Culturally-packed visit to Seoul. What to see in 3 days to learn more about South Korea?

South Korea intrigued me for long time with its unique blend of heritage and technological development; you can see imperial palaces and ancient temples nestled between modern skyscrapers, visit traditional tea houses and modern Korean cuisine restaurants, spot Koreans wearing traditional hanboks when visiting historical sites and as well as people donning the last trends when walking through the liveliest Seoul’s district.

When planning my (short) visit to Korea I wanted to discover different sides and aspects of life in Korea, exploring various neigbourhoods of Seoul, observing the locals, using public transport, usual supermarkets. I visited both historical districts and national monuments as well as modern business districts. This approach gave me some vague idea and impressions about the country. Of course, one needs to stay in the country longer, see many places outside of the capital in order to able to say what is South Korea really like (and this still would be subjective), however, curious travelers can still spend few days in Seoul to catch a glimpse of what the country is like. South Korea is still relatively less touristic than other Asian countries and thus I think that there was less typical tourist attractions and commercial traps and the authentic experience waits for the visitors behind every corner.

How to get to the South Korea? (Ferry between Japan and South Korea)

Most of the people will come to the South Korea by plane but if you want to combine your trip with a stay in Japan, you can also take a ferry from Osaka or Fukuoka to Busan. This can be a nice option if you are ending your stay (or starting) in Kyushu or Osaka. The ferry is very comfortable way to travel between those two countries and allows you to avoid a bothersome luggage weight limits when you travel by plane. The travel time differs depending if you choose fast or slow ferry, one should book in advance for good fares. We have decided to travel this way on a slow ferry (Camellia line) and found the trip very relaxing. You can book a whole cabin for you or stay in the shared one, all options had possibility to sleep (even if the journey was during the day). You can have a nap, walk on the open terraces or stay in the common area and have some snacks. Most of the passengers were Koreans and we didn’t see many oversees tourists, however I don’t know how the situation looks like in a faster ferry. The boarding procedures are quite straightforward and we didn’t encounter any issues during the entire journey which I find very enjoyable.

When arriving to Busan, you can walk comfortably trough the special corridor bridge (overground) which connects the ferry terminal with train station. The best way to go to Seoul (and many other major cities) from Busan is by the bullet train. The Korean train tickets’ prices are not dynamic so you can book your train the last minute and still pay the same fare. I recommend this option since due to the weather conditions on the sea or slow/fast disembarkation you can never be sure the exact hour of arrival (our ferry arrived on time). If you’re first time in Busan you may also need some extra time to navigate in the terminal and the train station (which is connected with the commercial center). In the ferry terminal you can also purchase SIM cards and withdraw some cash, so this can also take a little bit of time.

When is best to come to the South Korea?

In my opinion the best time to visit the country is spring and autumn, the temperatures are moderate and pleasant, the weather conditions s stable, ,the blooming nature and autumnal colors ensure the spectacular views since in the Far East the landscape is very taken very carefully, it’s an inspiration for the artists, invitation for contemplation or even a part of the house since traditional homes open up to the views through the vast windows and the landscape is “a part” of the interior decoration.

How to move around Seoul?

Seoul is a vast city and the best way to move around is by using metro. The metro system is easy to navigate and names of the stations are written up in Latin alphabet. The staff is always around but English can be an issue. Koreans are also very helpful and if the notice the troubled visitor, come and ask if they can help. Note that the metro service ends around midnight. An important fact is that the Google Maps navigation doesn’t work in Seoul, it can show you how to get from point A to B by metro but won’t suggest a walking route. Switch on Google Maps and ask for the walking itinerary between any two places to see how it works. Since The GPS can still position you on the map so you can figure out how to walk to your destination but the exact route is impossible to obtain.

Where to stay in Seoul?

Myeongdong and Insandong are districts with many bars and restaurants and with tourist attractions and historical districts within walking distance. This may be practical if you want to stay a bit longer in the restaurant and not to worry to miss the last metro.

Safety in Seoul

Seoul is generally safe city, there is no problem with walking alone or late in the night. The usual common sense precautions are usually sufficient. Koreans are also helpful and friendly to locals if you see that you need information/are in some sort of trouble, they will often come and offer their help. Another issue are safety concerns related to the situation with North Korea. In Seoul we saw that the city is prepared for crisis situations with evacuation plans and information what to do in different situations displayed in visible places. Before planning your trip you can also read news about current tensions between North and South Korea.

In this post I will give you my 3 days itinerary around Seoul including a half a day trip to the DMZ zone which is called by many the last Cold War border in the world.

Day 1

I have started my day with visiting historical sites in Seoul. One of the most significant cultural sites in the Korean capital are the royal palaces. In Seoul you will find five of them.
If you’re interested in exploring historical sites in Seoul it’s worth buying the Integrated Ticket of Palaces which cost 10 000 won (just around 7 euro!) which guarantees entrances to:

  • Gyeongbokgung (3,000 won)
  • Deoksugung (1,000 won)
  • Changdeokgung (3,000 won) including Huwon Secret Garden (5,000 won)
  • Changgyeonggung (1,000 won)
  • Jongmyo Shrine (1,000 won)

The Royal Palaces are a must see for the cultural lovers and are spectacular examples of Korean heritage.

Few information on the Royal Palaces:

The Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) established Seoul as a capital more than 600 years ago. The location was chosen strategically, the city is about midway down the Korean Peninsula. Another factor to found the city in this location lied in the geomantic theory with mountains to the north and river to the south.

Traditionally, the capital served as residence of the king and royal family members as well as seat of the government. Palaces and shrines dominated the cityscape and the capital had finally had five main palace compounds: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and Changgyeonggung Palace.