Just before my first trip to South Korea’s capital I knew nothing about getting around Seoul. I was lucky to meet up with a friend who had visited several times before and got some really useful tips.
However, I still struggled at the beginning to understand the complex public transportation system. Let’s not forget Seoul is a major city with close to 10 million inhabitants, where you can easily get lost.
Even after we moved to Seoul I managed to get lost once or twice.
That being said, with the right information and guidance, you won’t have to worry about a thing. I’m not only talking about knowing your facts about the public transportation, but also about what apps to use and how to use them in order to make your life easier.
And that is precisely what I will cover in this post. So that you won’t have to worry about a thing during your Seoul vacation.
This post contains affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Read more about it on our disclosure page here.
Getting around Seoul: everything you must know
How to get to Seoul from Incheon Airport
That’s the first thing you will want to know when planning your vacation, right?
Have no worries, you will find all your answers and options in this comprehensive guide.
If you don’t have the time or patience to go through the whole guide, here are your options in a nutshell:
Airport Railroad Express (AREX)
Offers you the fastest and most convenient way of traveling from the airport to the city center.
Depending on your final destination, choose between the fast train and the all-stop train.
How much does it cost to go by train?
The fast train: 9000 KRW for adults, 7000 KRW for children, and 7500 per person if you are traveling in a group of 3 or more people;
The all-stop train:
From Terminal 2 to Seoul Station: KRW 4,750 / child : KRW 2,200
From Terminal 1 to Seoul Station: KRW 4,150 / child : KRW 1,900
From Gimpo International Airport to Seoul Station: KRW 1,450 / child: KRW 550
There are 2 airport bus types: the Airport Limousine Bus (more luxurious, going only to Seoul Station), and the normal bus (linking the airport to other regions within the city).
Inside the Arrival Hall, there are designated desks, where you can ask for a taxi, and airport staff will help you. You can choose the size of the car, how you prefer to pay, and also tell English-speaking people where is your final destination.
You must pay at the airport and a driver will come and pick you up from the desk and guide you to the car.
From our experience, we paid around 70.000 won to DMC, and 80.000 won to Myeongdong.
Another option would be to book a private transfer by international taxi directly online before your trip. The advantage is that you will have all the information you need before you go: booking, place of pick-up, car details etc. Moreover, you will pay online so you won’t have to worry about that as well.
Read also: Choose the best place to stay in Seoul
By Private Transfer
You might think that this option is more expensive than getting to the city by taxi, but you would be wrong. Prices are similar, and you can also choose a shared airport transfer for much less.
Shared means that up to 9 persons can fit inside the car, so don’t worry about traveling in a crowded vehicle.
Cars have air conditioning and plenty of space for luggage.
Getting around Seoul: basic facts
You will need a T-Money card – a rechargeable card you will be able to use on all means of public transportation (subway, buses, trains), but also at different convenience stores.
You can buy the card online before your arrival together with a SIM card to use during your stay and from any subway station or convenience store such as 7Eleven, GS25, EMart24, CU.
The cost of the card itself is 4000 KRW (3.6 USD) and you can top up at any of the above-mentioned stores – just know that you will be able to pay by card for the card itself, but you will need cash to top up.
Once you have charged it with money, you will have to validate it once you get on and off the bus or subway.
Seoul City Pass is another option for when you won’t be traveling outside of the capital city. It offers free unlimited transportation for 24, 48, or 72-hour, along with free entry to 40+ attractions and discounts to over 60 attractions.
Local Transportation Options
The Seoul Metropolitan Subway runs inside the city and also links the capital to Incheon and other destinations within Gyeonggi-do and Chuncheongnam-do.
Simply put, you can go for different day trips from Seoul by subway/train.
The standard fare in Seoul starts from 1350 won and an additional fare is added depending on the total distance of the travel.
You can calculate your estimated cost by using the official Subway Seoul website. There you will find the map of the whole subway system and by clicking on the station you want to depart from and on your final destination, you will get a time estimate, itinerary, and price.
Let’s say you want to leave Seoul Station and get to Gangnam Station. Below you will see the itinerary, where you must change lines, duration, and price.
As you can see, the price of the ticket depends on whether you have a T-Money card or you choose to buy a Single Journey Card from the machines inside the subway station.
You will find vending machines in every subway station and they are easy to use. Payment is accepted in cash or by credit/debit card.
Once you arrive at your destinations, do not forget to insert the used card inside the “used card machine” and you will receive 500won back.
If you have a T-Money card, don’t forget to validate it every time you go in and out of the subway.
While the subway might be the fastest means of transportation, it depends a lot on the distance and number of changes. Often times subway stations require a relatively long walk to get to the line or to change the line.
The metro system operates from 5:30 AM to midnight.
Inside each carriage, there is a designated area for elderly people. Each line of chairs has a pink one at the end, which is for pregnant women.
Also, certain carriages have a more intense air conditioning system, so you might want to look after the sign on the window.
Getting around by bus
The bus was our favorite means of transportation in Seoul. While there are plenty of lines that will get you anywhere, the best part about buses is that in certain areas they have their own designated lane. That means that no matter how heavy the traffic, buses will always be faster.
Also, there are different types of buses depending on their itinerary and prices:
- 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
- Night Buses – marked with N, these buses run throughout Seoul from midnight until 5 AM – basic fare 2250 won
Normally, within the city center, you will find blue and green buses and you can take whichever comes first.
Getting on the bus is done only from the front door and you can get off by using the middle or back doors. Don’t forget to validate your card once you get on the bus, and before you get off.
Chairs in the front part of the bus are usually for elderly and/or pregnant women.
At each bus stop, you will find a map of all the bus itineraries, but also an electronic sign that shows in real time which bus will come next.
You can also check your itinerary and bus options directly on Naver.
Another option is this site where you can see all the bus stops around your location, together with buses and timetables.
Of course, as you can see, most information is displayed in Korean, but it isn’t so difficult to understand.
There are different types of taxis you can choose from. Don’t be fooled by the different colors of the cars, they might all have the same rate no matter if they are orange or grey.
Standard, deluxe, jumbo taxies, and specific ones for foreigners in Seoul (international) are your options.
The black taxis are specific for foreigners with drivers speaking English/Chinese/Japanese. You can check it out at International taxies.
Many taxi drivers don’t speak English so it might be helpful to use a taxi app (such as Kakao Taxi) or have your destination written in Korean. We speak from experience when we tell you it will be challenging to get a driver to find an address written in English.
You can pay by card inside the car, and you are not expected to leave any tip.
Seoul has a great biking system with many marked lanes you can use, especially along the Han River, but not only limited to that.
BikeSeoul is an easy-to-use online app you can use to rent a bike. The map will show you the closest bike “parking” and will offer you the possibility to buy an hourly or daily ticket.
Buy the ticket online, scan the bike’s QR code, pick it up and leave it at any bike stop close to your destination.
Normal bicycles are white with green and have a small basket you can use to carry your stuff.
One hour costs roughly 1000 won.
If you don’t want to burn as many calories and have longer distances to bike, you can choose to rent an electric bike.
Elecle are electric bikes and you can tell them apart by their red color. You will find them anywhere on the street, there aren’t designated stops where you must leave them, and you can book a ticket online on their app or website.
The system is the same where you need to scan a QR code, but unfortunately, the information is provided in Korean alone.
In almost any tourist destination there’s the option to take a hop-on-hop-off bus. The best part about taking this bus is that you have an audio guide that will help you learn some interesting facts about the places you get to see.
Additionally, the itinerary usually links some of the most important attractions in town and you have the flexibility to get on and off whenever you want to.
You have the freedom to explore each destination for as long as you like, with buses running every 20-30 minutes.
Driving in Seoul – renting a car
As you might imagine, driving around the city can prove to be challenging with crazy traffic and very few parking spaces.
However, if you would rather drive, we have put together a comprehensive guide with everything you need to know about driving in Seoul and South Korea.
Discover Seoul Pass is a great option to look into when you have 1, 2, or 3 days in Seoul.
The card can be used as a T-Money card and you can top-up money to use for public transportation.
On top of that, you get free access to a selection of 42 tourist attractions and discounted tickets for a selection of other 35 tourist attractions.