My first time abroad was to Seoul South Korea. I spent six weeks there on an intensive language program. While I loved it, I would like to return to Seoul (and the rest of South Korea but that’s another post) with a little more knowledge about how I like to travel and a little more confidence.
Day 1: Landing + Spa
One thing that worked out super well for me upon arriving in Seoul on a later flight (arrived at 6PM Seoul time) was to stay in the airport jimjilbang/spa. One of the greatest things about South Korea is their dedication to spa-culture. I one day hope to take a round-the-world trip just to experience other culture’s spas. I once went to LA just to spend 7 nights in Korean spas. So if I had a similar situation, I would immediately head to the spa. I credit the spa with curing me of jetlag in one night!
Day 2: Free Tours + Exploring Incheon
The next day I would actually stay in the airport for a bit, and take advantage of the free tours from the airport. If you only have a layover I would absolutely recommend these as they’re free and in English, ranging from 2-4 hours at various times. It doesn’t include meals or entrance fees, though, so be aware 🙂
I would return to the airport and then head out to explore Incheon, staying in a hostel for that night. I never saw Incheon the last time I was there and although it’s not technically Seoul I would like to see it!
Day 3: Seoul + Temple Stay
Head to Seoul! This time I’ll abandon the bus and take the subway. Cheaper and likely equally or less confusing than the bus. Or I’ll spoil myself and take a taxi – in this dream itinerary I’m only traveling with a backpack 🙂
I will then head to the Geumsansa Temple. 1400 years old, you can experience the Buddhist way of life over the course of two days and a night. Some of my classmates were able to do a temple visit but not an overnight stay – if I’m going to have this experience I want it to be as immersive as possible! Plus, this option includes a tea ceremony and we all know how I am about tea.
Day 4: Finish Temple Stay + Insadong Spa
When I was last in Seoul, Insadong was one of my favorite areas to be in. It was here I found my favorite mandu shop (Korean dumplings) that was always sooooo difficult to find, and I don’t even know its name except it’s tucked behind literally everything. It’s worth it, and you’ll know it when you find it. It’s also where the best hotteok is, a cheap streetfood for less than a $1, with a variety of fillings it’s sort of like a donut. My favorite is the honey hotteok, the ones in Insadong were filled with nuts and brown sugar, I think, too. Delicious.
I’ve detailed more on why Insadong is such an interesting place in my main point on my previous trip to Seoul South Korea. However, it should be clear why I need to go back and spend more time exploring. To do this, I will stay in one of the most traditional Korean spas, Hanjeungmak Sauna. What makes this a truly traditional experience is they do not use electricity to heat the saunas, instead stones are heated and pine logs burned. I would stay overnight here as the spa is 24 hours.
Day 5: See Insadong + Camping on the Han River
One of the things I really wanted to do while I was in Seoul but was too nervous to try was camping. I had heard of it previously but when I walked along the Han river and saw all the tents I knew I had to try it someday. You don’t have to have your own tent or supplies as you can rent a tent + mats + have it installed for around $28 which includes the overnight stay. It’s a pretty great deal! And when I say it is on the Han river, I mean super close. Anything you want is still in walking distance as the city is right there!
It might also be a nice idea to take a river cruise, it’s a nice way to see the city. I did this in Paris and it worked out very nicely!
Day 6: Free Day
Now, as I don’t know exactly when in the year this would be, although I picture June, I imagine there will be some events in Seoul. If not, this day would rearrange to accommodate a day off for jet-lag, or a day trip to Nami Island. I always think it’s a good idea to have room for breathability in an itinerary. I’ll probably stay in a spa as I don’t have to reserve anything for those. If I’m following the itinerary exactly, I will have booked a hostel for this night in order to prepare for the next day.
Day 7: Palace Day!
I know now that I can still enjoy a “tourist” location by straying off main paths and going at early times. Since I’ll be alone, I won’t have to worry about complaining people on my team. Nothing brings out complainers, even in perfectly lovely people, quite like a tourist local.
As this is the most famous palace it’s probably best to go to this one first. It opens at 9AM in the summer, and the changing of the guard starts at 10 and occurs every hour. I can’t see spending more than two hours wandering around, but you never know and I’ll catch the change on the way out.
This is one of the most overlooked palaces in Seoul South Korea, and thus the best one to head to during the main rush hours. Supposedly there are generally more locals here than tourists as it’s fairly small, and it’s completely free. Either way it bears visiting! Probably arrive at 12:30 after a brief lunch, stay for an hour and a half and head out.
The final palace of the day (there are two others right next to each other best visited in the morning so that will be a different day). This is potentially the palace I’m least excited for, as it is meant to be more modern (with western style buildings in some areas), and wasn’t actually a palace to begin with. Either way, it’d be silly to see all but one of the palaces!
This is the best day to store luggage so potentially I will have stayed in a hostel both the night before and this night in order to be most comfortable.
Day 8: Traditional Experiences
There are several options on places like AirBnb or at museums for tea ceremonies. A nice lunch at one of these is an excellent idea, particularly for someone like me who is obsessed with tea. This would be followed by a traditional music or dance performance somewhere, perhaps at Seoul Namsan Traditional Theatre.
Finally, I would head to a traditional hanok Korean restaurant, perhaps at Nuri in Insadong which also offers traditional medicinal tea. I would then go off to sleep in a traditional Hanok guesthouse!
Day 9: Hiking and Shamanism
To work off the delicious food of the previous day I will hike Inwangsan mountain and see the Shamanistic temple at the top and perhaps be lucky enough to catch a ceremony! There’s also some Buddhist temples and it’s part of the longer Fortress Wall walk.
I’ll probably be pretty tired and I’ll just leave the rest of the day up to chance!
Day 10: Palace Day Part 2!
Changdeokgung Palace and Tour:
This is the second most famous temple and thus it’s best to get there as soon as it opens. The secret garden tour seems worth doing, so I could potentially spend 2 and a half hours here.
This palace is separated only by a wall from Changdeok, so it makes sense to do this one immediately after.
After completing my “grand palace” tours it only seems fitting that I would head off to a Michelin star restaurant after, perhaps Kwonsooksoo, which looks absolutely fabulous and as though I will have far too much food to have any hope of finishing.
Day 11: Free Day
The second of two free days, this is to make sure I have the chance to rest, catch up on any missed activities that I wanted to do, or add in a new one.
Day 12: Day Trip Heyri
A short way out of Seoul South Korea, it would seem silly to skip the eclectic town dedicated to art.
Day 13: Spa Day
My time in Korea is winding down and it will be time for me to indulge in my favorite part of Korean culture to the utmost. While Dragon Hill spa is indeed well-known, having been there previously I know that there’s enough to do to never be bored.
Day 14: Heading Home
Rising from my spa I would take the subway back to the airport in Incheon. I’d make sure that this time I had enough on my T-Money card so I don’t get stuck in the ridiculous lines.
I’m currently applying to the Fulbright in order to teach for a year in South Korea. Even if I didn’t get to do all of these things in two free weeks, I hope I would be able to see them over that time. I miss South Korea a lot. Now that I know more about traveling, it is a big priority of mine to see the South Korea I want to see. I’m hoping to have another post up about all the other cities and towns I want to see in South Korea besides Seoul!
I hope this could help some of your own itineraries 🙂