10 Hour Layover In Seoul, South Korea – What to do?
We turned a long layover into a short stay with a quick adventure in Seoul!
I love long layovers in between an already excruciatingly long travel day - said no one ever! If you are traveling from Thailand to the U.S., you may find yourself going through Incheon International Airport in Seoul with a very long layover. Like us, you may have already been on a plane for 5+ hours with another connecting flight ahead that will be 10+ hours and now you have almost 10 hours in between at the airport. What can you do during this layover at the Incheon Airport? Not to worry, we'll show you why this can actually turn out to be a wonderful thing!
Awesome Things To Do In Seoul
Little did we know that there are arranged tours for this sort of thing- guess they knew people would be looking for something to do with so much time on their hands. Transit tours are available for FREE and are offered by the Incheaon International Airport at the Transit Tour Desk.
You'll find the tour desks at two location inside the airport: one in front of Gate 25 and the other in front of Gate 8. The tours range from 1 to 5 hours to suit your layover needs and are conducted by an English speaking guide (for a group of about 20 travelers). Seoul City Tour and Temple Tour are just a couple of examples of what they offer. While the tour itself is free, you will be responsible for paying any admission fees and, of course, your meals.
Since we had no idea that these free tours existed (yes, we know how to use Google) we planned our own little excursion of things to do in Seoul. Somehow, we just never came across this in our research at the time. Our itinerary included riding the Namsan Cable Car and going up the Seoul Tower followed by a delicious Korean Barbecue lunch.
Let's just say we meant to do our own tour because we are such bold explorers!
Hey, there are many (like us) that would actually prefer to do their own planning and move at their own pace. There is something to be said for those that can do it on their own knowing that SO MANY things can go wrong. I guess that just feeds the thrill seeker in us!
Getting to Seoul From Incheon
It's a bit inconvenient that Incheon Airport is about an hour outside of Seoul. So, if you are looking to do something in the city, you have to make sure you buffer in this transit time (missing your connecting flight would suck to say the least). Though it takes a while to get into the city, the way you can get there is quite easy and cheap. The Airport Express provides a smooth, 43 minute ride into the city at about $7 USD (₩8,000 KRW).
AREX is really the best way to get from the airport into Seoul. There is a train about every 30 minutes, so make sure you calculate this time into your plans.
You can get to the AREX station directly from inside the Incheaon Airport, just look for the signs. It's a non-stop ride to Seoul Station from there. The train is very clean and well-kept. The seats are very comfortable and the ride gives you just enough time to get out of that groggy "airplane zombie" status. In my case, this was just what I needed to get my stomach settled (and energy back up) from the motion sickness I had been experiencing on the plane ride.
Once you arrive at Seoul Station, you'll need to switch over to the Seoul Metro. This subway system can look very confusing and overwhelming for first-timers. If you've experienced the subway in China, you'll probably have no problem with this as they are very similar in design. Still, don't be intimidated by this because you just need to follow the signs and color coded arrows to find the train you are looking for.
In this case, you want to take Line 4 to Myeong-Dong Station. It's only two stops away from the Seoul Station. You don't even have to leave the station when you get off the AREX. Just follow the signs for the subway. Once you get to the Line 4 subway, make sure that you get on the train going in the direction of Myeong-Dong station. There will be a map just above where the train stops that indicates the direction of the train.
The Namsan Cable Car
You'll arrive at Myeong-Dong Station and take Exit 7 or 8 out to the main street. There is free shuttle (apparently) that will take passengers to the Namsan Cable Car, but we were unable to locate it so we walked.
When you come out of the subway station, you'll be on Toegye-Ro street. Take this street going east and make a left at the major intersection onto Songong-Ro. The cable car to Seoul Namsan Tower is just up this street. It will take about 20 minutes of walking to get here from the subway station.
If you read the reviews of the cable car, you might be inclined to skip it. Yes, it's a bit pricey for a 10 minute ride up. The cable car can also be crowded, depending on when you go. These are the main complaints from most, and rightfully so. However, we decided it would be something that we would enjoy and that turned out to be correct.
Cable car round trip ticket: ₩8,500 KRW ($7 .40 USD)
We're not going to lie, the cable car was pretty packed, but we squeezed our way to the glass wall and were able to get some good views.
The ride is slow paced but the distance is not very long so you have to make sure to move quickly and get a good spot in order to be able to see the views. We enjoyed the ride and didn't mind the price since our time in Seoul was so short. It was a pleasant experience and we would recommend it! Make sure it's on your list of things to do in Seoul when you visit!
Namsan Seoul Tower
As we disembarked from the cable car, cool air welcomed us to the highest point in Seoul. The views from this location above the city are fabulous all around. For those who are visiting Seoul for the first time and not able to spend more that a few hours there, this is the perfect way to sight-see.
You are able to, literally, see all of Seoul!
The two of us strolled around the various lookout points and made sure to snap a lot of photos. We also made sure to add one of own locks to the several thousand love locks that are attached to the railings and metal structures atop this mountain.
It's a truly romantic place for couples!
Having seen the spectacular views from below the tower for free, I was reluctant to pay to go up the tower at first. Again, the price was not that steep and we still had some time to enjoy more, so we went for it.
The elevator attendant takes you up to the observatory which has a small gift shop along with a cafe. There is a very nice restaurant on a lower lever that would have been fun to dine at if we had more time.
Admission to N. Seoul Tower Observatory: ₩10, 000 KRW ($8.70 USD)
The panoramic views from atop the tower were absolutely stunning. Yes, it's mostly the same as below, but being able to walk all around the observation deck and have these unobstructed views was a fantastic experience. Not to mention, the height added another layer of beauty to the scenery.
The Best Korean Barbecue In Seoul
After feeding our sense of sight, it was time to feed our tummys. The original plan was to take the subway over to Gangnam to get some Korean Barbeque. And, you know, just to be able to say we did it "Gangnam Style," ha! One thing we were short on was time, so we opted to find a place closer to our subway station. Luckily Wangbijib Myeongdong Main Store came highly rated so we decided to give it a try.
The restaurant is just one block from the Myeong-Dong subway station where we had gotten off originally. You go down a short street that is off of the main road and make an immediate left. It's located on the left hand side of the street on the second floor. The first floor is a shop, so it's hard to tell there is a restaurant there unless you look up and see pictured of delicious food on the wall above.
To enter, you need to go up a skinny set of stairs. The vibe in the place is one of hustle and bustle of young people. We were there on a Friday during the later lunch hours and the restaurant was very busy, but our wait time was only about 10 minutes.
We were sat right by the window facing the back street so we had a great view of the pedestrians going on about their day just below.
It had been a long time since we had enjoyed some good quality beef (we eat mostly pork and chicken in Thailand), so, naturally, we ordered 2 different cuts of beef. The wait staff was super quick and efficient. They were on top of it the whole time. We never had to mention to them that we were on a time crunch. They seemed to just know how to provide great service, fast.
Our order came. The coals were hot. The grill was ready.
Our server cut the meat and cooked it to perfection for us. Our plates were continuously being filled with hot pieces of delicious meat while we also enjoyed from the plethora of side dishes on our table. Of course, the kimchi was our favorite, but we finished almost all of all the side dishes as they accompanied our meal perfectly. Adding flavor and texture to our experience.
As we drank the last of our Soju, the grill was cleared, signaling the end of our short excursion in Seoul. These few hours that we spent in South Korea, were some of the most memorable for us. Neither one of us had ever left the airport during a layover, let alone go for a day of sightseeing. It was well worth it!
Seoul is such a lively vibrant city. And to think, we almost decided against leaving the airport! I had been extremely sick on the airplane thanks to motion sickness and had spent the first hour, after getting off the plane, just laying on a chair at the airport.
We were both beyond thrilled that we had experience a little bit of Seoul. The N. Seoul tower is a must see for anyone visiting, regardless of how much time they have. Needless to say, the Korean Barbecue does not disappoint either!
Have you gone on an adventure during a long layover? Tell us your experience below in the comments!
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About the Author
Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!