By Subway -- Seoul is covered by an extensive and modern subway system, the Seoul Metro (www.smrt.co.kr or www.subwayworld.co.kr). The system is fast, clean, safe, and cheap, and runs frequently. But the best things about the Metro are that it can take you anywhere and everywhere you'll want to go in Seoul, and the maps and recordings are in English.
There are two important things to remember about the subway. The first is to avoid rush hours (weekdays from about 8-9am and 6-7pm) if you can help it. The second is that the trains stop running around midnight (which is also when taxi fares go up about 20%-50%), so it's best to plan your late-night travel in advance. Trains start running again at 5:30am.
Although you can buy single fares, it is much more convenient (and cheaper) to buy a pass -- it will save you the hassle and time of having to wait in line to buy your ticket. The minimum fare is W1,000 or W900 with a T-money card or Seoul City Pass+), which allows you to ride up to 12km (7 1/2 miles). Note: Remember to hold onto your ticket or card, as you'll need it to exit the station, as well.
You can buy or recharge a T-money card (www.t-money.co.kr) at subway stations, at kiosks near bus stops, and at convenient stores displaying the T-money logo. The prepaid card has a base fee of W3,000 and, once purchased, can be loaded in amounts ranging from W1,000 to W50,000 from an automated travel card recharge machine, located at every subway station. It can be used on both buses and subways. Just touch the card to the sensor both when you enter and when you exit a station or bus. When you leave the city, any unused amount on the card, up to W20,000, can be refunded at any subway ticket office.
If you're in Seoul for a brief time, the Seoul City Pass (www.seoulcitypass.com) may be a better option for you. You can board any bus or subway 20 times within a 24-hour period (ending at midnight), including unlimited on/off privileges on the Seoul City Tour Bus (the double-decker tour buses run by the city). The pass does not include the red buses bound for Incheon or Gyeonggi-do. One-day passes cost W15,000, 2-day W25,000, and 3-day W35,000. Just touch your card to the sensor when you get on or off the bus, or enter or leave the subway. Note: The Seoul City Tour Bus does not operate on Mondays.
Your best option is the Seoul City Pass+ (www.seoulcitypass.com), which functions like a T-money card for tourists, so can be used on both buses and subways. It can be purchased at automatic travel card machines in subway stations, GS25 convenient stores, and select tourist info centers. With a base fee of W3,000, you can add value to the card in any amount from W1,000 to W90,000 at an automated travel card recharge machine, located at every subway station, or from 24-hour convenience stores (for example, GS25, Family Mart, Buy the Way, or MiniStop). You can use the card for purchases at these same convenience stores, where you also can get a refund for any unused amount, at the end of your visit. The card can also be used at Kyobo Bookstore, Lotte World, Daemyung Resort, select vending machines, self-serve lockers, KTL public phones, and a few taxis (the ones that have the card reader). It also provides discounts to some theaters, museums, and restaurants.
Subway system maps are available on all trains and above each station's ticket window, but I recommend carrying a small map with you (there's one on the back of this book). Neighborhood maps inside the stations can help you decide which of the many exits to take. The stations are generally clean and have restrooms (some may be the old "squat" style, but look for a stall with a toilet, since there usually is at least one in each bathroom). Tip: Public restrooms are sometimes lacking in toilet paper, so always carry a pack of tissues with you.
By Taxi -- You can flag down a taxi almost anywhere in Seoul. There are two types of taxis, and both are generally clean and safe. All taxis are metered with fares determined by distance and time. If you don't see a meter in the taxi, you probably want to take a different one. On the way to Incheon Airport, passengers have to pay the road toll on top of the meter charge. Sharing a cab with strangers is supposedly illegal, but people do it often during rush hour and after midnight, when subways and buses stop running. Tipping is not necessary, but most passengers round up and let the driver keep the change.
Regular (Ilban) Taxis are usually silver, blue, or white and have a light-up "taxi" sign on top. The base fare is usually around W1,900 and goes up every 2km (1 1/4 miles), going up W100 every 144m (1/10 mile) or 41 seconds. Most drivers usually don't speak English, so it's best to have your destination written down in English (since most Koreans learn written English in school), or, even better, in Korean. Fares for regular taxis increase 20% from midnight to 4am.
Deluxe (Mobeum) Taxis, which are black, cost almost twice as much as the regular taxis, but can be convenient for many reasons. The drivers are trained to serve foreigners and can speak basic English. Especially useful for business travelers, deluxe taxis have free phone service, take credit cards, and will offer a receipt.
By Bus -- Unlike the streamlined subway system, Seoul's buses (tel. 02/414-5005; www.bus.go.kr) can be complicated and confusing for visitors. The good news, though, is that with over 400 bus routes in the city, the buses can take you pretty much anywhere you want to go. A few buses have major destinations written in English on the outside and have audio announcing each major stop in Korean (an occasional English announcement will be made at subway stations or major tourist destinations). However, smaller stops won't have English-language announcements, the maps aren't in English, and the majority of bus drivers do not speak English.
There are three types of buses and they run on the same schedule as the subways, daily from 5:30am to around midnight (a few routes go as late as 2am). Bus passes can be purchased at newsstands near bus stops in increments of W5,000, W10,000, or W20,000. You can also use your T-money card or Seoul City Pass. Just touch your card to the screen when you enter (at the front door) and don't forget to touch your card when you exit the bus (through the back door).
Express buses, although slightly more expensive, are usually faster and more comfortable than regular buses, since seats are available. There are fewer stops and they provide air-conditioning (a bonus in the summer). The fare is W1,100 and can be paid with tokens, cash, bus passes, or the T-money card.
Ilban (regular) buses (blue) have more stops, but are cheaper than express buses. The fare is W1,000 (cheaper for students and children) and can be paid with a token, cash, a bus pass, or a T-money card. Route maps are in English on a few bus stops but not on the buses themselves.
Maeul ("village") buses (green) shuttle people within short distances in a neighborhood. The green buses cost W1,000 and travel only within a district. They usually take exact change only, tokens, bus passes, and T-money cards.
Tip: Whichever bus you take, you can get a free transfer if you take a different bus (or transfer from bus to subway) within 30 minutes from when you get off. Just remember to touch your card to the screen before exiting the bus to get the discount.
By Car -- Driving around Seoul can be a hair-raising experience and is not recommended. However, you can rent a car starting at around W70,000 per day, cheaper for multiple days. You have to be at least 21 years old and have an International Driving Permit (IDP), which you can get in your home country before you leave. In the U.S. there are only two authorized organizations that provide IDPs -- the American Automobile Association (www.aaa.com) and American Automotive Touring Alliance (tel. 800/622-7070). The best place to rent a car is at Incheon Airport. Check prices at South Korea's largest car-rental company, Kumho-Hertz (www.kumhorent.com), or Avis (www.avis.co.kr). Be sure to be aware of surrounding traffic and be sure not to drive in the blue lanes (usually on the left), which are reserved for buses only, 24 hours a day. Watch your speed limit on expressways, since there are hidden cameras waiting to catch you and administer stiff fines.
A safer option is to rent both a car and a driver, which costs about W75,000 for 3 hours and W142,000 for 10 hours. Your hotel concierge should be able to help you. Some high-end hotels also have their own limousine services.
On Foot -- Seoul is virtually impossible to explore by walking alone; however, certain neighborhoods are best enjoyed on foot and some degree of walking will be necessary to explore the city. Be careful when crossing streets, since Seoul drivers are not trained to stop for pedestrians and don't always stop at red lights. Use pedestrian walkways and underpasses where available. Traffic turning right at lights does not give way to pedestrians, nor does any other traffic unless forced to do so by large groups of people bunching up to cross the road.
Seoul City Tour Bus -- This double-decker tour bus, run by the city of Seoul, is an economical and efficient way to see the city's major tourist destinations. The main downtown tour starts in front of the Donghwa DFS in Gwanghwamun, but you can jump on at any of the 28 stops. The buses leave daily, every 30 minutes from 9am to 7pm with a full tour taking 2 hours. Tour guides speak English, Japanese, and can get by in a few other languages. They also provide headsets with information available in five languages. Just look for the red, white, and blue Seoul City Tour Bus signs in front of any of the 28 locales. A 1-day pass costs W10,000 for adults, W8,000 for children, and you can purchase tickets at the Gwanghwamun counter or on the bus itself.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.