Seoul was originally called Hanseong and it has been Korea’s capital since the 14th century.
Seoul’s subway system is the third largest in the world.
You may find it confusing as a traveler to find the true center of Seoul because of the many districts within the city. The river Han bisects the city in the more traditional and historic north (Gangbuk) and the more affluent and modern south (Gangnam).
When you get to Seoul, buy a T-Money card. It works like a rechargeable credit card that can be used for almost anything to get around Seoul. Not only does this save you 100 Won on all trips, it also spares you the hassle of computing how much each trip costs and avoiding long ticket lines.
It is always helpful to have the destination written down in Korean for the taxi driver.
Travelers either arrive or depart via the international aiport Incheon or the domestic Gimpo.
Toll expressways are part of Korean highways and in Seoul you pay toll, even on top of your taxi fare.
Taking the subway is the best method of getting around Seoul. Thankfully, signs are also written in English (as well as Japanese and Mandarin when applicable).
Taxi drivers anywhere in the world may take advantage of a tourist if they don’t know how to get to their destination or don’t speak the language. Therefore know your whereabouts in Seoul, make sure the driver turns on the meter and hire an interpreter (available in Seoul taxi services) if you want to agree on a fare. Report a rip-off if necessary by taking the driver’s details.
Renting a car in Seoul is not recommended. Traffic is always heavy during rush hours and parking space is almost impossible to find.
Getting lost in Seoul? Here’s a trick. Know the landmarks closest to you, and orient yourself with the Han river which divides the city between (sort of) north and south.
Hangeul is the Korean written language. Many native Koreans know only a little bit of English. Learning basic Korean should help you get by, especially if you write it down and use simple words.
While gambling is illegal for Koreans, foreigners can spend their money on luck games such as horse racing and casinos in Seoul.
Because of Seoul’s climate, skiing is possible – notably at the Bearstown ski resort.
Saunas and spas are part of everyday life in Seoul, that even travelers just passing by who wish to save money and enjoy a relaxing overnight stay can spend time in one of the popular spas. These spas have facilities such as haircut, shoe cleaning and even entertainment facilities.
Want to learn how to cook bulgogi and kimchi? Some of the popular places to learn Korean cuisine in Seoul are: The Cultural Experience Center (Jungu), O’ngo Food Communications, the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine and Son’s Home.
Taekwondo is Seoul’s (and Korea’s in general) most popular form of martial arts.
Street markets are everywhere in Seoul. You will find good shopping in the historical Namdaemun, the trendy Dongdaemun, the touristy Insa-dong, Yongsan Electronics Market (known to be a little shady to foreigners) and Techno Mart.
Seoulites are very fashionable and dedicate big districts just for fashion shopping. Major international brands of luxury items can be found in Myeongdong and Apgujeong. Many of these fashion districts have fashion shows. Haggling is also part of the action.
Most of Seoul’s passion for fashion spring from university areas such as Hongik and Ewha Women’s University, where big fashion markets can be found, including seamstresses who can be hired to design and sew according to the students’ fashion ideas.
Department store basement food courts are common in Asia and Seoul is no exception. They are an excellent place to find cheap and delicious quick meals while you’re shopping.
There is no shortage of exotic Korean food in Seoul. Try manduguk in Sadongmyenok chain, a gigantic bowl of dumplings soup with meat, veggies and side dishes.
You may find a few chains of US, UK, European or other Asian restaurants in Seoul, but why bother when you’ve got scrumptious and cheap Korean barbecue places everywhere?
Coffee is very big in Seoul.
Travelers who want a taste of Seoul’s international nightlife should check out Itaewon. Some popular places to see: Gecko’s, Dillinger’s, The Rose & Crown and Richard Copycat’s diner.
Much of nightlife happens in university areas, the ritzy but subdued Apgujeong and Gangnam. Seoul has no shortage of clubs and bars for those who want a busy evening.
A jjimjilbang is probably one of the cheapest ways to live in Seoul. It is basically a storage / stay-over facility where you can store your luggage while sleeping wherever you want and have free access to sauna facilities and TV.
Many budget hotels are more often labeled as “guesthouses” or “hostels” and can go anywhere from 4,000 to 40,000 Won.
Expensive hotels in Seoul offer the best amenities. Keep an eye out for international chains such as Park Hyatt, Sheraton, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott and Grand Hyatt.
Since wifi in Seoul is not always available in many places, you can go to a PC Bang (internet cafe).
Can’t find a post office? See if you’re near a university, which almost always has its own post office within its premises.
Remember that a US military base in located in Seoul, and avoid getting involved with American soldiers who have their own curfews and are not permitted to visit certain districts.
A word of caution to travelers in Seoul: If you’re not used to the spicy food and do get sick, medical bills can cost you a fortune. Consider getting a travel insurance.
A Mongolian Yellow Dust Storm happens in spring. Wear a mask and avoid this seasonal phenomenon.