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What to do in Seoul for a Layover or Daytrip

First off, the city of Seoul, South Korea deserves a dedicated piece of your time and undivided attention. An incredibly vibrant, modern, safe, and friendly city filled with delicious eats, cutting edge design, and fascinating history, this is a city that is, without question, worthy of an extended stay.

But with Seoul’s Incheon Airport being consistently ranked one of the best airports in the world and its offering hundreds of transcontinental flights every day, international travelers are pretty likely to enjoy a layover in Seoul while underway to and from Asia.

That’s right – we said “enjoy” and “layover” in the same sentence.

Layovers at Incheon Airport

But we don’t mean that a layover in Seoul is something to be enjoyed just because Incheon Airport is super clean and packed with amenities (including a golf course, ice skating rink, and casino). Though these features certainly make Incheon International a great place to wait if one must.

layover in seoul

What a terrible place to wait in between flights. Source.

Incheon goes a step above and beyond to make short stays truly awesome. South Korea’s busiest airport provides free guided trips into the city for laidover guests – trips that are specifically designed to fit into your flight schedule and allow you to see the capital city for 1-5 hours. The Incheon airport transit tours feature English-speaking guided excursions to some of Seoul’s most treasured heritage sites. These transit tours pick you up from the terminal, take your group to select areas of Seoul, and bring you right back in time to catch your connecting flight. All for free!

Pretty neat, huh?

incheon airport transit tour layover in seoul

A variety of tours are available daily. Pick one that fits with your flight schedule and enjoy a bit of sight-seeing during your layover in Seoul. Source.


South Korean Travel: Business or Pleasure?

But layovers aren’t the only reason you may find yourself in this bustling metropolis of 12 million for a quick trip. Over the past decade South Korea has invested a lot of capital into building out their infrastructure to host prestigious international events and meetings – with a diverse events calendar ranging from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang to the International Conference on Oceanography and Marine Biology. Ranked the world’s second best host city for international events in 2015, high numbers of experts, professionals, athletes, and event tourists are traveling to South Korea like never before.

24 hours in seoul

The COEX Convention and Exhibition Center in Seoul. Source.

What to do in Seoul

If you’re headed to Seoul or another South Korean city for a meeting, conference, or sporting event, the last thing you want is to have come all this way just to miss out on the many neat sights and things to do in Seoul. If you can break away from the events for a day, here is our expert travel guide on how to make the most of 24 hours in the South Korean capital.

1. Visit at least one ancient temple or palace.

Korea’s most recent Joseon dynasty lasted from the 14th century until the 20th, a 600 hundred year rule whose remnants are still visible in modern Seoul. The most famous sites of the Joseon dynasty are known as the Five Grand Palaces, all of which are open to the public.

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Locations of the 5 Grand Palaces of Seoul. Source.

While you certainly won’t be able to see all five in just one rotation of the Earth, make sure you get to see at least one. Not are the age and beauty of these palaces incredibly humbling, but exploring their grounds and museums will give you a great glimpse into Korean history, its many occupations by Japan, and its cultural traditions.

Gyeongbokgung, the Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven, is by far the most popular of the five palaces. The grounds contain beautiful gardens, the National Folk Musuem, guards in traditional garb, and a traditional changing of the guards ceremony held every hour on the hour between 10am and 3pm.

What to do in Seoul.

Time your visit so you can catch the Changing of the Guards Ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace. Source.

Gyeongbokgung gets the most attention, but the other 4 Grand Palaces are absolutely worth seeing as well, each with its own unique features and characteristics. Changdeokgung, for example, features a secret garden that is a gorgeous, quiet retreat from the city.

If temples are more your speed, the Bongeunsa Temple in the Gangnam district is not to be missed. Founded in the 8th century, this Buddhist temple is home to a giant Buddha statue, hundreds of colorful lanterns, serene gardens, and a place to leave prayers.

what to do in seoul

Bongeunsa by night; enjoy the contrast of old and new with the skyscrapers in the background. Source.

2. Go somewhere with a great view of Seoul.

Seoul is more populous than New York City. By some accounts, it is the second largest metropolitan area in the world, after Tokyo, Japan. In order to take in the sheer size of this sprawling city, we suggest you go somewhere with a view.

Bukchon Hanok village is one place where you can get a great bird’s eye view of the city, all the while seeing one of the most scenic and oldtimey quarters of Seoul. Home to hundreds of traditonal Korean houses, these winding streets scale a hillside that gives pedestrians a striking view of the skyscrapers of downtown Seoul. In this historic neighborhood you’ll find plenty of restaurants, tea houses, and cultural sites.

What to do in Seoul

These houses date back to the Joseon dynasty. Source.

But for the view that beats them all, head to the top of Seoul Tower. Located on Namsam mountain right in the middle of downtown Seoul, the tower is visible from all parts of the city. A broadcasting tower for most of the major networks in South Korea, visitors can take a cable car up the mountain before entering the tower and riding an elevator to its observation decks. For a 360 view of the entire cityscape, Seoul Tower is absolutely worth a trip.

what to do in seoul

The view from Seoul Tower. Source.

3. Eat, eat, and eat some more!

Korean food has something for everyone, and Seoul offers some of the most amazing street food on the planet.

Carnivore? Korean BBQ offers incredible world-class cuts of beef, an interactive format, mouthwatering sauces, and an amazing selection of side dishes.

What to do in seoul

Grill your own meat at the table in Korean BBQ joints. Source.

Vegetarian? The national dish of Korea, Kim-Chi, can be found everywhere. Preparing this spicy fermented cabbage is treated like an art-form. Fermented vegetables of all sorts are a staple in Korean cuisine, and you can have a blast sampling them all.

What to do in Seoul

Plentiful veggies to pick from in Korean cooking. Source.

Into seafood? So are Koreans. With plenty of coastline on the Korean peninsula, fresh seafood is abundant in Seoul. Try a kim-chi pancake with squid and fish fried to crackling perfection inside.

what to do in seoul

Kim Chi pancake stuffed with octopus, squid, fish, and green onions. Source.

And who could say no to Bibimbap? Like fried rice on crack, Bibimbap comes topped with a mountain of goodness: meats, vegetables, a fried egg, seaweed. Often served in a hot stone, the bottom layer of rice is crispy from the heat.

what to do in seoul

Bibimbap is as colorful as it is delicious. Source.

4. Enjoy incredible South Korean shopping.

24 hours in Seoul is definitely enough time to check out some of the incredible shopping that the city has to offer. Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, there are a ton of interesting curios to be seen when you take some time to browse the numerous outdoor markets, edgy clothing boutiques, and antique stores.

The Dongdaemun district is the place to go if you’re looking for unique, edgy Korean clothing. Filled with brands you won’t find outside of Korea, you’re sure to find original pieces. And if you’re in the area late at night, stop by the Dongdaemun night market that’s only open from 9pm to 5am.

Seoul Street Fashion giving New York and Paris a run for their money. Source.

Korean beauty products are also sweeping the western world. If you want to load up on snail masks, fragrances, and cosmetics, head to the Lotte department store in the Jung-gu district. Cosmetics are duty-free!

what to do in seoul

The Lotte Department store attracts more than 6 million foreign visitors each year. Source.

5. Check out the Seoul nightlife.

Seoul may just be the hottest city in the world right now for nightlife. Serious and hard-working by day, South Koreans seriously enjoy their nights and weekends. In fact, South Koreans consume more hard alcohol per capita than any other nation in the world. Visitors who are looking to party will not be disappointed in Seoul.

First brought to international fame by Psy, the Gangnam district of Seoul is the place to go for a wild night of clubbing on par with Las Vegas, Berlin, and Barcelona. Multi-level dancefloors? Check. Huge name DJs from all over the world? Check. Music blasts until sunrise? Check. Plenty of streetfood that’s open 24/7 to nosh on after a night of drinking and dancing? Check.

Plus, Koreans love to dance.

If bars and clubs aren’t your thing, Seoul is famous for its cat cafes. For the price of a cup of coffee, you get a few leisurely hours of feline company.

what to do in seoul

Whether you want to dance until sunrise or just spend a few hours cuddling with cats, Seoul has you covered. Source.

Headed to Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Games? Our complete travel packages give you the option of an extra night in Seoul. Download our brochure and start planning the trip of a lifetime!

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