Discover Seoul, South Korea
Air New Zealand flies non-stop from Auckland to Seoul. Domestic connections are available from Air New Zealand serviced airports. On all flights to and from Seoul you have a choice of economy, premium economy and business premier™. The flight time between Seoul and Auckland is around 12 hours.
Tech-savvy, fashion-focused and food crazy, Seoul promises an exotic travel experience with all the comforts of a world-class city. Meshed into its thoroughly modern lifestyle are palaces, village-style neighbourhoods and traditions that reach back hundreds of years to the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty. From K-pop (invented 30 years ago) to kimchi (invented 4000 years ago), there's never a dull moment in 'Seoul Special City'.
A quick guide to Seoul attractions and sightseeing
Seoul has a character that's all its own. It's slick and sophisticated, driven by a thriving technology sector and a passion for digital gadgets. It's also seriously into fun, as you'll discover with Lotte World and Everland amusement parks, the K-pop stage at Gangnam Station Exit 5, and the joy of getting dressed up in traditional hanbok costumes for free entry to the palaces.
Threaded through Seoul's modern lifestyle are rich cultural traditions that can be experienced as night markets, tea houses, theatrical performances, palace tours and museum collections. Between everything you see and do there's a food adventure to enjoy – layers of savoury flavours that artfully balance salty, spicy, sweet, sour and hot.
Apps that make navigating Seoul easy
As the land of Samsung, Hyundai and Kia, South Korea is really good at tech. Be sure to load up your phone with the Naver maps app - the Korean version of City Mapper. It provides walking, driving and public transport directions to wherever you want to go. To help you communicate easily with the locals, download the Naver Papago AI translation app. You'll discover that these essential digital tools work better than Google equivalents while you're visiting South Korea.
Seoul sightseeing tours and transport
While there are numerous opportunities for guided tours of Seoul, you can easily find your own way around the city's top sights using an unlimited attractions pass to get discounts.
Seoul has one of the best public transport systems in the world, best accessed with a travel pass. Choose either a T-Money card (used by locals) or an M-Pass, designed for international travellers. These passes work for subways, trains and buses. You can also Uber around Seoul.
For a quick summary of Seoul, jump on the Seoul City Tour Bus. It's a government run hop-on hop-off service that helps visitors get around Seoul. An audio guide is part of the experience. Some buses are double decker with an open top.
One of the popular things to do in South Korea is a visit to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) that divides the two Koreas. There are many tour operators offering this adventure, either as a half or full day ex-Seoul.
Best places to eat in Seoul
From a food point of view, an absolute must-try is Gwangjang Market, a meokjagolmok (street food alley) with more than 200 food stalls. Fill up on kimchi soup, fried chicken, nokdu bindaetteaok (fried mung-bean pancake), bibimbap (rice topped with vegetables, meat, egg and chilli) braised pigs trotters, scrumptious mandu (Korean dumplings) and milky rice wine.
For a more upmarket kind of eating adventure, point your appetite towards the Cheongdam-dong area on the south side of the Han River. Here modern Korean cuisine often combines traditional ingredients with Western cooking techniques. To experience this approach, check out Mingles, Dosa or Pairing Room.
You haven't been to Seoul unless you've enjoyed the classic Korean barbecue meal. Meat is grilled on a gas or charcoal grill built into the dining table. You don't have to cook the ingredients yourself; someone will arrive to do the cooking for you. The hanwoo (Korean beef) is a top pick - beautifully marbled, so it's tender and juicy. Pork belly is also wonderful as part of a Korean barbecue dinner. Korean barbecue always comes with banchan (side dishes and condiments) – things like kimchi, seasoned bean sprouts, pickled daikon, seaweed, rolled omelette and green onion pancakes.
Discovering Seoul's history and culture
Seoul has seven UNESCO world heritage sites – a mix of palaces, shrines and tombs. In addition to these very special places, there are many other beautifully preserved palaces and neighbourhoods to discover. Here are a few possibilities:
- At Gyeongbokgung Palace you can see changing of the guard ceremonies and explore a vast compound of historical architecture and ornamental gardens
- Changdeokgung palace has stone bridges with guardian animal carvings, the private living quarters of the royal family, terraced gardens and paved courtyards will keep you entranced for hours
- On a darker note, you can visit Seodaemun Prison History Hall. Touring the original cell blocks, torture rooms and tunnels is a grim-but-fascinating experience
- You can walk the 18km Seoul City Wall, first built in 1396. The trail is elevated, so views are almost constant
- Wandering the narrow back streets of Insadong gives you a glimpse of how Seoul used to be
Seoul's switched on fashion and music life
Show off your Gangnam Style dance moves at Seoul's top nightclubs, some of which just happen to be in Gangnam, Seoul's trendiest district. Big-name DJs spin techno, house and all the latest K-pop hits.
Right outside of Gangnam Station Exit 5 is a tribute to Gangnam Style, once the most popular song in the world. You can actually get on stage and record yourself dancing to Gangnam Style by PSY while the music continuously loops.
Before you hit the nightlife, you might want to update your look. Gangnam is home to local favourites like Kimmy J, Works Out and Rare Market. Korean skincare is another temptation you can explore - it's famously effective and refreshingly different. To begin your journey to the prized 'glass skin', visit the Sulwhasoo flagship store. Another captivating Gangnam store in Gentle Monster sunglasses store, for the latest in K-shades.
Nature-based things to do in Seoul
South Korea is mountainous and hiking is the country's number one pastime, so almost every green space in Seoul has trails or a peak to conquer. Right in the city, Namsan Park (topped by N Seoul Tower) offers spectacular panoramic views of downtown Seoul. If the stairs to the summit don't appeal, you can join the walkers and joggers around the lower trails.
South of the city centre, the Gwanaksan Trail is an excellent hiking escape that's accessible by metro. There are great views from the mountain summit and a picturesque temple that's dramatically set on the edge of a cliff.
Another outdoor adventure close to the city is Bukhansan National Park. A mountain summit is the main goal here too. You can start at Bukhansanseong Information Centre at the western entrance to the park and finish at the Akademi Information Centre on the eastern side.
Keep exploring Seoul
Best time to visit Seoul
Seoul is beautiful in every season. From late March until mid-April, it's cherry blossom time. You might get some rain, but you can also expect plenty of blue skies. Summer in Seoul (June to August) is hot and humid, with temperatures in the high 20s. Autumn (September to November) is a glorious time of the year and the most popular time to visit. Don't be put off by the prospect of winter - it's cold, but one of the driest times of the year with many invigorating blue-sky days.
How much will it cost?
You can expect good value for money in Seoul. Accommodation and public transport are cheaper than Tokyo and Hong Kong; similarly, the general cost of living is lower in Seoul. In Seoul you can eat out at a street food market for less than $10NZD per person. A sit-down meal at a restaurant costs from $25 per person, depending on your choices. Child entry to Lotte World is $58, compared to $66 for Disneyland Tokyo.
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