Seoul is a big connecting destination, a gateway to the rest of Asia, so it wouldn’t be surprising if you find yourself there for a layover sooner or later. Now, a layover can be a great way to see a new city. Think of it as a teaser trailer; you’ve seen just enough that you’re thirsty to see more, eager to plan your next trip. So if you have a layover in Seoul, how can you make the most of the previews? First, start with a walking tour through Gyeongbokgung Palace, offering a glimpse into Seoul and South Korea’s history. From there, a walk to nearby Insa-dong (also written Insadong) provides a similarly colorful though decidedly modern look at the soul of Seoul: it’s a hip center of art and fashion. Finally, a quick stint in Seoul wouldn’t be complete without a taste of Korea’s delicious fare.
Take the train to Gyeongbokgung Palace
From Incheon Airport, the train ride to Gyeongbokgung Palace may be long, but it’s both easy and scenic. Disembark at Gyeongbokgung Station and follow the crowds to this sprawling palace with mystical mountain views. The palace’s grounds contain courtyards, event halls, and pavilions, and dates back to the 14th century. Boasting intricate architecture throughout and an exquisite backdrop of Mount Bugak, Gyeongbokgung is a beautiful place to stretch one’s legs during a long layover. Wander between halls, spot the changing of the guards, hop on a short guided tour, and snap photos of the buildings and scenery. A visit to Seoul wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Gyeongbokgung, so why not squeeze it into your whirlwind day?
Walk around Insa-dong
From Gyeongbokgung, a 20-minute walk will carry you to the bustling Insa-dong neighborhood.This cool, artsy area of Seoul is home to galleries, cafes, boutiques, and souvenir shops, and provides a nice glimpse into Seoul’s vibrant, edgy culture. Insa-dong has a centuries-long history of being Seoul’s artistic, creative center, and Seoul’s art scene has truly flourished within Insa-dong’s perfect walking streets. If you’re souvenir shopping, Insa-dong will have plenty to choose from, whether you’re after inexpensive trinkets or finer craft pieces. Beautiful and quaint cafes—many of which have an artistic side, too—dot Insa-dongs streets, offering delicious refuge from the blustery winter or humid summer.
Indulge in a traditional Korean meal
Your short layover is coming to an end, and there’s a good chance all of that wandering and shopping has caused you to work up quite an appetite. To get a taste of authentic Seoul, you must do just that: get a taste of it. The best way to do that? Simple. Walk through Insa-dong at midday and duck into any crowded restaurant. Chances are you’ll end up with a hearty, traditional meal of rice, kimchi, meat, and more. Popular Korean dishes include Bibimbap, a mix of rice, vegetables, meat, and an egg; Gimbap, rolls of vegetables and various proteins wrapped in a sheet of seaweed; and Gamjatang, a hearty stew of potatoes and meat. Side dishes are common in Korean cuisine, so one dish magically becomes seven; this means you’ll be well-satiated for your return trip to the airport.
You might be interested in these Airbnbs!
Culture, art, and cuisine: an introduction to Seoul
10 hours isn’t long, especially when you factor in long customs lines and the hour-plus subway ride from Incheon to central Seoul. Yet, even with a short amount of time, the adventurous traveler can get a great glimpse of what Seoul has to offer. From history at Gyeongbokgung, art in Insa-dong, and food wherever you come upon it, a swift dash through Seoul will excite and inspire. You’ll be planning your next trip in no time.
Get Trip101 in your inbox