South Korea is an interesting country. It’s a country where you can find so many contrasts and contradictions. Ancients palaces beside high-rise buildings. Peaceful and quiet parks tucked not far away from busy intersections. It’s a place where you can definitely see culture and technology influencing each other.
I didn’t plan on coming to this country though. If not for Cebu Pacific, I would have gone somewhere else. Last year, I was invited for the first-ever Cebu Pacific Travel Leaders Night and my team won a trip to South Korea. Our trip was scheduled in March earlier this year but unfortunately, I was in Taiwan a week before that. I didn’t have enough time to apply for a South Korean visa the moment I got back to the Philippines. Thankfully, Cebu Pacific Air still gave me roundtrip tickets which I can use anytime I want. I knew right there and then to book it for the autumn season.
I honestly didn’t feel left out when my friends traveled earlier this year. They had an all-expense-paid trip, but a part of me was glad that I wasn’t able to join them because I had more control over my schedule.
I mainly explored Seoul and Gangwon Province for 5 days. I’m not the type to insert so many destinations in a short period of time so I decided to focus mainly on these two. I can always go back if I want to anyway.
A Solo Traveler’s Dilemma
Prior to this trip, I was a little worried about something.
I’m a directionally-challenged person. It has improved over the years, but sometimes, I still have a little difficulty remembering directions properly. I am not scared of getting lost, but it’s a big waste of time when you can’t locate where you’re heading to immediately. Because of this, I am heavily reliant on Google Maps especially when I am traveling alone.
But Google Maps doesn’t work in South Korea. Well, you can open the app and still get to search a place, but it will not provide the specific directions you need to get from Point A to Point B. Thankfully, there are quite a few apps that work in South Korea like Naver and Maps.Me. Personally, I prefer Maps.Me. (I’m in love with this app.)
I thought I’d have a hard time exploring Seoul, but it was a big surprise that I was able to easily locate all the places I wanted to visit. I didn’t book a tour prior to this trip because I wanted to do it all by myself. If you look at the map of Seoul’s subway, it looks like a spider web. But their subway system is pretty easy. Just make sure to download the Kakao Metro app or Naver map so you can easily check out which subway lines you should be in.
I’m an old soul and I don’t see the need in being unnecessarily stressed. I try to make every trip to be a purposeful one so everything is going to be chill and comfortable for me. So I decided to just explore what I can in Seoul and not force myself to go to places just because ‘I’m-already-there-anyway’.
Aside from visiting the grand palaces of Seoul, I just went to places where I can see the colors of autumn. If I had more time, I would’ve wanted to go to the Panmunjeom and Demilitarized Zone. I guess that’s one more reason to go back to South Korea soon.
Whether or not you are a solo traveler and want to follow my 4D/5N itinerary, here are the places I’ve visited in South Korea.
Haneul Park / Sky Park
Haneul Park used to be a landfill area but was converted into a park. It offers a breathtaking view of Seoul and the nearby World Cup Stadium. It’s actually just a 10-15 minute walk from the stadium. The colors of the plants and flowers are amazing during the autumn season. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in Seoul during the autumn months. Admission is free.
How to get there: From wherever you are in Seoul, just take the subway and get off at the World Cup Stadium Station and find Exit 1. Get on the escalator and once you reach the top, walk to your left and find the stadium’s exit. You should find a four-way crossing. Cross the street and walk towards the hillside. After a 10-15 minute walk, you will find a booth that sells tickets for a shuttle that will get you towards the top of the hill. It costs 3,000 KRW for a roundtrip ticket. I decided to take the stairs up to the park because it’s not that far anyway.
Seoul World Cup Stadium
From Haneul Park, I walked back to the Seoul World Cup Stadium. The Seoul World Cup Stadium was constructed to host games for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Today, it remains to be a major venue for Korean sports events. I found the entire area fascinating. I didn’t enter the stadium itself and just wandered around. You will find lots of colorful trees even in the parking spaces.
Ewha Woman’s University
Seoul has so many amazing universities and I knew I just had to visit at least one of them. I decided to visit Ewha Woman’s University which is the largest underground campus in Korea. The architecture is amazing.
How to get there: From anywhere you are in the city, take the subway and get off at Ewha University Station (Green Line). Find the Ewha University Exit. The university is 5 – 10 minutes away from the station.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza, or DDP, is a major urban development landmark in Seoul with a neo-futuristic design. As soon as I got out of the subway exit, I really thought I was in a spaceship. The entire structure definitely looks like one. It’s absolutely stunning. I spent a lot of time just sitting in one of the benches and even played the public piano there.
How to get there: From anywhere you are in Seoul, take the subway and get off at Dongdaemun History & Culture Park station. It’s on Seoul Subway Line 2, 4, and 5. Find Exit 1.
Read: Dongdaemun Design Plaza: Playing a Public Piano for the First Time
I decided to cap off my first day by visiting one of the biggest markets in Seoul. I heard that Nandaemun Market is the best place to go if you want to buy the most affordable souvenir items.
How to get there: From anywhere you are in Seoul, take the subway and get off at Hoehyeon Station. Exit at Gate 4, 5, or 6.
Nami Island or Namiseom Island is an island located in Gangwon Province which has a half-moon shape. This island is extremely famous because it was one of the filming locations of several popular K-dramas (which I have yet to watch). This is the only place I decided to visit outside of Seoul because I just wanted to see the beautiful colors of the trees on this island. Getting there at 7 AM was the best decision I made that day. Most tours would start at 9 AM so getting before the rest of the world was literally the best! Most people would go to the Garden of the Morning Calm and Petite France as part of a tour but I decided to opt-out. I had other places in mind for that day and I was already satisfied with what I’ve seen in Nami Island alone.
How to get there: If you want to get to Nami Island without transferring from one subway line to another, I recommend booking a tour with Klook. It’s affordable and hassle-free. Click here to book your tour.
However, if you want to take the subway like I did, it’s definitely doable too. From anywhere you are in city, take the subway and make sure to get off at Gapyeong Station. Depending on where you’re from, it will probably take 3-4 transfers. The journey is about 1 hour and 30 minutes. From Gapyeong Station, take a cab to the ferry wharf. At the wharf, buy the tickets to Nami Island which costs 13,000 KRW.
Read: Nami Island Diary: I Wanted To Be Alone
Starfield Library is one of the libraries I’ve always wanted to visit. The library’s design is unique and is even more stunning when you actually see it in person. Before getting there, I was hoping I could achieve one ‘Instagram shot’ inside, but as soon as I arrive there, I forgot my original plan. My eyes were transfixed towards all the books inside the library. I ended up spending more time looking at the titles. I’ve only seen a few titles in English, but the library is definitely worth visiting.
How to get there: Take the subway and get off at Samseong Station (Line 2). Take exit 6 and find Starfield COEX Mall.
Read: Starfield Library: A Must-See Library in Gangnam, Seoul
Seoul Book Repository / Seoul Book Bogo
At first, I only wanted to visit this bookstore because it’s one of the filming locations of Hotel del Luna. But I definitely did not regret including this bookstore in my itinerary because it’s one of the best places I’ve ever visited in Seoul. In fact, I spent 3 hours inside this bookstore. Seoul Book Repository is the first second-hand bookstore in Seoul. I ended up buying a 1930 edition of Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man. The bookstore has so many English titles and each one only costs around 2000-3000 KRW!
How to get there: Take the subway and get off at Jamsillaru Station (Line 2). Find Exit 1 and walk towards your left. Cross the street. The bookstore is on the other side of the street.
Read: Seoul Book Repository Reminded Me Why I Love Second-hand Bookstores
Myeongdong Shopping Street
After a whole day of wandering around Seoul and Gangwon Province, I decided to end my day in Myeongdong. I wanted to splurge on skincare products and I knew Myeongdong is the best place to go. My knees were a little tired though so I only went inside two shops and bought some masks, toner, eye cream, and some cosmetics. I even got freebies!
How to get there: Take the subway and get off at Myeongdong Station. Find exit 6.
Read: Splurging on Skincare in South Korea
Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. It is one of the grand palaces in Seoul is also the largest. The name Gyeongbok means ‘Greatly Blessed by Heaven”.
I arrived at the palace grounds at exactly 10 AM so I was lucky that I got to witness the changing of guards ceremony. You can also wear traditional hanbok and enjoy free entrance to various locations nearby!
How to get there: Take the subway and get off at Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3). Find exit 5.
Read: Strolling the Grand Palaces of Seoul
Changdeokgung Palace and Changgyeonggung Palace
These two palaces are located next to each other so it is definitely a good idea to visit both at the same time. Changdeokgung Palace has a unique design and architecture and is the most well-preserved palace in Seoul. It is also the only one that is inscribed into the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Changgyeonggung Palace has some of the best gardens and wooded areas on its grounds. In fact, the autumn colors inside the palace grounds were absolutely stunning.
How to get there: Take the subway and get off at Anguk Station. Take the 3rd exit. Just look out for the street signs to find the way to the palaces.
Read: Strolling the Grand Palaces of Seoul
Deoksugung Palace and Stonewall Walkway
Out of all four grand palaces, this one is my favorite. The design and architecture inside the palace are somehow a little different from the others. This palace is well known for its elegant stone-wall road. The palace is surrounded by high-rise buildings which made it stand out more.
How to get there: Take the subway and get off at City Hall Station. Find Exit 1, 2, or 3.
Read: Strolling the Grand Palaces of Seoul
On my last morning in Seoul, I decided to spend it hiking Namsan Park. The N Seoul Tower and love locks didn’t appeal to me this time so I decided to exclude it from my itinerary. I wanted to get my heart and lungs pumping so hiking Namsan Park sounded like a good idea. It’s definitely a great hiking spot and I absolutely loved the view on top.
How to get there: Take the subway and get off at Myeong-dong Station. Take exit 2 or 3. Walk towards Lila Elementary School for about 10 minutes to reach the cable car station. Once you reach the cable car station parking lot, just cross the street to find the stairs to Namsan Park.
Read: Early Morning Hike to Namsan Park
Cafe Yeonnam-dong 239-20
I just wanted to relax on my last day in Seoul so after hiking Namsan Park, I went to a nice restaurant for lunch and then went to Hongdae area to find someplace to chill. After spending some quiet time in a public park, I decided to go to a nearby coffee shop in the area that looks really interesting. It’s like being inside a 2D picture.
How to get there: Take the subway and get off at Hongik University Station. Find Exit 3.
Read: Cafe Yeonnam-dong 223-14: Inside Seoul’s ‘2D’ Cafe
I had the best time exploring Seoul all by myself. In such a modern city, I was surprised to find something exciting for my old soul. It’s definitely my most memorable trip to date. All thanks to Cebu Pacific Air and Bigseed for making the trip possible!