Exploring Seoul: Travel Days Needed

how many days to travel in seoul

Seoul is a massive city with one of the most populated metropolitan areas in the world. It has a lot to see and do, but thankfully, the city has an efficient and extensive metro system that makes sightseeing a breeze.

If you're visiting Seoul for the first time, 3-5 days is a great start. That gives you enough time to explore the highlights of the city, plus a day or two to get out and explore the surrounding areas. It's a city of endless surprises, so you'll only be scratching the surface, but it's enough time to get a feel for Seoul.

If you're looking for a more in-depth experience, spending two weeks in South Korea will allow you to explore the country much more deeply.

Characteristics Values
Number of days to spend in Seoul 3-7 days
Best time to visit Seoul April, May, June, September, October
Where to stay in Seoul Hongdae, Itaewon, Gangnam, Myeongdong (Jongno)
Best things to do in Seoul Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village, Namsan Seoul Tower, Noryangjin Fish Market, COEX Aquarium, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, etc.

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Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, and the Secret Garden

Gyeongbokgung Palace is one of the five royal palaces in Seoul and is located just outside of a subway stop, making it the most accessible palace to visit via public transportation. Gyeongbokgung is also considered the most beautiful palace, especially during the fall and spring seasons when the colours of the palace grounds are vibrant. The grounds of Gyeongbokgung are expansive, and one could spend anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours exploring each corner of the grounds.

Changdeokgung Palace is one of the most well-preserved royal palaces from the Joseon Dynasty. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and is regarded as a masterpiece of Korean palace architecture, with its buildings in perfect harmony with nature. Changdeokgung was created in 1405 as the secondary royal palace. It became the primary royal residence from the early 1600s to the 1800s and served as the seat of government for about 270 years. Changdeokgung Palace offers a fascinating insight into Korean royal life. The layout of the palace follows the traditional principles of palace design in Korea, with three gates and three courts. The first court is for administrative functions, the second for the royal residences, and the third for official audiences.

The Secret Garden, also known as Huwon, is tucked away behind the walls of Changdeokgung Palace. It is a picturesque and peaceful space to explore and relax. The garden is a hidden gem, with artificial landscapes kept to a minimum to highlight its natural setting. The Secret Garden was used for banquets, recreation, and even some farming throughout the centuries.

To visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, and the Secret Garden, it is recommended to allocate at least half a day for each attraction. The palaces and the garden are large, and there is much to see and explore. Additionally, the Secret Garden can only be accessed via a guided tour, which takes about an hour and involves a fair amount of walking.

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Insadong, Bukchon Hanok Village, and Gwangjang Market

Insadong is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Seoul, packed with galleries, traditional craft shops, antique shops, traditional tea houses, restaurants and cafes. It is very popular with young people and middle-aged people for its unique style. Foreign tourists who want to see traditional Korean culture often buy old-fashioned dried pollack or gomisul at traditional stores here.

Insadong is a great place to start your exploration of Bukchon Hanok Village, a residential neighbourhood in the Jongno District. Bukchon Hanok Village is home to hundreds of traditional Korean houses, called hanok, dating back to the Joseon Dynasty. The name Bukchon, or 'northern village', comes from the neighbourhood's location north of two significant Seoul landmarks, Cheonggyecheon Stream and Jongno. Close to tourist spots such as Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changgyeonggung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village is an ideal place to learn about Korean traditional architecture and cultures.

Bukchon Hanok Village is preserved in modern society and is renewed as a unique tourist sight. An alleyway of traditional houses lining the street is like time travel. In 1997, amid the movement of urbanization in Seoul, the Asian financial crisis occurred. The Korean government resolved to preserve traditional Hanoks instead of removing them as old buildings. Close to 3,500 people currently live in the village, but tourists greatly outnumber residents, which has caused some friction.

Gwangjang Market is a fine starting point for exploring the incredible variety of delicious Korean cuisine. Here, you’ll find a variety of traditional Korean dishes such as kimbap (seaweed rice rolls), bulgogi (Korean beef barbecue), and japchae (veggie noodle stir-fry), as well as other ethnic cuisines such as Chinese, Japanese, and Middle Eastern. It is a dream place to sample the culture and flavours of Korea.

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Namsan Tower, Noryangjin Fish Market, and Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Seoul is a bustling metropolis with a plethora of attractions to suit all tastes, and at least four days are recommended to explore the South Korean capital. Here is a guide to three iconic destinations: Namsan Tower, Noryangjin Fish Market, and Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

Namsan Tower

Namsan Tower, located in central Seoul, is a must-visit destination offering breathtaking views of the city. The tower is situated within a lush green park and features a temple, a gate adorned with "love locks," and an observation deck providing a panoramic view of the cityscape. While you can hike up to the tower, there is also the option of a cable car to take you to the top. The surrounding area, known as Itaewon, is considered the international hub of Seoul and offers a diverse range of cultural experiences.

Noryangjin Fish Market

Noryangjin Fish Market, Seoul's biggest fisheries market, is a lively and bustling destination. It is not just a typical street food market but a working wholesale fish market where you can witness intense negotiations and fish auctions between 1 am and 3 am. The market offers a wide variety of fresh seafood, including lobster, crab, and various types of fish. You can either purchase the seafood to cook yourself or have it prepared at one of the nearby restaurants. Noryangjin is a spectacle for the senses, with its wet, crowded, and pungent atmosphere. It is an early morning destination, as prices are reduced by 20-30% off retail before dawn, attracting local restaurateurs looking for the best deals.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)

Dongdaemun Design Plaza, designed by the renowned British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, is a neofuturistic landmark in Seoul. It serves as the centerpiece of South Korea's fashion hub and is a popular tourist destination. The DDP features a walkable park on its roofs, large exhibition spaces, futuristic retail stores, and even restored parts of the ancient Seoul fortress. With its undulating surfaces resembling flowing liquid, the DDP is an iconic example of innovative architecture. It is easily accessible via the Seoul Subway, with a direct connection to the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station on Lines 2, 4, and 5. The DDP is equipped with various public spaces, including exhibition halls, conference spaces, a design museum, and a design lab, making it a cultural hub in the heart of historic Seoul.

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Myeongdong, Hongdae, and Gangnam

Myeongdong

Myeongdong is Seoul's main shopping district, renowned for its boutiques and department stores. It is an ideal location for shopaholics, offering everything from cosmetics to fashion and local designs. Myeongdong is also known for its extensive selection of street food and cute cafes. It is easily accessible, with the Myeongdong Shopping Street and Namdaemun Market within walking distance. If you plan to stay in this area, consider accommodation options such as the Namsan Hill Hotel, Solaria Nishitetsu Seoul, or Philstay Myeongdong Station for budget, mid-range, and luxury options, respectively.

Hongdae

Hongdae, Seoul's university district, is characterised by its youthful and creative vibe. It is known for its quirky shops, restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. Hongdae is a foodie's paradise, offering a variety of unique dining experiences. The area is also home to Hongik University Street, Hongik Mural Street, and Ehwa Women's University. Hongdae is well-connected, with Hongik University Station providing easy access to the rest of the city. Accommodation options in Hongdae include the Hongdae Pencil Guesthouse for a budget stay and RYSE Autograph Collection by Marriott for a luxurious experience.

Gangnam

Gangnam, made famous by the K-pop song of the same name, is known for its luxury shopping, K-beauty, and vibrant nightlife. It is a modern and glitzy area located south of the Han River. Gangnam offers a mix of outrageous clubs, stylish cafes, and high-end shopping malls like the Starfield COEX Mall. For accommodation in Gangnam, consider options such as VOCO Hotel by IHG for a mid-range choice, or Le Meridien and Novotel Seoul Ambassador Gangnam for more luxurious stays.

The ideal number of days to spend in Seoul depends on your interests and the depth of exploration you desire. A good starting point is 3-5 days, which allows you to cover the city's highlights and even venture to surrounding areas. However, if you wish to explore beyond the main attractions, consider spending 5 days or more in Seoul. This will give you ample time to discover the city's diverse neighbourhoods, indulge in its culinary delights, and perhaps take a day trip to the DMZ or other nearby destinations.

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Day Trips: Nami Island, the DMZ, and Everland

Nami Island

Nami Island is a tiny half-moon-shaped island in the middle of the Han River. Despite its small size, Nami Island is one of the most interesting places to visit from Seoul. It is recognised as a micronation with its own flag, currency, passport, and national anthem. You even need an "entry visa" to set foot on the island!

Nami Island owes much of its popularity to the Winter Sonata Korean drama series, which was filmed on the island. It is known for its lovely walking paths lined with towering pine, gingko, maple, and metasequoia trees. They are beautiful at any time of the year but are especially stunning in autumn when the leaves explode with colour.

The island is located in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, and is 63 kilometres from Seoul. It takes roughly an hour to get there from Seoul's suburbs by car, or about 90 minutes from downtown Seoul.

DMZ

DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone. It refers to a 4-kilometre-wide strip of land that stretches for 250 kilometres along the border or Military Demarcation Line (MDL). It serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. A tour of the DMZ is one of the most popular day trips from Seoul.

Everland

Everland is South Korea's biggest theme park, receiving about 6 million visitors annually. It features a variety of roller coasters and theme park rides across five themed zones. It is located about an hour away from Seoul in Yongin.

One of the cheapest and fastest ways to get to Everland from Seoul is by local bus. You can catch Bus 5002 from Exit 5 of Gangnam Station all the way to Everland.

Frequently asked questions

While most guides will tell you that three days in Seoul is enough, we recommend that you stay in Seoul for a week. But for those with tight budgets, we can help maximize your Seoul itinerary for as many days as you have, and thanks to the advanced metro system in Seoul, you’ll jump from one place to another without issue.

For a solo traveler, a vacation in Seoul may cost between ₩1,000,000-2,000,000 ($800-1,600USD). This takes into account 3 meals a day, a public transport card, and a week in a hotel, which can all vary widely in price. The rest of your money will go to experiences and souvenirs.

Here are the essentials to pack for Seoul: passport, credit cards, and travel medical insurance, as well as shorts, a sun hat, and tops with sleeves. Moreover, certain cellphones do not work in Korea, so you need to check if your phone is not region-locked or that it is equipped to intercept the networks provided in Korea, and possibly rent a phone for your trip.

Three days should be sufficient for a first trip to Korea, especially if you have a Discover Seoul pass, though one week is ideal. The pass enables you to visit key locations once for free, and best of all, get discounts on other destinations and experiences.

This depends on your style of travel, but a mid-range budget for a solo traveler spending 5 days in Seoul would be about $80USD per day. If you're willing to stay in cheap hostels, stick to more free activities in Seoul, and eat local foods, then you could get it down to maybe $50USD per day. So I'd say that traveling in Seoul is really quite affordable, though you can always upgrade your trip, and the longer you stay the cheaper it will be per dium.

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