Now that you have learned about the different transportation cards and passes available in Seoul, it is now time to learn how to get around Seoul.
To learn more about Seoul transportation cards and passes, check this link: Seoul Travel Hacks: Transportation Cards and Passes
Seoul is a massive sprawling urban area. With a metropolitan area that houses nearly half of South Korea’s population, it could be tedious finding one’s way in Seoul’s complex urban web. However, for a highly-urbanized hub, Seoul is very organized and carefully planned, and so is its transportation system.
Seoul is one of the best places to commute. It has a well-established and well-defined transportation system that makes it easy going from point A to point B. The extent and efficiency of the system is fascinating and even breathtaking.
There are three main modes of transportation to get around Seoul:
- City Buses
- Subway system
For those who want to drive around, they can rent cars. However, other travelers strongly advice against it. Korean drivers are not exactly the most courteous in the world. They have such a notorious reputation that the locals even complain about it. Moreover, Seoul has a infamous traffic situation; but hey, I am from Manila so I don’t honestly think that the traffic situation in Seoul is all that bad. Haha!
In a bustling city like Seoul, taxis are very prevalent transportation options. According to some travelers, taxis in Seoul are relatively inexpensive. Taxis are recommended for short rides for their convenience and speed. Otherwise, other forms of transportation is recommended.
There are two main types of taxi in Seoul: the regular and the deluxe taxi.
- Regular Taxis – Locally called ilban taxis, these are the more common type of taxi in Seoul. Compared to the deluxe taxi, they cost cheaper as the flag down rate is from ₩2,800 and₩3,000 for the first two kilometers. An additional ₩100 is charged for every 144 meters or 41 seconds thereafter. Moreover, regular taxis increase fares by about 20% between midnight and dawn. Regular taxis can be distinguished by their silver, orange, blue or white color. They also have the ubiquitous “Taxi” sign on their roof.
- Deluxe Taxis – Locally referred to as mobeum taxis, they are more expensive, with flag down rates ranging from ₩3,200 to ₩5,000 for the first three kilometers. The increment of ₩200 is added every after 144 meters. Albeit more expensive, mobeum taxis are more comfortable and convenient as some offer extras like payment by credit cards. Unlike the ilban taxis, they have no nighttime surcharges. Mobeum taxis is differentiated from the ilban taxis by its black color and yellow stripe.
- It is important to keep in mind that most taxi drivers don’t understand or speak English. Even if you keep on repeating your destination, they might not be able to understand it because the way we read it is different from the way it should be read. Have your destination be written in hangul, or at least a Romanized Korean so that you can just hand it over to your driver.
- South Korea has no established tipping culture; it is never a bad idea to leave the change as a tip.
The city buses are the second-best alternative while traveling around Seoul. Seoul’s bus system is very extensive, far-reaching and cheap. However, as per my experience, buses can be a little confusing to navigate for nonlocals. Loud speaker announcements are generally in Korean only except for major stops on major routes. Bus maps are mostly in Korean too.
Apart from the language barrier, it is also a challenge keeping up with the different types of buses in order to get to the correct destination. Here are the different types of buses plying around, in and out of Seoul:
- Blue buses: These are the primary buses the operate within the entire city of Seoul. A single journey costs ₩1,300.
- Green buses: Green buses are branch line buses that do short runs between major stations. They also run along some major “blue” bus routes. Price is the same as the blue buses.
- Yellow buses: Yellow buses operate mainly around the main areas of downtown Seoul. A single journey ticket costs ₩1,200.
- Red buses: Unlike the three abovementioned buses, red buses run to suburban destinations outside of the city limits (e.g. Korean Folk Village). A single journey ticket costs ₩2,400.
- Night buses: These are regular city buses that operate, as the name indicates, at night. Night routes carry the prefix “N”.
For tourists, there is another type of bus: the Seoul City Tour Bus. This is a tourist bus that drives through all of the top tourist spots and shopping areas in Seoul. Tourists with the Seoul City Pass can board and get off from the bus at any time or place, all day, as many times as they like.
There are two options in paying buses:
- Pay the exact amount upon entering; or
- Payment cards like tmoney which automatically gives a ₩100 discount (₩50 on red buses). Tmoney card holders also get a free transfer within 30 minutes of the last transaction.
- When using money cards, you must tap the card every time you enter AND exit the bus. As there are no turnstiles upon exit, you should be very mindful whenever you leave the bus. Be very certain that you have tapped your card to avoid penalties and extra charges.
- It is also important to note that each bus route is indicated by a number, e.g. 150, 1711. These numbers serve as guides for the commuting public; you cannot just simply ride any bus just because of the color. To avoid boarding the wrong bus, it is imperative to check first the bus numbers that will pass by your destination before riding one.
- Bus stops are very specific. You have to check which bus numbers stop by a particular stop. Each bus stop has a monitor that shows the ETA of different buses that stop by the said bus stop.
With a whopping 22 lines, the most convenient way to get around Seoul is through its subway. The Seoul Metropolitan Subway is a mix of rapid transit, light metro, commuter rail and people mover lines that Seoul and its suburbs, stretching as far as Incheon and some outlying areas in Gyeonggi province (like Gapyeong County where the popular Nami Island is located).
The Seoul subway is known for its efficiency and is constantly adjudged as one of the best subways in the world. No words can describe how astounded I was when I first stepped into it. It is like a small city thriving under a big city. Because of the systems extensiveness, it was no hassle traveling from one point to another. Moreover, nearly every main tourist destination in Seoul has a subway station within striking distance.
Unlike taxis and buses, language barriers are not much of a challenge in the subway. Apart from the hangul versions, all the station signs and maps have Romanized names. Moreover, the loud speaker announcements and recordings come in four languages – Korean, English, Japanese and Mandarin.
Operating hours start at 5:30 AM and runs until midnight. Base fare is ₩1,350 for the first 10 kilometers along the line (or roughly three subway stations). To make the experience more convenient, be sure to have a tmoney card or Seoul City Pass Plus. Tap the card at the turnstiles every time you enter and exit the subway. Fare will be automatically deducted from the card balance. Cardholders are also afforded a ₩100 discount for every ride.
- The easiest way to navigate the subway system is by installing an application called Subway Korea. It allows you to enter your current destination and desired location then it will provide the train lines you have to ride in order to get to your desired location. It can be used in Busan as well.
- If you want hassle free travel, avoid the subway from 5PM to 8PM as it could get absurdly crowded. This is especially true for the central and main lines. Thankfully, we were able to avoid crowding on the lines, but if you are claustrophobic, it is important to take note of this.
- Observe courtesy. There are seats at the corners of the subway car that are dedicated for senior citizens, people with disabilities and pregnant women. These seats are STRICTLY for them, NEVER sit on these seats even if they are free. The locals observe this, it is an unspoken rule.