This guide will help you plan an incredible stopover in South Korea’s capital city; whether you’re planning a day trip in Seoul or have 2 days in Seoul, it’ll see you right. A surprising highlight in South Korea, Seoul needs to be on your travel wish-list!
Vibrant and exciting whilst somehow being both modern and fill of history, Seoul is the perfect city for a quick stopover as you travel elsewhere in Asia. Though it’s easy to spend more time there, a day trip in Seoul, or even better, 2 days in Seoul will provide you the perfect opportunity to sample this incredible Asian city.
With only 1 or 2 days in Seoul, you’ll want to day a well-considered plan that allows you to maximise your time and fortunately for you, you’ve come to the right place!
We recently spent three nights (two full days) in South Korea’s capital and must admit, we fell a little in love with the city. As we’ve just found out, South Korea is intriguing and unique, and it’s well worth a visit.
With our guide, you too can explore what makes Seoul special and unique, without having to do any of the groundwork.
So, jot down the points of interest, grab your camera and get ready for the time of your lives in South Korea…
How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in Seoul: The Perfect Introduction to South Korea’s Vibrant Capital City
Planning your Trip – Whether it’s a Day Trip in Seoul or 2 Days in Seoul
Regardless of whether you plan to spend one or two days in Seoul, this itinerary assumes that you’ll arrive the afternoon/evening before starting your exploration and will fly out the morning afterwards (giving you full days in the city, in addition to travel time); this is what we did whilst visiting.
It is, however, absolutely possible to fly in early on the first day and out again on the last night of this itinerary, should you be short on time. You may just need to plan your activities accordingly.
Getting In and Out of Seoul
Before you jump into your Seoul adventure, you’ll need to get into the city.
Incheon Airport is located approximately 50km from Seoul. To make this journey, you can catch a taxi (which will be the most expensive option, taking an hour), a limousine bus (1 hour, 10 minutes) or a train (which takes between 40 minutes and an hour).
We chose to catch a train as we managed to pick up a fantastic special through Klook (and it’s the fastest way to get into the city). From there, we jumped on a couple of subway lines to get to our accommodation.
Getting Around Seoul
Public transport in Seoul is fantastic. Buses and metro lines run frequently, are reliable and, best of all, are affordable.
There is absolutely no need to have your own transport in Seoul – a rental car would only get in the way.
Finding the Best/Fastest Route Using Public Transport
There is so much to see in Seoul that we would would encourage you to load Google Maps up on your phone and travel by bus where possible. That way you’ll be able to soak up the sights as you travel (and even jump off the bus to explore further, should time allow).
Buses are clearly marked, labelled correctly at bus stops and are easy to use. You’ll simply scan your T-Money card when you get onboard (more on that soon), and scan yourself off at the end of your journey.
Subway trains are just as easy to catch, but you’ll miss out on seeing the above-ground action.
To ensure you’re catching the most direct form of transport, preload Google Maps onto your phone. Free WiFi is available throughout Seoul (though it’s even better if you can arrange discounted data from your mobile provider) and if you preload your route of choice and then flick your WiFi connection off, it’ll save that last route to be used without an internet connection.
Paying for Public Transport
Whilst you are able to purchase individual transport fares (from bus drivers and ticket counters on the underground), it works out to be both cheaper (as you’ll be able to transfer between buses and subway lines at a reduced rate) and more convenient to buy a T-Money card.
T-Money cards can be purchased at stations or through most convenience stores (you’ll notice 7-Elevens everywhere you look). Cards cost KRW5000 (USD4.30/NZD6.40) initially and then can be topped up with any value you choose. We started with KRW10,000 (USD4.60/NZD12.80) credit each and only had to add a small amount to get ourselves to our train on the last morning.
Should you wish to make life even easier, you can preorder a loaded T-Money card, ready for collection at the airport.
Once you have your T-Money card, you’ll just need to present it as you pass through the barriers whilst on the subway and scan on/off when riding the bus. As you do so, the remaining value on your card will flash up on the screen, making it easy to keep tabs on your credit.
We do suggest topping your card up with relatively small amounts as you go, as getting a refund will take up valuable time towards the end of your trip (and will cost you a little for the privilege). Instead of putting a large amount of money onto our cards and then getting a refund, we managed to load approximately what we needed and said wrote-off the last dollar or so on each card.
Purchasing Single Fares
If you can’t be bothered getting T-Money cards or you stay is expected to be particularly short, it is possible to purchase tickets onboard the bus.
You will not benefit from highly discounted transfers though, so we really do recommend the T-Money card.
Food in Seoul
The food in Seoul is outstanding. From French pastries to Korean fried chicken, street food to Starbucks (of which there are many), eating out in South Korea is big business.
Whatever you decide to do, allow yourself plenty of time in your itinerary to duck into cafes and restaurants, and definitely don’t be afraid to pick up street-food from vendors – you’ll miss out if you don’t!
Prices are reasonable and quality is high; can you ask for more?
Where to Stay in Seoul
Seoul is a beautiful but wide-spread city. This means that there are lots of accommodation options to be had, at various price points – largely dependent on just how close you want to be to the action.
With a fantastic public transport system, and exciting things to see all over the area, staying in the outer parts of Seoul really does become a viable option for more budget-conscious travellers.
Budget: Actor Motel. This was our choice of hotel in Seoul – it was well located in a vibrant, local part of the city. Though a little way from the key tourist sites, the room was comfortable (though the bed was hard, as all on our trip were) and it was well-serviced by public transport. We would certainly recommend it as a great affordable option!
Mid: Lotte City Hotel Myeongdong. If you’re looking for a comfortable, well-serviced hotel that’s centrally located, this is the spot for you!
Luxe: Cheong Yeon Jae Hanok Hotel. Looking to splash out whilst in South Korea? We’d encourage you to book a room in this stunning traditional hanok hotel, right in the Bukchon Hanok Village (our favourite part of Seoul).
Your Itinerary to Spend 2 Days in Seoul
The 1st of Your 2 Days in Seoul: Old Seoul
To start off your Seoul stopover itinerary, we’ve grouped all of the points-of-interest that are in a similar spot together. As it turns out, many of them throw-back to ancient Seoul – it’s a day of exploration largely filled with palaces and ancient towns.
There are a lot of palaces in the mix though – chances are, too many for most people. With this in mind, we suggest you pick one or two based on your personal preferences.
You can also swap the order of the days or mix the activities up if you’d prefer. Though Seoul is fairly spread out, it’s an easy city to get around, so there really isn’t a definite need to keep them grouped together based on location.
Myeongdong Walking Street
Recognised as the tourism hub of the city, Myeongdong (or Myeong-Dong) really does feel like the heart of Seoul. With street vendors, food carts and a great range of stores, there’s no shortage of sights and sounds to capture your attention.
In Myeongdong you’ll find world-renowned Korean cosmetics, delectable treats, international brands, all sorts of cutesy goodies to take home and some fantastic photo opportunities.
Even if you’re not a keen shopper, be sure to swing by Myeongdong, for pure entertainment factor. It’s a sight to behold!
Looking for other shopping spots? Check out Apgujeong-Dong and Cheongdam-Dong too.
Deoksugung (also known as Gyeongun-gung and Deoksu Palace) is a walled collection of palaces dating back to the 1400s. Located on a busy downtown intersection, the first thing you’ll notice about Deoksugung Palace is it’s beautiful stone walls. It is also unique as it is the only place to have Western buildings sitting right alongside it.
Cost: Adults KRW1,000 (USD0.85/NZD1.30) & children KRW500 (USD0.45/NZD0.65)
Operating Hours: 9.00am – 9.00pm (last admission one hour before close)
The Cheonggyecheon is an 11km long stream that snakes its way right through downtown Seoul. The stream itself was lost in the 1300s, but it was restored in relatively recent times as part of an urban renewal project.
Of most note now though, are the art installations that can be found both along the shore of the stream and in the river itself. They’re beautiful both during the day and when lit up at night.
Though it’s not worth heading out of your way to see these installations if you only have a day trip in Seoul, it’s definitely worth wandering by when you’re in the area.
Considered the most stunning of the five Seoul palaces, Gyeongbokgung is also the largest. Often referred to as a Northern Palace (whilst the Changdeokgung Palace is known as the Eastern Palace and Gyeonghuigung is the Western Palace), it is an impressive sight.
First build in 1395, the original buildings were sadly destroyed in the late 1500s. In the late 1800s, the palace buildings were impeccably restored; it’s these buildings that you will enjoy now.
Cost: Adults (ages 19 – 64) KRW3,000 (USD & children (ages 7 – 18) KRW1,500. Free admission for children aged 6 and under, adults 65+, guests wearing a traditional hanbok and to everyone on the last day of each month (to celebrate ‘culture day’).
Operating Hours: Varied, as below.
January – February: 9.00am – 5.00pm
March – May: 9.00am – 6.00pm
June – August: 9.00am – 6.30pm
September: – October 9.00am – 6.00pm
November: – December 9.00am – 5.00pm
Last Admission: 1 hour before closing.
English Tours Available: 11:00am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm, departing from in front of the information centre.
Changdeokgung Palace and Changgyeonggung Palace
All located on the same grounds, it’s easy to pay a visit to a number of historical sites in a short span of time, all right in the heart of Seoul.
Changdeokgung Palace, another of the five grand palaces constructed under the leadership of the Joseon Dynasty in the early 15th century, is another show-stopper in Seoul.
It was the second royal palace built (after the construction of Gyeongbukgung Palace, 1405) and is now the best-preserved remaining Joseon palace.
Cost: Adults KRW3,000 & children (24 and under) and seniors (65 and over) free of charge.
February – May, Sep – Oct: 9.00am – 6.00pm
June – August: 9.00am – 6.30pm
November – January 9.00am – 5.30pm
Last Admission: 1 hour before closing.
Huwon Secret Gardens
Perhaps more impressive than the palace itself are the Huwon Secret Gardens. These stunning gardens and ponds are exactly what you’d imagine when you think of royal Korean gardens. The gardens are only accessibly by tour (and only 100 tickets are available for each tour), so you’ll definitely want to book ahead if this is of interest.
Further information about booking a guided tour of the Secret Gardens are available through their official website.
Cost: Adults KRW8,000, ages 19 – 24: KRW5,000, ages 7 – 18: KRW2,500 and children, people with disabilities and seniors free of charge (including tour)
March – May, September – October: 10.00am – 5.30pm
June – August: 10.00am – 6.00pm
February – November: 10.00am – 5.00pm
December – January: 10.00am – 4.30pm
Last Admission: 1 hour, 30 minutes before closing.
Also located on the same grounds, you’ll find Changgyeonggung Palace and its botanical gardens. Built as a home for queens, the Changgyeonggung Palace has seen more than its fair share of royalty over the years.
The palace is beautiful (as you would expect) but the botanic gardens are what really standout – they look as if they’d be more at home within a traditional English garden.
Cost: Adults (19+) KRW1,000, ages 7 – 18: KRW500, and free of charge admission for children 6 and under, guests wearing a hanbok, and for all guests on the last Wednesday of each month.
Operating Hours: 9.00am – 9.00pm
Last Admission: 1 hour before close.
Bukchon Hanok Village
If you’re wanting to get a feel for what it must have been like to live in South Korea generations ago, you’ll want to head to the Bukchon Hanok Village.
Charming, full of character and steeped in history, I enjoyed this stop more than any other on our 2 days in Seoul.
As you wander these ancient streets, you’ll be presented with plenty of opportunities for delicious snacks and photo stops, and should you choose, you can even rent a traditional hanbok.
This is a must-see spot in Seoul!
Operating Hours: 10.00am – 5.00pm
The 2nd of Your 2 Days in Seoul: Modern Seoul
After a busy 1st day trip in Seoul, we launch into a great second day. With a combination of learning, relaxation and fun, day 2 of our Seoul itinerary really does have something for everyone.
War Memorial of Korea
With a troubled history, including numerous invasions, there is much to learn about South Korea’s history.
The War Memorial of Korea, which in reality is far more than a memorial, is the perfect place to glimpse back in time. With an incredible (and vast) museum, expansive grounds and war-time artefacts, they do an excellent job of making South Korea’s war-time history accessible. All exhibits include English translations and are engaging and easy to take in.
Whether you’re short on time or have a great deal of it, a visit to the War Memorial of Korea is a must-do.
Operating Hours: 9.30am – 6.00pm
Cafe Yeonnam-Dong 223-14
Seoul has no shortage of spots that will help you capture that elusive Instagram shot, but our pick on the bunch in the city is Cafe Yeonnam-Dong 223-14 (Cafe 연남동 223-14).
Painted completely in white with black detailing, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a real-life comic strip!
The cafe provides an awesome backdrop for memorable photos and also serves up a variety of cakes and drinks for you to enjoy.
Cost: Free but each person visiting must make a purchase.
Operating Hours: 11.00am – 9.00pm, Monday – Sunday
South Korea has long been known for its incredible skincare, a fact that the Western word has recently woken up to.
As we’d travelled from New Zealand, we decided that facials and massages were just the way to ease into a new timezone and rest our tired bodies – boy were we right!
Based on the quality products they use, we decided on the Woo Spa experience. Nathan opted for a massage whilst I booked in for a facial (which included a back and leg massage).
Whilst visiting Seoul, I’d strongly recommend the Refresh Care facial package; I love a good facial and this one was up there as one of the best that I’ve ever had! With well-trained technicians, a relaxing environment and no pressure whatsoever to purchase products (though they were so good that I couldn’t help myself), it’s a real winner.
Can you think of a better way to unwind whilst in Seoul?
And that brings us to the end of our 2 days in Seoul itinerary. Do yourself a favour and ensure you stop off in South Korea rather than just flying on through – it’s an amazing place and even with only 2 days, you’ll have a ball.
The Perfect Day Trip in Seoul
If you’re short on time and really just want to check out the highlights that this city has to offer over the course of a day, we suggest you pull out the parts of our two day itinerary that appeal most to you; this will provide you with a customised day trip in Seoul, specific to your needs.
Alternatively, if we found myself only with enough time for a day trip in Seoul, this is what I’d do.
- Myeongdong Walking Street
- Bukchon Hanok Village
- War Memorial of Korea
- Korean facial
- Fried chicken for dinner
The only reason we wouldn’t specifically head along to one of the palaces is purely because there are so many incredible historic buildings to see throughout the city. Instead, being a bit shorter on time, we’d catch the bus, ensuring that we got off at points of interest, as we passed them.
Seoul was simply a stopover on the way to Japan for us. We approached the city with relatively low expectations but were blown away by its vibrancy, history and energy.
Even if you only have a day or two, include a stop in Seoul as part of your Asian itinerary – it’s an incredible place!
Planning a day trip in Seoul? Or even better, 2 days in Seoul? Be sure to pin this post…
Photo credit: YoSoyRican.
Our visit to Woo Spa was provided by Klook for the purpose of a review. All thoughts are our own.