Before you go to Korea: Purchase a Discover Seoul Pass (Online)
This was my first trip to Seoul, Korea and I highly recommend purchasing the Discover Seoul Pass to explore the Korea at a highly discounted rate. The Discover Seoul Pass is only available for foreigners, and offers huge savings and unlimited access to popular tourist attractions. You can choose from three different time durations: 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours. My boyfriend and I chose the 48 hour option, and we felt like it offered us just the right amount of time to see enough of Korea for our first visit.
Buses are the main form of transportation around Korea, and the Discover Seoul Pass doubles as a transportation card (aka Tmoney). This was very convenient for riding the bus from the airport to our Airbnb! The Discover Seoul Pass also does not activate upon using it as a transportation card - it only activates once you use it at your first attraction, so you don't have to worry about the time duration decreasing after leaving the airport.
We used an app called "Naver Map" instead of Google Maps (what we normally use for our trips). This is because Google Maps is not fully functional in Korea. Another alternative is "Kakao Map," but we felt Naver Map was more reliable.
We stayed at a homey Airbnb located in the centre of amazing food options, and steps away from the bus stop and 7-11.
Note: Unfortunately our experience with this Airbnb, the host wasn't that responsive and we didn't receive our check-in instructions until the day we landed. This caused us a lot of stress, and we also later discovered tiny red ants on the floor. We've sent private feedback to the host and hope it will be improved for the next guests, as the Airbnb really did offer an incredible location and great amenities at an affordable rate.
Money ($1 CAD = ₩ 891 KRW):
We budgeted around $100CAD per day.
We flew from Japan (NRT) and into Korea (ICN) with JIN Airlines and had a positive experience. We enjoyed the onigiri snack especially, and we helped a grandma open hers because she didn't know how to properly pull the wrappers haha.
SEOUL, KOREA: 5 DAY ITINERARY - AT A GLANCE
Day 1: Cheonggyecheon Stream (Seoul Lantern Festival)
Day 2: Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Myeong-Dong, COEX Mall (Starfield Library & Aquarium)
Day 3: Hanbok Rental, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Namsam Park, N Seoul Tower
Day 4: Grevlin Museum, MBC World, Trick Eye & Ice Museum, Running Man Thematic Park
Day 5: Insadong, Hongdae Street, The Days Hair Salon, Korean BBQ @ Palsaik Samgyeopsal
Optional: Day Trip to Gapyeong (Nami Island, Petite France, and the Garden of Morning Calm)
SETTLE INTO YOUR ACCOMMODATION
The first day is always about settling into your Airbnb, taking a nice shower to refresh after the flight, and then enjoying a relaxed evening.
TAKE A STROLL @ THE CHEONGGYECHEON STREAM
After freshening up and eating Korean BBQ nearby for dinner, we took a stroll along the Cheonggyecheon Stream. To our surprise, the Seoul Lantern Festival was happening at that time which included beautiful silk lanterns, illuminated origami boats, and vibrant neon decor. The area was filled with romantic couples, families, and friends taking cute photos and enjoying the warm vibes. We felt really lucky to stumble upon this cultural event that we didn't even know of!
Note: The 2019 Seoul Lantern Festival was held from November 1-17 (Sun) around the Cheonggyecheon Stream with the theme "Your Seoul, Dreams with Lights." This is an annual cultural celebration that occurs every November.
APPRECIATE THE ARCHITECTURE @ DONGDAEMUN DESIGN PLAZA
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a beautiful building with intricate architecture. This place reminded me of a university campus, and my boyfriend and I joked about how he would've attended more classes if his school looked like this. He was the type to skip class when it was raining, snowing, or if his roommate asked him to play a game of League or CSGO haha. Fortunately, he's a smart cookie and graduated well with his degree in Computer Science. Traveling Japan, Korea, and Taiwan was actually our long-awaited graduation trip!
SHOP AT MYEONG-DONG SHOPPING STREET
Popular for shopping, Myeongdong was filled with souvenirs, clothing stores, and skincare products. Honestly, I don't know much about skincare so I felt like I couldn't take advantage of my time in Korea, but my best friend did request for me to buy her some pimple stickers from Cosrx at Aland. I was also googling what skincare products to buy in MyeongDong, and purchased the Rice Water foam cleanser (which is supposed to be good for brightening).
Tbh, the sales people can be quite aggressive. I actually had an experience where one sales lady randomly grabbed my hand and started rubbing cream on it without my permission. There were other hustlers on the streets who were handing out skincare samples, but would take them back from your hands if you didn't enter their store.
Edit: I tried the pimple stickers from Cosrx too, and they're actually magical. Would highly recommend getting them, and would definitely buy again!
SHOP AT MYEON-GDONG UNDERGROUND SHOPPING MALL
The Myeong-dong underground shopping mall was a great place for souvenir shopping. It had lots of keychains, clothes, shoes, and miscellaneous products. Although some were tempting, I didn't purchase anything. This is also where I somehow lost my vlogging camera... and didn't know the proper steps to retrieve lost items, so I wasn't able to get it back. For future reference, this is what you can do upon losing an article:
- Report to the workers at the Subway station
- Contact the police station
- Visit this site to report or find any lost articles: https://www.lost112.go.kr/manyLanguage.do?langType=en&html=en_Guide
VISIT THE COEX STARFIELD LIBRARY
Located inside the COEX mall, the Starfield Library was a must-see! This destination reminded me of when I used to borrow stacks of books from the library as a kid. I took my time going up and down the escalator to enjoy the fantasy-like feeling of potentially having this huge library in my future home.
EXPLORE THE COEX AQUARIUM
The COEX Aquarium was the first attraction we visited with our Discover Seoul Pass, meaning from here on out, we had 48 hours to complete the rest of our destinations. Tbh, I actually enjoyed the aquarium a lot more than I thought I would. The beavers were super fun to watch, and it was really empty during this time. I'm not sure if it's normally not busy, but it felt like we rented out the entire aquarium and we had some really great photo opportunities here!
RENT A HANBOK @ HANBOKNAM
Along with the Discover Seoul pass is a free 90 minute hanbok rental at Hanboknam with complementary hairstyling (for women). If you wish to purchase additional accessories for your outfit, the cost is ₩3000 KRW. It took me a while to choose my outfit, but I finally settled with a soft white/gold top and radiant red skirt which I really liked!
Address: 133-5 Sajik-ro, Sajik-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Hours: 9:00am - 7:00pm
VISIT THE GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE
After we got dressed in our hanboks, we walked over to the Gyeongbokgung palace nearby to take pictures and watch the guard changing ceremony. The guard changing ceremony happens daily at both 10:00am and 2:00pm (excluding Tuesdays). We caught the 2:00pm ceremony, took some quick pictures, and then returned our hanbok shortly after because it was freezing that day!
Address: 161 Sajik-ro, Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Hours: 9:00am - 6:00pm (closed on Tuesdays)
EAT CHICKEN & BEER
After watching Korean dramas, we knew that we had to try the chicken and beer combo! Nearby our Airbnb, there was literally a restaurant called, "Chicken and Beer," so we decided to check it out! And to our delight, the fried chicken was actually the most tender, juicy, and delicious chicken I've ever tasted. We also had some soju (instead of beer), and I was buzzed after one shot haha.
TAKE A TRIP TO N SEOUL TOWER
From Myeongdong station, you can take a cable car straight to the N Seoul Tower or ride a shuttle bus. Here is a detailed blog post on transportation options. For our trip, we actually made the mistake of not researching how to get to N Seoul Tower. What we did was just input N Seoul Tower onto Naver Map (the app we used instead of Google Maps), and we rode a bus that told us to get off at Namsam Park. From there, we actually had to hike for around 30 minutes to get to the top where N Seoul Tower was located LOL.
Tbh, hiking up Namsam Park might've actually been a good idea during the day or closer to sunset... but it was pitch black and cold during this time, so we really did not enjoy this hike LMAO feelsbadman. Do your research properly!
SEAL YOUR LOVE WITH A PADLOCK
At the top of the N Seoul Tower, there was a cute area with love locks attached. We didn't do this because seeing it was good enough for us, but this could be a romantic gesture for you and a loved one (or yourself)!
GO ON A RIVER CRUISE @ ELAND CRUISE
Originally we wanted to take advantage of our Discover Seoul Pass and board a cruise, but unfortunately we weren't able to make it in time. We're sure it would've been a lovely experience though!
VISIT THE GREVIN MUSEUM
As a fan of Korean dramas, we were hoping that the Grevin Wax Museum would be filled with idols for us to take pictures with. To our disappointment, we noticed there actually weren't many Korean celebrities as we wandered through the first and second floor. However, on the very last floor, there were a few Korean actors that we admired (Kim Hyo Soon, Lee Min Ho, and Park Shin Hye) so we left feeling a bit more satisfied.
HAVE FUN AT MBC WORLD
After the Grevin Museum, we excitedly made our way to MBC World where we hoped to continue "seeing" more Korean celebrities. However, we were a bit disappointed because we actually weren't too familiar with the showcased celebrities. Overall, the experience was still enjoyable though! We took photobooth pictures and sung with AR (augmented reality) celebrities, participated in a dance tutorial with AR BTS, and also had fun with a news broadcasting experience. I actually studied television broadcasting in university, so it felt like I was back in school when I was reporting as the news anchor haha.
ENJOY THE TRICK EYE & ICE MUSEUM
When we were finished at MBC world, we transited to Hongdae where we visited the Trick Eye Museum and Ice Museum. These were two separate museums located in the same building. After seeing everything, we bought a bubble milk tea at the cafe and made our way to our next attraction: Running Man.
HAVE FUN AT RUNNING MAN THEMATIC PARK
Running Man is a popular Korean variety TV show that I've heard so many good things about. Although I've never watched the show, I know it's about competitive challenges and at the Running Man Thematic Park, we experienced just that! From agility, strength, and speed, these skills were put to test in a series of fun events. This event was definitely one of our highlights in Seoul, and we highly recommend checking it out with your Discover Seoul Pass!
VISIT INSA-DONG FOR LUNCH
Food in Korea was 100% one of the highlights of our Asia trip. There's just something about Korean food that's so incredibly homey and comforting. I love how they serve a variety of complimentary appetizers too (mmm kimchi and the sweet potatoes). For lunch, I enjoyed a beef short ribs soup which was a great way to kick start the day.
EXPLORE HONGDAE STREET
Filled with endless shopping, kpop dances, busking, and street performances... the streets of Hongdae was an extremely lively and youthful environment to be in. We hopped from store to store, while also being serenaded by talented dancers and singers in between. I bought a cute phone case here that also has a secret compartment on the back where you can store up to two cards!
GET A HAIRCUT @ THE DAYS HAIR SALON
Getting a haircut in Korea was a spontaneous decision that I made the night before. I've always admired Korean hairstyles, so the thought of getting a haircut popped in my mind. The Days was a recommended hair salon that I found through my online research on YouTube and blogs, and I personally had a great experience there too!
Stay tuned for a blog post on my full experience at The Days Hair Salon.
HAVE A DRINK @ CAFE 연남동 239-20
I found this 2D Cafe on Google by searching "most instagrammable cafes in Korea" and immediately upon my discovery, I knew I had to make a trip here. Inspired by the Korean Drama, "W," this cafe borrows 2D-looking designs all throughout. My boyfriend ordered the salty caramel latte (which I actually really enjoyed), and I got the original milk tea (tasted okay compared to bubble tea stores).
EAT KOREAN BBQ (PORK BELLY) @ PALSAIK SAMGYEOPSAL
Palsaik Samgyeopsal is a unique Korean restaurant that offers 8 different types of flavour for pork belly. This restaurant was actually recommended to me by a few friends on Instagram, so we decided to check it out. The price was affordable, and the various flavours of pork belly made it a fun experience for us to try. Although we've tasted better pork belly in Korea, this meal was worth a visit considering the price!
OPTIONAL: Day Trip to Gapyeong
For our last official day in Korea, we originally planned on taking a day trip to Gapyeong and visiting Nami Island, Petite France, and the Garden of Morning Calm. However, we decided to take it easy because we were a bit exhausted from traveling (we were in Japan for two weeks before this). We'll definitely want to explore those places in our next trip to Korea though, and if you have time, I hope you can fit this into your itinerary!