For us, one of the main reasons for moving to Hong Kong was to travel easily through Asia, of course. And little did I know that my first trip to Asia would be for 3 days in Seoul in a cold December. But that’s how it was and I found myself looking for the best things to do in Seoul in winter.
After researching a lot for the trip, and after living it to the fullest, despite the cold weather outside, I’ll help you out with your trip.
No matter if you are spending 3 days in Seoul during Spring, Summer, or Winter, these are the things you should do!
After a 4-hour flight from warm Hong Kong to Seoul, the moment the doors opened and the freezing breeze struck my face I immediately thought this was not a good idea. The Winter season in Korea might not be the perfect time for a visit to Seoul, but I did it and it can be fun.
Of course, most people visit Korea during Winter for the mountain resorts and the beautiful Korean nature, but I just spent 3 days in Seoul and explored the best things to do in Seoul in winter.
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The perfect 3 days in Seoul itinerary
Getting from the airport to Seoul
Before starting, you should know Seoul has 2 airports: Incheon Airport and Gimpo Airport.
Coming from Hong Kong with a Korean low-cost company, my final destination was Incheon Airport.
Getting from the airport to Seoul is easy enough no matter which way you choose to travel.
By taxi: since we got to Seoul pretty late and it was awfully cold (and I wasn’t wearing all I had when I got there), we chose to travel by taxi to our hotel. There are plenty of desks inside the airport and a nice lady helped us and called a taxi.
As expected, traveling by taxi is the most expensive way of getting to town.
From Incheon Airport to the Namdaemun area the price was 80.000 won ( roughly 70 USD) and it took us a bit more than 1 hour.
A faster and much cheaper way of getting to town is by train.
For this, you have 2 options:
- the normal train stopping at every station from Seoul Station to both Gimpo and Incheon Airports;
- and the Airport Express going straight from Seoul Station to Incheon Airport (or the other way around).
Coming back to the airport I chose the Airport Express and the train ride costs 9000 won – 8 USD (you will pay 9500 won at the machine, and will get back the 500 won warranty when you reach the end of your journey) which took me from Seoul Station to Terminal 1 of Incheon Airport in around 35 minutes.
Useful tips for riding the Airport Express:
- Make sure to take the paper from the ticket vending machine, because you will have your car and seat numbers on it, and they will check it.
- The magazine inside the train is only in Korean.
- Check out the timetable when planning your trip, and plan accordingly having in mind that you won’t be able to pass through the security check earlier than 2 hours before your flight.
VISA & K-ETA
Depending on where you are traveling from, you will or won’t need a visa. Check your Visa requirements here!
Currently, South Korea has in place a visa-free online application process for certain eligible countries (you can check the list here) that you must obtain before your trip.
K-ETA or the Korean Electronic Travel Authorization must be obtained before boarding a flight or ship. Here is some useful information regarding the K-ETA visa:
- The approval process takes more than 72 hours, thus it is useful to apply in advance;
- You will need to have accommodation booked before applying for the K-ETA, the address is one of the required information.
- The validity of the K-ETA visa is of 2 years from the date of approval;
- With the K-ETA you can stay in South Korea for 30 to 90 days;
- However, if you are visiting for travel purposes, and plan to return after your first visit, you will have to come back and update your visa with the new hotel address;
- One person can apply for up to 30 persons and can pay for all at once;
- K-ETA price: 10.000 won (around 9-10 USD)
Best time to visit Seoul
I think and I’ve also read that the best time to visit Seoul is in the months of April, May, and October.
But what about winter in Seoul Korea?
Visiting between November and February might not be the best idea, but I did it and I liked it. Therefore, I wouldn’t exclude it if that would be the only time in which you can make it to Seoul.
Just know that you will have to bring along a lot of winter clothing, gloves, and a hat to cover your head.
Even so, with my hands almost frozen (before I bought my fluffy gloves), I managed to take plenty of colorful pictures because the sun was up all the time.
Read the complete guide for visiting Seoul in Spring: what to do and where to find cherry blossoms
Getting around Seoul
The cheapest way of traveling in Seoul, taking the bus or subway will get you from one point to the other and will cost you somewhere around 1300 won (1.1 USD).
How to buy a ticket:
- Pay cash on the bus or at the subway vending machine for a Disposable Subway Card – just make sure to have the exact amount when taking the bus, and that you get the 500 won deposit back from the card-return machine once you exit the subway
- Buy the T-money card which can be used in any public transportation means. Fare: 2500 won; charge the card with amounts of 1000 won and up
TIP: When using the T-money card, a fare discount applies when you make a transfer within 30 minutes of exiting the bus or a subway station. Between 9 AM and 7 PM, the timeframe for the change is 1 hour.
There are 9 subway lines in Seoul that will get you also to the metropolitan area.
Also, there are different types of buses depending on their itinerary:
- Blue buses – for long distances within Seoul – basic fare 1300 won
- Green buses – for transportation between blue bus stops and subway stops – basic fare 1300 won
- Yellow buses – downtown Seoul – basic fare 1200 won
- Red bus – inter-city express transit – basic fare 2400 won
An easier way of getting around and visit most of the main Seoul attractions is with the Seoul pass.
Travel by taxi
There are different types of taxis you can choose from.
Standard, deluxe, jumbo taxies, and specific ones for foreigners in Seoul are your options.
I must admit I had no idea and was looking only for the orange taxis, but there are also grey ones, and black ones specific for foreigners with drivers speaking English/Chinese/Japanese. You can check it out at International taxies.
Since we only had 3 days in Seoul and wanted to explore the most we could and make the best out of our experience, we chose to stay in the most central part of town.
If you want to be in the center of it all, have easy access to most of the tourist attractions, and be perfectly linked to other things to do in Seoul, choose to stay in one of the below areas of Seoul.
Of course, since I visited in December and wanted to make the best out of the things to do in Seoul in winter, staying at its heart was key.
Just one stop away from Seoul Central, walking distance to one of the most important palaces and the Seoul City Hall, this is where we chose to stay for our weekend in Seoul Korea.
Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Namdaemun – with a view of NSeoul tower and the Sungnyemun Gate, I found this place to be perfectly located. Breakfast even though varied was not really my cup of tea, with so many Korean-specific dishes.
L’Escape Hotel Seoul – in the same area, try this hotel if you are looking for “A Parisian Escape in the heart of Seoul”. A boutique hotel providing a hidden Parisian experience.
Also in the heart of Seoul, here is where you want to stay if you want to be closer to the shopping area, and the best street-food stalls or restaurants.
Ibis Ambassador Myeongdong – chill at the sauna once you have finished sightseeing and shopping in the trendiest district.
Nine Tree Hotel Myeongdong – I must admit this was our first choice when it came to hotels in Seoul, but somehow we ended up with the Courtyard one (and I don’t regret it a bit). This one is perfectly located and offers a great quality vs price ratio.
A bit further away from the shopping area, while offering a wide variety of shops in itself, Insadong is much closer to the most important tourist attractions in Seoul.
Nine Tree Hotel Insadong – a freshly open hotel in the heart of Insadong.
ibis Ambassador Insadong – Seoul Tower views, beautiful rooftop terrace, located close to Insadong’s Main Street, which has most of its outlets open all night.
Useful apps in Seoul, Korea
Whenever and wherever I’ve traveled, I always relied on Google maps to help me find my way.
As you’ve imagined Seoul is different in this way. While I was looking for places to visit in Seoul during winter and trying to find them on the map, while also creating my itinerary, I saw that Google maps were showing me only the way by subway.
Luckily I was equipped with Naver Map because of one friend who suggested I would need to have that for my 3 days in Seoul.
What I’ve noticed is that some of the addresses I could find on Google Maps I couldn’t see on Naver Map. On the other hand, the app shows you how to make your itinerary on foot, by public transportation, by car, or by subway.
Another downside to Naver Map is that it drains your battery very fast. Thus, that’s why I suggest always having an external power bank with you.
Internet in Seoul, Korea
If I’m traveling with my husband or a friend, I tend not to rely that much on the internet. But whenever I know I will be wandering around on my own, panic kicks in and I need to have a good internet connection to avoid getting lost.
That’s why the first thing I did when landing in Seoul was to buy a local SIM card which was going to be valid for my entire stay, 3 days in Seoul.
In order to make things easier, you can always pre-order your SIM card and pick it up directly from the Airport on arrival.
However, most of the places in Seoul have free wifi, and you will be able to use that if you choose not to buy a local SIM.
Is Korea expensive?
It sure depends on what you are comparing it to. Compared to Hong Kong, it’s definitely cheaper.
But let me give some examples when you don’t take into account the accommodation cost:
- getting around by subway will set you back 1.1 USD per trip (when you don’t buy the T-money card)
- a traditional Korean meal in Myeongdong for 2 was 15.000 won (13 USD)
- on the other hand, a Korean barbeque for 2 in a very traditional place (the lady did not speak English) set us back 40.000 won (35 USD) – but I think we got ripped off
- one tea with some complementary traditional sweets – 7000 won (6 USD)
- way train to the airport ticket – 9000 won (8 USD)
- Korean face masks – anywhere between 800 won (0.69 USD) and 5000 won (4.5 USD) per piece
When you have more time to spend, I would recommend taking a long vacation and spending 2 weeks in South Korea. That’s how you can live the country to the fullest, explore all you can, and learn more about its culture. Without breaking the bank.
My 3 days in Seoul itinerary and places to visit in Seoul during winter
DMZ one-day tour (Demilitarized Zone Tour from Seoul)
Most of the people who come to Seoul choose to take this tour even if they only have 3 days in Seoul. This is also one of the most popular places to visit in Seoul during the winter.
This is where you will learn all about the history of the separation of North Korea and South Korea, and you will get the chance to see the place where the two coexist. You’ll step into the area between two of the most heavily armed frontiers on earth.
And maybe you’ll want to get into the mood beforehand and read some books about North Korea. I always like to do that before, during, or after visiting a country. Reading about it or even contemporary writers from the place, or writing about the place, makes me understand better the culture and people.
However popular this is, and no matter how much interest this arises, visiting DMZ on a day tour in December 2019 was not possible for us, because of the swine flu epidemic.
Day 2 – Cultural Heritage day
Wake up early in the morning and make your way to some of the many palaces in Seoul. But not only.
Because we wanted the real Korean experience, we decided to rent a traditional dress Hanbok and visit the Palaces and take some amazing pictures.
Rent a Hanbok and experience the real Korean experience!
Before renting our dresses, and heading North, we stopped by the Deoksugung Palace.
The Daehanmun (Gate) is very beautiful and colorful, and I was lucky to catch the change of guard which takes place 3 times per day and is one of the most important highlights of the Palace.
Entrance ticket fee: Adult: 1,000 won ; Children: 500 won
Address: 100-120 99 Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul
Subway: City Hall Station (subway line 1) exit 2
Read all about my oneday Hanbok experience here!
The Gwanghwamun gate is not as crowded as other entrances to the Palace, thus if you come early in the morning, you might get the chance to take some pretty pictures without the crowds. The street leading to the gate is the widest in Korea, 100 m wide and 600 m long.
The Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest of all the palaces in Seoul and is considered to be the most beautiful of them all. It is also called the Northern Palace because is the furthest north when compared to the neighboring palaces.
It was also the first palace built in the Joseon Dynasty and where their story began. Thus if you want to take a glimpse of the palace life, and royal culture, and see the time’s architecture, you shouldn’t miss visiting the Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Here is also where the National Folk Museum of Korea is, which is not only another opportunity of learning more about Korean culture but a place with lots of picture opportunities.
Adults (ages 19-64): 3,000 won / Groups (10 people or more): 2,400 won
Children (ages 7-18): 1,500 won / Groups (10 people or more): 1,200 won
Address: 161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Gyeongbokgung Station (Seoul Subway Line 3) and Exit 5.
Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3) and Exit 1.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village or better yet the area between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace.
This is the area where you will get to see plenty of traditional Korean houses (Hanok). This is heaven for pictures, but it is also very important to know that it is a residential area and tourists need to respect this.
Here is where members of the royal family and aristocrats lived in the over 900 hanoks during the Joseon period.
We were lucky to find this pretty little Tea museum with an amazing observatory over the Bukchon Hanok Village.
Just walk the streets of Bukchon Hanok Village and you will run into lots and lots of beautiful little places: traditional coffee shops, small shops with amazing scents for you or your house, and hidden traditional museums where I felt like stepping back in time.
Admission Fee: Free
Address: 37, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Subway: Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 1 or 2.
I must admit I spent many hours just walking around and discovering the amazing architecture in Changdeokgung Palace.
When you will look at the map, you’ll understand just why. Less crowded than its bigger brother, but just as colorful and impressive, I would definitely add it to my list of places to visit in Seoul during winter.
Originally built in 1405, the Changdeokgung Palace was restored after it was destryed during the Japanese invasion (1592 – 1598) and was added to UNESCO World Heritage in 1997. Besides the impressive buildings, the palace sits in the middle of a lush garden, lotus ponds, and the Secret Garden.
Visiting the gardens would be more appropriate during Spring when I can imagine the place as being astonishingly romantic, thus since I was visiting Seoul during winter I chose not to pay the additional fee for the Secret Garden. This way, I’ll just have a good reason to return in a warmer season.
From the beautiful garden surrounding Changdeokgung Palace, you’ll be able to step inside the Secret Garden and visit Changgyeonggung Palace.
I didn’t have the time to step inside, but I guess it is a great destination to be added to your list when you have more than 3 days in Seoul.
Adults (ages 25-64): 3,000 won / Group (over 10 people): 2,400 won / Youth ( ages 7-18): 1500 won
Students (ages 24 and under): Free (* Except for foreign visitors)
Address: 99, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Subway: Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 3.
Even though the Jogyesa Temple was on every Seoul itinerary and everyone told me to go and see it, I somehow missed it twice because I failed to plan my trip accordingly.
Jogyesa Temple is the center of Korean Buddhism, and here is where you can experience a temple stay where you can enjoy tea tasting, making lotus lanterns, and so much more.
The temple can be visited during the week only in a guided group, and I haven’t managed to be there at the right time.
Guided tours in English, are held daily except Saturdays from 10 AM, 12 AM, 14 PM, and 16 PM. The only day when you can see the temple whenever you want, without a guided tour, is on Saturdays.
Admission Fee: Adults 1000 won; Children: 500 won
Address: 55, Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Subway: Jonggak Station (Subway Line 1), Exit 2; Anguk Station (Subway Line 3), Exit 6; Gwanghwamun Station (Subway Line 5), Exit 2.
Once night approached, we allowed ourselves to get lost on the crowded streets in the Myeong-Dong area.
Countless stalls with street food will draw you and will make it hard for you to choose only one thing to try. Myriads of small shops with thousands of cosmetics will make it so hard to choose from.
Many don’t know, but Korea is number one when it comes to skincare products, and trust me when I say it was very tough to choose from so many options, only to find out everything is super good.
Here, you can never go wrong and the offers on display are really great. Therefore, don’t leave Seoul without a stroll in Myeong-Dong or without a visit to the Namdaemun Market – the largest market in Korea.
And since you’re here, stop by and take a picture with the Sungnyemun Gate, which is right next to the market.
Day 3 – Gangnam, and see Seoul from above
Gangnam and the Starfield Library
On the last of our 3 days in Seoul, we got to travel by bus to one famous area of Korea’s Capital: Gangnam.
Crossing the river, the landscape was more urban, and plenty of tall buildings met me once I reached my final destination: the Starfield Library.
One of the most Instagrammable places in Seoul, the library is actually located in a shopping mall, and when I got there was packed with teenagers. Everyone comes and hangs around here, either for the pictures, or simply because it is a cool place in town I guess.
Since it’s inside and you can just sit around and read a book, this makes for one of the greatest places to visit in Seoul during winter.
Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple
Only one stop away from the Starfield Library, Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple is a lovely place where I spent some time exploring the 13 smaller temples each with its history and particularities.
The temple holds a long history (over 1200 years), having been built in 794, the temple is home to 3,479 Buddhist scriptures of 13 types.
Perched on a hill, in between greens, the temple offers temple stays during which you can learn more about Buddhism, sample tea, and learn more about the temple itself.
They also have a tea house in one of the smaller temples, open since 2018, where I took a break while savoring a cup of delicious tea.
Ihwa Mural Village
Take the bus from Gangnam and head to the top of the hill, where you will not only see a different side of Seoul but also some picture-perfect places.
Ihwa Mural Village is a residential area filled with beautiful murals, which attract many tourists and locals as well, for the beautiful pictures they can take here. The area was revitalized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2006 and some murals were refreshed during my visit in the winter of 2019.
In addition, since the village is on a hill I managed to see a lovely sunset over Seoul and a small part of the Seoul wall. Thus, be prepared to climb some stairs, but it will all be worth it.
Namsan Seoul Tower and Hello Kitty Island
Head over to the other side and climb the other hill to get to NSeoul Tower.
You won’t have the time to see much of Namsan Park, but you can add it to your Seoul itinerary when you have more than 3 days in Seoul, and maybe not to the list of places to visit in Seoul during winter. I bet the Botanical Gardens and the park itself look much nicer on a Spring day.
Head to the NSeoul Tower standing at 236.7 meters high and it offers a complete 360 degrees view over Seoul from above.
Buy your combo ticket for NSeoul Tower and save more!
You can also choose to have dinner with an impressive view at the rotating restaurant on the 7th floor.
Other places to visit in Seoul during the winter when you have more time
Of course, 3 days in Seoul are not enough if you want to experience everything to the fullest, but that’s what we had and we made the best out of it.
However, when you have more time to spend, even if you are visiting during the winter, make sure to add the below to your list:
- Changgyeonggung Palace and the Secret Gardens
- Namsan Park
- Statice museum – beautiful light shows
- Take a day trip to Nami Island and Petite France just outside of Seoul
- Samsung D’Light – a global exhibition showcasing the latest Samsung products
- Lotte World Adventure – a theme park with lots of thrilling rides, an ice rink, and so much more
- Experience a real Korean SPA – Jumjulbang – Koreans have a true passion and culture for hot steam baths and SPAs
What to eat in Seoul
When it comes to food in Seoul, I must admit I was not a huge fan, but that’s just me – plenty of people like traditional Korean food a lot.
However, if you are vegan or vegetarian, you might have issues in finding plenty of food options, that’s because Korean cuisine is mostly meat-based.
But here are some traditional Korean dishes you will want to at least try during your 3 days in Seoul trip:
- Kimchi – coming from a country where pickled cabbage is a huge thing, I thought I would love this. Korea’s most popular fermented food, basically eaten with anything and everything was a bit hard to digest for my stomach. And it’s spicy – I wasn’t expecting that.
- Bibimbap – the most famous Korean dish, steamed rice mixed with a variety of ingredients and red pepper paste. Yes, it is hot.
- Bulgogi – Grilled beef marinated in soy sauce.
- Fried chicken – or Korean Fried Chicken, another famous way of cooking it. The ones I had were spicy, and I must admit I loved the one I had in Hong Kong better. But that’s just a matter of taste.
- Budae – jjigae – some type of hot pot we initially thought was a plate of meat and vegetables. They pour hot water over the meat, vegetables, kimchi, and boil it all together. It was really spicy and you can add additional stuff to it.
Must buy items when you visit Seoul
When it comes to buying souvenirs I’m always a fan of the useful type of things. That’s why I prefer bringing back things that I will use afterward, or I can offer as a gift and come in handy.
- Cosmetics – Korea has a huge variety of cosmetics, and their products are the best in the world. Tries and tested! You can never go wrong with their face masks, creams, and everything in between. And it is totally worth it to buy as much as you can bring back home because they are both at great prices and very good.
- Hanbok and crafts – if you’ve had your Hanbok rental experience, then you’ve fallen for those beautiful traditional Korean clothes. Why not take some back home?
- Traditional Korean liquor – Soju and makgeolli are two of the most popular Korean drinks which can make for great souvenirs.
The ultimate list of the most beautiful cafes and where to drink the best coffee in Seoul
Have more time? Spend 4 days in Seoul with this easy-to-follow itinerary!
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