A quick guide to one of our favorite destinations!!!
Nothing is more uniquely Seoul than the experience of eating a Bulgogi beef dish in the street food “restaurants” of Namdaemun Market or enjoying “K-Pop” at one of the TV studio shows throughout the city! When it comes to sightseeing, all must visit one or more of the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul or some of the remaining six of the Eight Great Gates! These opportunities merely scratch the surface of the experience that is to be had in this capital city and home of well over 11 million people! Seoul is well worth an exploratory visit on its own, or perhaps as a stepping-off point for a visit to the rest of South Korea.
We hope that you will allow Business Travel 365 to help plan your travels to this corner of the world! (Information presented here is accurate as of February 2021, our Concierge department team can help with up-to-date information and all your travel planning needs for Seoul!)
Seoul: Getting there
Gateway cities from the USA to Seoul
There is a wide range of choices for flights from the United States to Seoul. Currently, there are nonstop flights from 11 gateway cities, with domestic feeder flights on to other cities in the United States:
|Gateway City:||Great Circle Distance:||Average Flight Times:||Airline, Frequency, Equipment:|
|Atlanta||7188 miles||12:45 eastbound, 14:30 westbound||Delta, 6X/week, A350-900|
|Boston||6860 miles||13:00 eastbound, 13:30 westbound||Korean, Daily, B787-9. Korean, 4X/week, B787-9.|
|Chicago||6582 miles||12:15 eastbound, 13:15 westbound||Korean, 5X/week, B777-300|
|Dallas||6874 miles||12:00 eastbound, 13:45 westbound||American, 10X/week, B787-9 B772|
|Detroit||6666 miles||12:15 eastbound, 13:15 westbound||Delta, Daily, A350-900|
|Honolulu||4566 miles||9:45 eastbound, 11:00 westbound||Hawaiian, 1X/week, A330-200|
|Los Angeles||6022 miles||10:30 eastbound, 12:30 westbound||Asiana, Daily, A350-900. Hawaiian, 2X/week, A330-200. Korean Air, Daily, B777-300.|
|New York (JFK)||6938 miles||13:00 eastbound, 14:00 westbound||Asiana, 5X/week, A350-900. Korean Air, Daily, B777-300.|
|San Francisco||5685 miles||9:45 eastbound, 11:30 westbound||Asiana, 4X/week, A350-900. Korean Air, 5X/week, B787-9. United, 8X/week, B787-9 B777-300|
|Seattle||5239 miles||9:30 eastbound, 11:00 westbound||Asiana, 2X/week, A350-900. Delta, 5X/week, A330-9(neo). Korean Air, 3X/week, A330-300|
|Washington Dulles||6990 miles||12:45 eastbound, 14:00 westbound||Korean Air, 4X/week, B787-9|
The best airlines flying to Seoul
U.S. Airlines currently flying to Seoul include American Airlines (from Dallas), Delta Air Lines (from Seattle, Detroit, and Atlanta), Hawaiian Airlines (from Honolulu and Los Angeles), and United Airlines (from San Francisco). Both Korean national airlines fly to many cities in the United States: Asiana (from Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York JFK) and Korean Air (from Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington Dulles, New York JFK and Boston). These schedules and routes could change as flights resume after the Global COVID Pandemic. All airlines operating these routes feature Business Class cabins with seats that convert to Fully-Flat Beds, some with private suites. While currently more limited, these airlines also provide full service in all classes.
Airports in Seoul:
Spotlight on Seoul Incheon Airport:
Incheon International Airport is the largest airport in South Korea. All transpacific flights from the United States arrive and depart from Incheon International Airport.
Where will you land?
Incheon International Airport is located on a piece of reclaimed land between the islands of Yeongjong and Yongyu Islands, replacing the sea that originally separated these islands. This area is just west of the city of Incheon, the third most populous city in South Korea. The terminal is located 30 miles or 50 kilometers from downtown Seoul. Incheon is considered one of the twenty busiest airports in the world and among the busiest in Asia. Before the COVID Pandemic, there were over 70 million passengers using the facilities and the 111 boarding gates of the three Terminals (Terminal 1, Concourse A, and Terminal 2). In 2020, only just over 12 million passengers used the airport.
Getting there and away!
There are many different options to travel from Incheon Airport to Seoul. Notwithstanding private transfers, which can be easily arranged and can be the option for larger groups going to one destination address, the three best transport options from the airport are:
- Taxi: The most expensive option takes about one hour and costs from 44000-55000 Korean Won (KRW) (about $40-$50). Taxi can comfortably take three passengers with minimal baggage. For a larger taxi (up to 5 passengers and more luggage) — there are “minivan” taxis which cost about double the price.
- City Limousine Bus: There are many different routes, with bus stops on the arrivals level. It is best to consult with the Ticket Counters located inside at Gate B and Gate D and outside of Doors(Gates) 4,6,7,8,11 and 13. You need to purchase your ticket before proceeding to the bus stop that corresponds to the bus number (they will tell you by which Door the bus stop is located). The tickets cost from 9000 to 15000 Korean Won(KRW) (about $8-$14) one way, per person. Please keep in mind that the stop for your hotel should be announced by the driver, as you must tell him where you are going when boarding. In our experience, the City Limousine Buses are comfortable, run frequently (about every 30 minutes), and in under 70 minutes, you should be dropped off within several hundred feet of your destination address. The bus stop to return to the airport should be just across the street or intersection from where you get dropped off.
- Airport Railroad Express (AREX) Trains: If your destination in Seoul is close to the Seoul Central Train station, then the 40-minute Express Train costing 9500 Korean Won (KRW)(about $8) is the fastest way to the center (takes less than 40 minutes!). However, for a similar price, and just slightly longer, the Limousine Buses will end up being more convenient!
Airport Lounges at Incheon Airport
Even though many lounges are closed at the airport due to the Pandemic, there are still many options available to premium travelers. Access is usually provided to travelers in premium classes and elite members of certain frequent flyer programs (including partner airliners). They are:
Sky Team Lounges:
- China Eastern Lounge (Center of Concourse A, Fourth Floor) Open Daily from 6:00 a.m.to 10:30 p.m.
- KAL Lounge (First) (Terminal 2, Gate 49, Fourth Floor) Open Daily 4:00 a.m.to Midnight
- KAL Lounge (for Foreign Airlines) (Terminal 1, Gate 28, Fourth Floor) Open Daily 6:30 a.m.to 11:30 p.m.
- KAL Lounge (Prestige East) (Terminal 2, Gate 53, Fourth Floor) Open Daily 6:30 a.m.to 10:30 p.m.
Star Alliance Lounges:
- Asiana Business Lounge (Terminal 1, Gate 11, Fourth Floor) Open Daily from 5:00 a.m.to 10:00 p.m.
- Asiana Business Lounge (Terminal 1, Gate 26, Fourth Floor) Open Daily from 5:00 a.m.to Midnight
- Asiana Business Lounge (Terminal 1, Gate 42, Fourth Floor) Open Daily from 6:00 a.m.to 12:30 a.m.
- Asiana First Lounge (Terminal 1, Gate 11, Fourth Floor) Open Daily from 5:00 a.m.to 10:00 p.m.
- Jeju Air Lounge (Terminal 1, Gate 28, Fourth Floor) Open Daily from 6:00 a.m.to 10:30 p.m.
- Lounge L (Terminal 2, Gate 31, Fourth Floor) Open Daily from 8:30 a.m.to 4:30 p.m. (Paid Access)
- MATINA Lounge (Terminal 1, Gate 11, Fourth Floor) Open Daily from 7:00 a.m.to 4:00 p.m. (Paid Access)
- MATINA Lounge (Terminal 2, Gate 52, Fourth Floor) Open Daily from 7:00 a.m.to 4:00 p.m. (Paid Access)
- Sky Hub Lounge *temporarily closed* (Center of Concourse A, Fourth Floor) 7:00 a.m.to 10:00 p.m.
- Sky Hub Lounge *temporarily closed* (Terminal 1, Gate 25, Fourth Floor) 7:00 a.m.to 10:00 p.m.
- Sky Hub Lounge (Terminal 1, Gate 29, Fourth Floor) Open Daily from 8:00 a.m.to 7:00 p.m. (Paid Access)
- SPC Lounge (Terminal 2, Gate 68, Fourth Floor) Open Daily from 7:00 a.m.to 7:00 p.m. (Paid Access)
Interesting information about the airport:
- Construction began in 1992 and took nine years to complete before opening in March of 2001! Much of that time was required to reclaim the land needed to support the ultimate five runways at Incheon.
- The airport has more phases of expansion planned, enabling the airport to handle 100 million passengers annually!
- Incheon regularly wins worldwide awards, including World’s Best Airport from Skytrax. The airport is currently considered the “World’s Fourth Best Airport” and the “World’s Cleanest Airport,” particularly important in this pandemic time!
- In November 2006, the Airbus A380 landed at Incheon Airport as part of its first Certification flight, showing that the airport would be able to handle the superjumbo aircraft.
Gimpo International Airport:
A secondary airport is Gimpo International Airport — which is primarily a domestic and regional airport much closer to Downtown Seoul (about 9 miles or 14 kilometers from the Central Train Station). Primary access to this airport is with the Seoul Subway Line 9 or the AREX express line trains from the major downtown areas. This airport has only recently been surpassed by Jeju Island International Airport as South Korea’s second-largest airport.
Want to explore South Korea beyond Seoul?
There are many interesting places to explore in South Korea! For example, there are 13 UNESCO cultural heritage sites located in the country, yet only three are in or near Seoul! There are many domestic flight options to Busan, Gwangju, Jeju, Yeosu, and others. There are also flights to major regional cities: Beijing, Hong Kong, Osaka, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo. These domestic and international flight options mean that travelers could fly into Korea at Incheon Airport, visit Seoul for 3-5 days and then take a flight to continue exploring the rest of South Korea or the Region (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan).
Seoul: A Primer
A Concise History
Seoul traces its history back about 2,000 years to the city of Wiryeseong, which was the capital of the ancient Baekje. This community on the banks of the Hangang River was located in what is now Southern Seoul. The city began to create its own name when it became the capital of the Joseon Dynasty in 1394. This lasted until 1910, and particularly in the most recent century of that dynasty, with the opening of the port, the city began to see improvements that allowed for the next period of rapid growth. Japanese colonization from 1910-1945 was a significant influence, and many consider it to have been a difficult time. Once Korea gained its independence in 1945, the city was renamed Seoul Metropolitan City. The city fell into ruin during the Korean War. The most amazing thing about Seoul was the half-century after the end of the Korean War. The city experienced rapid economic and industrial growth, achieving such gains in less than ⅓ the time as similarly sized European cities. The 60 year time period from 1960 to 2020 can be divided into three equal periods. In the first years (1960-1980), the city grew in population and was forced to deal with “growing pains.” From 1980-2000, with hosting the Asian Games in 1986 and the Olympic Summer Games in 1988, there were great gains in urban improvements, and the city not only developed the infrastructure to experience rapid population growth but also city beautification was attempted. After 2000, Seoul city planners concentrated on improving the quality of life of its residents. While there are many interesting, historical objects to visit, at the same time, Seoul is a thriving, modern metropolis.
Located in the Northwest corner of South Korea, the city of Seoul has about a 9-mile radius circle, bisected into two halves by the Han River. This river is particularly important in Korean history, with many battles fought over control of this region. This river cannot be navigated by large vessels as the outlet to the Yellow Sea is located at the border of North and South Korea, in a militarized zone. During the Joseon Dynasty, the Seoul Fortress Wall was built, stretching between the four main mountains that make up the Seoul landscape: Bugaksan, Inwangsan, Naksan, and Namsan. Further, there are eight mountains surrounding the city. The oldest section of the capital is now the Jongno and Jung Districts and is still the political and historical center of the city. The financial capital is considered to be the Yeouido District, while the Gangnam District is considered to be the economic center.
Best Time To Visit South Korea
The best times to visit Seoul are from March to May, and again from September to November when the climate is mild, crowds are minimal, and therefore it is less costly to travel. The season to avoid is the summer months, when it is hot and humid, the city is full of tourists, and hotel rooms are hard to come by.
Even though Seoul is located relatively far from the equator, as there are many tropical monsoons, the humid climate is best described as “humid subtropical.” There are large variations in temperature throughout the year. Summers are hot and humid from June to September, with the hottest month of August having temperatures ranging from 75-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters are short, with about three weeks of snowfall per year. While the average winter temperatures are around 30 degrees, extremes below zero degrees have been recorded.
Money Matters in Seoul and South Korea
The currency of South Korea is the Korean Won (KRW), which currently has a value of 1100 KRW to 1 USD. As a result, with a 910 USD withdrawal from an ATM, you would have 1.005.000 KRW, making you a millionaire until your first hot coffee at the 7-11!
In most situations, tipping is not required or expected. Hotel and restaurant employees do not expect a tip. Taxi drivers also do not expect to get more than is listed on the meter.
Bank and ATM availability
Most international debit and credit cards with a VISA or MasterCard logo can be used in Korea. Many ATMs do accept foreign cards! However, you should remember to notify your bank that you will be in Korea to avoid problems such as declined transactions. When you go to bank ATMs, pay attention and only try your card in those ATMs that say “International cards accepted” or something similar.
Shopping in Seoul
Personally, we always stop at a few of the big shopping centers in Seoul. Our favorite is the Starfield COEX Mall in Seoul. Worth a good walk, this underground shopping center seems to go on forever! There are at least two traditional Korean Food Courts here — the better one is located in the basement of the Hyundai Department Store. There are great places to buy books and Korean stationery, some good massage locations, and even a large casino. The half-mile-long complex is definitely a day trip. The area to the west of the mall (near the Casino) has many restaurants and shops with uniquely Korean offerings. In terms of traditional markets, Namdaemun is a favorite. There are Tourist Ambassadors here — and you can ask them to point you to the FIVE STORY Alpha Stationery Shop Flagship Store in the Northwest corner. Across the pedestrian street is a large Nature Republic (Korean Cosmetics) store, where you can leave with some great deals for cosmetic-lovers back home and even some free samples! Have the photo-based translator ready on your telephone!
Should you haggle here?
Haggling is not uncommon — use a calculator to make your offers. This is particularly common in street market stalls or even the clothing shopping centers in Dongdaemun. If there are no price tags on the items you want, you can try to name a price you are willing to pay. Be prepared to pay full price without discounts.
Unique things we have discovered about Seoul!
Seoul is an interesting city which is a combination of historical and cultural objects, with some very interesting modern and unique things to see and do. While it is impossible for travelers to visit the hundreds of places throughout this city, we hope to share some of our favorite places to experience in this amazing city!
- Start with the farthest day trip — take a licensed excursion to the DMZ or Demilitarized Zone — the area where North Korea and South Korea meet, about an hour’s drive north of Seoul. It is generally safe, but it’s important to follow the rules. Visit one of the only places in the world where there is a formally declared war still going on (since the 1950s!). The Korean War never ended with a negotiated peace. It is a full-day excursion, well worth the approximately $100 cost!
- Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace. This palace was built in the late 14th century and is now a destination for an interesting cultural destination, as well as an architectural object.
- Nearby to Gyeongbokgung is the Bukchon Hanok Village — it is an authentic residential community where people live. The area is full of artisan centers, and tourists can enjoy the opportunity to experience some authentic Korean arts and crafts.
- Dongdaemun History and Culture Park are best visited at sunset when the world’s largest LED flower garden “turns on.” That is just scratching the surface, as this is a working “think tank” for new Korean-sponsored inventions. Across the street are clothing designers’ outlet stores and many authentic Korean BBQ Restaurants. In our experience, there are many fine hotels located near here, making it an ideal base for exploration.
- Namdaemun Market, located near the Seoul Train Station, has already been mentioned here several times. It is our “must-see” for shopping and eating at a reasonable price in Seoul!
- In the same neighborhood, south of Seoul Train Station, are two important destinations. The War Memorial of Korea is well worth some exploration. It is currently used mostly as a place for veterans’ families to have wedding ceremonies and field trips for elementary school children. About a 15-minute walk further South is the National Museum of Korea. This is a modern art museum. A visit to the main collection is free of charge, and you’ll want to spend the money you save on admission here in the amazing gift shop — expensive, but there are some amazing items you will not find anywhere else!
- Take a climb up to the top of Mount Namsan and see the best views of Seoul from N. Seoul Tower.
- Make an excursion to the Banpo Bridge after dark (in tourist season — check with your hotel front desk for times and exact best directions) for the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain show. There are multicolored lights and several hundred water jets that make up what is considered by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the World’s Longest Bridge Fountain.
- Visit Gangnam and its incredible nightlife — not to mention the interesting Starfield COEX Mall!
- For an evening of relaxation, Korean style, there are two activities we can think of that are “uniquely Korean.” The first is to visit a Korean Bath House (most four-star or better hotels have their own facilities, many of which are included in the room rate). When clean and relaxed, build up the courage to partake in Noraebang, the Korean version of karaoke! There are always American/English songs to select from — and if you choose The Beatles, Elton John, Billy Joel, or Queen, most Koreans within earshot will likely sing along! It is not uncommon to sing until the sun comes up — so have fun!
This article is authored by the Travel Experts at BusinessTravel365. We look forward to leveraging our knowledge and experience to help book great flight deals for your next business class travel around the world!
The information is current as of 3/2021.