Crowds enjoy the Myeongdong district nightlife in Seoul.
travel tips

Six tips for visiting Seoul, South Korea - from a local

Ingrid Zudor

Contributing writer

Planning a trip to Seoul? Here are our top picks...

Stay: RYSE by Marriott

Walking tour: Seoul by moonlight

Food tour: Night market food tour

DMZ tour: Small group DMZ tour

Day trip: Nami Island and Petite France

Regardless of whether you're planning to spend a few days in Seoul or a longer vacation exploring more of South Korea, there are certain things worth knowing before you visit.

Seoul is a vibrant metropolis with a population of over 25 million people, where you will find something for any type of traveller. Foodies will be in heaven with a wide range of delicious traditional dishes, tea ceremonies, and rice sweets, while history lovers could spend hours exploring the many palaces and museums in and around Seoul.

Nature lovers can choose from the tens of hike trails in the Bukhansan Mountains, and city lovers will find it hard to explore all the cool neighbourhoods in Seoul.

To make your trip easier, here are a few things worth knowing before visiting Seoul – from an expat’s perspective.

Gyeongbokgung palace with cherry blossom tree in spring time in seoul city of korea, south korea.

1. Spring is the best time to visit Seoul

South Korea is a country with four seasons: a hot and humid summer, a very cold winter, and lovely spring and fall.

If you want to make the best out of your vacation, plan your trip during spring (typically late March - early May) and see the city transform itself with millions of flowers in bloom.

Spring is synonymous with cherry blossom season, which usually peaks in early April. The city transforms with pink and white blooms, creating picturesque scenes perfect for walks and photos. Popular spots for cherry blossom viewing include Yeouido Hangang Park, Seoul Forest, and the area around the National Assembly Building.

The weather is pleasantly mild, with average temperatures ranging from 10°C to 18°C (50°F to 64°F).

If you can't manage to visit in Spring, consider fall (September to November) for good weather and the stunning fall foliage.

The skyline of Seoul, South Korea

2. Forget Google Maps in Seoul

It's worth knowing that Koreans have their own versions of Google Maps: Naver Maps and Kakao Maps.

And don’t just think “good for them, I’ll stick to Google Maps” because that’s not possible, since your beloved travel companion isn't reliable here in South Korea. Just be sure to download the Naver or Kakao app so you can access the English version.

Naver Maps is easy to use and you can find most tourist attractions by searching for them in English (try not to add spaces in between words as well). However, if you choose to go off the beaten track, you might find it easier to use a translation app and input the address or location with Korean characters.

Another thing worth knowing about the app is that it tends to show mostly bus connections. When you want to use the subway to get from one point to the other, using the Subway app will prove to be much more helpful.

Seoul, South Korea

3. Seoul is not a cheap destination

Seoul, and South Korea in general, is not a cheap destination, no matter whether you choose to live here or if you're just visiting.

After two years of living in Hong Kong, I was expecting Seoul to be much cheaper, but to my surprise, that wasn’t the case.

Expect to spend at least 25 USD for a coffee and a cake at one of the thousands of cafes around town, and around 50 USD for a Korean barbeque.

That said, street food does offer some cheaper food options, public transport is reasonably cheap and accommodation prices are generally comparable (or more affordable) than many Western cities.

Seoul, South Korea

4. You’ll need Papago

Papago is another locally developed app that will help you translate anything from Korean to English, and the other way around. It's a great alternative to Google Translate and it's a must when you visit.

It can translate what people are saying when they're talking, which is especially helpful if you need to ask for directions.

You can type or paste text into the app for quick translations, or just use your phone's camera to translate text in images - perfect for reading street signs or menus.

It also lets you handwrite symbol onto your phone and has some common phrases included categorised by situation (like dining, shopping, and emergencies).

Seoul City, South Korea

5. Public transportation is good and easy to use

Public transportation is very good and will get you easily almost anywhere, you can expect to pay under US$2 for a trip.

Get the T-Money card from any convenience store in town, add money, and validate it every time you get on or off a bus, or enter and exit the subway.

The subway is extensive, covering most areas of Seoul and even extending into neighbouring regions, making it a great option for day trips. It's also usually clean, safe, and punctual.

You'll find signs in both Korean and English, which make it relatively user-friendly for visitors . The subway lines are color-coded and the stations are numbered.

Buses are on time and very frequent, with four main types of buses:

  • Blue buses travel on major roads and link different districts within the city.

  • Green buses connect subway stations and neighbourhoods within districts.

  • Yellow buses circulate within a particular district, often in the downtown areas.

  • Red buses are express buses that connect Seoul with suburban areas.

They can be a bit more challenging for non-Korean speakers, though many buses now have announcements and signs in English.

A bicycle next to a mural of a rose in Seoul, South Korea

6. Seoul is heaven for cosmetics lovers

South Korea has built a worldwide brand for itself in recent years for offering high quality cosmetics at affordable prices. And you can easily spend hours exploring the cosmetics shops in Myeong-dong or Hongdae.

Some popular Korean beauty products are:

  • Sheet masks - Korean sheet masks are famed for their hydration and are available with various ingredients for different skin types and concerns.

  • BB creams and cushion compacts - These products offer skin coverage that also treats and protects the skin. They're lightweight and often come with SPF.

  • Essences and serums - Central to the Korean skincare regimen, these products are designed for hydration and addressing specific skin concerns like aging, brightness, or acne.

  • Sunscreen - Korean sunscreens are known for their superior formulation that doesn't leave a white cast and feels light on the skin.

  • Lip tints - They offer long-lasting color and are available in a wide range of shades. Korean lip tints are particularly popular due to their staying power and natural finish.

  • Exfoliators (peeling gels) - Gentle yet effective, these are great for keeping the skin smooth without harsh scrubbing.

One of the best places to find these items is in Myeongdong, the most famous shopping district in Seoul, which is packed with both high-end and affordable cosmetic shops. You’ll find flagship stores for major Korean beauty brands like Etude House, Innisfree, and Nature Republic. Street vendors also offer competitive prices.

Dongdaemun is another good option with its wholesale and retail outlets, where you can find a wide range of products at competitive prices. Otherwise, head to a duty-free shop before you fly out.

Don’t hesitate to ask for samples when buying products in South Korea. Stores are very generous with samples, and it’s a great way to try new products before purchasing full sizes.

The country is also a leader when it comes to plastic surgery and many people visit Seoul from all over the world to get their much more affordable surgeries at the Gangnam clinics.

Planning a trip to Seoul? Read our 3-day itinerary.

Share this article

Ingrid Zudor

Author - Ingrid Zudor

Ingrid is a travel blogger and book lover on the constant search of places and experiences that bring joy to life. She is originally from Romania, currently living the expat life in Seoul, South Korea, after spending two years in Hong Kong.

Last Updated 17 April 2024

Gyeongbokgung palace with cherry blossom tree in spring time in seoul city of korea, south korea.

South Korea

Known for its K-Pop, fashion, cosmetics, Buddhist temples, South Korea is a beautiful country with a hilly and mountainous landscape, dotted with cherry trees.