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Looking for Seoul layover ICN advice and experience navigating Seoul

We have an 8 hour layover in T2. ICN offers free tours, however, the tours will not work for us because they won’t get us back to airport in time for our next flight.

There is an express train to Seoul. I figure we have 3 hours in Seoul and could see the Palace and Insadong street on our own. We will be there on a weekday.

Is the express train easy to figure out, buy a ticket?

Are the subways easy to navigate?

Is English on signage?

Is it easy to get through security and back into the airport?

Any tips on Seoul are appreciated, too.

Posted by
8651 posts

There is English on signage. There are also a plethora of you tube videos on riding the subway, getting to Seoul from the airport, etc. I'd spend a bit of time there looking at those to get an idea of what the transportation would be like.

I think subways are easy to navigate, but you have to relax your definition of personal space at times during commuting hours.

Posted by
341 posts

Great idea. I was looking at you tubes about the plane. Duh. Didn’t think of looking for train or subway.

Posted by
529 posts

I visited Seoul in 2019 and really enjoyed my time there. That said, here are some things to consider.

Eight hours seems like a lot. However, are you traveling on to another international destination? If so, you will want to check with your airline as to how early you need to check in - possibly three hours. And remember that you will be entering Korea through passport control (which you don’t have to do if you stay in the international area of the airport) and then will have to again pass through passport control upon leaving Korea. So you need to build in time at the beginning and end of your layover. (I assume you are checking your luggage through to your final destination as you definitely won’t want to carry around your luggage in Seoul!)

Seoul is a good hour away from the airport, no matter what mode of transportation you use. So you need two hours round trip just for the transfer. If you take a train or bus, you will not necessarily end up near the sights you want to see, but will have to find transportation (back and forth) to them. I found the subways easy to use, but some of the stations were huge and required a lot of walking. Traffic can be intense, especially during rush hour periods, so a taxi might also take some time.

Here is a website that seems to have detailed information about transportation options between the airport and the city, including timetables:

I’m thinking though that you might want to find a private tour that you can customize to include transfers, the specific sights you want to see (and maybe lunch!). I’m not sure I would want to negotiate a quick tour using public transportation after a long flight from the States.

Posted by
341 posts

Renee- Thanks. Yes, that's why I figured we had 3 hours after all is said and done. I looked at private tours and they were too expensive and another layer of complexity trying to arrange it. Plus if there was a delay in our flight, it's one more thing to worry about. We get to do the 8 hour layover twice, so you're right-if we are trashed we hang out in the lounge. We can also shuttle to the nearby Hyatt for a break, too. We have a chance to escape the airport on the return.

The airport looks very nice. Tons of Duty Free shops and exactly why I need and want to get out of the airport-hahahaha. Who knows when we will ever be in Korea again, so any amount of time to see something other than the airport would be fun and exciting.

Posted by
960 posts

I’m in Seoul at the moment. Not my first time.

If your plane is on time, you will be able to do what you plan. (Gyeongbokgung Palace?)

Signage is very good in airport and in subway stations. Subway ticket machines easy to use, hit “English”.

Security is quick. Most airlines suggest 2 hours for international arrival. My experience is that this is plenty of time. (I assume your luggage is checked thru…..)

Sounds like you’ve done great research! There are a lot of specific blogs and YouTube’s to help. Taxi’s can be slow- traffic has been horrific this week. My last visit in fall 2023 was somehow less packed.

Enjoy! Unique city!

Posted by
960 posts

Adding - if you haven’t found it, download NAVER Maps. The timing estimates are pretty accurate for public transport although I add minutes for their most efficient estimates. I might miss the particular train they reference.

Apple maps works when in Seoul for walking, but not public transit. If walking, I prefer it to NAVER, but NAVER also has walking map options with the follow the “blue dot” option.

Posted by
111 posts

I want to add that ICN is also a great airport to transit through. Great food options, wonderful (window) shopping and they also have a heritage center where you they teach you some traditional crafts. I still have a pen stand I made many, many years ago during a layover.

Enjoy Seoul - a truly wonderful city!

Posted by
341 posts

Thx ORDtraveler. Great info to know. We will download NAVER map. Done!

Thanks for the vote of confidence. I figured the ICN transit tours couldn’t take people too far away from the airport and that’s when the lightbulb went on to check out transit options. It certainly appears that this is a well thought out airport and transportation system geared to efficiency and convenience.

We arrive early in the morning and can see Seoul wake up if all goes according to plan! I’m so glad to know English is on the machines and easy to navigate. Thx again for the insights!

Posted by
341 posts

Maplady- I agree airport looks great. I didn’t look into the cultural center there. I had read a few things, but how cool to make something and bring it home. This would be something we will checkout going back to the States. It seems this airport is very passenger, traveler focused. What a concept, right?

Posted by
13 posts

Have you gone yet? Looking for same advice soon. We have an 84 year old with us, so looking for something that can work for her also. Any private tour suggestions from anyone?

Posted by
341 posts

Here is my debrief for ICN airport.

In order to leave the airport to go to Seoul, you need a minimum seven hour layover.

The express train is 45 minutes each way in transit, however allow time to buy your ticket and get to the platform. The ticket machines are very easy and straightforward. The express train operates every 40 minutes, so this must be taken into account.

When you arrive to the airport, you have to go through Passport control, and security then you make your way to the airline transit office. You have to get your boarding pass stamped with a transit stamp.

From there, you have to go back to passport control where they check your documents and let you go out of the airport. Upon exiting immigration, go towards baggage claim. This a common area and go down a level to get to the train station. The common area is like a transit station with numerous convenience stores.

When exiting the train, you are at Seoul station. Go up the escalator and then there is a subway station. The subway takes cash only. we did not have any Korean money with us, so we made our way to the cab stand.

To make your life easier, use Google Translate. Not everyone knows or understands English. Google translate was perfect for bridging the communication gap.

We took a cab to Insadong Street. The cab was less than $10. It’s a wonderful area and I really wish we had a couple of hours to wander about. But after we figured everything out, we only had about an hour to run around. There are many Korean stationery stores which are like little mini arts and craft stores, full of beautiful paper and pens and inks. I like this kind of stuff. Many restaurants, though we didn’t check it out. Tea shops. Souvenir shops of local goods.

It’s just a wonderful cultural area. Why Insadong Strret? from the free ICN tour transit offerings. the transit tours did did not work for us due to timing. so we invented our own outing, which ended up being very easy.

We took the train back to the airport with plenty of time to get our next flight.

We had to go through security again. The security line was long and there is no pre check or status line. Everyone is in the same line. The line moves very efficiently. Travelers here seem to follow the rules, so there was no water, knives, guns, belts, coins, watches and other things to delay the line. You have to have your pockets completely emptied.

After all was done, we had about an hour and a half to kill before our plane boarded. The airport is one huge duty-free shopping experience. Prices are not good at all. In fact, items cost more at duty-free at ICN than they do in a retail store in America.

Ladies, if you’re looking for Korean skin care and you venture out of the secure area of the airport go to the little Drugstore Olive something and buy your stuff. The store is right in the common area as you go towards the train station you can’t miss it. Otherwise you’re going to be a prisoner to duty-free Estée Lauder, Guerlain and L’Oréal. Ordinary. just be aware of the hundred milliliter rule for purchases so you can get it through security.

We have another eight hour layover at ICN coming home now that we know what to do. we won’t waste so much time trying to figure it out .We will have more time to spend it on Insadong Street. It is a good place to buy fun little souvenirs and the prices are very good.

For the poster who asked….as for mobility issues, I really can’t address that very well. in my opinion it was not geared very well for people with mobility issues. If your 84 year old mother is energetic, can walk long distances at a good clip and can navigate stairs, no problem. Go! there are elevators because people had to haul their bags around, but what I observed it was mainly escalators and stairs.

Posted by
960 posts

This is a link to transit card info. I hadn't thought about this being a potential irritant to those trying a quick tour while in transit. At least one of the options indicates it is available at the AREX station or a mobile app. I have a Cashbee card that I've used for a couple trips in the past year. It is loadable with Korean won (not a credit card). I purchased it at a convenience store (GU) at Incheon.

Insadong is fun for a quick sight-see stop. Gyeongbokgung Palace (major sightseeing stop) is just north of this. I have walked it on several occasions from Insadong - but is also reachable by subway from Seoul Station. Naver Maps is a good transit map to download and use for timings as you plan. Apple Maps works for walking the streets when in Seoul, but Google and Apple Maps are not good for planning from the states - transit info is not available.

Thanks for the detailed "debrief", Mo. I'm sure it will be quite helpful to transit travelers.

Posted by
341 posts

To ORDtraveler. Your recos were great. Naver maps was very useful.

The cabs were not expensive thankfully. They just took time due to traffic. The subway would’ve been quicker. We lost about 30 minutes accounting for traffic. Subway would’ve gotten us more time.

We’ll see how time goes and if we can make a quick dash to the palace.

8 hours seems like a long time but it goes by quick!