I visited Seoul, South Korea for the first time a couple weeks ago and had so much fun! As a non-Korean, first-time visitor to Seoul, I learned some tips while traveling that may make your journey easier if you’re planning a trip there.
Tip #1: SIM card
Get a prepaid SIM card at KT Mobile in the airport (around $20 for 5 days) so you can have internet on your phone.
Tip #2: Naver Map
Neither Google or Apple Maps works well in Seoul. We got lost a few times before finally downloading the Naver Map app lol.
Tip #3: Metro Deposit Refund
If you purchase a one-time subway ticket, the machine charges you a deposit. You can return the ticket to get that deposit back when you’re done with the ride, so don’t throw away your ticket! The deposit refund machines are right by the exit turnstiles.
Tip #4: International Taxi
Prebook an international taxi at the airport — the drivers speak English and the ride is a flat rate (around $50).
Where to Eat
Well… the question is really where not to eat. I feel like you can mostly eat anywhere and the food will be homey and delicious. We researched a few restaurants to visit but also just popped into spots that looked good, and they didn’t disappoint.
Of course, Korean BBQ is a must! My favorite is pork belly (samgyeopsal) and Husband’s favorites are marinated beef (bulgogi) and beef short ribs (kalbi). Get a side of stew, like fermented soybean paste soup (doenjang-jjigae). Wash it all down with Hite/Cass and soju.
– Heuk Don Ga (in Gangnam) serves black pig pork belly from Jeju Island.
– Baekjeong BBQ (in Myeong-dong) is a famous, celebrity-endorsed kalbi restaurant. Get there early as the line is long! Also, wear clothes you can easily launder as they will get smokey.
Soups and Stews
I love soups: clam chowder, tomato bisque, french onion… Korean soups/stews are among some of my favorites, especially the classic kimchi stew (kimchi-jjigae).
– Sim Seun Tang (in Hongdae) has army stew (budae-jjigae), which brings me back to college days. One of my best friends is Korean and her mom used to make us a huge pot and we’d eat it for a week straight haha. It’s basically a stew of veggies, tofu, ramen noodles, cheese, egg, spam, and whatever the heck else! Total comfort food. I think we loved this even more because it was like 28-degrees F when we were in Seoul so the hot stew warmed us up from the inside out.
– Sinseon Seolnongtang (in Myeong-dong) serves seolnongtang, which is a broth made from simmering oxtail bone for hours. Lightly flavored yet satiating for breakfast/lunch.
– I forgot the Korean name of this dumpling (mandu) restaurant but it was in Gyeongbokgung. A Korean grandma was making steamed dumplings served fresh when you order! I love that there’s still access to traditional, rustic cooking. Plus, the huge bowl of seafood soup with dumplings was only $6!
Myeong-dong Night Market
We stayed in Myeong-dong, so we had easy access to the Night Market, which was poppin’! I recommend getting the seafood pancake (pajeon), fried sugar-stuffed pancake (hotteok), freshly made mochi wrapped around red bean paste and a strawberry, and more. Have fun and try a little bit of everything!
– Sulbing (in Myeong-dong) is a shaved ice (patbingsu) chain around Seoul and it’s a must-visit! It shouldn’t even really be called “shaved” ice… it tastes like a perfect powder day at Whistler lol.
– Sobok Cafe (in Gangnam) serves artisan rice ice cream and I don’t even miss milk! I got the matcha one and it’s topped with mochi, pumpkin seeds, and candied persimmon.
– EP3 Black Essence (in Gyeongbokgung) is a coffee shop where I ordered a sweet cream cheese latte that was amazing! Yes, it coated my stomach in a thick layer of creamy fat but so worth it.
– Tulip Coffee (in Myeong-dong) is a cute 2-story cafe. We would get coffee there in the morning, sit and overlook the city, and prep for our day.
Where to Shop
This was my favorite shopping district in Gangnam. First, the Gentle Monster flagship store is there, which is a 5-story art gallery… oh that also sells the coolest sunglasses. In addition, so many boutiques have the most awesome conceptual layouts that make shopping in person less of a chore but actually exciting, unexpected, and fun.
There’s also another StyleNanda store (the flagship store is in Gangnam) there called the Pink Hotel that is like the Korean version of The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s 5-stories of cute quirkiness: “hotel doors” as entrances to changing rooms and a “swimming pool”-themed cafe on the top floor!
Dongdaemun Market is open 24 hours — yes, you read that right. This “Market” is so huge, it spans 26 shopping malls with 30,000 stalls. We had just finished dinner at 8pm when I got a text from my sister about this market, so we decided to take the subway there and shopped until midnight! I actually didn’t buy anything here, I think because I was just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff.
Also, I had earlier shopped at the sprawling Gangnam Station Underground Shopping Center and bought a few things. Tip #5: Bring Cash. Store owners often give you a deal if you pay in cash. You can also bargain, but I suck at doing that so I just pay it, though the prices are reasonable anyway.
There is also a large Myeongdong Underground Shopping Center. After a while though, all the clothes start repeating and looking the same, so I think if you go to one of these, you’ve pretty much covered most of the bases.
We also enjoyed sightseeing around Seoul, like visiting the Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Thank you for reading! Have you ever visited Seoul? What are some recommendations you would add? If not, please let me know if you have any more questions in the comments below!