Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is becoming an increasingly beloved destination city, and it’s easy to see why. Offering so much to travellers looking for a rich history, culture and tradition, not to mention stunning architecture, diverse neighbourhoods, advanced technology, delicious food, mountainous landscape and fantastic shopping and nightlife, it’s every traveller’s dream.
That said, Seoul a huge juggernaut of a city, home to over 11 million people and at times impenetrable to those not in-the-know. Best to go armed with some advice then. This is it; our 7 IDEAL beginner travel tips for Seoul, South Korea.
GET SOME PHRASES UNDER YOUR BELT
The first thing to know about your South Korea holiday is that English is not widely spoken in the country, and though Seoul residents are generally a little more versed, it’s definitely advisable to try and learn some key Korean phrases and to be ready to use sign language or charades to communicate with the locals. Yep, the former of those two suggestions will probably work better.
GET A T-MONEY CARD
A T-Money card is a great way to save time and money during your trip. Similar to an Oyster Card, it and discounted travel of various modes of public transport, and as an added bonus gives special offers, benefits and discounts at convenience stores. The Cashbee card serves a similar function, and also works as a temporary travel credit card. That said, your credit card is likely to be accepted in most places, but it’s still wise to carry a small amount of cash with you for food (a lot of street food places are cash only) transport and souvenirs.
There are plenty of foreign currency exchange bureaus and kiosks throughout the city, which charge lower interest rates than at the airport, so hold out withdrawing or changing currency until you’re in the city.
TOURIST INFORMATION KIOSKS
There are tourist information sites all around the city, which will be able to answer your questions in English and offer guidance, tips and directions; all you’ve got to do is ask. They also tend to have good quality Wi-Fi, phone charging points and air conditioning, making them very handy if you find yourself in a tight spot. Hey British cities; are you taking note?
GET IMMERSED IN THE STREET FOOD
You’ll be hard-pressed to find better street food anywhere else in the world; Seoul is simply stacked in this respect. And while some travellers may be cautious about eating food from street vendors when holidaying in far flung places, rest assured that Seoul is an incredibly sanitary city. There’s a lot of fun to be had ticking off the best Korean street food dishes during your trip. If you’re to try just one thing, then it’s got to be kimchijeon. We’re totally obsessed with this kimchi filled pancake, made with plain flour and given a crispy finish with the addition of potato starch. Extra vegetables are often added making this a relatively healthy option.
Also, don’t miss out on a proper Korean barbeque dinner, which has spread in popularity across the globe in recent years. Obviously, the original and best are found in Seoul. Marinated, seasoned and prepped meat is brought to your tale where you cook it over coals to your desired doneness.
BRAVE THE METRO
The metro is the most convenient and efficient way to travel around in Seoul, so the sooner you get familiar with it, the better. Sure, the map may be daunting at first, but much like the London Underground, when you know what you’re looking for, it will quickly make sense. And perhaps not like the London Underground, metro staff are always on hand to help, usually in English. It is worth noting that there are stairs to conquer when you enter and exit the metro, with lift and step free access not common.
BE PREPARED TO BARTER (POLITELY)
As with most east Asian markets, bargaining and bartering happens every day on the streets of Seoul as people negotiate for their purchases, but there’s no need to take it to dramatic levels. They are expecting you to make a counteroffer for their goods, but always be polite and respectful. The concept of losing (and saving) face exists here and is taken extremely seriously, so keep things cordial.
WI-FI CAN BE UNRELIABLE
Seoul has one of the widest Wi-Fi networks in the world, and is an extremely advanced city technologically, but it can be surprisingly unreliable in terms of connectivity. There is public Wi-Fi in most places, but it can be a hassle to connect to and there’s often a sense you’re signing your data’s life away in the process. Consider investing in a personal, portable, ‘pocket’ Wi-Fi router, as many do here, to avoid connectivity problems.