Seoul has so much to offer tourists, but it might not be someone’s first stop on a trip to Asia. Travelers might prefer to visit the beaches of Thailand, the skyscrapers of Singapore, or the temples of India. So are you wondering why you should visit Seoul?
There are actually many reasons to visit Seoul! Home to almost 20% of the country’s population, Seoul is the heart of South Korea. It is the center of culture, art, government and entertainment, and rich with important Korean historical sites. This bustling city offers interesting architecture, green parks, beautiful mountains, and an array of day trips perfect for every kind of traveler.
Still thinking Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, or Bangkok should be ahead of Seoul on your travel bucket list? There are plenty of reasons to visit Seoul first.
Compared to other major metropolitan cities, Seoul provides its own unique constellation of tourist-friendly features, making it an accessible and exciting destination worthy of a visit!
1. Fantastic Public Transportation
1. Fantastic Public Transportation
One of the best things about Seoul is its extensive public transportation system. It is extremely easy to navigate and get around. The subway goes everywhere, and if the subway can’t reach a destination easily, the bus can. The subway has signs, maps, and apps available in English. If you do take the bus, be sure to pay attention to the audio announcements and stop notifications on the signboards (they can be easy to miss!).
Moreover, taking public transportation is super cheap compared to other major world cities. Base fare starts at 1,250 won (about $1.10 USD). You can even make it across the city for around 1,750 won (about $1.50 USD). Compare that to the base fare for London (£2.40/~$3.30 USD), Tokyo (170 yen/~$1.50 USD), or New York City ($2.75 USD). Taking public transportation in Seoul is a great deal in comparison!
Even the airport line of the subway only costs around 4,150-5,000 won (~$3.65-4.35 USD), and takes about an hour to get to Seoul Station in the center of the city. If you need to get into the city a bit faster, the AREX express train takes about 40 minutes and costs 9,000 won (~$7.80 USD).
In addition, you can transfer between the subway and buses for free within 30 minutes of tapping your card out when using a transportation card. This makes getting to your destination even easier and cheaper!
2. Budget-Friendly Prices
2. Budget-Friendly Prices
Not only is public transportation cheap, but other traveler expenses can be very affordable. This is really one of the best reasons to visit Seoul.
Major attractions cost very little to nothing to get into. Major museums such as the National Museum and the War Memorial (a museum dedicated to Korea’s military history, including the Korean War) are free to get into.
Even focal points of Korean history in Seoul, like the five Joseon dynasty palaces, are extremely cheap to get into. The biggest and grandest palace, Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace), only costs 3,000 won (~$2.60 USD) to visit.
You can even buy a combination ticket, which gives you entrance to all five palaces, Changdeokgung’s Secret Garden, and Jongmyo Shrine, for only 10,000 won (~$8.90 USD).
Food can be extremely cheap as well. South Korea is famous for its street food, including dak ggochi (chicken skewers), tteokbokki (rice cakes in spicy sauce), eomuk (fish cakes), battered and fried hot dogs, and tornado potatoes (a long spiral of potato dipped in seasoning).
A few Korean street foods: chicken skewer, hot dog, and tornado potato
If you eat Korean food like gimbap, bibimbap, kimchi jjigae, bulgogi, or ramyeon at a local place like restaurant chain Gimbap Cheonguk (Gimbap Heaven), a meal might cost between 3,500 and 7,500 (~$3-6.50 USD). Do note that the cheapest prices may be at small, Korean-only (both menu language and employee language skills) restaurants.
This can be easily circumvented by gesturing to a random item on the menu and eating your mystery meal, or by using a translator app and pointing to your preferred dish on the menu.
Other popular foods like fried chicken and Korean barbecue aren’t obscenely priced, but are definitely more expensive than other Korean eats. A plate of fried chicken, which can be shared between two people (or two plates for three people if you’re hungry), might run you 20,000-22,000 won ($17.50-19.20 USD). Samgyeopsal might cost about 13,000-15,000 won ($11.40-13.15 USD) per person for a basic portion.
Korean barbecue, complete with side dishes
Even accommodation is decently priced for a major city, especially if the conversion rate works in your favor. Beds in shared hostel rooms start around $12-15 USD, and a private room for two starts around $20 USD (though you probably can’t guarantee many amenities for that price).
3. Prevalence of English
As mentioned before, most public transportation has information in English, making it easy to get around. This includes signs and maps in the subway stations, but also written and audio announcements on the trains. The ticket machines in the stations feature interfaces in many languages, including English.
Additionally, many useful Korean apps like Naver Map, Kakao Taxi, and various subway apps (KakaoMetro, Subway Korea) are available in English.
Plenty of Korean restaurants and cafes also have English on their menus, making it easy to find and get food. Many times, there will be someone at a restaurant, shop, or cafe that can speak a bit of English (though some people might feel shy about using their English!).
However, do not go into any random place expecting that they will speak English, because they very well might not.
4. Activities for Everyone
For every kind of tourist, there are multiple reasons to visit Seoul. Want to go shopping? Hit up Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Hongdae, or Lotte World Mall in Jamsil. Or if you’re looking for something a bit more traditional, peruse the stalls at Namdaemun.
Want to feel like you’re in a big city? Go around the Han River, Gangnam Station, or Yeouido. Want to learn about Korean history? Visit the museums, palaces, and temples, or stroll around Bukchon Hanok Village, full of traditional Korean houses.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Want to try a lot of typical Korean food? Literally every street and alley will be full to the brim with restaurants. Want to get in touch with nature? Hike up Namsan or Bukhansan, or stroll around Olympic Park or Seoul Forest.
Olympic Park with Lotte Tower in the background
Want to party ’til the sun comes up? Hit up popular nightlife hot spots like Hongdae, Itaewon, or Gangnam. Want to take cute photos to post on social media? Visit any number of the Instagram-worthy cafes in Hongdae, Yeonnam-dong, and Garosu-gil.
Drinks at Caffe Yam and a broom photo op at 934 King’s Cross, Seoul’s Harry Potter cafe
Want to take part in some staples of Korean culture? Sing your heart out at noraebang, have some meat and beer or soju at a Korean barbecue, or visit a Korean spa (jjimjilbang).
No matter what you are into, Seoul will have something for you.
5. Seasonal Activities and Festivals
Pretty much any time of year that you visit Seoul, there will be some cool seasonal activity you can take part in.
Throughout the summer, there are events at Han River parks across the city (I once watched a movie projected under one of the bridges!). From March to October, the Bamdokkaebi Night Market (Night Goblin Night Market) takes place in spaces across the city (including along the Han River) with food trucks and artisan stalls.
Food trucks at Bamdokkaebi Night Market at Yeouido Han River Park
In November, the Seoul Lantern Festival lights up the Cheonggyecheon (Cheongye Stream) with lanterns made of hanji (traditional Korean paper made from mulberry trees).
A dragon lantern along the Cheonggyecheon
As the capital, Seoul also has concerts, plays, musicals, and other special events throughout the year.
6. High Level of Safety
Seoul is very safe for a city of its size. In general, Korea is quite safe. You could probably leave your wallet at your seat and use the restroom at a cafe, and it might still be there when you get back (though I don’t recommend trying this!).
You need to worry about pickpockets and scammers a lot less than in other cities. Even so, these are still possible, so take normal precautions.
Common issues tourists might run into involve taxis and tourist pricing. Taxis may overcharge tourists or may not pick them up, even when hailed. The overcharging can be mitigated by using a taxi app like Kakao Taxi that will show you the exact price. If you hail a taxi that does not stop for you, wait for the next one, or try a taxi app.
In addition, places in tourist-heavy areas such as Myeongdong and Insadong might charge a bit more for products or services. However, I think any price differences generally aren’t very drastic.