I took a month long trip exploring Korea, with a majority of my time spent in Seoul. If you’re considering taking a trip there, buckle-up because I’m going to share what I learned — hopefully it makes your trip a bit easier. So let’s break the trip down into categories.
Here’s what I go over:
- What to do BEFORE you go to South Korea
- What to pack
- The airline & traveling to South Korea
- The Air B&B
- How to use public transportation
- General things to know
- Places worth going to (and a FREE travel itinerary)
- Shopping & Exploring in Seoul
- Food in Seoul, South Korea
- If You’re Willing to Explore More of South Korea
What To Do BEFORE you get to Korea
Aside from any sort of government traveling thing, like making sure you do your KETA (update: some countries no longer require this), there are a couple of other things I recommend that you do.
- Get a Korean SIM card. I got mine from Trazy and picked it up at the airport. I only did “data” since I have an iPhone and I only planned on doing iMessages, but in hind-sight I’d recommend being able to get sms from Korean numbers as you will find out why later in this post. You may also look into these as they may be cheaper: Klook, Airalo, & Chingu Mobile .
- Get a TMoney Card. The Korean subway is one of the easiest ways to get around, granted taxis aren’t too expensive, it can just be a challenge to hail one (I’ll explain later). I got my Tmoney card with my sim card. There is no money on it, but you can load it later. Alternatively you can simply buy one from a GS25, CU store, or Art box (those cards look a lot prettier lol)
- Download these apps: Google Translate or Papago (unless you read/speak Korean), Naver (Google maps will not give you walking directions, and can be unreliable. More on that later), Kakaomap (sometimes Naver is buggy as well),KakaoMetro, KakaoTaxi, Mangoplate (for finding restaurants), Bucacheck (so you can check the balance on your tmoney card), and Converter+ (optional for temperature and currency). And lastly, for Americans, there’s an app called CBP MPC which could help expedite your return. Just don’t submit the info until you’re at the airport, because the QR code expires.
- Get a credit card /debit that allows you to get cash with no ATM charges & no foreign transaction fees. You will need cash for some things (like the subway, sometimes Taxis, and restaurants), and pretty much everything else will take a credit card. Look into a debit card from Goldman Sachs or Charles Schwab as they currently have cards with $0 atm fees or reimbursement.
What to Pack For A Trip to Seoul South Korea in November
When it comes to packing, you obviously need to consider which sort of activities that you may do, as that could make your suitcase have different items than what I brought. For me, I was planning to walk around the city and maybe do a few light/moderate hikes.
My trip was planned for Nov. 9 – Dec. 9 and when I looked up the weather it said that it ranges from 30 – 59 degrees Fahrenheit in November. HOWEVER, it actually gets a bit colder than that. Towards the end of the month the day-time temps were 20 as the high, and into the teens at night. It was pretty freaking freezing IMO.
The good news is: if you’re coming with American money the conversion rate could be in your favor and most things here are pretty affordable. Meaning, you can buy stuff if need be.
Clothes & Items Packed (For a Month-Long Trip)
- 3 long-sleeved shirts (ended up buying a lot more! lol)
- 3 short sleeved shirts (I only wore one shirt once, so I’d probably recommend skipping these)
- 2 sweaters
- 2 pants
- 2 thermal leggings
- 1 Down jacket w/ rain-proof shell
- 1 Lightweight jacket
- 1 Pair of Hiking shoes
- 1 Pair of Sneakers
- An adapter (you don’t necessarily need a converter, just check your gadgets to make sure the range includes 220v) (You can also purchase an adapter there at a 7/11)
- Umbrella (It will pour when it rains; could also just buy one there)
As I kind of already mentioned, it was nice in the beginning of November, but turned icy towards the end. We did not see any snow, but it was cold. Like really really cold. If you can fit thermal tights under your pants, you may want to give that a try.
Also, in Seoul and Gangnam, the people dress pretty nicely. You will see a lot of long coats, and dress clothes. Mostly in beige, grey, and black. It’s rare that you see color. Everyone looks like they’ve done their hair and makeup. You will even see many women wearing skirts and dresses (even though it’s FREEZING). So just a heads-up that if you walk around in backpacking/snow gear, you may stick out a bit since everyone is dressed nicely. lol
Also, there were a lot of mosquitoes in certain areas, but I never got bit. So I’m not sure if you’d need bug repellent.
Traveling To & Arriving in Seoul
I flew from LAX with Air Premia. It was a nice flight. Their planes have A LOT of leg room, and they gave me two meals. The windows do not have shutters but there’s a cool button that tints the window to whichever degree you’d like (FYI I still felt a lot of heat through it, and it would randomly turn off, which was annoying because I was trying to sleep). It was also annoying that they made you put your chair up whenever they were serving a meal. So if you wanted to skip services and sleep with your chair back, forget it.
The seats have screens and there’s free Korean films to watch. The selection seemed a bit limited. However, overall it was a good airline IMO.
You have two airports to choose from when you are flying in. I think Gimpo is technically a bit closer to Seoul, but Incheon is the bigger airport. So I chose to fly into Incheon. Once you make it out of the airport you’ll want to navigate your way to the express train.
In general trains cost quite a bit less than Taxis (like ₩1,250 vs. ₩4,000 although the express train tickets do cost a little bit more than the regular subway). The express train was only about a 30-40min ride to our Air B&B.
It was a bit of a walk through and out of the airport. You should be able to purchase a ticket with your credit card at the machine (they are yellow). Once you’re in Seoul you can find an ATM at most convenience stores, or there’s money exchange places (there are quite a few on namdaemunsijang-gil by Hongbog) ; as the airport usually gives you the worst rates.
The Air B&B: Local Stitch
I have very mixed feelings about our ABB place. It’s like the PROs are pretty great, but the CONS are really not great. I suppose overall it’s not a bad place and I would recommend staying here if nothing else seems superior. The rate was pretty good on ABB at the time we went.
But here’s the breakdown of the place…
- Decently located in terms of getting on the subway and not being too far away from things
- Common workspace area (that never closes) & there’s a restroom
- There’s a desk in the room
- Shared kitchen with cold/hot water, fridge, cooking utensils, & dishes
- Staff is very nice
- Free washer/dryer (& soap)
- Free wifi
- Heated bathroom floors
- Good overall aesthetic
- Down pillows
- Bidet / Auto toilet
- Blow dryer
- Umbrella bags
- Guests were quiet on our floor
- Small fridge in room
- A safe (ours didn’t open though so we never used it)
- Printer at front desk
- Wifi is slow (only at 42mbps download)
- Bed is a bit firm and you can feel the springs. Not the greatest bed, but also not the worst.
- Not a true king (it’s two beds together and you can feel the line if you lay in the middle).
- You only get two pillows; so that’s one for each person. Unless you came alone. lol
- There’s only 4 shirt hangers & 2 pant hangers, and there’s no dresser/ clothing storage. So that’s not enough for two people.
- The lighting is pretty bad. It’s hard to see the closet area at night and the light above the bathroom mirror is small and overhead; basically impossible to do makeup there.
- The sink is incredibly low. If you’re really tall (6ft+), you’ll probably have to kneel or squat to use the sink.
- The hand towel bar is in the weirdest hard-to-use spot. Really needs to be put higher instead of right next to the sink, making it hard to use the towel without completely removing it from the bar.
- There’s only one towel hook which does not allow for 2 towels to dry ( I ended up using one of the pant hangers for my towel).
- If you come in winter there is NO AIR CONDITIONING; their solution is to open your window. Which was impossible while we were there because there was non-stop LOUD construction. Construction literally all night long, and if it wasn’t ALSO happening at night, then they started at 5am. Additionally, even with being on the 6th floor you could still smell cigarette smoke from the people smoking in the alley. Needless to say it was hard to keep the room cool, and seemed to stay 80+ degrees Fahrenheit, which is waaaay too hot for sleeping.
- The lights from the light switches are bright and will keep you awake if you need a dark room.
- Washer/dryer instructions are only in Korean – it was quite hard trying to figure out the dryer (even with a translate app) and how to turn on the heat so the clothes would take less than 3hrs to dry.
One other thing that my boyfriend didn’t like was that the toilet and shower are in the same small room. But that wasn’t that big of a deal to me. I’m just telling you about it in case you also care about that.
So, you can see that there were some pretty annoying issues here but if none of those cons matter to you then you might love it here.
How To Use Public Transportation: Getting Around Seoul Korea
Taking The Subway
The best way to get around is to walk, and/or take the subway and maybe the bus (we never took the bus). The bus may be the most affordable at ₩1,200 but the subway is a close second with each trip only costing about ₩1,250. The trains run until midnight. But you will need to have cash handy to put money on your Tmoney card at the subway station (purchase a card at a GS25 or CU). You will need to tap this card to enter and to exit (same is true for the bus).
The subway isn’t too complicated to figure out if you aren’t going far, but there are a lot of inconsistencies. For example, some trains have screens that tell you what the next stop is and others don’t. So, sometimes we would simply count the stops.
We never got too lost, but the Korean subway system is not one of relaxation. You have to be paying attention. And you need to know the cities in direction you want to go because sometimes your stop isn’t listed on the subway signs.
This is where you’ll want to use the Naver app so that you can have the proper information. Just pay attention, as it sometimes tries to sneak a “bus” connection in there. And best wishes as the apps seem to revert to Korean.
As I mentioned taxis start at ₩4,000 and they can come with their own set of challenges. One being, that the cab drivers don’t seem to speak English very well.
However, if you’re in Seoul, there’s good news: Uber Taxi works! As much as I personally hate Uber, I’m glad that this is an option since KakaoTaxi has a few catch22s & is kind of a nightmare IMO.
If you got a SIM that allows SMS then you may not have an issue. But Kakao app requires you to register and you need a number. A Korean number. Which is a problem for foreign people. And I don’t know what format they use for phone numbers because when I tried to sign up it kept saying my phone number was wrong, even though it was a Korean number. (You will begin to feel the language barrier & general inefficiencies when it comes to Korean apps.)
If you’re thinking, well, “I’ll just hail a cab”. Yea, maybe. And that’s a big maybe.
Taxis can become few and far between, depending on the area. And there’s sometimes an issue where they’ve all been called by the locals who can actually use the KakaoTaxi app.
But here’s the skinny on the situation: a RED light means that it’s AVAILABLE. A green light means that it’s been “called” (from that app), so it’s unavailable. And no light means unavailable. The “light” is in the front windshield on the passenger’s side.
So, if you see a red light you can try to wave your arm and flag it. Once you get a cab, make sure you have your address ready, and in Korean. Some drivers don’t know the “English-Korean” version (because it’s not actually written in Korean).
You can pay Taxis either with cash, credit card, or your Tmoney card. Depends on the cab.
General Things To Know
Before I get into cool places to go, food, and shopping, there’s some random things that I think are worth mentioning:
- Do you need to know Korean? No, for the most part people speak at least a little English. But if you do know Korean you’ll be way better off. I’d recommend learning a few basic phrases.
- Use Google maps to save places (like palaces, & parks; FYI walking directions are not allowed and train directions are in Korean). Here’s my Korea Sight Seeing list if you’d like to follow in my foot steps.
- When at a restaurant, many times you will have to call the waiter over to you once you are ready to order. A lot of tables will have buttons. When it comes time to pay, typically you go up to the front to pay. They do not bring a bill to you.
- When eating at a restaurant, if you’re not given utensils it’s because there is a secret drawer on the side with everything you need.
- Many restaurants have self-serve water stations. And many will also have phone charging stations. There’s usually a variety of plugs, and or cords.
- Mondays may be a time when restaurants just aren’t open. They also typically have a pretty long “closed for lunch” period. We discovered that it was best to eat BEFORE 2pm, and try to get dinner by 6pm at the latest because places also close early. (Yea, the food situation was actually really frustrating. More on that later.)
- If you’re in need of a public restroom, look for the subway. They pretty much all have public restrooms. And FYI they RARELY have hand dryers or towels. So heads up on that.
- You will not find public trash cans. Why? I have no idea. You’ll find older people with old brooms sweeping leaves off the side walks for hours, AS the trees are literally shedding leaves. But you will not find public trash cans. Sometimes there are some inside of the subways where the trains are, but that is not always the case. And 7/11s do have them, but if you’re not buying something, I think it’s frowned upon to just throw your trash away there. So, just keep that in mind when you’re making trash, because you’re going to have to hold onto it for quite awhile.
- If you ride an escalator, and you are going to stand on it, stand right. The left side is reserved for people who want to walk up the escalator.
- Do not push crosswalk buttons. They do not make lights go faster, instead they are for the visually impaired and a loud voice will start speaking in Korean.
- Many of the “automatic” doors have a push button right in the center of the doors, so you must push i to open the doors; and make sure you move out of the way because they will close on you (to see more visit my tiktok post)
- Most places give you free wifi. This was how I basically survived during my trip to Italy and Thailand, but this time I did have a data sim card and honestly recommend that you get one for Korea.
- If you’re a woman and you go to Korean clothing stores (not big department stores like Avenue L or Lotte), you can’t try on shirts or dresses. The reason is because they don’t want makeup on the clothes. So no one gets to try that stuff on. Additionally, most stores are a one-size-fits-all but is really like an American Small or XSmall.
Places Worth Going To in Seoul
I’m sure it goes without saying, that what and where you might enjoy is going to be dependent on your personal tastes/preferences. Additionally, what time you wake up and your overall pace can make a difference when it comes to how much you see/do. However, I created a basic itinerary with places you could see in specific areas — that way you’re maximizing your time by being able to go to things in that radius.
If you have more or less time you can adjust accordingly. 🙂
Korea has done a pretty nice job when it comes to preserving/restoring historical sites. Yes, you will have to pay to see them, but it’s usually pretty affordable (approx. ₩5,000-10,000 on average). There’s also quite a few museums to go to but we only ended up going to one in Seoul. Also, there’s plenty of city and some nice parks to visit.
There’s a lot to explore here (granted I do wish there were more signs telling you what things are) as the property is a decent size. If you really want to get into the Korean Traditional Spirit you can rent hanboks (you’ll see plenty of people walking around in them which I thought made for cooler pictures even though I didn’t personally rent one. Allegedly, you get in for free with a hanbok.) Also, pay attention to the time that you go because they do a pretty cool changing of the guard ceremony that you can watch for free in the court yard where you purchase tickets (I’m unsure of when that happens exactly, but one did happen at 2pm on a Monday). It was also nice seeing the gate at night, because they light it up in a cool way.
Changdeokgung Palace And The Secret Garden
If you’re into historical K-Dramas then you’ll probably recognize this place, as it’s a common film location. This palace was probably my personal favorite. It’s attached to something called the “Secret Garden” — and FYI you will have to purchase additional tickets to get inside there, even though you already purchased tickets to get inside the palace area.
I’m also not sure if you can buy the tickets to the garden at the main gate or if you can only do it at the Secret Garden gate. And it closes earlier than the palace area. Because of this, we never made it inside, but the pictures on Google look pretty breathtaking, so learn from our mistakes. Get there with ample time.
But even the city area around this palace was quite pleasant to walk and explore.
This is a Buddist temple that is quite intricate as a building, but the landscaping was very very interesting. You don’t have to pay to walk around the grounds (unless maybe you go inside the building). If you’re around the area then this is worth stopping to look at. It’s not very big, so it’s a quick stop.
Naksan Park and Seoul City Wall Trail
This ancient wall was an interesting thing to see. It’s a decent hike (a lot of elevation gain) and we did it at night in the pouring rain so you know, just trying to make things as difficult as possible. LOL Definitely go when it’s not raining. You probably get better views in the day, and maybe little local places would be open too. But I will say that the lights looked pretty cool at night.
This is a pretty cool walk and could be a long one depending on how long you choose to walk as it is a 6.8 mile stretch. There’s little stones where you can easily pass from one side to another. There’s some cool art in different places, and if you go at night the lights are really pretty.
Namsangol Hanok Village
This area is somewhat small, but it was still interesting nonetheless. AND it’s free. You could even do a hike up to Seoul Tower as it’s close by.
Seoul Forest & The Han River
Seoul Forest is a very large park. There is a kid’s playground, that includes a giant metal slide. I wanted to go down it, but even with us being there at night there were quite a few kiddos there. I was told that there’s also a wild life area, I believe that they have deer there, but since we were there at night we didn’t see anything.
If you walk all the way through the park you eventually come to a bridge. It was BEAUTIFUL at night. We kept walking on the bike path that took us up the Han River. It was a long walk but we eventually caught the subway.
We thought it would’ve been fun to rent bikes and ride around the Han River in the daytime. You’ll have to download an app (that may change back to Korean), but then you can rent one of the white & green bikes; here’s a blog that tells you what to do for the bikes. Hopefully, that helps.
Here’s two bike apps you might try: Ttareungyi+ & 따릉이
National Museum of Korea
The building itself was very interesting, and I guess you can walk around the property. The day we were there was FREEZING, so I didn’t want to be outside. There’s plenty of exhibits inside which were interesting to see. It’s free to get in which was also nice. But one thing that was kind of annoying was that there were very few lockers, so you had to walk around with all your outdoor clothes and it got pretty hot pretty quick. If you’re really into museums and history, then this might be a place worth checking out. Seemed like there was a whole floor that was donated by a specific individual, so it wasn’t just “Korean history” here FYI.
Shopping & Exploring in Seoul
Seoul is actually a pretty big place, and if you love shopping there is a lot of that. I mean, a lot. It almost seems pointless to list areas to go to, but these were some of the ones I liked the best. Also, at the time of me writing this most things were pretty affordable — honestly cheap. So it made buying things easy to do. LOL
This place was a lot more interesting to walk around. It had more of that “local” feel to it, which I liked. This area is also where the popular-must-see “container shopping area” is called Common Ground — it was OK in my opinion. Other blogs seem to really over-hype this tiny area. But there was one cool thrift shop there and a really delicious (but slightly overpriced) spicy chicken sandwich (more on that in the food section).
Piano Stairs At Euljiro 1-ga Station
Uh.. YEA! These piano stairs were so fun. You can totally play a song on them! We probably spent a good 20 mins just messing around here. So, maybe you don’t want to go out of your way to get here but if you’re in the area its was definitely fun. We were there at 8:46pm on a Saturday and it was pretty empty. We came upon them by complete chance as we were just passing through.
You will find skin care stores galore in this area! Beware of the ladies trying to hand you “free” samples of face masks — they hang onto those babies until you walk into the store and buy stuff. Also, sometimes if you’re their first customer you may be able to bargain with them. The thing is: everything is in bulk! You’re getting like 80 face masks for ₩10,000. Which is cheap. And I will say they do make for a fun gift.
There’s also a few inexpensive jewelry stores in this area, like Bling Box (it’s in other places as well FYI), that I liked. I got some pretty cute earrings. And of course, you’ll have no problem finding name brand stores all throughout the big cities (#IsSouthKoreaSponsoredByNorthFace). This area felt pretty big, and was an eclectic mix of modern buildings on one end and older ones on the other — so you can easily spend a couple days walking around and checking things out.
This area was nice to walk around and explore. We went to a bar/resturant called Seom and listened to our new friend, Forest, DJ. Food was pretty delicious there too. This area also has one of those container stores (it’s also 4 floors!), and it’s interesting to see from the outside. I did buy a scarf in that store since it was sooo cold outside.
This area was cute. There’s a nice tea shop on the main street if you’re into loose leaf teas. I can’t speak much to what other stores were there as I was just enjoying the outside scenery. And the trees were quite beautiful. There is a coffee shop that was probably the best tasting coffee I had in Korea (albeit the most expensive) and the shop itself was very nicely designed (I’ll tell you more about it in the food section of this post).
I wish I had taken more pictures in this area. It was super cute. All the buildings looked old and/or traditional. Even the New Balance store had beautiful wood architecture. This area is relatively small, could easily walk it in less than an hour if you don’t go inside any shop, but it was still fun to walk around. We came back to this area several times (plus, there’s the best bingsu there, I’ll tell you about it in a min).
Stores I Liked
Like I already mentioned, shopping in Korea is ENDLESS. There’s too much shopping IMO. But a few of the places that I liked in particular were:
- Mini Brand – I liked this place because the clothes are made in Korea, soft, and very affordable.
- Lucky Factory – Same as above.
- Clo – The store was cool, and the jewelry was pretty. Again, a very affordable place.
- Balbalvintage – They had great vintage for me personally, more streamlined styles available.
- Bling Box – Affordable jewelry, made for great gifts.
- GoTo Mall (aka Express Bus Terminal Underground Shopping) – I didn’t buy anything from here but the experience was wild and I quite enjoyed how massive this underground area was.
You likely won’t find good info online (an unfortunate issue with South Korea IMO), but if you’re able to go to the stores in person it’s better.
Food in Seoul, South Korea
This section brings a mixture of positive and negative feelings. Maybe a Pros & Cons list is in order. IDK. So here’s the overall view of my experience: I was a bit disappointed with the food experience. I admittedly didn’t have anything terrible, but there were very few dishes that were a-m-a-z-i-n-g.
I’m not sure if it’s because I just didn’t know where to go specifically, I don’t speak Korean, or maybe it was a combo of COVID killing off places and it being winter-time. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations. I don’t know.
The other MAJOR issue was the inconsistency with restaurant listings and hours – making finding food a challenge more often than not.
We basically learned that we had to find food between 10am-2pm, and then 5-6pm otherwise you might be sh*t out of luck. I don’t know if COVID changed this place, but a lot of places are closed early. There may be small areas where things are open but we never were able to seem to find them. Also, watch out for Mondays. We went to a food street, but it was completely closed due to it being a Monday.
Hunting for food was stressful & exhausting — hours were rarely listed on doors, and even if they were, many times the place didn’t honor those hours.
Google doesn’t “work” in Korea due to laws, so you can’t use navigation for walking (subway directions were in Korean, which I can’t read); and even just looking up places was a 50/50 chance that the info would be correct. Hours could be wrong, or the place could be completely closed down. Like non-existent. Navar was only slightly more reliable, but like I’ve mentioned several times now, the Korean apps don’t actually do everything in English. So, IDK.
Luckily, (if you can call it that) you can get food at 7/11, GS25, or Nice to CU. Obviously, nothing too amazing there but at least you won’t starve. lol I’m just honestly shocked how much of a food desert Korea could be, which is a big part of my disappointment.
Having said all that, there were a few places we found that were actually quite tasty. And coffee was always in abundance (maybe too abundant as almost every other place was a coffee place. lol) I have a list on Google of all the places I liked and wanted to eat at (but remember you can’t use it for directions), you can refer to if you’re interested in any of these places.
So here’s the good places we found, I’ll start with coffee & dessert…
Cerulean Insa 세루리안 인사
The coffee here was delicious. I have to give credit to my boyfriend for finding this little gem. The beans themselves were good and didn’t need any sugar or anything added. The place is super cute too. This was probably one of the “more expensive” coffees we had, compared to everywhere else — as it seemed closer to American coffee prices.
Daelim Changgo 대림창고
Again, this place was a bit more “pricey” and the coffee wasn’t necessarily better than local chains, but the place was really cool. So, if you love coffee, and you’re over in this area I think that it was a cool place worth checking out.
Starbucks Seoul Wave Art Center 스타벅스 서울웨이브아트센터
If you’re wondering why I’m listing Starbucks, yea, I hear you. If you’re anything like me, you’d rather not go to big chain coffee places when traveling because it’s fun checking out local places or chains. Starbucks coffee is Starbucks coffee. They’re definitely consistent so we have to give them that. BUT this location was so cool! It’s on the Han river! They had decent internet speeds here and it’s almost like being on a boat, minus the rocking. So I think this place was worth going to. Plus, there’s a fun little ramen thing to do near by (I’ll tell you about it in a min).
Starbucks Reserve 스타벅스 더종로R점
Shhh. I know. It’s another Starbucks. I’m just trying to get them all out of the way. LOL The location was convenient, inside was pretty cool, but the reason I am listing this place is because they had blazing fast internet speeds! Which is super important if you work remotely. However, this place was often crowded, and the people are like vultures. There’s a limited amount of places with plugs, and the best seats by the window are hard to come by. The second someone gets up and leaves, someone has already taken their spot! It was getting so ridiculous at a certain point that the second someone started packing I just went over and asked if they were leaving, and told them I was taking their place. Maybe that’s not how people do it over there, but I needed a plug. So yea…
The only other Starbucks that was pretty cool inside was the Starbucks in Seocho-gu located in the Famille Station, as they have a cool art display. But there wasn’t really anything else around that place besides malls. So, I don’t think it’s necessarily worth going to. Granted, Express Bus Terminal underground shopping was there, and that was kind of interesting. I’m just not personally a big fan of shopping so this place was a bit boring IMO.
This is a chain in South Korea. I thought it tasted pretty decent, and it was a great price. So we frequented these coffee shops quite a bit. If you want decent tasty coffee that’s affordable, you’ve got to go here.
Megacoffee saved me from my sleepiness so many times. LOL This is probably the cheapest coffee you will find in South Korea. Yea, it’s a tad watered-down but honestly it’s not bad. And you get a GIANT cup for like $1. So, you really can’t complain.
This was a cool “underground” place. Not really a cheap place but if you get their coffee that said something like “the most popular” or “highest rated” it was darn good. I wish I could remember the name, but I can’t. It was a hand-pour-over drink. I ended up playing it safe and did a cafe latte, while my boyfriend made the right choice and got the coffee I just mentioned. His was good. Mine was ok, a bit bitter and overpriced IMO. So, again, learn from my mistakes and go with that other coffee.
Samcheong Bingsu 삼청빙수
The bingsu here was sooooo good. We got the coffee flavor one. If you go here, and you’re not alone, have someone grab a table IMMEDIATELY. That’s what everyone else is doing. So even people that come in after you will have a table BEFORE you because they are having their friend go commandeer a table. So advice to the wise, learn from our mistake because this place is often packed — even in the winter.
Somewhere In An Alley
This little tasty treat, was a complete happen-chance. We had made our way looking for some lady who made burgers in one of the food markets years ago, and we were trying to see if she was still there. Additionally, there’s a food street in this area so we thought we had a great backup plan (this is the area that was pretty much shut down when we were there, due to it being a Monday and between the hours of 2-5pm.)
At any rate, we were wandering around some of the alleys and there was this woman with her window open selling these. My boyfriend said “We should try it.” And I’m glad we did! It was super delicious, and if you’re willing to hunt for this little gem please come back here and tell me if the place has an official name. All I know is it’s somewhere close to Rules restaurant tucked away in one of the side streets.
Hotteok Lady in Myeong-dong
We seriously searched so many places trying to find hotteok. We finally found a lady making them among food vendors on a Sunday night around 6:40pm. She had a long line, and for good reason! These were pretty delicious. It’s funny because we had been on this street several times before. So I’m not sure if the food vendors are only there at certain times & days or what. But this is a delicious treat worth waiting for.
Jeonju Yuhalmeoni Bibimbap 전주유할머니비빔밥 북창동본점
This place was pretty convenient for us, because it was right next to our Air B&B. The lady who worked here was a no-nonsense kind of lady. I liked her. You came in and she said “Bibimbap.” and that’s what you got. Not sure if that’s their only lunch item, but that’s what happened every time we went here. It was a good dish though.
Oh, man was this a delicious spicy chicken sandwich. Granted, it may be a tad over-priced (when compared to most Korean food) and they don’t give you water here which was a little a-typical (unless you buy a plastic bottled water), but this sandwich was really really good.
Do Koreans eat vegetables? lol It seemed like finding food with “green stuff” was few and far between. However, when we did manage to find places dedicated to the leafy greens, they were freaking delicious. This place was really really good. Just remembering it makes my mouth water.
Joseon Gimbap 조선김밥 조선김밥
I thought this place was decent. Not the most amazing thing ever, but it was fine. My boyfriend said he’s had much better gimbap, and he’s a bit of a foodie. But I list this place because it was affordable, and was decent. So if you’re up in this area and you can’t really find anything else, this place is definitely a safe option.
This place was pretty crowded, but was a fun experience since I’d never really been to anything like it. We popped down at an open seat for a tasty deep fried snack (no idea what it was, but it was good) and then we stood in line to try some hand cut noodles by the Netflix Noodle Lady (Cho Yoonsun). They were tasty. I’m not sure I’d write home about any of this food, but it was good.
This place is literally tucked in an alley. But the chicken is freaking delicious, and he adds a lot of sauce. I forgot which flavors we got but I know it was spicy and sweet. They were super tasty. We went to this place a couple of times… but you can only eat so much fried chicken lol (which is a THING in South Korea). The “English” name of this restaurant might not be right, and you can’t search for it in English. So either use the Google link I gave you or search for this place in Korean.
The udon here was really good. We got so lucky when we showed up because right as we came in people were leaving, and there were no other tables left. This place seemed pretty crowded during lunch when we were there, but they also seemed pretty efficient at turning tables and it was a constant people-leaving-and-coming. This is another place that you cannot find if you search in english, so you’ll have to use Korean.
CU Convenience Store Ramen
This CU store isn’t serving special flavor ramen or anything, BUT after a walk through Seoul Forest and a bit of a walk to this place, it was nice to have a hot soup to eat — plus, it was something new and fun to me.
So this is how it works: You choose your ramen in the store, and I guess you can get other things to go in it, but the store was basically sold out of EVERYTHING when we got there at night. LOL So we just had ramen bowls.
You take that bowl to this outside station and then you can get the water and everything right there. We could not figure out what to do, but luckily Koreans are friendly, and a couple helped us out. It still seemed like we had to guess at some of the “pieces” but that was half the fun. I’ll give you the most helpful tip, which is to scan the bar code on your bowl; that will start the machine. But maybe watch what other people do first so you can figure it out. Because I don’t remember all the steps now. LOL
Busan Samjeong 부산삼정
This is a more “traditional” place in Gangnam, and definitely on the pricier side. You take your shoes off when you go in. This was only the second place where we did that, so I’m not sure that there’s many “traditional” places left in the sense of shoes being removed and sitting on the floor. We met up with some friends who speak Korean, so that made this meal a really great one (as it usually seems to do when people actually know Korean and the “local” places to go). It was a lot of food, but honestly one of the best places we had eaten at.
Like I already said, finding veggies was hard, but when you did OMG delicious. The bowls here are so good. I tried a wrap and it was fine, but I’d recommend the bowls. This place also honored their listed hours, which was nice.
A very yummy chain restaurant for fried chicken. This is an affordable option, and when we couldn’t find anything else, we often found ourselves going back to this place.
The tteokgalbi here was seriously sooooo good. This might’ve been the best thing I ate while in Korea. We went to eat with people who live in Korea, so they knew all the good places to go! I didn’t get any pics of the food because we were busy talking. LOL But the meat was yummy. Almost like a meat loaf but still on the bone. I don’t know how to describe it. It was savory, tender, & juicy. So if you go up to Dongducheon for hiking or something then this restaurant is a must.
If You’re Willing to Explore More of South Korea
Perhaps a lot of the challenges we faced were because we were exploring all over the place instead of just staying in a single area. But even still, I haven’t had as many problems when traveling abroad as I had while in Korea which is a little disappointing. However, if you’re willing to go a little further like us then there’s even more to explore.
We had Busan on our list, but never made it since we ended up shortening our Korea trip to go over to Japan. But I think Busan looked worthy of a trip. And you should probably plan on staying the night there as it’s quite far from Seoul.
This is where we had the most trouble with taxis. Getting down to Asan was a bit of mind-melt (I still have no idea how my boyfriend figured it all out with the trains), but even after we arrived at the destination station it was a bit of a challenge trying to hail a cab. We finally got one after about 30 mins or so, and made our way to the memorial park Hyeonchungsa.
It’s free to go here. They have a cool museum, and the property is really big. This place is all in memory of Admiral Yi Sun-sin who saved Korea from Japan. His house is there, and some of his family is buried on the property. Honestly, probably one of the coolest historical things that I got to learn about Korea.
After we spent a good amount of time there we walked down to Ginkgo Asan road. And it was very very pretty seeing all the ginkgo trees with yellow leaves. Some were already bare, but there were still a good amount with leaves. If we had been here a week earlier then it probably would’ve been the perfect time (but that was impossible because we had taken that week to go to JeJu island – more on that in another post).
As you walk down this pathway, there is a group of food trucks, and a few restaurants in the lower area. We ended up going to a place where we had to remove our shoes and sit on the floor at these little tables — but I liked that! The floor was slightly padded and heated. It was a fun experience. The food was decent. Again, nothing to write home about but not too shabby either.
We wanted to also go to the burial grounds of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, but we literally spent over an hour trying to get a cab. There were none to hail. And I couldn’t get an SMS message because I only had “data”. Then even when my boyfriend did it, KakaoTaxi said you can’t get taxis in this area??? It was frustrating. These technical difficulties caused us not to be able to go to the burial place, and we ended up having to walk 40 mins to the nearest subway entrance.
So.. it was just another example of the extreme good and the extreme annoying. We ended up eating a loaf of bread for dinner because the area we went to (from the subway) had NOTHING but an outlet mall and weird buildings, and stores that were closed. #fooddesertthatissomehowKorea
Should You Visit Seoul South Korea?
For me personally, I have very mixed feelings about the trip. Overall, I liked it. I don’t regret it, or wish I never went. The things I loved I really loved. But some of the obstacles were SUPER frustrating.
Like I said at the beginning of the post, South Korea seemed to be a very mixed bag.
The language barrier when it came to using apps, taxis, & the subway was really frustrating. I was also disappointed by how difficult it was to find food, and the unreliability of the business listings (no matter the app you were using). It also seems that Korea is putting a lot more emphasis on the car, and that’s hurting the walkability IMO because as I said it was a challenge finding food more often than not.
On the positive side, I loved the historical places, the affordability, the nature areas were lovely, when you found good food it was really good, and the people were friendly. It was also pretty great not worrying about getting mugged or anything as Korea is very safe.
So that’s my two cents on the traveling to South Korea. Do you have any questions? Would you go and see South Korea?
P.S. If you want to see more photos from the trip check out the highlight reel on instagram.