With a population of over 10 million people, the South Korean capital is one of the most densely populated cities in Asia. Fortunately, getting around Seoul is made relatively easy thanks to a combination of well-planned pedestrian lanes and efficient public transportation systems. The subway system is one of the best ways to travel within the city as there’s usually a station within a ten-minute walk of most of the top areas and attractions.
Seoul’s public bus system is another popular method of transportation, boasting 400 bus routes that can easily charter visitors to Seoul’s main shopping, entertainment and business districts. Visitors can also flag down metered taxis in Seoul, with fares determined by distance and time. If you’re looking to explore other regions in South Korea, Seoul is also connected through a number of high-speed rail systems and express buses.
The subway systems offer a convenient way of getting around Seoul, featuring colour-coded subway lines, comprehensive maps, and display signs in Korean, English, and Chinese. Consisting of Seoul Lines 1 through 9, Jungang Line, Bundang Line, and Gyeongui Line, the trains here operate practically non-stop from 05:30 until midnight.
A'REX is Seoul’s airport railway line that connects Incheon International Airport and Gimpo International Airport to downtown Seoul. Operating from Incheon International Airport, express trains charter travellers to Seoul Station in just under 50 minutes.
Subway fares vary according to age range, where visitors can opt for the single-journey transportation card or multiple-journey transportation card. A 500 won deposit is required for the former, which you will receive by returning the ticket to a deposit refund device at your destination. The price for a single-journey transportation card is priced at 1,150 won (adults), 1, 000 won (adolescents), and 500 won (children) while the multiple-journey transportation card is priced at 1,050 won, 900 won, and 450 won.
For added convenience, Seoul subway stations provide numerous amenities and facilities such as tourist information centres, currency exchange, self-storage lockers, phone-charging stations, as well as plenty of live performances, restaurants, shopping outlets, and exhibitions.
Similar to the subway system, buses in Seoul are colour-coded according to routes. The blue-hued buses travel on major roads within Seoul while green buses travel shorter distances and charter passengers between transfer points such as subway stations. Buses marked in yellow travel on a circulation route within central districts of the city and red buses travel from Seoul to suburban areas.
Passengers can choose between paying cash when they get onto the bus or use T-Money, a prepaid transportation card that automatically deducts the fare upon swiping. Priced at 3,000 won per card, T-Money cards can be loaded in amounts ranging from 1,000 won to 50,000 won from an automated travel card recharge machine.
Taxis in Seoul are inexpensive, clean, safe, and can be found almost everywhere in the city. There are three main types of taxis here, all of which are metered with fares determined by distance and time. Virtually all taxis operating in Seoul accept cash, credit card, and the pre-paid public transportation cards (T-money card).
During peak hours and past midnight when subways and buses are not operating, visitors can find taxi stands near major attractions, shopping and nightlife districts. Do note that rates are 20% higher during this time, so make sure to plan your late-night travels in advance. Tipping is not necessary in Seoul, but rounding up the total fare and letting the driver keep the change is highly encouraged.
The cheapest taxis in Seoul are the regular or standard taxis, which are orange in colour. Charging a basic fare of 3,000 won for the first two kilometres and additional 100 won for every 142 metres, these taxis can be easily flagged down on the streets.
Mostly found near established hotels and tourist destinations, fares charged by deluxe taxis are about 40% to 50% more expensive than standard taxis. The plus side of these vehicles include English-speaking drivers, more spacious seats, safer service, and no late-night surcharges. To identify a deluxe taxis, look out for vehicles in black with golden stripes and the ‘Deluxe Taxi’ sign on each side.
Catering for foreign tourists, Seoul offers special international taxis, which are driven by taxi drivers who are proficient in foreign languages such as English, Japanese or Chinese. Similar to deluxe taxis, international taxis are black in colour but are marked with an ‘International’ sign on both sides. These taxis usually operate on a reservation basis, but you can also hail an international taxi from the streets. While international taxis are metered, a flat rate fare of 65,000 won to get to central Seoul from Incheon International Airport is available.
Seoul Travel Pass
Available at most convenience stores, subway stations, and tourist information centres, Seoul travel passes are not only helpful in getting around Seoul with ease, but common travel hassles such as long queues and lack of small change can be avoided. Priced at 3,000 won onwards, these cards can be used to pay for subway, bus and taxi fares as well as certain transactions at convenience stores. There are three types of Seoul travel passes available, namely T-Money, T-Money Mypass, and Seoul Citypass Plus.
The T-Money card is a standard transit card that can be used on any public bus, subway, taxis, and many convenient stores in Seoul. T -Money cards also offer a 100 won fare discount for buses and subways, as well as transfer discounts between buses and subways. Valid for 30 minutes between transfers, just tap your T-Money card on the sensors as you get on and off the subway or bus, and your total fare will be calculated as if you were on a continuous ride.
T-Money cards have no expiration date and any unused balance will remain on your card until used. For balances below 20,000 won, refunds can be made at convenience stores at a surcharge while balances exceeding that amount can only be refunded at the T-Money headquarters at Seoul City Tower Building.
For multiple journeys, the best option is the T-Money Pass. Available at tourist information centres in Incheon International Airport, Seoul Global Culture & Tourism Centre in Myeongdong, and Gangnam Tourist Centre, the card can be used for a maximum of 20 times a day for subways and public buses.
Seoul Citypass Plus
The Seoul Citypass Plus has similar functions to a T-Money card but comes with additional tourist benefits. Not only can travellers can travel within Seoul via public transportation for up to 20 times a day, it can be also used for transactions at the royal palaces of Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, and Deoksugung, Jongmyo Shrine, and many convenience stores. Cardholders can also enjoy discounts at dozens of major attractions, restaurants, exhibitions, and beauty salons.