48 Hours in Seoul: Day 1
An Itinerary for Getting the Most From A Too Brief Trip
See the introduction here.
Itinerary Summary–Day 1
- 8:30 a.m. -1:00 p.m. *** Gwanghwamun Square
- 1:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m. *** Lunch in Itaewon
- 2:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. *** Shop in Itaewon
- 5:30 p.m.-7:45 p.m. *** Dinner at a Korean BBQ (It’ll be 5 before you get there)
- 8:40 p.m.-9:10 p.m. *** Take the Hangang Ferry Cruise
- Head in for a good night’s sleep/Party all night.
History: Gwanghwamun Square
Gwanghwamun Square is both amazing and one of the most important things to see while in Seoul. You don’t have time to visit every major palace and museum in Seoul, but this palace both palaces and museums in one spot. The Square itself is fascinating; because this is such an important place politically and culturally, the streets are lined with different political protests. When I was there, you saw a long row of cages marked with signs protesting North Korea’s treatment of its citizens. It is quite literally a square, in the center is a long grassy strip with two large, very famous statues. Then at one end you will find Gyeongbokgung Palace.
- Plan Your Time Wisely
- Arrive about 8:30 a.m. You can explore the Square and take a couple of pictures there before heading up to the palace when it opens at 9:00 a.m. If you are there for the opening, you usually can watch the changing of the guards, involving the traditional ceremony and guards in traditional dress.
- You can’t see everything; if you try, you’ll never have time to do anything else. So, carefully choose which palace buildings you visit.
- Don’t bother with a guided tour! The signs are in English and there are maps in many languages (including English), which is all you really need. The guides are sometimes hard to catch in time, they’ll take you through the whole palace, and the guide will only repeat what the brochures tell you. Just grab a map and brochure, and set off on your own.
- Spend at most 4 hours at the palace. Leave plenty of time for some other locations.
- If you get hungry, pick up an ice cream or some other snack (including fruit) at their stands to tide you over (It’s pretty cheap, I promise).
- At the Square
- Some days, a gentleman sets up a stand in between the two statues that includes traditional clothes for you to try on. You can have your pictures taken in them too! It costs money, but it’s fun to try.
- At the Palace
- You can find a map to the palace here.
- Later I will post an article discussing the palace and link to it here. But for brevity’s sake, I’ll just say that I recommend you hit the major buildings (usually the bigger ones) and the museums (definitely the Folk Museum). Don’t forget to catch the big lily pond that makes up number 24 on their map. It’s beautiful!
- The Blue House
- At the back of the palace grounds, there will be a large gate (#28 on the map). Outside the gate lies the Korean Presidential Residence with a Blue Roof (Their version of the White House). Lot’s of people stop by to take pictures of it (and watch the guards).
- Price (One ticket covers entrance to all the palace buildings and museums, but keep the stub to show at the museum gates)
- Group (10+) = 2,400 Won
- Adults (19+) = 3,000 Won
- Children (7-18) = 1,500 Won
- Operating Times
- Wednesday-Monday from 9:00-6:00 (Closed on Tuesdays)
- Further Details
Itaewon (ee+tA+won) is the next destination anyway, and Itaewon Street has dozens of wonderful tea shops and eating locations. Try grabbing some cold noodles and visit a tea store during your visit to this area. It will make a great traditional Korean lunch for adults, but there are also Western dishes for children. You will have the opportunity to pick between more expensive meals and cheaper shops. Or if you want to just browse the food stalls along the street, that’s great too!
- Peruse a couple of the stores. Shop around because there are dozens of great choices. Many will have a picture of their menu outside the restaurant so you can examine your options.
- Save room for tea and a treat later. After lunch, you may want to try one of the many deserts sold in the area. The spun chocolate is particularly amazing!
- Catch a taxi on the side of the street heading towards the Gyeongbokgung Palace when facing the Gwanghwamun Square. Tell them you want to go to Itaewon Street or if that doesn’t work hand them this: “(이태원 관광특구)” That is the name. Since Itaewon Street is a nearby designated tourism area, most taxi drivers in the area know what you are talking about.
- Subway Station:
- Itaewon Station (Subway Line 6)–I think there was only 1 exit (?)
Shopping: Itaewon Street
Itaewon Street is the tourism site to be; it’s a designated area in the city where all the artisans and vendors come out to sell their wares. There are actually more than 2,400 shops (most really tiny) on the 1.4 km (4/5 mile) stretch. Originally, this area was where the military families stayed, so it largely caters to foreigners. It provides a mixture of businesses. Some are high-end art galleries, others sell hand-made carvings. This is where you are going to want to grab all those knickknacks souvenirs for your loved ones back home. Want one of those traditional Asian hand-fans?–Here’s the place. A gold Buddha?–Here! A lovely Korean Hanbok?–Yep! A purse, scarf, or other chic fashion accessory?–Tada!
The Itaewon area is actually much larger, but Itaewon Street itself isn’t too long. Cars cannot drive on the street; it is foot traffic alone. Taxi drivers will dump you out at one end, and you just walk and wander your way down to the other, grab a taxi and head to the next destination.
- BARGAIN! Itaewon is bargaining central. Someday I’ll write about the tactics I learned while there (I was a total newbie), but the key is to stand firm. Examine the good and determine how much you think it’s worth. Try to undercut them, and they’ll refuse. Give in too soon, and you’ll pay through the nose. Just try to guess what you think it would be worth in the U.S. Odds are, it’ll be a similar price there. They mostly do it for the fun of the conversation and because some tourists aren’t willing to take the effort and lost a ton in the process. But they don’t enjoy that half as much as when they get a good argument out of it. You can almost always talk them down a couple thousand won, sometimes even more.
- Addition Information available here
- Note that it usually closes down on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays each month.
Dinner: Korean BBQ
Because it is delicious and tradition! Korean BBQ is something people will travel the world around for. You just have to order the meat, and the rest comes with. You can order whatever meat you want, but it will automatically come with everything else including among other things:
- Seaweed Soup/Miso Soup
- Different Sauces
- Head up to Chungmuro Station for Korean BBQ. There are several different restaurants in that area; it is very well known for its Korean BBQ. Plus, it’s a fun area to wander around if you have some extra time, and it’s not too far from your next stop.
- When finding a BBQ, look for signs that picture mostly raw plates of meat. They are usually advertising the meat you will grill. Or look through restaurant windows for the silver monstrosities above the tables. They are long silver pipes that suck up the steam from the grills; unfortunately it gives the impression that you are looking at a Star Trek Cafeteria. You can see pictures online.
- Korean BBQs usually only serve Korean BBQ, so if it looks like a noodle place or a seafood place, it’s probably not BBQ.
- Be careful not to stay here past 7:45. It will take you that long to make it to the Ferry Stop, find the ticket booth, get your tickets, and get in line. Otherwise the cost will go up for a later trip.
- Plus, the Han river has a wonderful park too where the ferry docks that is amazing to just walk along. So even if you have extra time, you won’t be bored.
- Chungmuro Station, Exit 2 by Taxi or Subway.
- This will let you off right at the same exit you’ll need to be at to catch the bus the next day for your tour of Namsan Tower, so it will help to know where that is already anyway.
- If you take a Taxi, tell him Chungmuro Station (choong+moo+rO yOk). They’ll let you off at one of the exits; if it’s the wrong one, head into the subway and follow the signs for the right one. It’s easier than navigating it up top.
- From Exit 2, just wander around; there are several BBQ restaurants there.
- Chungmuro Station, Exit 2 by Taxi or Subway.
Last Stop: Hangang River Ferry
The view is utterly gorgeous, and the trip is a lot of fun. One of the bridges you go under has a huge rainbow fountain that goes off, which is stunning. Plus, it is restful and calming to relax from the rest of the day’s stress; I would have done it every night if I could. It is also one of the best ways to get pictures of the night skyline!
- Attend the one at 8:40 p.m. You can go later if you want; however, the later tours may cost as much as $50 instead of the $15 at 8:40, so bear that in mind.
- Wear wet-worthy clothes or step inside when people start backing up. The ferry goes under the fountain bridge that rains water over everyone out in the open. You can step inside the glass shelter if you want; just watch out for when everyone heads backwards. We enjoyed the cooling water!
- NOTE: There won’t really be any taxis around when you get off the ferry, so you’ll probably have to take the subway to your next locale. Go back to the station and head for you hotel’s station or back toward a stop you recognize. There will definitely be taxis at Gangnam, Chungmuro, Insa-dong, etc. It’s safe, the taxis just stay around busier areas instead of this park.
- You will need a taxi on the opposite side of the street from the exit you arrived by.
- You can find the address here. DON”T try this without a copy of address in Korean characters! Drivers often won’t recognize the name when you say it without additional help. Just hand them a piece of paper with the address and do your best to say “YOH-ee-DOH” (Yeouido). They should figure it out, if they don’t say “yO-ee-na-rU yOk” (Yeouinaru Station).
- Yeouinaru Station (Subway Line 5), Exit 3 (dock is about 5 minutes from the station).
- Head toward the river and walk to your right along the sidewalk until you see the big TICKET sign lit up. There will be 2+ boats docked there usually; you want the one where the long line is (but the ticket booth is up on shore so get the tickets first.) If you are totally confused, snag someone and show them the address. They should know where to point you. It’s hard to miss, there are big lights and tons of people.
- MORE INFORMATION
- Here –you are interested in the Yeouido-Yeouido trip. This covers the best bridges and sights.
- Adults = 15,000 Won
- Children = 7,500 Won
DAY 1 is DONE:
(w/additional ideas if you’re not tired yet)
Tada!! Now, you have had a chance to try traditional Korean food, see a little historical and cultural landmarks, completed some shopping, and had a relaxing evening watching the Seoul skyline float by. You can either head for bed, or, if you are still up for a little more fun, try one of these options!
- Visit the Dragon-Hill Spa
- It’s open 24/7 (details and directions are on my other post here.)
- Head up to Apgujeong‘s Rodeo (ROH + de + O—-not the way we say it in the US) Street
- You will find some drinking, dancing, and partying. I recommend writing the name down and taking a taxi; the name is impossible to say and it’s a ways from the station.
- Head up to one of the city’s clubs
- Here is the low-down on those. I’ve tested:
- Club Eden
- Monkey Beach
- Here is the low-down on those. I’ve tested:
- Wander Itaewon bar hopping (My recommendation).
- Reserve a room at a Karaoke or Norebang place.
- Usually Norebang involves less drinking; most people start with the bars/clubs and end up here to sober up a bit. Karaoke lets you keep drinking. You can read about these and find the spelling of Norebang to watch for here.