If you’re coming from overseas and landing in Seoul, you’re probably landing in Incheon Airport. We’ll focus on that in this guide to the best things you can do on a layover in Seoul. Rather than spending hours upon hours in the airport, it is a great chance to get out and explore a unique and fun city.
Make The Most Of Your Layover In Seoul!
1. Discover the treasures Incheon Airport has to offer
Incheon International Airport is by far one of the best airports in the world to spend a layover. With multiple Korean Traditional Cultural Centers where you can make crafts, no shortage of duty free shops to peruse, posh Rest and Relax lounges that are open to everyone, colorful play areas for your inner child and food options galore, where else but Incheon Airport would you rather spend your precious few layover hours?
2. Take a free transit tour around the city! They’re free!
If you’ve never been partial to group tours before now, Incheon Airport offers FREE transit tours for travellers with layovers. You can choose by type: Incheon City Tour, Seoul City Tour, Temple Tour, etc. Or by duration: 1 hour, 1.5, 2, 3 or 5 hours. Each tour is led by an English-speaking guide, and at minimum, you’ll be able to step foot on one of Seoul’s many attractions and pick up a souvenir or two. For those who’ve been terrified of venturing out alone or of not speaking the language, this is a surefire way of escaping the drudgery of a layover and hightailing in into the city.
3. Explore 24 hours of Korea’s market culture
Shi-jangs, or markets, come in all shapes and sizes in South Korea. There are markets just for fruits, for veggies, second hand goods, you name it. The two most famous markets are Dongdaemun and Namdaemun markets, found in the heart of Seoul. You can easily spend a day browsing goods, followed by an evening of touring the night market, which operates well past midnight into the wee hours of the morning. Dongdaemun is where all the fashion trends of South Korea can be found. There are upscale stores clustered inside the mall, and more affordable versions of the same styles in the nearby shopping centers. Namdaemun has a wider selection of goods beyond fashion. There are vintage items, antiques, household goods, and more—all displayed in booths that are packed side by side to form an expansive shopping district of sorts. In the wee hours of the morning, you can find specialty goods sold at incredible prices.
4. Stroll on the grounds of Korea’s palaces
Korea’s palaces are so educational and grand that even locals make their way to these landmarks every holiday or so. There are five grand palaces located in Seoul, the first of them being Gyeongbokgung Palace, built by the Joseon Dynasty. Gyeongbokgung is considered the most beautiful of the five, and is the largest of the palaces. You’ll find the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum just minutes away, as well as a couple of noteworthy landmarks including Jongmyo Shrine and Hamyangmun Gaet.
5. Go on a street food tour
Some of South Korea’s most iconic food items can be found in random locations throughout the city. Food stalls selling spicy ricecakes and fishcakes on a skewer are popular snack for locals, especially students on their way to and from school or young professionals grabbing a bite. There are also stalls that sell different kinds of Korean snacks, such as hotteok, a pancake-shaped concoction with honey on the inside; bindaedduk, a savory pancake with different veggies; and boonguhbbang, a pastry shaped like a goldfish and filled with red bean paste. You could probably find something for breakfast, lunch and dinner along the streets of Seoul, and spend no more than a few bucks per meal.
6. Visit Korea’s hippest neighborhoods
Korea’s café and restaurant scene is unusual. A growing number of culinary folks in South Korea are experimenting with different types of cuisines, restaurant aesthetics and décor, and the overall dining experience. As a result, creative eateries have cropped up in some of Seoul’s hippest neighborhoods. Hongdae and Insadong are for the artsy folks—music and art. Myeongong is a prime shopping area that gets over 2 million visitors each day. Itaewon is where all different cultures of the world come together. And Gangnam is the reason why there is a pop culture song dedicated to metropolitan Seoul at its finest. All of these neighborhoods are accessible via Seoul’s subway system, which has English signs, announcements and directions for foreigners’ convenience.
7. Find everything you need inside one of Korea’s megamalls
A mall is a mall, right? Not Korea’s malls. If you need convincing, check out COEX mall, which is the largest underground shopping center in Asia. It’s located in the basement of the Korea World Trade Center, in Samseong-dong. Yes, there is a movie theater and plenty of brand named stores, but it also has an aquarium, a video arcade, and even had a kimchi museum.
Transportation To Downtown Seoul
The Airport Express, or AREX, will take you to Seoul at a decent time and price. It’s the fastest and most convenient option for travelers into Seoul, connecting Incheon International Airport with Seoul Station. There’s the non-stop express train, which takes 43 minutes and costs around $15 USD, or the commuter train, which takes 53 minutes and costs around $5 USD. Airport buses run from the airport to most parts of Seoul. Tickets for the deluxe limousine bus to downtown Seoul costs around $15 USD, and around $7 USD to Gimpo International Airport. Standard limousine bus fares are around $10 USD to downtown Seoul and $5 USD to Gimpo International Airport and Songjeong Station. Deluxe limousine buses may have fewer stops or more comfortable accommodations. Taxis to and from the airport may charge a flat fare anywhere between $50-80 USD, and may be a very costly form of transport otherwise. Once you reach downtown Seoul, you can take the subway or walk just about anywhere.
This article was written by Hanna Choi.