Alex and I had a long list of things we wanted to see during our layover in Seoul. We had twelve hours from the time our flight landed until our next flight took off.
Alex and I did our best to stay awake during the 45 minute subway ride into Seoul from the airport, but we were exhausted after two non-stop weeks. We ate breakfast at (of all places) McDonald’s in Seoul Station before taking another subway to Gyeonbokgung Palace. Unfortunately, upon arrival, we found out that the palace is closed on Tuesdays. So we walked along the tall walls of the palace, hoping to get a sneak peak at what we were missing. Of course, we were unsuccessful.
In the same area is also the National Folk Museum of Korea. Having been to many great folk museums in Scandinavia, I LOVE folk museums. But just our luck, the folk museum is also closed on Tuesdays.
Directly opposite the entrance to the Folk Museum, are quite a few art museums and galleries including the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. It figured that my favorite Korean Artist, Do Ho Suh, had recently been shown there, but wasn’t anymore.
We skipped the art museums because we really wanted the chance to see some beautiful Korean architecture. Fortunately, we found another palace within walking distance.
So finally, we made it to Changdeokgung Palace. This palace was built as a second royal villa after Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1405. To get into the palace, there is a fee of 3,000 won (just under $3.00 USD). This gets you into the main palace grounds and was the ticket we opted for. There is also a ticket that includes the main palace grounds as well as a guided tour of Huwon (Secret Garden) that cost 5,000 won (under $5.00 USD). We decided not to do the tour of Huwon because we prefer wandering around at our own pace. If you’re interested in guided tours, there are also tours of the entire complex available at certain times throughout the day.
The palace grounds were beautiful. The wooden buildings are painted with bright, beautiful colors and designs. We explored the grounds for about and hour or so before we were nearly falling over from exhaustion. It was a tough decision, but we ended up heading back to the airport a few hours earlier than we planned.
On the perfect (non Tuesday) day, I think it would be manageable to stop at both palaces and the folk museum if they all were of interest to you. You might even be able to stop by one of the art museums. Click here to see the list of other sites we hoped to see on our layover in Seoul.
Note that if you plan on doing a self-tour like we did, make sure you give yourself enough time to take the subway back to the airport. We planned on heading back to the airport at least three hours before our flight was scheduled to take off. Because it will take at least an hour to get back to the airport (maybe more depending on where you are), and then Incheon International Airport suggests arriving at the airport at least two hours prior to your flight.
There are also free tours from Incheon International Airport that you can take! You can choose the tour based on how much time you have to spend in the city.