I'll be in Seoul for about 11 hours, what to do?
June 23, 2013 9:31 PM   Subscribe

Hey! I have a long layover in Seoul (landing at Incheon, 5:20AM, departing, 4:30PM, about 11 hours) this Thursday, June 27th. Is it reasonable to head into the city (or somewhere) for food or drink or other amusement in this short span? Can you suggest a micro-itinerary that seems fun to you? I'm also interested in other options, including walking around the city with MeFites.
posted by fake to Travel & Transportation around Seoul, South Korea (20 answers total)
Here is an account of one guys 12 hour layover at Incheon, heading into Seoul by train. I found the airport pretty straightforward to navigate to the train station when I was there.

Incheon Airport also has a couple of museums/cultural attractions, although I haven't visited them myself.

There is also a Tour Desk within the airport that can arrange day tours to Seoul for you if you'd like more structure. However it might be tough to find an organised tour that will get you back to the airport within the recommended 2-3 hour advance time.
posted by jacalata at 9:47 PM on June 23, 2013

I had a 6.5 hours layover at Incheon a year and a half ago and utilized the tour desk mentioned above. I was never able to find much on what tours there were and when they left before I actually got there, so I just ended up going up to the desk and seeing what was available. The only tour I had time for was visiting the Incheon city museum and a stop at a temple. It took maybe 2.5 hours so I was back in plenty of time for my continuing flight. As I recall the price was pretty reasonable. The tour was alright, but I was a little disappointed that I didn't have time to get into Seoul and wander around a little and find some food. I think you should have plenty of time to get into Seoul as the train takes less than an hour. Getting in and out of customs was a breeze and took just a few minutes each way.

What I really wanted to do was go tour the DMZ. Your timing for that might be tight. I think they mostly left at 8 or 9 and got back to Seoul in the early afternoon. If that is something that interest you it would be worth searching around a little. A couple places with info are here and here but I'm sure there is more out there.
posted by Medw at 10:28 PM on June 23, 2013

Seoul is about +/- one hour by bus from Incheon Airport, traffic is heavy, and the ride itself offers nothing much to see beyond the usual motorway drabness.
posted by three blind mice at 10:55 PM on June 23, 2013

Definitely reasonable. The DMZ will be hard to pull off. I'd hit Seoul: Kyungbokgoong (palace), Namdaemun or Kwangjangsijang (outdoor markets, the latter is covered, if it's raining), maybe Hongdae (Hongik University subway station area), or the National Museum (HUGE and very, very good--near Yongsan, iirc) or War Museum.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:19 AM on June 24, 2013

Response by poster: Really great answers, thank you!
posted by fake at 1:41 AM on June 24, 2013


Hongdae and the Digital Media City are both on the AREX (Airport Express line) into Seoul, but neither actually require you to ride all the way into central Seoul. The DMC holds an excellent museum on Korean films, which itself shows a microcosm of culture and history.

Incheon (on the mainland, not on the island) has a fair bit as well - Jayu Park and the nearby Chinatown are great stops.

Skip the DMZ - even after five years I never saw the appeal of it.
posted by chrisinseoul at 2:31 AM on June 24, 2013

Five years? Noob :)

I actually found the Incheon Chinatown pretty weak but loved the DMZ (esp. the tunnel tour). It will of course come down to what sort of thing you like. One more place I forgot to mention is the Noryangjin fish market--it's close to Incheon and awesome, but you may find it tough to do without any Korean or at least a Korean person to help out.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:38 AM on June 24, 2013

Response by poster: No Korean (language or otherwise) available. :0
posted by fake at 3:17 AM on June 24, 2013

I wouldn't leave the airport. I had a 6 hour layover on my way to Hiroshima at the old airport and here's what I did.

1. I found the US Military Lounge and parked myself there. They have big chushy sofas and I watched AFRTS on tv. (Wheel of Fortune anyone?) It was super comfy and I caught some much needed Z's from 6am until noon.

2. Inchon has some really great stuff going on at the airport. Here are some hidden gems.

3. Here's a guide to the airport, with the military in mind.

4. Budget for 8 hours out and about, if you choose to leave. I really enjoyed the Seodaemun Museum of Natural History. Dioramas aplenty! It's closed on Monday though.

5. Here's a site that will show you how to work Seoul public transportation.

When boarding the plane for home, I was surprised that rather than boarding according to rows in some orderly kind of fashion, it was more, "Okay, the plane's here, get on!"

I really like Korea, you don't need to change your money, most places will take your US dollars and give you won in change. EXECEPT the franchises like Burger King or Dunkin' Donuts. You'll need your won then.

Most folks speak English and are pretty happy to have you in the country. Remember your manners, greet folks "On Ya Ha SEY Oh!" I nearly sing mine and it makes folks smile (my dry cleaner, shoe repair and my neighbors.) Thank you is, "Com sa ah mida" No one will expect more from you than that (and it's HARD, I had to practice a bunch!)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:00 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you change your MeFi location to Seoul, yu can see how many MeFites are there. A meetup would be my favorite way to experience a new foreign place.
posted by theora55 at 9:39 AM on June 24, 2013

Assuming you don't have luggage, definitely take AREX to the Hongik University station and wander around. No matter how nice Incheon Airport is, getting out into the hustle and bustle of Seoul is more fun, I promise.

Signage in the subway system is in English and Korean and Chinese, so you can hop on the subway (Green Line = Line #2) and get to some of the palaces people have mentioned within 15 minutes.

Food-wise, anything you know/like about Korean food? I can ponder recommendations along Line #2.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:00 PM on June 24, 2013

(Quick correction--"hello" is actually "annyeonghaseyo" or "on young ha SAY yo" and "thank you" is "kamsahamnida" or "calm SAHM knee dah"). I'd also say you CANNOT just use US dollars everywhere; maybe it's okay in Itaewon, but not most places anymore (been here since 2002 fwiw).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:00 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I had a 10 hour layover in 2007 and had a great time seeing Seoul for a few hours. Here is the blog post I wrote back then about my day trip. 11 hours is plenty of time, you should definitely go.

Basically, I used the airport shuttle bus to get in and out of the city, and I managed to see Namdaemun (before it was burnt down, maybe it's renovated now?), the Namdaemun market, Gyeongbokgung, and Insadong. I had two quick meals, and still got back to the airport with time to spare. Gyeongbokgung is great and can take a long time if you want to explore every corner of the palace grounds.

DMZ will be difficult to get the timing right and I personally hate being on tours (and you're only allowed to go as part of a tour). It took a good half day when I went and you only got maybe 20 minutes at the actual Panmunjeom area where the dudes are standing around glaring at each other.

Have fun!
posted by pravit at 5:56 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As silly as this may seem, I'd love to try some different varieties of kimchi - I'm a total omnivore and really enjoy spicy/very hot and potentially weird foods. No food issues whatsoever. Generally prefer savory and meat flavors to sweets. Enjoy having a drink/like beer. Any recommendations along the #2 would be great.

I'm sorry for the lack of specificity here, but trust me, I will *love* almost anything you recommend. Currently in another part of SE Asia and have enjoyed just about everything I came in contact with.
posted by fake at 8:28 PM on June 24, 2013

Can't really eat barbecue alone--unless you're willing to order two servings, and even then it's weird.

Kwangjang Market is a great place to try some food. I recommend Pindaetteok, a sort of pancake made of mungbeans, and bolibap, a sort of bibimbap style dish made of barley and lots of veggies.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:31 PM on June 24, 2013

"Currently in another part of SE Asia"

(Korea is not SE Asia, yo--it's one North Korea and one Manchuria away from Siberia...)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:32 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, that was a typo/brain problem on my part, sorry. And thanks for the recommendations!
posted by fake at 9:45 PM on June 24, 2013

For trying kimchi, going to a grocery store like EMART or one of the grocery stores in a department store like Hyundai Dept Store or Shinsaegae might be fun (Shinchon Station aka Yonsei University Station has a Hyundai Dept Store for sure). You can run around and sample things ala Costco.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:19 PM on June 24, 2013

COEX Kimchi museum is a fun way to spend half an hour and they even have a tasting room! (although the tasting is a bit underwhelming)
posted by pravit at 5:11 AM on June 25, 2013

Response by poster: Well, for future travelers, Hongdae is the wrong place to be before noon. I walked nearly every street, avenue, and alley around the Hongik station and between 7:30 and 10:00am I saw perhaps five indie shops open. The remainder (which looked cool and were plentiful) don't open until noon or later, though they are open late. Nice wares on display though. Couldn't find food there (even the 24hr bbq places were closed, one owner kicked me out saying "closse! Clossse! ". Anyway I spent some time popping out of subway stations and seeing the city a bit more and am now back at the airport blowing cash on beer and burger.

Next time, SK, next time.
posted by fake at 9:33 PM on June 26, 2013

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