Transportation in Korea
Public Transportation In Korea
One of the best parts about South Korea in my opinion is the public transportation. The ease and convenience of transportation in Korea is going to blow our mind! If you are staying within Seoul you will not have trouble getting to any site or attraction quickly and cheaply. If traveling outside of Seoul you still have no reason to fret as you have tons of great options to choose from.
The Subway System
Seoul has one of the best and most comprehensive subway systems in the world and it will not disappoint. With rides within the city starting at around $1 and trains running on time and frequently, the subway system will be your go-to for getting around. The entire system is in both Korean and English (and Chinese and Japanese for that matter).
T-Money Card & App
The first thing you need to ride the subway is a re-useable T-money card. You can pay in cash as well but the card is so much easier. you can buy this card at most subway stations, at the airport and at all convenience stores (GS25, 711 etc). Once you have the card you can reload with cash at any subway station. You will use this card to beep yourself through every entrance and exit turnstile so keep it handy!
The subway lines are color coded so it is pretty self explanatory, check out the Seoul subway map below:
You can also download the Seoul Subway Map app to your phone and have it with you anywhere you go. The app allows you to choose your starting station and exit station and it will show you the quickest route between the 2.
Station Exits and Navigation
The exits at every station are numbered. If you are headed to a site or attraction be sure to make note of the station name and exit number. This info can almost always be found by Googling the site and then scrolling down to find the site info on the english.visitkorea.or.kr site. Check out the “Transportation” tab for all the info you should need. Or check out my 7 Day Seoul Itinerary for all the sites and their associated location information.
Interested in learning more about South Korea? Check out my other South Korea Travel Tips & Tricks
Beyond The City
If you are headed to Busan, Korea it has its own subway system that works exactly the same as Seoul’s. You just need the Busan map and you might need a different rechargeable card.
Other Public Transit Options
Taxi’s in Seoul are also very affordable and they are EVERYWHERE. You will always be able to find a taxi unless you wander very far off out of the city. Your main issue with taking taxi’s will be communicating with the driver. Occasionally the taxi’s will purposefully drive past you because you are a foreigner, however a new law was passed in 2017 making this illegal. Now, if a driver is reported 3 times for this bad behavior their license is suspended. Hopefully this will help with the drivers passing you by.
Although a lot of the drivers are great and will do their best to communicate with you some will not. The best thing to do is to be prepared and have the name of the place you would like to go written in Korean to show the driver. You can attain this by asking the front desk staff at your hotel to assist you or to look it up online and screen shot it on your phone. I would also recommend grabbing a business card from your hotel or accommodation to have in your wallet so you will always have the address in Korean in case you nee to get back.
The bus system in Seoul is very comprehensive but it is not nearly as tourist friendly. Most of the bus system is in Korean only which can make it difficult for visitors to use. But this is not to say that you cannot use it! If you can have a Korean speaker help you pick the correct bus number you can likely navigate it on your own. If you do choose to take a bus you can use the same rechargeable T-money card that you use for the subway.
In contrast, if you are heading to Jeju Island the bus system is your best bet, other than a private rental car. Everything in Jeju is set up for tourists so the system is in English and easy to navigate.
Renting A Car
Renting a car in Korea can be risky business. I DO NOT RECOMMEND RENTING A CAR IN SEOUL, I cannot stress this enough. Driving in Seoul is intense and you will never be able to find a parking spot anyways. You will nearly always be able to take the subway and end up closer than you will driving and trying to park. The subway will also be much cheaper, less stressful and quicker.
If you are planning to get out of the city then this might be the best choice for you. Driving in Jeju is extremely easy and will help you to get the most out of you trip. You will be able to see WAY more sites in a rental car than by using the local bus system. Check out my Jeju Island post for a great itinerary on how to see the best sites in a long weekend. My Places To Visit In Korea: 5 Days Through Korea’s Southern Highlights trip is also best done in a rental.
There are several reputable rental car agencies in Korea, for more info on license requirements and rental options check out this post Renting A Car In Korea.
The KTX speed train system in Korea is fantastic! They are the best way to get into other parts of the country such as Busan, Yeosu and Mokpo which are great jumping off points to several of the 5 Days Through Korea’s Southern Highlights attractions. The trains are very comfortable, affordable and can be picked up right in Seoul. It is a good idea to reserve your spot in advance if possible either online or in person at one of the major hubs like Seoul or Yongsan Station.
Unless it is a holiday or special event there is no need to book a reserved seat. I have never seen one of the trains packed, there has always been plenty of seating options. There is space above your seat for small bags and space between the cars for larger bags. You can leave your bag in the train holding area, there is no need to worry about theft. There is a small snack bar on the train with limited options. I would recommend bringing your own goodies.
You will almost assuredly arrive in Incheon Internation Airport in Seoul. It is an awesome airport that has ranked in the top 10 best airpots for the last 10 years. Incheon even runs its own tours, find out more here: A Layover In Seoul: How To Make The Most Of Your Time. The smaller airport in Seoul is Gimpo which runs a lot of domestic flights to Busan and Jeju Island.
The only other airports you will likely need to know about are Jeju International Airport and Busan’s Gimhae Airport. Domestic flights are very affordable within Korea and there are several budget airlines to choose from. Take a look at Air Busan, Air Seoul, Eastar Jet, Jeju Air, Jin Air and T’way Air for cheap flights.