In less than three weeks we’re heading to Seoul for the third time in as many years for a ten day winter vacation. Why Seoul again? Because even with our previous visits we’ve only just scratched the surface!
Although less than half the size of London (by area) it has a population of 9.7million; over a million more people live there than in the UK Capital. This increased population density means that businesses have had to get creative to work with the amount of space available. Unlike in Britain where we have a row of shops at street level, in Seoul you have to think vertically and look up to the 2nd , 3rd , or 4th floor to find the bar, café or store you’re looking for. Shops and eateries often tend to be high concept, well designed experiences that set them aside from anything else out there. All this means there’s so much more fun packed into a smaller area, without even beginning to consider the miles and miles of underground shopping available in dozens of subway malls. As someone who loves shopping and food, Seoul offers the ultimate opportunity to see and do the maximum amount in a short space of time. The go-go-go pace might not suit people who like to chill on a beach doing nothing for a week, but we’ve found it completely addicting.
There are so many fantastic galleries, museums and restaurants to explore, often at almost criminally low prices. The subway system is a piece of cake to navigate and, FYI, pretty much everything in the city is a feast for the eyes and an Instagrammer’s dream.
Besides all that, we’ve never visited in the Winter before and can’t wait to see how Seoul changes in the cold weather, and to try a ton of new street food and seasonal treats.
So now that we’ve covered the “why”, let’s move on to the “what”! We’re aiming to pack as much as possible into our short stay, and for me that always means having a plan. On our honeymoon in 2015 I might have let my type-A personality run riot a tiny bit, assigning an activity for every hour of the day meaning that by the end of the trip we were totally burnt out. Last year I went too far the other way and we definitely wasted a lot of time while we were there trying to figure out what to do instead of just going and doing it. We’re trying to strike a balance this time so that we can do everything we want to whilst still taking the time to relax and enjoy ourselves rather than rushing from place to place.
Together we’ve come up with a rough itinerary so that we know which area of the city we’re heading to each day but with the flexibility to choose what to actually do when we arrive depending on how we feel that day. If you can’t tell by the way, I’m definitely the organiser/stress-head in our relationship while Jod is the one who stays laid-back and goes with the flow…
We’re also splurging on a few extras this time to make sure that our travel experience is super comfortable and relaxed. I hate flying in general and Jod’s long legs and inability to get comfy mean he can never normally sleep on a plane, so we’re hoping that the little touches of luxury will help us feel really well rested and ready to hit the ground running when we finally arrive at our destination, rather than bogged down with jetlag like we usually are! With all that said, here’s our rough plan for our 2017 winter vacation, I’ve tried to include links wherever possible for anyone planning their own trip…
Monday 18th December – Take the train to Manchester Airport and stay at the Radisson Blu for 1 night. We might head back into Manchester for dinner, or eat at the hotel, and get in one last gym session before the tsunami of holiday eating hits!
Tuesday 19th December – Check in for our flight just after 09.00, head through Fast Track security and then to the Escape Lounge where we can have breakfast and chill out before boarding. Our first flight leaves Manchester at 12.35 and arrives at Frankfurt at 14.15 (local time). We have a couple of hours in Frankfurt airport and then board our second flight which leaves at 16.40. This is a longer flight at around 10 hours so we’ve chosen to fly Premium Economy with Lufthansa. This includes more legroom and a bigger seat as well as a seat configuration that means we’ll be sitting together without anyone else on our row. No more climbing over strangers to use the loo!
Wednesday 20th December – Land at Incheon International Airport at 12.00 (local time). Once we’ve made it through immigration and found our bags we’re expecting to pretty knackered, especially if we haven’t slept on the flight, so we’ll head over to DarakHyu, Korea’s first “capsule hotel”. It’s located right in the airport and while it doesn’t look anything like a typical Japanese capsule hotel (it has a shower in the room…) it’s mega cheap to rent by the hour just to get a bit of a sleep. I first heard about it from watching this video, where you can see a little tour. We’ve pre-booked from 13.00-18.00. Once we’re rested and have psyched ourselves up to speak Korean for the first time in eighteen months we’ll get a bus or subway into the city. We’re staying at a super cute Airbnb in Hapjeong with a movie projector and a collection of board games and are planning to check in, drop our bags off and then go explore Hongdae and get some dinner and drinks.
Thursday 21st December – Explore Hongdae and Edae. These are two of Seoul’s main university districts (did you know the city has 18 universities?! Me neither until I just Googled it) so they each have loads of cheap shops, restaurants and entertainment.
Friday 22nd December – Get up early and head to Yongsan to take the KTX train down to Gwangju. One of the most exciting parts about this trip is that we’ve been given the opportunity to visit the school where we’ll be teaching next year! We’re going to meet the teachers, have lunch and observe Songwon’s annual English competition before going to dinner with the very kind Rachel and James (the school’s current English teachers). We’ve booked a private room at Guest 145 hostel for this night and can’t wait! I’m probably looking forward to this day the most out of the whole trip.
Saturday 23rd December – Get the train back up to Seoul in the morning (this takes about 2.5 hours) and then spend the afternoon and evening hanging out in Gangnam. We have really fond memories of this neighbourhood as it’s where we stayed on our first two visits, so we’ll check out some old haunts and maybe grab a burger at Shake Shack.
Sunday 24th December – We might have a look at Common Ground (a mall made out of shipping containers with a load of food trucks) in the early afternoon, but the main plan for today is to spend the evening at Lotte World – the world’s largest indoor theme park.
Monday 25th December – Merry Christmas! We’re going to spend the morning watching Christmas Movies on the projector in our apartment (specifically The Muppet Christmas Carol & National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – classics!) before heading over to Myeongdong to eat loads of street food then taking a cable car up the mountain to visit the N-Seoul Tower. This is the highest point in the city and we’re hoping to catch the sunset before heading back down to find some non-traditional Christmas Dinner!
Tuesday 26th December – If we’re brave enough we’ll attempt to visit a Jimjilbang – kind of like a spa but where everyone’s naked. Anybody taking bets that we’ll chicken out? We also want to visit Sinsa and Apgujeong to café hop and look at all the fancy shops. I hear there have recently been a few price increases for luxury goods in Korea so it’ll probably just be window shopping, but a girl can dream…
Wednesday 27th December – We’re planning to go to Insadong for our fix of traditional food and culture today. This is a great place to pick up souvenirs for friends and family back home, and is one of the prettiest parts of the whole city with traditional hanok houses and palaces galore.
Thursday 28th December – This day is a mixture of old and new. We’ll first walk around Seollo 7017, an urban sky garden built from a disused section of highway that rises above the city. The garden exclusively features plants native to the Korean peninsula and is a new addition to Seoul since our last visit. After that we’ll go south of the Han river to one of our old favourites, COEX mall – the biggest underground shopping
mall in the world, perfect for a cold day and a great opportunity to make any last minute purchases!
Friday 29th December – Time to head home! We’ll aim to get the airport around midday and might check out the KAL lounge for some lunch. Incheon airport is pretty cool and includes an indoor ice skating rink and a full cinema so there’s plenty to keep you occupied even if your flight is delayed – as we discovered in July last year when we spent about 12 hours waiting to had home via Turkey. Our flight leaves Incheon at 15.20 and arrives in Frankfurt at 19.00 (local time) then we’ve got a 2 hour layover before finally landing at Manchester Airport again at 22.15 (UK time) and going through Fast Track Passport Control. We’re planning to book an airport pick up with MD Travel because we’ll be too late to catch the last train, but I still need to sort that out.
Once we get home we’re pretty much straight back into work after a quick sleep and then we’ll begin the countdown to our next visit, the only difference being that next time we’ll be staying for good! I’m planning to blog the whole trip this year, but we’re also considering vlogging after getting addicted to channels like Kara & Nate, The Endless Adventure and Samuel & Audrey while researching. Watch this space!
Hope this blog was helpful for anyone planning their own vacation to Korea!