21 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT SEOUL BEFORE YOU VISIT

Are you planning a trip to Seoul? It’s is the city of the moment, and I would urge everyone to schedule a trip! With South Korea hosting the Winter Olympics in 2018, this is the year to come! Korea is friendly and welcoming, Seoul being one of my favourite places on Earth!

 

  1. THE SUBWAY IS CHEAP AND CLEAN

 

Some subway systems are notoriously dirty (Paris, I’m looking at you!) or confusing like London. Seoul boats a fantastic subway system. It spans a ridiculously large area, so you can always get wherever you need to go. It is always clean, and on time. In the summer, there is air con and in winter there’s heating. But most importantly, it is CHEAP! A single journey will set you back about 1,400 won (about $1.20), so it’s hard to complain!

  1. DON’T BE SCARED TO PUSH

 

When I first arrived, I was a little shocked by how much pushing there was, especially on public transport! People are not shy about pushing you out of the way if they need to be somewhere. The main culprits are unassuming little old ladies! I’m not saying start shoving your way around Seoul, but if you’re too polite you’re going to get stuck on the platform or the train!

 

  1. CHOPSTICKS ARE UNDER THE TABLE

 

In most Korean restaurants, you will find chopsticks, spoons, and napkins under the table in a small drawer. It can be a bit confusing when you first go out to eat and can’t find anything to eat your food with!

  1. STREET FOOD IS A BIG DEAL

 

Koreans loves to socialise and eat, and Seoul has a multitude of amazing eateries. Street food is one the cheapest and most exciting ways to explore Korean food. You can find rice cakes in spicy sauce, pancakes, tempura-fried vegetables, and many other delicacies.

  1. IT’S INCREDIBLE SAFE

 

Korea and Japan are known for their low crime rates. If you are a solo female traveller, Seoul is a fantastic option. I often walk home alone late at night and have never had any problems, just be sensible! Taxis are also all registered and state-run, so you don’t have to worry about that. I have also never been anywhere where theft is so low. I thought my phone and coat had been stolen (on separate occasions) and they were both returned to me!

 

  1. THERE’S NO REAL CENTRE

 

When you visit most European cities, there is a clearly defined centre. Seoul is more of a selection of areas and clusters fused together. As such, it can be difficult to decide where to stay. Staying near Hongdae or Myeongdong is always a good option. Gangnam is a bit far south but a great area in itself. As the transport is so reliable, it doesn’t overly matter where you stay.

 

  1. PHARMACIES ARE EVERYWHERE

 

If you find yourself struck down with an ailment, you’ll never be far from a pharmacy. They are literally every 200m. You can also buy painkillers in most convenient stores.

 

  1. DON’T SHOW YOUR SHOULDERS

 

Seoul is a funny one when it comes to fashion etiquette. I am continually baffled that it is perfectly okay to wear the world’s shortest shorts, but strappy tops are a no go. As it isn’t for religious reasons, you can get away with but it’s usually not worth it. Older Koreans will scowl and stare at you. This can be tough in the summer. My best advice is dress as you want, but take a shawl or something to cover yourself on the subway.

 

  1. DRESS IN YOUR BEST

 

Koreans are literally the best dressed nation I’ve ever known. I continually feel embarrassed by how scruffy I am! If you visit Seoul, make sure you pack your best clothes! It’s also a great excuse to go shopping! Korean clothes tend to be very affordable and super stylish!

 

  1. IT’S COFFEE SHOP HEAVEN

 

I am amazed by the sheer number of coffee shops in Seoul. While there are all your big chains, there are also so many independents. They are usually incredibly cute; think blush and gold, teal and copper interiors. Curled up in one of these cafes with a latte and a book is an excellent way to take a break from the hectic side of Seoul.

  1. IT’S CHEAPER TO EAT OUT

 

When I first arrived, I made an effort to save money. My first thought was to cook and prepare all my food at home. Groceries are so expensive in Seoul it is usually just cheaper to eat out! Korean food is usually very affordable. So, enjoy it, and don’t feel guilty!

  1. ENGLISH IS EVERYWHERE

 

If you can’t speak Korean, don’t despair! English is on almost every sign and machine, so you shouldn’t have a problem. Koreans also spend a lot of money learning English, so most people will have some knowledge of the language. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to learn some Korean words, but you wouldn’t struggle without it!

 

  1. LOST SOMETHING IN A TAXI? THERE’S A WEBSITE

 

If you are anything like me, you’ll lose things frequently, especially in taxis after a night out. On such an occasion, I discovered that Seoul has a designated website for this! It is essentially a list of all items found in Seoul taxis, accompanied by descriptions and photos. You can then contact them to have it returned to you.

 

  1. YOU’RE EXPECTED TO CLEAR YOUR OWN TABLE

 

The service industry is very different in South Korea to England and America. Staff are far more laid back, and I rarely see the hectic shifts that I remember working. If you are in a café, you will be expected to clear your own table (and everybody does!) The staff will then come around to wipe them every hour or so.

 

  1. SPITTING IS A THING

 

Okay, this isn’t as bad as some other Asian countries I’ve experienced, but it’s definitely visible. It is common to hear and see spitting when you’re walking down the road. I have chatted to my students about this, and apparently its being phased out with the younger generations. Here’s to hoping so!

 

  1. DON’T TIP

 

As staff are more laid back here, they don’t expect tips. It is often seen as an insult if you do leave a tip. Some cafes will have a jar by the till.

 

  1. DON’T SIT IN THE ELDERLY SEATS

 

When you enter a subway carriage, you will see reserved seat at either end. Don’t sit in these! They are for the elderly, disabled, and pregnant women. You will be shouted at if you sit there, which I learnt the hard way.

 

  1. CONVENIENCE STORE DRINKING

 

One of the best things I’ve seen here is people drinking at convenience stores. Not like in England, where kids do it but it’s kind of frowned upon. Here it is something that’s encouraged. Shop owners often place tables and chairs outside, allowing you to spend a cheap night out socialising. Surprisingly, it is popular with all age groups, not just the young. Lots of people even order take out!

 

  1. PUBLIC BATHROOMS

 

I have read horror stories about Korean bathrooms, but I just don’t get it! I am always surprised. Yes, they don’t always have paper, but they mostly do. Compared to public facilities in the UK, they are miles ahead. And FREE! If you are from the UK, you know the pain of trying to find a free one, especially on public transport.

 

  1. THE WEATHER IS EXTREME

 

Coming from the mild and generally moderate British Isles, the weather in Seoul has been a shock. The summers are HOT, often reaching the high 30s. Coupled with the heavy layer of pollution, this can be unbearable. The winters are equally harsh. This winter has been particularly harsh, with temperatures reaching -29C. Spring and Autumn are perfect, so try and plan your visit for then.

  1. IT’S CROWDED

 

This is one of the things that I struggle with here. Seoul is heavily populated and this is almost always evident. Any special event will be packed. I tried to go to see the cherry blossoms and I had to use the subway station 2 stops over. Plan to visit busier areas during the week, like Hongdae, Myeongdong, and Gangnam.

 

Are you planning on visiting Seoul? Have you already visited? What tips do you have?

 

Natalia xo