Little did I know as I made my way on the streets of Seoul during my trip here at the end of 2019, that I would be coming back. And coming back for good and to stay. Back then I only had 3 days in Seoul, but now we’ve moved here and I can explore freely and as much as I want.
But that’s me, not you. You are here it means you only have one day in Seoul and you want to make the best out of it. You want to see the best destinations and have access to a great itinerary that will make it easy for you to travel around town without wasting any time.
Am I right?
Of course, I am.
And you’ve come to the right place! Because I know that Seoul can be challenging and getting around could be a bit confusing, I am here to help out as much as I can. Starting from the presumption that you don’t know much about the city – just my situation back in 2019.
So let’s start from the beginning and I’ll also provide 2 options of a one-day Seoul itinerary you can choose from, depending on what you like and what you feel like doing.
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Seeing Seoul in one day – everything you need to know
Getting around Seoul
Getting around Seoul, it’s effortless because the city has a huge public transportation system. Moving here from Hong Kong took some adjusting to the distances, however, if you come from a big city, you won’t have any problem with the distances.
If you want to travel from one side of the river to the other, you must factor in more than 30 minutes for each ride. However, I will try to keep both options for the itinerary short and in the same area, so that you won’t have to spend much time in traffic or riding public transportation.
But here are a few things you must know about traveling around Seoul:
- You will need a T-Money card – this is basically a rechargeable card you will be able to use on all public transportation means (subway, buses), but also at different convenience stores. You can buy the card 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. If you choose to order it online beforehand, you could save some money.
- Be careful when validating your card at the subway – you will need to validate both when you enter and when you get off no matter the type of public transportation you opt for.
- Taxies are very affordable – you can hail one off the street or use a taxi app such as Kakao taxi.
- Choose the blue bus to get around, because on some portions they have a special lane where only they travel.
Useful tools and apps to help you in Seoul
I’ll be blunt: life can be difficult if you don’t speak Korean, but not impossible.
You will see that there aren’t many apps that you normally use that will come in handy while in Seoul or Korea. That’s because they have a lot of local apps you will want to download before planning your trip.
Here are just a few I would highly recommend:
- Naver Maps – the local version of Google Maps that actually works. The problem with it it’s that sometimes you won’t find certain destinations when you type the name in English. However, if you persevere you’ll manage. Another thing worth knowing it’s that the app might drain your battery so you might want to bring an external charger.
- Papago – the local Google translate specially created for the Korean language. Trust me when I say you will find yourself reaching for this app very often.
- Kakao Maps – another option for Naver Maps.
- Subway – the map for the subway system that will show you timetables and connections.
My 2 options for Seoul in the one-day itinerary
As you will see, Seoul is a big city and you won’t get to see everything it has to offer in a day, 2, or even 3. You will need to plan a longer vacation to live it to the fullest, but I’ll do my best to include as many top attractions in this list.
The first option is for history and culture lovers, while the 2nd option is created for those who love nature, living like a local, and trying all the best food.
Option 1: Explore central Seoul and its historic area
This is actually the second-day itinerary from my 3 days in Seoul itinerary. Once you’ll look over it you’ll understand why – it is easy to follow and it will take you through some of the most important landmarks of Seoul.
Deoksugung – Gyeongbokgung Palace – Bukchon Hanok Village – Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon – Jogyesa temple – Myeong-dong
Across the street from Seoul City Hall, here is where I stopped to see the changing of the guard for the first time in Seoul.
One of the five royal palaces remaining in Seoul, the smallest of them all, I would recommend only passing it by and admiring its impressive gate – the Daehanmun Gate, rebuilt in 1906.
You won’t have a lot of time, so it would be recommended to visit only one of the palaces today.
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
One of the most popular palaces in Seoul, a destination that attracts many tourists daily, is located with the mountains as a background, at the end of the Cheonggyecheon Stream.
Make your way towards the famous southern gate Gwanghwamun, where you will be able to take some amazing pictures or get to see the most impressive guard change in Seoul.
This was the first and largest palace of the Joseon Dynasty, one you shouldn’t miss on your visit to Seoul. If you choose to visit one palace, let it be this one – especially during Spring when the cherries are in bloom creating the perfect setting for pictures in Seoul.
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
Basically, the area between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace is the go-to for traditional Korean houses and plenty of cafes.
Heaven for picture lovers and also for those who like walking on pretty streets, discovering amazing locations, and are charmed by the authentic history of a place.
Here is where members of the royal family and aristocrats lived in over 900 hanok houses during the Joseon period.
We were lucky to find this pretty little Tea museum with an amazing observatory over the Bukchon Hanok Village on our first visit here.
Admission Fee: Free
Address: 37, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Subway: Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 1 or 2.
Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage, the Changdeokgung Palace is another charming destination you should at least pass by. If you’ve entered one of the other palaces, you most likely won’t have time to explore this palace as well. Put it on the list for your next visit.
For many years, it was the principal palace for many kings of the Joseon dynasty, where you can stroll through the garden and get to see one of the best-preserved palaces 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.
The center of Korean Buddhism is where you can experience a temple stay where you can enjoy tea tasting, making lotus lanterns, and so much more.
As part of many tourist guides, 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.
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.
The “it” destination for shopping and street food lovers. Countless shops with cosmetics are lined up along the streets and you will see salespeople trying to lure you inside their stores and convince you that their brand is the best.
Since Korean cosmetics are some of the best in the world, it will be hard to make the wrong choice. All the products I bought on my first trip were really good and I got hooked on the K-beauty craze. From Etude House, Innisfree, Holika Holika, and many more, you’ll find it all here!
Come after sundown and all the lights will be on, making it the perfect setting for some pretty cool pictures or videos.
Some of the shops even have cafes or restaurants in them to enjoy a drink or a bite once you are done with shopping.
On top of that, this is the street to come to for a taste of delicious Korean street food! Walk around and choose something from all the street food stalls lined up on the other side of k-beauty stores.
Option 2: for nature lovers and those who love local places
(N Seoul) Namsan Tower – Sungnyemun Gate – Namdaemun Market – Dongdaemun Market – Seoul City Wall Trail – Naksan Park
N Seoul Tower
Start your day with a walk through Namsan Park and enjoy nature in the heart of the city. The park is home to some of the most popular attractions in Seoul such as the Namsan Botanical Garden, the National Theatre of Korea, and the Namsan Seoul Tower.
Climb the NSeoul Tower and get to see the city from above. Make your way here, especially during spring, summer or fall-winter might not be so perfect for a walk in the park.
If you prefer to come in the evening, you can also choose to have dinner with an impressive view at the rotating restaurant on the 7th floor.
Also called Namdaemun Gate, it served as the main entrance to the city from the Southern part. Pass it by on your way to the next attraction and stop for a few pictures with National Treasure No. 1 of Korea.
Even if you don’t shop for anything from this market, walking through the many colorful stalls is still impressive.
It is the largest market in Korea and one I had to walk through as I made my way towards the train station one early morning. While most people were still sleeping, the owners of the stalls in Namdaemun Market were starting to arrange their displays and get ready for a new prosperous day.
Stop here to shop for souvenirs to bring back home for your loved ones, of memories for yourself.
Hop on the bus and go to the Dongdaemun Market. Famous for all the shopping lovers, come here prepared to shop till you drop but also eat your heart out at the local street-food Gwangjang Market. Korean food is famous worldwide for a good reason!
Seoul City Wall Trail and the Naksan Park
Take a walk around the Seoul City Wall and admire the city from another point of view.
No matter which one of the 2 options you will choose, make sure to end your day with a relaxing visit to one of the local jimjilbang – a sauna SPA where you can experience various hot and humid sauna rooms, heated rooms, but where you can also scrub-off the dead skin from your body with the help of a professional.
Other travel experiences worth taking into consideration for your one-day in Seoul experience
You can pick and choose from the following popular experiences if you would like to replace any of the ones I’ve recommended in my itinerary options. The good part? They are already organized so you won’t have to worry about where to go and what to see, and they can be canceled in advance if something comes up:
- Forget about organizing the itinerary, and book directly your Seoul 1 day city highlights tour – hotel pick-up and drop-off included, and perfect sightseeing of the Korean capital.
- Go on a Han River tour during the day and see both banks in only a few hours or wait till the night falls and see the city light up from the Han River – check it out here!
- Include a morning 3-hour tour and get to see the main points of attraction around the palace area, or go on a 4-hour Seoul UNESCO & Traditional Markets Tour
Other useful links and tips
If there’s one thing we learned in recent times, is that we don’t want to make travel plans without insurance. My go-to travel insurance is Aardy.com – by using them, you will get the best possible prices on travel insurance because they compare prices from over 30 providers, and give you the best.
When you only have so little time to spend in the Korean capital, you will want to stay relatively close to all the main attractions in town.
We stayed at Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Namdaemun – with a view to Namsan 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.
What’s the best time to visit Seoul?
Seoul is such a vibrant town and no matter when you choose to visit it, you won’t be disappointed. That being said, I would encourage you to skip the winter months because it can get pretty cold and it won’t be so nice exploring the city.
If you can choose when to visit Seoul, I would encourage you to come during spring or even fall – when you will get to see some stupendous foliage.
Go on a day trip to DMZ and see North Korea
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