4 tips on navigating Seoul as a tourist

Learn to explore the multi-layered Korean capital with these helpful tips

Dongdaemun Design Plaza and its surroundings at night

The best way to explore Seoul is to appreciate its scale. It’s home to over half of South Korea’s population — even its ancient name, Hanseong, means “big” — and its Metro system has 18 lines. Acknowledging that getting around can be complicated will enable you to manage your expectations and enjoy your trip more. Despite six of us friends studying Seoul transportation for weeks, we managed to get lost thrice, passing by interesting districts we didn’t encounter on any website. Late one night, we wanted to surrender and stay at McDonald’s ‘til morning. Seoul, however, is very rewarding to those who persevere. When you’re in the city, get all the help you can so you’ll see more and still savor moments. Always consider your options, expect to get baffled occasionally and keep trying.

Gear up with T-Money and WiFi SIM

The T-Money card is your all-round transportation wallet. It costs KRW4,000 at GS25 convenience stores (most other stores only top up, and there aren’t too many 7-Elevens in Seoul). Loading KRW20,000 will be enough for three days. Then get a local WiFi SIM to enjoy the city’s famed internet speed. Boasting up to 11mbps, Seoul is where WiFi dreams come true. A KRW25,000 2GB data SIM can cater to heavy internet use by three people for five days. In this large city, speedy WiFi among a group is invaluable.

Use apps to navigate

Korea Tour has a reliable city map offline in English. Subway Navigation shows detailed train routes, fares and real-time schedules. While Google Maps combines English and Korean directions, you can trust its bus routes. Meanwhile, Naver Maps estimates taxi fares best. To contact your hotel or Airbnb host, use Line or KakaoTalk.

Take taxis and buses

While the Metro will assuredly have a station for a palace, market or mall, it’s not always convenient. Among the world’s longest urban systems, Metro trains could require interchanges even if your destination’s nearby. Remember: your vacation is only as fun as your energy allows, so prioritize comfort often. Better to ride the train in the morning, then take a taxi or bus to go home. Taxis here are affordable — by policy, most now use LPG. If you’re in a group, a cab across town will be cheap. Regular silver or orange taxis charge KRW3,000 for the first 2km, plus KRW100 every 142m thereafter. Black deluxe taxis flag down at KRW5,000. Buses are also inexpensive. And since you won’t be changing rides, you can catch a power nap en route.

Engage the locals

Seoulites are very accommodating to clueless tourists. Ask for directions and they will walk you to where you can move along with less confusion. Say “kamsahamnida!” to thank them.

Also read: The best places to eat at in Seoul

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Smile magazine.

Written by

KC Ramirez

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