission fee.
English speaking guided tour service is available at 11:30 am 1.30 pm, 2.30 pm, 3.30 pm. I advise reserving for this English tour in which the Korean guide will give you a commentary of the palace history full of interesting anecdotes. However, please check for the schedule at the front ticket office again. Most importantly, when purchasing the entrance ticket, you have to select the tour time straightaway. After finish buying tickets to the palace + Secret Garden. Here is the time to tranquility explore around the beautiful historical site.
Changdeokgung Palace was built in 1405 in the reign of King Taejong, the third king in the Joseon Dynasty. This palace was the second royal villa in Korean. Following the reason for the new palace construction, people believe that King Taejong did not want to rule the country using the former palace (Gyeongbokgung) because he had killed his half brothers in that palace before. So, he ordered to create and moved to the new one instead.
During the Japanese invasion in 1592, Japan invaded and occupied Korea. Almost every palace burnt down to the ground, but eventually, Changdeokgung Palace was the first one to reconstructed in 1610 and served as a residence for the monarchs and royal family for nearly 300 years. While the first palace ‘Gyeongbokgung’ was restored up until 1867, which means Changdeokgung Palace was extremely important. This is the chronicle. Welcome to the Korean history class. Hahaha!
In the inner part of Changdeokgung Palace, you can enjoy walking and seeing the well-preserved architectures. The complex scale is quite large enough for you to absorb a scenic landscape. During my visit, I continued exploring around until reaching the Huwon Secret Garden entrance at the tour appointment time, then, met with the female Korean guide who gave the group visitor a genuinely warm-welcome before leading us through various attractions inside the garden.
The shade of the Huwon Secret Garden is very different from the front palace. There surrounds with trees and was used as the place for recreation, composing a poem, having dinner by the king, and members of the royal family. During the Japanese occupation, needless to say, this secret garden was also not survived from being destroyed. The currently seen attraction was a restoration in 1623.
The design of the Huwon Secret Garden has simulated the beauty of Bugaksan Mountain, located in the north of Seoul. The seen trees in this garden are almost 400 years old since the restoration and reconstruction period. For the most part, I prefer walking in this rear garden than the palace outside. As I think the palace compound is not refreshing, or cool and pleasant as the secret garden that embraces by nature, there are ponds, pavilions, various tree species. Imaging you jaunt here during the springtime, the scenery must be spectacular.
Next to the side of Changdeokgung Palace will be the location of Changgyeonggung Palace, which you can enter after leaving the Huwon Secret Garden. Because the entrance to the palace is adjacent. As for the reason of granting to visit this palace is, aspiring to stroll in the western-design Great Greenhouse. I didn’t draw attraction to the palace structures that much, to be frank, it is similar to other Korean palaces, not much of a difference. Hahaha
Changgyeonggung Palace was constructed alongside Changgyungung Palace, used as a royal residence of the king’s father and mother.
There is one interesting event in the history of Korea that was occurred in this palace: ‘The crown prince Sado’ was punished by his father ‘King Yongjo’ who ordered him to crawl into the wooden rice chest and died of suffocation. Reasons to post a criminal upon the crown prince was due to his mental illness and wantonly killed people all over the palace. Many people feared when his father attempted on abdicating and gave Sado a chance to become serious about his role. If this history catches your interest, you can try searching it, it’s a great experience reading.
Completed walking around the palace, don’t forget to stop by the Great Greenhouse at the back of Changgyeonggung Palace. European style design was applied base on the inspiration from The Crystal Palace in London, England. When seeing the structure appearance, the feeling was changing a lot. From the front part of the palace looked traditional Korean, but it turned over within a minute after stepping in the greenhouse area, where inside plants various kinds of trees. You can walk and take a look around.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Finished from the palace full-tour, let’s continue with Bukchon Hanok Village, located in the middle of Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace. If you’re a Korea newcomer, this place is also my recommendation for a visit. Because you can get a more tangible Korean feel through the wooden house of olden Korean that has been counted up for over 600 years until now.
Before starting our journey in Bukchon Hanok Village. It’s advisable to walk to the Visitor Center where staff will suggest directions, along with handing out the map, which is so useful. Not only going astray, but you can also access all the photo spots.
When you get the map, then, continue walking along the route. At the beginning of the path, you pass through various shops situated side by side, arranging in a row. After that, the route will take you to the hill road, turn left, you’ll see the first photo spot providing traditional Korean houses + Sloping down the road causing you to see the city landscape. The upshot picture may look slightly plain, but the real situation is attractive, I love this serene and the touch of an ancient complex.
Keep walking down to reach the main road, then, cross the road and continue walking to the alley following the directions in the given map. If you start to get confused, try observing where the crowds heading to, wherever they go, you should follow them too. LOL
The next point which I think is the most beautiful point in exploring Bukchon Hanok Village is the lamp purposing the classic scene of ancient Korean house flanked on either side of the small road that leads to the hilltop. These houses are operated as tourist stopovers such as a museum, workshop ateliers related to various fields of Korean cultures.
For those who want to feel more impactful, I suggest renting a hanbok to wear and take pictures. It’s refreshing and gaining new experience. I was regret not being able to rent the costume then. For any male visitors who want to rent a hanbok but feel awkward or embarrassed. I want to state that, don’t be, cuz there were a lot of male tourists rent it as a group, the whole group of men wore hanbok mixed with modern sneakers. It gave vibes of unity and a pretty cool image. Hahaha. The hanbok rental shop, it would be more flexible if you find on your own. Heh-heh
Walking above to the end of the road, I dare say, it is the first-rate spot since you can see the old town right before your eyes + the modern city far behind. The scenery is uniquely charming with a perfect harmonized contrast. The thing that makes the atmosphere even more breathtaking is the visit during the evening, the exposure of gentle sunlight shading out a golden color looks fantastic as the whole image. I’m so in love with this. ❤️
It was late at sunset, but I had not stopped. I continued going to the most popular area of Korean teens, which was Hongdae near Hongik University. The place I went for a walk and browsed around was the bustling Hongdae Walking Street, it’s very lively especially at night.
If you want to meet a university student Oppa, then come to Hongdae. In the evening, there will be a group of them gathering to show off their talents on the street corner whether it’s singing, dancing, playing musical instruments. There is various kind of shows with the quantity of Fanclub tagging along. I’ve heard that Hongdae is the area of opportunity in the entertainment industry because there will be a scout looking for a new kid to create a future artist.
If you are not the type of person who seeking for eye candy or put interest in K-pop idol. Hongdae is also a shopping center for teen clothing with lots of street brand stores such as shoes, outfits, and many more. But the most favorite thing is the street clothing stores are set up next to one another along the pathway. These stores are well-attended for teenagers and university students. In which they will include a wide selection of products from different Korean local brands into one shop. The clothes look stylish, dressy, and chic. As for the price, it’s affordable, not too expensive but not cheap either. Idk, to judge on a price is according to individual free choice.
If you like this kind of trendy fashion, try browsing here and there. I promise it’s very fun. I walked until my legs went limp. But eventually, I didn’t really get anything much. Just walking for a moment, then, decided to go back to the hotel and got some sleep.
Seoul Day 3: Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
Beginning on the third day, I visited the Art Museum earliest. In Seoul, there are quite several art museums. But on my trip, I didn’t have much time so I chose only one place which was Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art that is suitable for people who like design, Contemporary Art, Expressionism, Abstractionism, or even ancient Korean pottery objects. If you work or have hobbies revolving with arts or an art lover. To fill up your new inspiration with various art media and creativity is a good idea.
💵+ 🚇Entrance fare of Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art is 10,000 won or about 10 USD/person. The way to travel there is, taking the subway to the Hangangjin Station Exit 1, and set the Google Map to navigate the direction. It’s not far away. LOL
For cafe hopper, I heard that around Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art is a collection of many good Korean cafes. But this time, I was not intended to visit a cafe intensely, therefore, if you’re interested to try an exotic taste and have a photo snap. Please look for more travel guide reviews, and if there’s a chance of having the next Seoul trip, I’ll come out with the cafe segment for sure.
It’s time to stop by the Starfield COEX Mall. If you want to walk the mall to buy clothes, cosmetics, or else. I suggest doing it here because there are ALAND, NO BRAND, as well as the fast-fashion brands such as H&M, Zara, Uniqlo. And the most outstanding point here is the Aquarium! Let’s say, this mall is considered a large-scale mall covering almost all of the activity and entertainment. The main location in the Starfield mall I’d like you to visit is Starfield Library. As you see in the shown picture, it’s decorated and displayed the ultimate Korean style.
📚 Starfield Library has more than 50,000 books, many of them published in Korean. Moreover, you can access the library without an extra charge, which is so nice. But if you seek for a place to study seriously, this is not recommended. Because there’re always crowded with the busy atmosphere. It’s not as quiet as a real library. So, I advise you to come-see the ornamentation and shot an iconic photo only.
Seoul Olympic Park
With a craving of chilling out in a public garden, I continued on Seoul Olympic Park. When I arrived there, I had to cry out a long exclamation of ‘oh!’, it was really surprising to see lots of people hanging out there. It was positive to see a group of family, friends, or even lovers laying out mats, eating snacks, playing sports, cycling, and strolling. So many faces that made me feel Seoul Olympic Park is very lively. I love the atmosphere a lot!
🚇 The access to Seoul Olympic Park: Let’s take the subway to get off at the Olympic Park Station Exit 3, or Mongchontoseong Station Exit 1 straight away!
In front of the Seoul Olympic Park, you will notice the remarkable World Peace Gate, in which there are a lot of children and teens grouping together. Many of them come to ride bicycles, skateboarding, playing badminton. People are filled onto the entire courtyard. Well, the place is not a tourist destination, it’s quite local, it’s like coming to observe the Korean way of life, how they spend leisure time. The atmosphere is really warm and energetic.
When you keep walking, you’ll realize that the front courtyard is only a small part of the Seoul Olympic Park. The truth is the place is very huge. There are many corners and spots for you to outstretch and choose to relax in your spare time. I found one spot that seems cute, ‘Lonely Tree’, a wild field of grass with a single tree in the middle of it. Teenagers were surrounding in this area, mostly came as a couple, laying down, and did some flirting. I saw it and secretly gave up.
The overview of the Seoul Olympic Park is pleasant, my most favorite part is in the expanse of the Lonely Tree. There will be alternating hills where you can walk uphill to see the city wild-ranging view of Seoul. Furthermore, you may spot the Lotte World Tower, which is now the tallest building in Korea and is the 5th tallest building in the world around the corner. If you’re free, try making a plan for the Olympic Park. It’s considered a good idea to encounter the simple way of living!
Seoul Day 4: Anyang Art Park
On the fourth day of my trip, I would be outside of Seoul by taking the train out of town for about 1 hour to hunt for the gorgeous art park named Anyang Art Park. I frequently saw photos on Instagram taken from there, and it urged me to pledged myself that when traveling to Seoul next time. I must trace all of these cool photo spots. I can still confirm that Anyang Art Park is uttermost worth a hunt for Instagramable Spots!
For us, Anyang Art Park might be a nice place to take a cool-composed photo. But for Korean, this place is like a relaxation place they escape from the chaos to walk on the trail, picnicking, and spend some quality time with family. It is another aspect that we can see the Korean lifestyle very well.
🚇 How to get to Anyang Art Park, take the train line 1 to get off at Gwanak Station Exit 2. After that, if you prefer walking, then walk. Or you can call a taxi to your determined point of destination, it’s advisable to refer to the points from this map, your life will be a lot easier. Starting from point 6 or 7 is my recommendation. Click to view the map. // then, follow the route right away.
Supposing you start at point 7 of the first zone map, it will be the Art Installation area in the forest offering flamboyant and refreshing perspectives, you can enjoy taking loads of pictures with 3 pieces, which I think they are extraordinary. The first one is the Mirror Maze: 3-Dimensional Mirror Labyrinth I favor the most in this park. It was applied with the effects of 108 glass columns that create the illusion to reflect back and forth. When you walk and look inside, it causes a little complexity resembling a labyrinth. I assure this photo spot is truly impressive!
Next from the glass maze, you’ll find another installation artwork called Anyang Crate House with the creation of German beer crates stacked together to the point of almost being the ‘house’. The various vivid colors of beer crates make this house looks very lovely.
The next one is Anyang Peak, which is modeled like a mountain with a path where you can climb to reach the top to see the overall image of the Anyang Art Park.
Aside from these 3 previously described installation, there are a lot more cool-design pieces that show a combination of installation art in the forest. Whoever likes nature together with art, will definitely be joyful.
Don’t think this is a complete of Anyang Art Park just yet. Let’s continue to point no.23, Le Tube, which is a long cylinder pedestrian tunnel passing that gives you a crowd-pleaser photo result. And once you pass this tube walkway, it leads you to another art piece, the Linear Building Up in The Tree with an exceptional courtyard where they create the gimmicks of wave lines, slopping down into a relaxing seat for tourists who visit the art park. The place is super awesome, the provided photo spots are even better. To sum up, this art park is a must-come destination!
Finally, before walking back, I suggest not to go back to the Le Tube walkway, just straight down the road below instead, because you’ll find another outstanding design work, Romance Pavilion, it’s a wall art among tall trees that when you look from any angle, you’ll see a wall in the shape of a heart. It’s a pretty cool conception!
Exploring in Anyang Art Park takes more than half a day. Upon returning to Seoul, I was too exhausted to go anywhere else. So, on this day-4, I’d been to only this place.
Seoul Day 5:
End the trip with the popular must-mention tourist destination, Myeong-dong, located in the heart of Seoul. It is best known as a shopping district that offers almost everything you seek for, clothing, shoes, cosmetics, including all made-in-Korea skincare brands. I’m sorry to say, I won’t write much in this Myeong-dong part because I was busy shopping before flying back home, so I had a little chance to lift my camera and take a picture. Hahaha
In brief, if you come to Korea for the first time, don’t miss traveling here. But for tourists who get weary of Myeong-dong, I think there are many other areas for exploring and shopping as well. For me Myeong-dong, sometimes, is the attraction when I can’t decide on any place, I’ll pay a visit there. Heh-heh