(Seoul Station is the premiere train
station in Korea)
This time, Jean, another friend who lives in California, was flying back to the US and had a few hours of stopover at Incheon International Airport. So, it's another day to tour Seoul again! In record time!
Over the years, people have asked me if they would be able to sneak out of the Incheon International Airport and roam Seoul during their layover. My suggestion has always been to join the free transit tours offered at the Airport because these transit tours have a bus and a strict timetable to stick to, allowing passengers to make it back to the airport for their connecting flight.
But the disadvantage of these tours is that they only visit a few tourist spots and stay close to one area.
I, however, always have other ideas for my tourist friends passing through Incheon Airport. And that is to run around Seoul on a marathon tour, while riding the local transport system like a local! Those transit tours can't beat that!
And so, when Jean flew in at Incheon Airport and had a few hours to spare, he simply took the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) train from the airport to Seoul Station! And from there, we ran around Seoul during that cool, spring April day just in time when the cherry blossoms were proudly blooming.
I took notes of our tour route and timetable so I could share it here for everyone to try out in case they also have a few hours' layover at Incheon International Airport.
Here it is:
STOP 1 @ 9AM: Seoul Station - arrival, quick coffee and breakfast
Taking the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) train to Seoul, Jean arrived at Seoul Station for a quick breakfast! There are cafes and donuts shops inside the Seoul Station, and we just grabbed a quick breakfast.
Transport: Leave the main Seoul Station building and head down to Subway Line 1 to go to City Hall Station, the next stop.
Or you can take either of these Blue Bus Numbers: 506, 150, 501 at the Seoul Station Bus Transfer Hub going to the Seoul Plaza. Make sure when you take the bus, the direction is towards the left if you're facing out of the Seoul Station.
(By the Cheonggye Stream)
STOPS 2,3: 9:40am @ Seoul Plaza and Cheonggye Stream
From Exit 5 of City Hall Station, we roamed around Seoul Plaza and headed down to the Cheonggye Stream for more photos.
(Greeting Admiral Yi)
STOPS 4,5: 10:10am @ Gwanghwamun Square and Gyeongbuk Palace
Seoul Plaza, the Cheonggye Stream, Gwanghwamun Square and Gyeongbuk Palace are a few hundred meters to each other. For this stop, we were able to see these tourist spots within walking distance.
At Gwanghwamun Square, the statues of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin and and King Sejong are the most popular photo stops.
(Courtesy call to King Sejong)
And by walking the entire length of Gwanghwamun Square, we ended up at the front entrance of Gyeongbuk Palace. We just crossed the street after!
We didn't buy any entrance tickets as we didn't need to enter the main palace. Jean just posed in front of the palace! And that was it! He already stepped into South Korea's premiere royal palace within an hour of his first breakfast in Korea! Ha-ha-ha!
(A royal visitor at the royal palace)
And from Gyeongbuk Palace, we walked towards the bus stop in front of the Sejong Arts Center and waited for the Blue Bus 402 which would take us to Nam-san (Mt. Nam) for the cherry blossom road!
STOP 6: 11:10am @ Namsan's cherry blossom road near Namsan Park
The cherry blossom lane was just across the bus stop, and we didn't need to trek up Nam-san towards the Seoul Tower; we could see it from where we were. We just roamed around the park and joined other international and local tourists admiring the blossoms that cool spring morning!
(Cherry blossom lane)
From the Yongsan Library Bus Stop, we simply took Blue Bus 402 (or 405) going down to our next stop, Namdaemun Market.
STOP 7: 12noon @ Namdaemun Market
Since it was lunch time, we stopped by the small binddaeteok restaurant near Gate 2 of Namdaemun Market and went for some hotteok dessert at the most popular sweet hotteok stall in the market!
From Namdaemun Market, we just strolled towards Myeongdong shopping area since it was just about 400 meters away.
STOP 8: 12:40pm @ Myeongdong shopping area and Myeongdong Cathedral
We walked around the busy Myeongdong shopping center and ended up at the other end where the Myeongdong Cathedral is located.
From there, we walked towards the highway nearest the Cathedral (turning right if you're descending from the Cathedral steps), and waited for Blue Bus 470 (or 471). The direction of the buses should be towards Namsan tunnel.
The blue bus ran through the tunnel, passed through Yongsan's Hannam-dong (my neighborhood, actually!), crossed the Han River via Hannam Bridge, and brought us to Gangnam Station! We were right in the middle of the priciest commercial real estates in Seoul!
Yes, Jean crossed the Han River on a Seoul bus through one of the busiest bridges connecting northern and the southern Seoul!
STOP 9: 1:20pm @ Gangnam Station and Psy's Gangnam Style
We headed to Exit 11 of Gangnam Station where, next to it, was Psy's silhouette declaring it's the Gangnam Style spot. There's actually a big button behind this small stage, which plays the pop song when pushed.
(Psy also welcomed Jean!)
From there, we took the train from Gangnam Station (Green Line 2) towards Sadang Station. At Sadang Station, we transferred to the Line 4 (Blue Line) for a train that would take us back to Seoul Station.
STOP 10: 2:10pm @ Seoul Station
Jean made it back to Seoul Station past 2PM in time for the next express train trip back to Incheon Airport. The express train took less than 45 minutes to reach Incheon Airport, where Jean would wait for his boarding time around 4PM.
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So, there! With free hours during his stopover at Incheon International Airport, Jean was able to run around Seoul, rode the efficient transport system of buses and subways, tried Korean dishes and visited the most popular tourist spots like a local! And even got a Gangnam Style welcome!
And in case you also want to do this transit tour, here are some important reminders:
1. For the Immigration officer to allow you to leave the Incheon Airport, you will need to present the boarding pass for your connecting flight as well as your travel documents like your passport.
2. Get a Seoul map from the tour desk at Incheon Airport and familiarize yourself with the places you want to visit.
3. Take note of your connecting flight's boarding time and the AREX train schedule going back to Incheon Airport.
4. Decide on what time you should be heading back to Seoul Station's AREX terminal and rush back immediately if you think you'll be pressed for time, even if you're not finished with your DIY tour. Always remember, you have a plane to catch!
5. Buy a T-Money transport card and make sure you have enough load for the bus, subway or taxi rides.
6. You will need cash in Korean won when you're buying from small stalls and shops.
7. Have fun on your adventure! We did!
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IMPORTANT: Make sure you incorporate in your travel time going back to the airport the following: train schedule, train ride, x-ray security check at Incheon, Immigration check and walking time towards your boarding gate.
I HIGHLY suggest you should be on the airport express train on the way back to Incheon Airport at least TWO (2) HOURS before your BOARDING TIME to allow an hour for the train ride, and another to get through the long queue at the airport security and Immigration.
MAKE SURE your watch, or smartphone clock, is synchronized with Korea Time!