Seoul is the capital and largest city of South Korea – a country known internationally for its cars, electronics, cosmetics, and K-pop. It is an extremely cosmopolitan metropolis – like others found in Asia – but it welcomes those who visit with a fusion of the modern with the traditional, as seen in the contrast between signs with neon lights, and the royal palaces that guard the historical and cultural heritage of the nation.
Before visiting Seoul, South Korea, read here some practical information to help in planning your trip.
Citizens of more than 100 countries – including the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the EU – can visit South Korea as tourists without a visa for 30 and up to 90 days. Make sure to check the list of countries with visa exemption before going.
The language spoken in South Korea is Korean. At times, it may be difficult to communicate in English, so you are advised to have access to a translator app and have internet on your cell phone; it is recommended to have roaming enabled or to purchase a local mobile SIM card upon arrival in the country.
SIM card purchase – at the airport you can find SIM card shops offering with unlimited internet for 5, 10 and 20 days (with prices starting at 27,500 won) and also rental of mobile routers (for 8,800 won per day), so the whole family can be connected.
The currency used in South Korea is the South Korean won, and in Seoul, it is very easy to find currency exchange offices. To get a sense of the US dollar values, a quick calculation would be to divide the value in won per thousand, meaning 1,000 won is about US$ 1.
Best time to visit
The best seasons to visit the South Korean capital are spring and fall. During the summer the heat and humidity are overwhelming, and in winter the temperatures are below freezing, making both unpleasant for tourism. I was in Seoul in early December (when it was still autumn), and despite having several days with temperatures close to zero, the landscape was beautiful – a mix of dry leaves, naked trees, and blue skies.
It is very easy to use the subway to get around Seoul but, as in every new city, it may take some time to get acquainted with the map (which looks like a multicolored spider’s web). If you want to walk the shorter distances on foot and use a map, the famous Google Maps will not help you much. Since South Korea is still at war with North Korea, for reasons of national security Google Maps does not have detailed data; therefore, you will need to use maps like Naver Maps or Daum. If you want to use the taxi service, pay attention to the special taxis for foreigners, which have English speaking drivers.
How to get from the airport to downtown – it is possible to go from the airport to Seoul?s city center with the Express Train, which takes approximately 40 minutes and costs 9,000 won; or with the All Stop Train, with a route that lasts approximately 1 hour and costs around 5,000 won (the amount varies according to the boarding terminal and final station). At the airport, follow signs indicating Express Train or look for Express Train Information Center.
Where to Stay
The best area to stay in Seoul, in my opinion, is Myeongdong. There you will be close to several shops, restaurants, cafes and you will have access to the subway if you want to use it.
What to eat
The main dishes of the country are the Korean barbecue and the chicken soup with ginseng, all accompanied by the famous kimchi – chard that goes through a fermentation process along with other vegetables and has a slightly spicy flavor. As for drinks, soju is a distilled drink originating in the country that is very popular and found everywhere; even in the 7-Eleven convenience stores, and has around 20% of alcohol.
Continue reading What to do in Seoul, the best things to do in South Korea’s capital