Seoul is one of the world’s most fascinating and enlightening cities. Some people refer to it as Asia's other New York: the metropolis that competes with Tokyo as the region's most vibrant hub of history, culture, art, and gastronomy.
Heading to Seoul for the very first time? Here are a few essential things that all foreign visitors to Seoul should know:
1. There is truly something here for everyone
You could visit the South Korean capital for many singular reasons. The city's imperial palaces and museums are a dream for history buffs, the shopping is world-class, and the sensational local cuisine is reason enough to include Seoul in any travel itinerary through eastern Asia. Add a bevy of stunning hiking trails in the nearby Bukhansan Mountains National Park, and you have a magical 'all-rounder' destination
2. Seoul is not a cheap place to visit
There are a few aspects that Tokyo and Seoul share, and the cost of living is among the most obvious. Seoul is the cheaper of the two, but only by a little. An 'average' weeklong vacay in Seoul would set you back about 2,500 AUD (less if shared with a travel buddy, naturally), not including airfare. Here's a list of inexpensive or free things to see and do in Seoul!
3. The royal palaces are a MUST!
Seoul is home to five grand palaces, each a delight in its own right. Most visitors choose just one (usually Gyeongbokgung because it is the most exquisite). Still, we recommend knowing a little about them first, then picking one (or two) whose history and grounds appeal to you most. This in-depth guide to Seoul's five grand palaces will help you hone in on the ones you don't want to miss.
4. Seoul is HUGE. Get ready to walk—a lot.
Seoul's subway is fantastic (more on that later), yet tourists still churn out tens of thousands of steps daily. The city is spread far and wide, and attractions can be found in all its extremities. To save your legs (a little), choose your accommodation closer to the 'attraction/s' you're interested in the most. The city comprises no less than 25 districts (or gus), but most first-time stay in four main areas. Insadong is undoubtedly the most popular and best for first-time visits. It is close to all the palaces, museums and most celebrated tourist attractions. Stay in Hongdae if you plan to enjoy the city's exciting nightlife, and Myeongdong and Dongdaemun, if shopping and feasting are your most-loved passions. You'll still walk miles every single day, but at least you'll have your fave hobbies nearby!
5. Relax: Seoul is super safe
Seoul is one of the safest capitals in the world and is cherished for its laid-back vibe and local hospitality. You'll be hard-pressed to visit any other bustling city of 10 million people and feel this safe. An excellent destination for solo female travelers, Seoul is Confucianism personified. You will undoubtedly want to take some 'big city' precautions (like using an anti-theft backpack), but, by and large, even petty theft is uncommon.
6. The public transport system is on point – enjoy it!
Safe, convenient, cheap, and fun, Seoul's public transport system saves the day on several fronts. Grab a T-Money card from any convenience store and keep that baby topped up. A single subway/tram/bus ride costs around $1. Check out the best transport apps to use when visiting Seoul.
Are you planning your own trip to Seoul? Tell us in the comments what you're most excited about experiencing!