Getting There & Away
By Plane -- Seoul is served by two airports, but the majority of international passengers arrive at Incheon International Airport (tel. 032/1577-2600; www.airport.or.kr). It was built in 2001, 52km (32 miles) west of Seoul on Yeongjong Island, which is part of the city of Incheon. The third-largest passenger terminal in the world, Incheon Airport was ranked second in Skytrax World Airport Awards 2006 "Best Airport Worldwide" survey by passengers, just behind Hong Kong International. Arrivals are on the first floor, where you will find global ATMs, foreign currency exchanges (daily 6am-10pm), the Incheon Tourist Information Center (tel. 032/743-0011; daily 7am-10pm), the Korea Tourism Organization Information Center (KTO; tel. 1330; 7am-10pm), and the Hotel Information Center (tel. 032/743-2570; 9am-10pm), a private company that offers some discounts to midrange and high-end hotels. The second floor has a few domestic flights to and from Jeju-do and Busan, as well as an Internet cafe lounge (tel. 032/743-7427). There are a handful of free computers on the bottom level, with a 30-minute maximum usage if there is a wait.
Special airport buses run every 10 to 30 minutes, starting daily around 5:30am until 10pm. A trip to downtown Seoul takes about 90 minutes (longer during high-traffic times). Limousine buses cost around W8,000, while KAL deluxe limousine buses cost W12,000 and stop at 20 of the major hotels in Seoul. Regular taxis charge around W38,000 to go downtown, while deluxe taxis (they're black) charge around W63,000. Taxi fares can be considerably more during high-traffic times. After midnight, regular taxi fares increase by 20% (deluxe taxi fares stay the same).
There is no direct rail service from Incheon Airport to Seoul. However, the relatively new Airport Railroad (AREX) connects Incheon to Gimpo Airport, where you can transfer to Seoul's subway. It takes about 30 minutes to get to Gimpo from the Incheon airport, running at 15-minute intervals.
The older Gimpo International Airport (tel. 02/660-2114; www.airport.co.kr) handles all domestic flights except for a few to and from Haneda (Tokyo) and Osaka, Japan, and a flight to and from Shanghai from a separate international terminal. It is located south of the Han River in western Seoul. Arrivals are on the first floor, where you'll find a Tourist Information Booth (tel. 02/3707-9465; daily 9am-9pm). Tip: This booth offers free Internet access. The second floor is for check-ins, and the third floor is for departures. You'll find all the restaurants, duty-free shops, banks, lost luggage, and a medical center on the fourth floor. There's a pharmacy on the third floor.
The easiest way to get downtown from Gimpo is via subway -- take line 5 (W1,100 to City Hall Station). Taxis to city hall (18km/11 miles) are considerably more expensive, around W18,000 for regular taxis and W30,000 for deluxe taxis. Limousine buses run anywhere from W2,500 to W6,000, depending on your destination.
By Train -- Seoul is the center of an extensive rail system operated by the Korean National Railroad (tel. 02/1544-7788; www.korail.go.kr). Tickets can be purchased up to a month in advance at many travel agents and up to an hour before departure at train stations. You should book ahead, especially if you plan on traveling during holidays, such as the Lunar New Year (usually early Feb) or Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving (usually sometime in Sept).
The KTX (Korea Train Express; http://ktx.korail.go.kr/eng) bullet train is also an option. There are two lines with stops in major cities. The Gyeongbu line goes to Busan (Seoul to Busan tickets are W44,800) in under 3 hours via Daejeon and the Honam line, which travels through west Daejeon, and ends at Gwangju (W33,300 from Seoul) or Mokpo (W37,200 from Seoul). The second phase, linking Daegu and Gyeongju to Busan, will have limited service beginning in June 2010, and is expected to be operating fully by November 2010. You can purchase tickets up to 2 months in advance or as close to an hour before departure. Tickets are available online, at most travel agents in Seoul, or at ticket counters and automatic ticket machines at the station.
Foreigners can buy a voucher for a KR Pass in their home country and exchange these vouchers in Seoul for passes for unlimited travel on the railways. The passes are not available for purchase in South Korea. The KR Passes are good for travel during consecutive days in increments of 3 ($76/£38), 5 ($115/£58), 7 ($145/£73), and 10 ($166/£83) days. A Saver Pass can be purchased for two to five people traveling together at a 10% discount. Those 24 and under can get a Youth Pass for 20% less. Check the Korean Railroad website (www.korail.go.kr) for more info or contact STA Travel (tel. 800/777-0112 or 02/733-9494 in Seoul; www.statravelgroup.com). STA Pass vouchers can be exchanged for train tickets at Kises Tour, located in the YMCA Building, Suite 505, Jongno 2-ga. Take subway line 1 to Jonggak Station, exit 3 (Mon-Fri 9am-6pm; Sat 9am-3pm).
Seoul Station (tel. 02/3149-2509) is the most central of the country's train stations. Most railroad routes start here, except for the Jung-ang and Gyeongchun lines. From here, you can catch a train to Busan and Gyeongju on the Gyeongbu line. Seoul Station can be accessed via subway lines 1 or 2 (exits 2 or 13).
Yongsan Station (tel. 02/3780-5408) is a popular station for catching the KTX train to other cities. Trains along the Honam line depart from here. To get here, take subway line 1 to Yongsan Station or line 4 to Sinyongsan Station (exit 4).
Cheongnyangni Station (tel. 02/3149-2509) has trains that take you to Gyeongju and other places in Gyeongsangbuk-do and cities in Gangwon-do. Popular destinations from here include Gangneung (on the eastern coast) and Andong, a town well-known for its traditional village. Take subway line 1 to Cheongnyangni Station (exit 4).
For trains that run along the Gyeongchun line (a scenic route that travels with the Han River), get tickets at Seongbuk Station (tel. 02/917-7445). This station is popular, especially for weekenders wanting to get away to Chuncheon, Cheongpyeong, Gapyeong, or Gangchon. Take subway line 1 to Seongbuk Station (exit 1).
By Bus -- You can take a bus from Seoul to and from any region and any city in South Korea. Express buses to every major bus station in the country originate from either the Seoul Express Bus Terminal or the Central City Terminal next door. To get to smaller towns, you can change buses or take a direct bus from one of Seoul's smaller bus stations.
Express buses to the Gyeongnam area (Gyubu line), Chungcheong area (Guma line), and Gangwon-do (Yeongdong line) start from the Seoul Express Bus Terminal, 19-4 Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu (tel. 02/535-4151). Buses on the Honam line that go to Jeolla-do to the south and the Namhaeseon (southern coastal line) start from the Central City Terminal, 19-4 Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu (tel. 02/6282-0114), which is located right next to the Seoul Express Bus Terminal. Both bus terminals can be accessed by subway. Take line 3 or 7 (line 3 is easier) to the Express Bus Terminal Station and take the underground passage that leads to the bus terminals.
Buses from the DongSeoul Bus Terminal, 546-1 Gui-dong, Gwangjin-gu (tel. 02/446-8000), go primarily north and east from Seoul. You can catch a bus to Andong, Gangneung, Sokcho, and Wonju from here. Also, buses from this terminal take the scenic (but longer) route to Seoraksan National Park. You can get to the DongSeoul Bus Terminal by taking subway line 2 to Gangbyeon Station (exit 4).
The Nambu Bus Terminal, 1446-1 Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu (tel. 02/521-8550), services mostly the southern region. Popular destinations from this station include Osan, Pyongtaek, and Songnisan National Park. You can get to the Nambu Bus Terminal by taking subway line 3 to the Nambu Bus Terminal Station (exit 5).
Buses from the Sangbong Bus Terminal, 83-1 Sangbong-dong, Jungnang-gu (tel. 02/435-2122), go generally east and north. You can get to Chuncheon and Sokcho from this station. You can get to the Sangbong Bus Terminal by taking subway line 7 to the Sangbong Station (exit 2). Walk straight for about 5 minutes and the bus terminal will be on your right, across the street from the E-Mart.
Visitor Information -- The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), B1, KTO Building (T2 Tower), 40, Cheongyecheonno, Jung-gu, Seoul 100-180 (tel. 02/7299-497, ext. 499; http://english.tour2korea.com; daily 9am-8pm), publishes a variety of free brochures and maps, and provides transportation reservations and other traveler's assistance. You can also call tel. 1330, the 24-hour Korea Travel Phone, for assistance in English. Dial Seoul's area code (02) for info about the city from elsewhere in the country.
The KTO has several tourist information locations throughout Seoul. There are two at Incheon Airport, between gates 12-13 and gates 1-2 on the arrival floor (tel. 032/743-2600, ext. 3; daily 7am-10pm), which are the easiest places to pick up free maps and other information about the city in English. The headquarters office also offers free Internet access and a travel agency desk (Mon-Fri 9am-6pm). There are other locations at Seoul City Hall, 2nd Floor, Main Hall, Taepyeong-no 1(il)-ga (daily 9am-9pm); Dongdaemun, near the construction site of the future Dongdaemun design plaza (daily 9am-5pm); Myeongdong, in front of the Metro Midopa building, Namdaemun-no 2(ee)-ga (daily 9am-5pm); Insadong, Gwanhun-dong, 155-20, Jongno-gu (daily 10am-10pm); and Itaewon, on the basement level of Itaewon subway station (line 6), Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu (daily 9am-9pm).
City Layout -- Your first impression of Seoul may be that it is a sprawling city of hundreds of high-rise apartments and modern buildings with the occasional historic building randomly thrown in. Once you get to know the city, you'll see that it's a patchwork of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own flavor and character. The primary landmark is the Han-gahng (Han River), which runs east to west through the city.
Small streets in Seoul rarely have names or signs indicating what they're called, but larger streets have signs in both Korean and English. Buildings are not always numbered, and when they are, the numbers may not make logical sense (since they were numbered by when they were built, not by physical order). Addresses don't give street names either, so it's nearly impossible to find a location by address alone. The easiest way to find a place is to start from a subway station or a major landmark and make your way from there. Luckily, the subway system is widespread and efficient, and announcements and signs are in English and Korean. Of course, residents are usually willing to help with directions, even if they don't speak English.