Korea Day 1: Arrival in Seoul

We decided to go to Korea for our kids’ April spring break! It was only a week, but we hadn’t been to Asia since Christmas 2019, so decided to go for it.

The main caveat is that South Korea is quite far from the US East Coast, especially for a week trip. Even with a non-stop from Boston, this was still a 15.5 hour flight. Add in a 13 hour time change and a 1pm departure becomes a 6pm arrival on the following day. If you’re able, we’d recommend taking more time, since it was quite hectic for the time, though sometimes it’s hard to work that out with school and work schedules!

The Logistics

Our Itinerary

As we looked into spending a week in Korea, we initially thought about trying to split our time between 2-3 cities, but once we started reading the guidebook, we realized that Seoul is a huge city and that we would be leaving a lot of things unseen if we tried to hop too much around the country. So we booked 7 nights in Seoul and decided that if we got bored, there would be plenty of day trip options.

Here is a brief summary of our Korea itinerary:

  • Day 1: Evening arrival in Seoul (Myeongdong Night Market, and Cheonggyecheon Stream).
  • Day 2: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok village, Insadong; evening in Myeongdong area.
  • Day 3: DMZ tour; evening in Myeongdong area
  • Day 4: North Seoul Tower/Namsam area; afternoon: National Museum of Korea, War Memorial of Korea; evening: Nanta Show.
  • Day 5: Gangnam Area (Seoul Sky in the Lotte World Tower, Lotte World Mall, Lotte World Aquarium, Olympic Park, and CoEX mall).
  • Day 6: (Long) Busan day trip with guided tour (Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, Apec Conference Area, Haeundae Beach, Gamcheon Cultural Village, Jagalchi Fish Market, and BIFF Square).
  • Day 7: Slow day: Brunch, Changdeokgung Palace, Insadong, Myeongdong.
  • Day 8: Morning departure from Seoul.

Neighborhoods To Stay

When investigating different neighborhoods for accommodations, Myeongdong was our winner. Whenever we travel to a major city, our preference is to almost always stay in the heart of the city. While you can save money by staying further out and taking public transportation in each day, for short trips we typically don’t like wasting time with this. Plus we like having interesting places to walk in the evenings, with good food options for both dinner and breakfast.

Many guidebooks and forums seemed to list Myeongdong as the overall best choice for first-time visitors. It is a vibrant area that is close to the tourist activities, is filled with modern Korean culture, and has plenty of shopping and dining options – including a fabulous market.

Insadong, Hongdae, and Gangnam are also reasonable choices. Insadong is a historic neighborhood in the heart of Seoul with plenty of access to tourist sites, but is a little quieter than Myeongdong (it’s slightly north of Myeongdong). Hongdae is a university neighborhood with lots of restaurants and bars, making it most appropriate for those seeking great nightlife. Gangnam is in the middle of skyscrapers/malls and is known for both its nightlife and high-end shopping (but it’s far-ish from the historic core).

Our Hotel

Narrowing our choice to Myeongdong, we took a look at various hotels on booking.com and a few other sites. We ended up choosing the Metro Hotel Myeongdong. One thing we observed was that family rooms were surprisingly difficult to come by. We could have split up with two people in each room, but when you want to all stay together, there aren’t always a lot of options.

Additionally, breakfast was less likely to be included in Seoul hotels than in other cities around the world. This was not a big deal to us though. When we stayed in China, some of our hotels have not had breakfast and we thoroughly enjoyed searching for dumplings, fried bread sticks, and other morning treats.

Transport to the Hotel

We debated between a taxi and the Airport Railroad Express. Taxis in Seoul aren’t particularly expensive for a developed Asian city, though traffic can be heavy, and it’s good to have the address written in Korean.

The train is a fairly efficient 50 minute ride to Seoul station, and relatively inexpensive, though it only leaves every 40 minutes. In our case, the timing mostly worked out, so we just took the train both directions. In our case, we didn’t pre-reserve, we just bought the tickets at the kiosk (including reserved seats) for the next train leaving about 15 minutes later.

One pleasant surprise on the return trip – it’s possible to check your luggage into the flight and get your boarding pass at the Airport Railroad Express stand in Seoul Station, if you make the cutoff (I believe it’s 3 hours 20 minutes at the train station before the flight, though that’s effectively only about 2.5 hours at the airport before the flight).


Google Maps has limited functionality in Korea – it shows maps and does transit directions, but it doesn’t do walking or driving directions. And it doesn’t do offline maps. Download the local Naver Map app onto your phone, though we sometimes still used Google Maps as well. For our phones – we have a TMobile plan that includes free [low-speed] data roaming, though Jeremy also bought a data-only esim from Ubigi for higher speed, that gave him 3GB in a month for $12.

The Snag

There are few trips where everything goes exactly as planned, and this trip was no exception. At 7pm the night before our trip, one of our kids told us that he wasn’t feeling well. Sigh. At first, we thought that we were going to have to cancel the entire trip, but James was incredibly disappointed and asked if Jennifer could stay home with his brother, while Jeremy took him to Korea. At the time, we weren’t sure, so while we started cancelling a few things, we did not cancel the flight or the hotel.

With a plan to leave our house by 10am to get to the airport, we set our alarms to 6:30am. Still sick! Sigh. But after a night to think about it, Jeremy had psyched himself up for a father/son trip! So, we cancelled Jennifer and John’s tickets, reorganized the suitcases, and went, Kind of crazy!

How did the cancellations work? Better than expected.

  • We booked the airline tickets as a Delta codeshare flight, so John and Jennifer both have credits on Delta to reserve new flights by the end of the year. But assuming we can use that, we’re not out for the flight.
  • For the hotel room – we booked a room where even if we canceled last-minute, we were only out one night. We thought about trying to find a smaller room, though we just kept the family room we originally booked. It was great for 2 people, though would have been slightly tight for 4 people anyway. Post covid, we’ve often tried to book rooms there we don’t lose 100% if we don’t make it, even if the base rate is slightly higher.
  • We had booked show tickets and a DMZ tour, but they were entirely cancellable at 24 hours’ notice. In both cases, we canceled our tickets for 4, and rebooked for 2.

What chaos! Jennifer was quite disappointed to have to stay home, but Jeremy and James were quite excited that all was not lost.

Our Experience

The Flight

This was our first experience with flying to Asia from the East Coast of the United States. It is a LONG flight! 15.5 hours! It used to be slightly shorter, but airlines are avoiding flight paths over Russia these days.

With only 1 week in Korea, we opted to get a non-stop flight, which put us on Korean Air.

To our surprise, 15.5 hours in economy wasn’t quite as bad as expected – Korean airlines has reasonable leg room in couch, and I managed to nod off a few times. The food was good enough for airplane food, but the movie selection was only so-so. On the return flight, I pre-downloaded some Netflix movies onto my ipad.

Getting to the Hotel

The online forums indicated the Incheon airport in Seoul, was super efficient, and they were right. We showed the health questionnaire Q-Code, had a quick trip though passport control (note that the advance K-ETA is required to visit Korea, though they didn’t ask for the forms), and only had to wait for our bags for a few minutes. I was able to get some local cash, buy a T-Money card, a pre-paid transportation card, and we hopped onto the Airport Railroad Express into the city.

We transferred to the Metro, but went slightly too far. Once we made it to Myeongdong Station, there was a 7 minute walk to the Metro Hotel Myeongdong. The sidewalks were quite crowded, and in retrospect, it might have been better to wheel our suitcase on a side street, but we made it!

After checking into the hotel, we realized that the room was going to be quite comfortable for the two of us, but that it may have been quite crowded if all four of us would have been there

Myeongdong Night Market

By this time, it was maybe 8:30pm and wanting to force ourselves to stay up a bit later, we decided to go explore the Myeongdong Night Market. There were plenty of food stalls, so we tried a few items: James got a red bean bread thing and an odd looking soda, while I got an Oreo churro, some fried shrimp, and a crab stick surrounded by rice thing on a stick. 

Cheonggyecheon Stream

We then made our way to the Cheonggyecheon Stream, going from market streets to office towers. This stream has walking trails in a central area and is a nice area for an evening walk. All-in-all, it felt very well planned, seemed like a nice place to work and appeared to have lots of amenities. 

Feeling quite tired, we decided to head back to the hotel for some sleep. Stay tuned for more posts about South Korea!

More From Adventures of the 4JLs

Keep reading our travel blog for more adventures in Korea:

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