3 Day Seoul Itinerary

3 Days in Seoul

My wife and I had the opportunity to visit Seoul for 5 days.  We wanted to share our Seoul itinerary and tips because of the lack of English resources around.  As a photographer, I wanted to get as much in as possible in a short time.   This itinerary presents many colourful photographic opportunities, with a mixture of street, food and landscape photography.  I hope you enjoy these images!

Hot Tips

Seoul’s subway is a myriad of easily 200-300 stations.  Any time spent counting I’d rather be writing this blog post.  In the next few hours, a new station would probably be being built as we speak!  We were lucky enough to be given an oldish (what looked to be) 2 year old map from a relative.  Already it was outdated and we identified a couple of new lines on it!

Korea Travel Hotline and Subway Map

To help you get around the subway, you need an up-to-date map from one of the many visitor centres, or the airport.  We found that the best map is one produced by the Korea Travel Hotline.  It comes in a small-ish format without too many folds and doesn’t flop around like the cheaper massive town map.  The Korea Travel hotline is a free service for tourists – dial 1330 from a mobile or landline, or Skype them free through this account – “kto1330”.  They’ll help you with translations, directions, food, anything!

Korea Trave

The next essential must-have time-saving life-saving website you absolutely need to bookmark is this subway map that will allow you to plug in the name of a station and have it highlighted on the screen.  Trust me, it will save you tons of time especially if you’ve got a train to catch!

Useful bookmark to have while travelling in Seoul http://subway.umka.org/map.php?find=&city=seoul
Useful bookmark to have while travelling in Seoul http://subway.umka.org/map.php?find=&city=seoul

Changing Money

The best place for currency exchange is in Myeong Dong – the best rates are on the street where the Chinese Embassy is.  We hunted around multiple shops and found the rates around Ewha Women’s university pretty favourable too.

Travelling to the Boseong Green Tea Plantation

The Boseong Green Tea Plantation is well known for its luscious green fields.  We did really want to visit it during the week as we had blocked out other activities for the weekend.  Fortunately we realised (through the 1330 Korea Travel Hotline) that the express bus from Seoul Station only runs once a day at 3.10pm during the week.  Take note!!

I found various sources of bus timetables such as this, and they had conflicting information so your best bet is to call the 1330 hotline directly.  There are other less direct ways to get from Seoul to Boseong, but we didn’t want to spend more than 10 hours in a day in transit – it was either a direct express bus or nothing!  There is a direct bus we’re told that runs from Seoul Bus station to Boseong at 8.10am on Saturday.  Do note that it will not take you straight to the green tea plantation – you’ll still need to take a cab or local bus.




Making the most of a short trip

You’ll find the best of Seoul through day trips.

Day 1 – City Tour

Myeong Dong Shopping District

However if you’re a metropolitan city shopper and foodie, there’s lots to see and eat around Myeong Dong (think Made-in-Korea sock shops, dessert shops, restaurants with very cheap Soju ~ US$2. And we did have an interesting encounter with restaurant staff protecting us from a gentleman who had one too many to drink!).

Myeong Dong Shopping District
Myeong Dong Shopping District
Myeong Dong Shopping District
Myeong Dong Shopping District
Try the Milk Shaven Ice desserts at Sul Bing in Myeong Dong
Try the Milk Shaven Ice desserts at Sul Bing Korean Dessert Cafe in Myeong Dong

Ewha Women’s University

This is THE area for cosmetics, makeup and trendy clothes, obviously targeting the young demographics in the area.  You’ll find great food, and even a little cat cafe nearby in Shinchon (within walking distance).

US$1 pairs of socks
US$1 pairs of socks in Ewha (also lots in Myeong Dong)
Streets around Ewha Women's University
Streets around Ewha Women’s University

Insadong Arts and Crafts Market

Insadong is known as the local folk flea market with lots of arts and crafts for a bargain.  We scored some framed hand painted paintings for NZ$10, and hand-made muslin baby face cloths for $2.

Apart from the crafts, you will also find quaint eateries down back-street alley ways.   I’m told everything’s delectable but go for the more “off-the-track” ones for the best food.  We were fortunate to indulge in the best grilled mackerel we’ve ever had.  It was crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, full of flavour!

Off-the-track restaurant in Insadong
Off-the-track restaurant in Insadong
Grilled mackerel in Insadong
Grilled mackerel in Insadong
Tofu Soup
Tofu Soup

Bosingak

A 15 minute walk from Insadon is this bell pavillion called “Bosingak”.  You can’t enter it, but it’s quite a sight to walk around from the outside.

 

Bosingak Bell Pavillion near Changdeokgung
Bosingak Bell Pavillion near Changdeokgung. In the Joseon Dynasty, this bell was struck to announce the opening and closing of the four gates around Seoul. At 4 am and 10 pm the bell was struck 33 times and gates were opened and closed. It was used as a fire alarm as well. In modern times, the bell is rung only at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Because of the massive number of people who attend this ceremony, Metro trains on Line 1 of the Seoul Subway do not stop at Jonggak Station on New Year’s Eve. (Wikipedia)

Namdaemun Market

After a day of shopping, head on down to Namdaemun market for a slightly different shopping scene – one lined with street food, ginseng vendors, textiles, bags, apparel, anything conceivable really!  This is the perfect place to end your day with the food options and the nearby Namdaemun Gate (10 minutes walk from the market).  If you’re asking for directions, you’ll need to refer to it by the local name “Sungnyemun”.

Namdaemun Gate
Known locally as Sungnyemun, the Namdaemun Gate is a sight to see at any time of the day. Note that it is not much more than a gate. You’ll be able to walk around it before it closes at 6pm, but otherwise it’s pretty much visible and lit up after closing time, and it makes a great photograph.

 

Day 2 – Nami Island

This is where they filmed the Korean drama series Winter Sonata.  The whole place is quite gimmicky, centred around the movie, with Winter Sonata souvenir shops, Winter Sonata statues around the Island and lots of tourists.  They call their ticket booth “Immigration” and you need to get a “Visa” into the island.  BUT, if you wander off the touristy paths around the fringes of the island, you’ll find serenity in the leaves of Verdant Trees, and a foggy mysteriousness that surrounds the enclosing waters.  For the adventurous, try Ziplining into the island!

 

Zipline into Nami Island
Zipline into Nami Island
Forest of Verdant Trees on Nami Island
Forest of Verdant Trees on Nami Island
Unicef, Nami Island
Unicef, Nami Island
Nami Island Sunset
Nami Island Sunset

Day Trip 3 – Korean Folk Village

It takes about 2 hours to get there by train (Suwon station) and a free shuttle bus just outside the visitor centre.  It’s best to head here when they just open during a weekday.  Crowds start to arrive after mid-day for the later shows.  Allow half to a full-day at the KFV.  There’s plenty to soak in.

Traditional Wedding Ceremony at the Korean Folk Village
Traditional Wedding Ceremony at the Korean Folk Village
Village Life at Nami Island
Village Life at Nami Island
Traditional Korean Huts in KFV
Traditional Korean Huts in KFV
Equestrian Stunt Show at the Korean Folk Village
Equestrian Stunt Show at the Korean Folk Village



Farmers Dance at KFV
Farmers Dance at KFV
Farmers Dance at KFV
Farmers Dance at KFV
Pottery Making at KFV
Pottery Making at KFV. For a small fee, you can have the pots posted to you, but you’ll need a valid Korean address a few weeks past your visit.
River that runs along KFV
River that runs along KFV

Day 3 – Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung is one of the “Five Grand Palaces” built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty.  This palace is not the largest, but it’s big enough with lots to see, and you could easily spend a few hours discovering the many nooks and crannies of this magnificent piece of Korean architecture.

Nicely landscaped and scattered with flowers, Changdeokgung palace is both majestic and peaceful at the same time
Nicely landscaped and scattered with flowers, Changdeokgung palace is both majestic and peaceful at the same time
Sights around Changdeokgung palace
Sights around Changdeokgung palace
Incredibly detailed roof tiles
Incredibly detailed roof tiles

IMG_0081

 

 

Parting Notes

There’s so much to see in Seoul.  It’s a vibrant city with a rich history, that has preserved it’s culture, yet it feels so technologically advanced when you look at the skyscrapers around you in town.  I’d recommend spending at least 3 days here, but if you have but 3 days, this is the perfect itinerary!

For those interested, I travel light with a Canon 6D (for full-frame goodness without weighing a ton) and these lenses – 24-105mm f/4 L (for versatility) and 40mm F2.8 STM (for compactness).

  • Camera: Canon EOS 6D

Zhi Lee

Award winning NZ wedding, travel and portrait photographer. Creating images for the enjoyment of others really gets me going. It is through photography that I get to connect with people and express a little bit of creativity.