{Seoul/Busan} our itinerary + top 5 Seoul highlights and food recs

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our 2022 Korea trip itinerary & recs: Seoul | Busan

As my 3-month sabbatical drew to a close, I made a last ditch effort to spend more quality time with friends & family before going back to full-time work. I decided to do 2 back-to-back trips in Korea over 3 weeks – the first half with my mum, and the second half with one of my med school besties.

The timing of our trip was pretty fortunate, with relatively affordable plane tickets @ $740 (heard it’s spiked to nearly $2k…) and the South Korean government axing pre-departure testing a few days before we flew (we only had to take 1 PCR on arrival, but now that’s been scrapped too).

A number of my Insta friends are headed to Korea in the upcoming months and asked for our itinerary, so let’s dive right into my favourite experiences & food recommendations for both Seoul & Busan (in part 2)!

pre-trip planning

Ever since returning from my loosely-planned month-long solo trip, I’ve embraced a more spontaneous style of travel. We relied on Google Maps to pick the best dining spots and plan all our commutes on the day itself.

Truth be told, my friend and I spent a grand total of ~3 hours on pre-trip prep, creating a bare bones itinerary, full of blank spaces to add in more activities or get more rest as needed.

To maximise our trip duration and earn ourselves an extra day, we took a 1am red-eye flight out of SG, and left Seoul on an early evening flight.

Seoul Itinerary (9-15 Sep, 22-28 Sep)
DayItinerary
Day 1 (Fri)SG ✈️ ICN
🚅 AREX from airport
🏨Check in @ Savoy Hotel
🛍️ Shinsegae Department Store
🍽️ Yeji Sikdang @ Myeongdong (home-style Korean food)
Day 2 (Sat)
🎉 Chuseok
🏛️ Namsangol Hanok Village
🛍️ Starfield COEX Mall
🍨 Baskin Robbins
🌳 Jamsil Hangang Park
🍽️ Yoogane @ Myeongdong (Korean galbi & fried rice)
Day 3 (Sun)🏛️ National Museum of Korea
🍽️ Braai Republic @ Itaewon (South African)
🛍️ Itaewon
Day 4 (Mon)🏛️ Dongdaemun City Wall Park
🍽️ Jeon Ju Jip/전주집 (the best Korean grilled fish ever)
🛍️ Hyundai City Outlets, Dongdaemun shopping
🏛️ Dongdaemun Design Plaza
🍽️ Odarijip @ Myeongdong (Korean marinated crab)
Day 5 (Tue)🍽️ Myeongdong Grandmother Noodles
🥾 Yeouido Hangang Park
🛍️ Hongdae
🥾 Namdaemun Market
🍽️ 란주칼면/RanJu Kal Myeon (Tangsukyuk, jjampong/jjajangmyeon)
🛍️ Myeongdong
Day 6 (Wed)🏛️ Seodaemun Prison History Hall
🛍️ Lotte Department Store
🍽️ Wangbijib Myeongdong (Korean BBQ)
🛍️ Pyounghwa Market
🍽️ a random food tent (Korean street food)
Day 7 (Thu)🍽️ Yeji Sikdang @ Myeongdong
🚅 KTX to Busan
~Seoul Pt. 2
Day 1 (Thu)🚅 KTX from Busan
🍽️ 대한삼계탕/Daehan Samgyetang (Korean)
🥾 Myeongdong
🥾 Namdaemun Market
🥟 Gamekol Son Wangmandu @ Namdaemun Market (Korean dumplings)
Day 2 (Fri)
✨Gapyeong Day Trip✨
🚴🏻 Rail biking @ Gangchon Rail Park
🍽️ 김유정역닭갈비/Gimyujeong station Dakgalbi (Korean)
🌳 Nami Island
🥞 Nami Island Sonata Cafe (desserts, hotteok)
🚕 Cab/bus to Petite France
🥾 Petite France
Day 3 (Sat)👘 Hanbok rental @ Hanboknam Gyeongbokgung
🏛️ Gyeongbokgung Palace
🥾 Bukchon Hanok Village
🍽️ 장원식당/Jangwon Sikdang (Korean)
🥾 Insadong
🛍️ Ssamzigil
🥾 Cheonggyecheon Stream
🥾 Itaewon
🍽️ Street food @ Myeongdong
🍺 2022 Myeong-dong Space Beer Festival
Day 4 (Sun)🌳 Bukhansan National Park
🍽️ Wondang Gamja-tang Pork Back-bone Stew (Korean)
Day 5 (Mon)📚 Starfield Library @ COEX
🛍️ Common Ground
🍢 아찌떡볶이 (Korean street food)
🛍️ Hongdae + plenty of self-photobooths
🍽️ Noonaholdak Hongdae – Oven Baked Chicken and Beer (Korean-style chicken)
🎤 Su Noraebang @ Hongdae
Day 6 (Tue)🌳 Namsan & N Seoul Tower
🍽️ Wangbijib Myeongdong (Korean BBQ)
🎤 케이팝코인노래방/K-pop Coin Noraebang @ Myeongdong
🌳 Banpo Hangang Park
🌅🍽️ Convenience store ramen + sunsets
🥾 Banpo Bridge + Moonlight Rainbow Fountain
Day 7 (Wed)🏛️🌳 Changdeokgung Palace + Secret Garden Tour
🥾 Bukchon Hanok Village
🍰 Cafe Layered Bukchon
🍽️ Myeongdong Grandmother Noodles
SG ✈️ ICN
getting around Korea + maximising tourist discounts

Getting around Seoul & Busan is a breeze with their reliable, affordable and convenient public transport system, with frequent trains/buses and plenty of English signage. I only had to take the taxi on one day during my entire 3-week trip to get around Gapyeong (Seoul’s neighbouring province).

We used the Korea Tour Card, a 2-in-1 card which serves as both a stored value transport card (T-money card) and a discount card at some attractions. It can be bought online and collected at the airport, or be purchased from certain metro stations for just ₩4000.

The full list of discounts/perks can be found on their official website. No prior reservations were required, and all we had to do was flash our card at each destination! Here’s a few of the Korea Tour Card offers that we used:

  • Hanbok rental at Hanboknam – 40% off the total bill, bringing our 2.5h rental and premium hairstyling to just ₩21 000 each (saved ₩14 000 each)
  • Petite France – We paid a discounted ₩10 000 each for the park entrance tickets, saving ₩2 000
  • Various duty free stores and malls also offered additional discounts or free beverages for cardholders
  • Everland & Lotte World – Although we didn’t go to the theme parks, the card would have scored us a 20-30% discount on park tickets! Some aquariums and observation decks in Seoul/Busan also offered similar deals

My friend and I had initially planned to get a 72h Discover Seoul Pass, which allows tourists to visit an unlimited number of attractions within the pass duration, but after calculating the value of the attractions we wanted to visit, the price difference was minimal.

Our overall verdict? We much preferred the Korea Tour Card, since it allowed us to enjoy exploring Seoul at our own pace (instead of trying to cram as many attractions as possible in 3 days).

Our accommodations

I stayed in Myeongdong for both parts of my trip, since it’s centrally-located and has plenty of food/street food & shopping options at all times of the day. Here’s a quick comparison between both of the hotels I stayed at:

Savoy Hotel Myeongdong (SGD$580 for 6 nights, no breakfast) was conveniently located along one of the busier Myeongdong shopping streets and had larger rooms, but the bathroom was not on level ground with the rest of the room (there was a ~30cm step to get up), which was slightly nonsensical.

Hotel Skypark Central Myeongdong (SGD$683 for 6 nights, breakfast included) was located across from a street lined with good/affordable restaurants. The room wasn’t the largest, but its facilities were newer and were even given a cute princess-themed room! We opted for the daily breakfast buffet at ~$5/person – the spread was the same everyday, and it was neither excellent nor terrible.

Overall, I’d recommend Hotel Skypark (minus the breakfast buffet); they have 4 hotels scattered throughout Myeongdong, and all 4 are in pretty great locations, so you could pick the cheapest of the lot. We didn’t bother looking at Airbnbs, since Seoul hotel prices were cheaper on the whole.

Unique experiences, places and food recommendations in Seoul

Apologies for all the rambling, but hopefully some of the planning tips above were of some use?? Alas, here’s my top 5 must-visit places and affordable dining spots in Seoul that’ll make for a memorable trip!

#1: Hanbok rental + Gyeongbokgung Palace + Insadong

  • Getting there: Gyeongbokgung Station (train or bus)
    • Hanboknam has multiple branches, but we went to the one located a stone’s throw away from Gyeongbokgung Palace
  • Price: ₩21 000 for a 2.5h hanbok rental + premium hairstyling (after a 40% Korea Tour Card discount)

You might roll your eyes and think it’s just a gimmick for Instagram-lovers, but roaming around Gyeongbokgung Palace in a hanbok was easily one of the most unique parts of my trip.

The rental experience itself was also fun – we reached right when the store opened at 9am, so we were spoiled for choice when picking out matching skirts and tops (the customers who reached later were stuck with fewer options). Getting our hair braided and styled intricately added to the immersion too!

Travel tip: Entry into any of Seoul’s palaces is free if you’re wearing a hanbok, as well as on the last Wednesday of each month (for everyone)

After returning our hanboks, we explored Bukchon Hanok village – FYI, there’s only 1 street where everyone takes /that/ generic Instagram pic, so it was quite crowded when we went! That neighbourhood has plenty of aesthetic cafes, including the famous Knotted Cafe and Cafe Layered (we visited the latter).

Insadong was also nearby, and we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon of darting into various small stores selling handcrafted goods in the unique open-air shopping mall Ssamziegil.

#2: Hongdae

  • Getting there: Hongik University Station

Hongdae is the perfect spot to spend the afternoon and evening at, and is a hot spot for teens and twenty-somethings. Start off your afternoon exploring the clothing/accessory shops and self-photobooths, then stop for a casual dinner at one of their countless restaurants, cafes or BBQ joints, and round off the night with a karaoke session at the famous Su Noraebang!

#3: Gapyeong day trip to Gangchon Rail Park & Nami Island

While these places aren’t quite in Seoul, they made for a nice albeit hectic day trip out of the city. We managed to hit up the rail bike, explore Nami Island, and venture out to Petite France within the day, but it was a bit of a rush.

  • Getting to Gangchon Rail Park: 🚅 Yongsan to Gapyeong (~1h by ITX train), metro from Gapyeong to Gimyujeong Station
  • Getting to Nami Island
    • Metro to Gapyeong Station
    • Walk/bus to Gapyeong Wharf for the ferry (or zipline, if you’re feeling adventurous)
    • The 5-minute ferry ride to Nami Island runs every 15 minutes from 9am-6pm, and every 30 minutes from 8-9am/6-9pm
  • Costs
    • Rail bike: ₩35 000 for a 2-seater bike
    • Entry to Nami Island (incl. ferry): ₩13 000
    • Entry to Petite France: ₩10 000 (after a ₩2 000 Korea Tour Card discount)

We chose the Gangchon rail bike park instead of the Gapyeong one, since it was more convenient to get to (directly outside the Gimyujeong metro station) and had rail bikes that ran more frequently (hourly vs every 1.5h at Gapyeong). It was an extremely fun and scenic ride, with multiple themed tunnels and plenty of countryside views to soak up.

Nami Island was lovely and calming to stroll around, and there were plenty of people cycling down the long stretches of tree-lined roads on tandem bikes too! With plenty of cafes and dining options, you could easily spend a few hours chilling on the island. There’s even a resort hotel if you want to stay the night!

We had to take a cab ride to and from Petite France due to its less accessible location, and it wasn’t even worth the detour (in our opinion). Petite France looked and felt like a parody of France, and there wasn’t actually much to see apart from random displays of dolls, plates and figurines of The Little Prince…

#4: Han River + Banpo Hangang Park

  • Getting there: a 15-minute walk from either Sinbanpo or Express Bus Terminal metro stations

There’s 12 different parks along Han River, and I visited 3 of those during my trip (Jamsil, Yeouido & Banpo). Banpo, which we visited on the last night of our trip, was my favourite of them all. We watched the sunset while eating ramen and enjoyed an evening stroll across the double-decker Banpo Bridge, reaching the other end of the bridge in time for the 7.30pm rainbow fountain show.

#5: Bukhansan National Park

  • Getting there: Bus 34/704/8772 from Gupabal metro station to Bukhansanseong bus stop

Bukhansan is a massive national park located just 30 minutes away from the heart of Seoul, with plenty of hiking tracks of varying difficulties, leading to various mountain peaks (with the highest peak being Baegundae Peak at 836m).

Baegundae peak was pretty crowded, and there was a queue to take photos at the top… (pic by my friend, because my shoes were too slippery to make it up)

Be sure to wear proper shoes and pack plenty of food & drinks before setting off, because this is a full-on national park with no toilets/vending machines/food, and we ended up spending ~7h in there, exploring some intermediate trails (tiring but so fun).

#6/honourable mention: Namsan Tower

As with every city’s observation tower, N Seoul Tower was a generic touristy experience that personally didn’t feel that worthwhile, but I’m just leaving this info here in case you’re interested in going!

  • Getting there: walk ~15 minutes from Myeongdong or Hoehyeon station to take the Oreumi elevator up to the cable car station
  • Price:
    • ₩14 000 for return cable car tickets
    • N Seoul Tower Observatory Ticket, SGD$12.25/person on Klook (vs ₩16 000 at full price)
      • If you don’t have a Klook account yet and want $5 off your first purchase, be sure to sign up via my referral link. 🙂
Food recommendations in Seoul
  1. Odarijip @ Myeongdong – this casual restaurant serves an affordable Korean marinated crab set, with large crabs, kimchi stew, steamed egg and plenty of side dishes
  2. 대한삼계탕/Daehan Samgyetang @ Myeongdong – we were plied with endless side dishes, ginseng shots, and one large bowl of glutinous rice chicken soup each…it was the most satisfying food coma ever
  3. Wangbijib Myeongdong 2nd Store (not the main store, which has lower ratings) – this BBQ restaurant chain is often crowded with office workers during lunchtime, and rightfully so! I dined there twice because the quality of their meat is amazing for the price
  4. Braai Republic @ Itaewon – a well-themed steakhouse serving African cuisine, juicy game meat and authentic side dishes
  5. Yeji Sikdang @ Myeongdong – you’ll be greeted by a friendly grandpa at this hole-in-the-wall store (it’s in an alley) and served hearty portions of mains & sides alike, making the perfect home-cooked meal away from home

Overall, dining out in Seoul was extremely affordable (~₩8000-₩15 000 for most meals) and enjoyable. You won’t go wrong popping into any restaurant/hole-in-the-wall that looks crowded with locals, and the rule of thumb is: the less fancy it looks, the better the food will probably be!

I’ll be sharing our Busan itinerary and recommendations in the next post, so stay tuned! And be sure to follow my Insta or like my Facebook page to stay up to date with my latest adventures, day-to-day doctoring and life updates! Until next time~

xoxo,
Faith

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