Did you know that the U.S. is less than a 4-hr flight from Seoul, South Korea? Well, if your starting point is Saipan, USA, it is! Even better, from our little island a flight to Seoul is not only quick, but often really, really cheap. Like sometimes it can be $150 r/t kind of cheap, and maybe even less for the kids’ tickets.
As a city that offers a lot of fun and fascinating stuff for the growns as well as the littles in our family, we are unanimous: we LOVE Seoul. In addition to the delicious food and great sights, the city is really quite easy to navigate as first-time visitors, and we found that our kids were welcomed and doted on wherever we went. If you ever get lost or turned around, there are tourist info booths all over the place, and folks in red vests whose job it is to help poor confused travelers. (sidenote: please tell me where I can find my own personal red-vested helper to follow me around every day, everywhere!)
Here are a few quick Seoul tips for traveling families on a budget (but this applies to single travelers, too):
1.First of all, if you don’t have much time and are just on an extended layover in Seoul, consider checking out the FREE “Transit tours” offered at Incheon Airport. Select from a variety of options (these range from city tours to heritage or temple sites) and of different duration, according to how much time you have. Just be prepared to show your travel itinerary so the guides know how much time to budget for and get you back to the airport on time.
2.There are city parks and national parks that are super fun for kids (all ages). Children’s Grand Park has a zoo, playgrounds, a museum and more. You could spend a whole day there, if the weather is nice. At the center of the city is Namsan Hill, and just at the city’s edge are lots of National Park hiking trails that are accessible by subway and/or bus ride. These are very popular with locals on the weekends and it is fun to be smack in the middle of a favorite national pastime, with all of the customs and flavors that go along with it (like: free air compression hoses in order to pick off every single speck of dirt afterwards! Extravagant lunchtime picnics at the summit like you have never seen! It is so much fun).
3.As is the case with many large cities, it is difficult to find budget hotel rooms large enough to accommodate more than four people but we found a few. Staying in a traditional Korean room with futons is one way to maximize space in hotel rooms, but we also enjoyed our stay at Pencil Hostel near Seoul Station which includes a delicious breakfast. (Our room had a washing machine so that is an extra perk if you are on the road for more than just a few days, as we were.)
Another family we know enjoys 24 Guesthouse in Insadong so much that they have stayed there multiple times.
4.Bike Rides: take a ride along the river, starting in Yeouido Park.
5.And last but not least: get yourselves to a baseball game! Just go.
I won’t say any more so you can experience it for yourself. It’s just fantastic, and the kids will love it, I promise.
I will share one funny story, though, about our trip to see a baseball game in Korea: After hanging out in the bleachers for over an hour watching a game, my kids needed a change of scenery and to stretch their legs. We wandered through the stadium hallways and came across a large inflatable “bouncy house” on the lower level. When I inquired about the price, I was told that it was free for children. Then the attendant managed, in limited English, to clarify that it was free to children ages 8, 9, 10.
“Wow!” I exclaimed, “that’s quite a coincidence because I have three children, and those happen to be their ages! They are exactly 8, 9 and 10!”
She smiled graciously and let them through, but I had to wonder: did she believe me? They truly were ages 8, 9 and 10 at that time, but she had to think I was making it up! I mean, she had to. Right? It must have seemed suspiciously convenient.
Only later as I related the incident to my husband did he point out that in Korea age is calculated differently than in the West. In Korean years, our kids were actually 9, 10 and 11 since they start counting from the womb. Ah. Yes, I had forgotten about that. But hey, at least I was being honest in the moment.
For more tips on travel in Seoul, where and what to eat, and how to get around, the English-speaking blogosphere of Seoul is full of great tips. But one of our go-to favorites for travel tips has a great resource so be sure check out Migrationology’s new Seoul Travel Guide. The kids love Mark’s food videos and we are religious now when we travel around Asia about watching them before we visit a new city or country.