Seoul’s public transport network is amongst the best in the world – clean, punctual and committed to accessibility – and getting around the capital of South Korea is now smoother than ever thanks to several smartphone apps that provide real-time information.
KakaoMap is available in English and can plan your journey from door to door, covering everything from when the next bus will come to the best train car to board depending on where you’re disembarking. And Seoul’s subway trains and buses have free wi-fi, so you can keep track of your journey online, even without a SIM card.
From buses and bicycles to taxis and trains, here’s the insider scoop on the best ways to get around Seoul.
A transport pass brings convenience and savings
Seoul’s buses and trains are operated by several different companies, but you can pay for journeys with all operators with a transport pass. There are three to choose from: NAMANE, T-money and Cashbee.
You can get a physical NAMANE card from a kiosk at transport hubs or use a digital one via the app. Top it up and use it across public transport, as well as in some retailers. T-money and Cashbee cards can be purchased at convenience stores as well as transport hubs. Just top them up to use on any public transport and affiliated retailers – keep in mind that T-money is more widely accepted in stores than Cashbee.
It is possible to buy a single-ride ticket at the station each time or pay in cash on the bus, but transport cards can be used in taxis, subways and buses across the country, and T-money can be purchased in conjunction with other special deals for foreign tourists.
Because many of the cards have a special design or theme (such as pictures of K-pop group BTS), many people choose to keep the card as a souvenir, but they can be refunded for the original price at Incheon International Airport when you leave the country.
The metro is the fastest and most affordable way to get around Seoul
With 22 subway lines making 302 stops across the city, the Seoul Metro is a highly efficient way to get around the city. Download the Metro app for iPhone or Android, and you’ll find the entire process quite straightforward. Each station has English-language signs, and stops are announced in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese.
Fares start at ₩1400 per ride with a transport pass, and you’re allowed up to four transfers to another subway line or bus for free within 30 minutes. Platform screens detail what metros are due to arrive and depart, and exit signs detail what major landmarks are next to each one.
If you’re changing between one subway line and another, you generally don’t tap out to make transfers. The subway tends to stop running from midnight to 5:30am, but times vary by line – check the app for your journey.
Know your subway etiquette
Etiquette is important on Seoul’s subway. Most people line up outside the train doors and enter in an orderly manner. Train cars usually have reserved seats for the elderly, pregnant passengers and travelers with disabilities. Visitors sometimes use these seats when they are available, but it’s considered good manners to leave these seats empty for those in need.
Seoul’s buses can take you anywhere in the city
Buses may take a little longer than the metro, but they can be a great option if you’re traveling to a more residential area or if your subway route requires more than one transfer.
Bus stops generally show routes in both Korean and English and have a digital screen that shows when the next bus arrives, as well as indicating how crowded the bus is. The seat availability signage is only in Korean, but the “comfortable” sign is usually white, the “average” sign is yellow, and the “busy” sign is red. Bus stop signs also give weather and air quality information, and some bus stops even have seats that warm up in colder weather.
Seoul has five types of buses that are color-coded to indicate their purpose. Green and blue buses cover cross-town routes, and an adult ticket costs ₩1500. The small green local buses known as maeul are about half the size of the regular green buses, and they stick to just one neighborhood or district – the fare is ₩1200. Red buses travel between Seoul and outer regions and cost ₩3000. The yellow buses, or circulator buses, loop around popular tourist destinations such as Namsan and Myeongdong and cost ₩1400.
You are allowed up to four transfers either to the subway or another bus for free within 30 minutes. Typically, you tap in at the front door when you enter the bus and tap out at the back door when you exit. Remember to tap out to secure your free transfers and discounts. The queuing system is pretty loose for the bus. During rush hour, passengers often enter through the back door or exit through the front door. However, some bus drivers frown upon this practice.
Night buses are indicated by an N before the number, and the fare is ₩2500. The etiquette of avoiding seats for the elderly, pregnant and travelers with disabilities does not apply like it does on the subway, but you’ll be expected to give up your seat if someone needs it.
Hail a taxi for late-night journeys
Seoul cabs come in many different shapes and sizes; the most common are mid-size sedans in orange or silver that take a maximum of four passengers. Cabs charge a base fare of ₩4800, plus increments of ₩100 for every eighth of a mile – the incremental price increases a little between 10pm and 4am. You can pay with a credit card, cash or transport card.
Korean ride-hailing apps do exist, but you might need a valid Korean phone number to use them. If you have a local number, download Kakao T, a popular app that’s available in English. Cabs operated by International Taxi Service can be booked on the website or via phone or email, but reservations are required 24 hours in advance. Otherwise, you can hail cabs on the street.
Even if you are confident in your ability to pronounce your destination, it’s best to show a cab driver the name of your destination written in Korean because some places have similar names, such as Sinchon Station and Sincheon Station. If you need to explain your route in detail to your driver, you can call a free interpretation hotline – the number is usually indicated on a sticker on the window side of a cab, but if you don’t see it, try using the BBB app – it’s staffed by volunteers and available on both Apple and Android.
Be aware that many cab drivers are reluctant to take on short journeys and sometimes reject passengers for this reason. Locals often get in and shut the door before telling the driver which way they’re going to get around this problem.
See the city up close on a bike
Seoul has a handful of bike-share schemes, but the best-known and most accessible to non-Koreans is Ttareungi, with its distinctive white and green bicycles. Visitors should create an account online and download the Seoul Bike app to use the system. You can purchase hourly, daily or yearly passes, and bicycles can be rented at one station and returned at another.
There are some useful dedicated cycle paths – including the Hangang River Cycling Trail, which follows the Han River right across the city – but many roads do not have a separate bike path, and cyclists often have to share the sidewalk with pedestrians. Cyclists are required to dismount and walk across pedestrian crosswalks – although this is not vigorously enforced, ignoring it may make you liable in the event of an accident.
Driving in Seoul is not recommended
Traffic in Seoul can be gridlocked, and parking is cutthroat, even by most city standards. Although you can rent a car with an international driver’s license, we don’t recommend it for a short-term visit.
Walking is often the best option
Seoul is an incredibly dense city, with shops, restaurants and cultural sights often packed tightly together, so you can see a lot more on foot. A walk of only 1.3km (0.9 miles) will take you from Gyeongbokgung Palace (the largest of the capital’s five grand palaces) to Changdeokgung Palace (often considered the most beautiful of the five). Between these two sights, there are dozens of lesser-known attractions and cafes such as the Arario Museum, Cafe Onion and Seoul Museum of Craft Art that you’d miss if you took a cab, bus or train.
Accessible transportation in Seoul
With audio and visual information systems, elevators, Braille tiles, accessible turnstiles and bathrooms at almost all subway stations across the city, Seoul Metro is considered “mostly accessible” by organizations such as WheelchairTravel.org. If the elevators aren’t working, approach an attendant at the station to help you with a wheelchair lift to the train platform. Priority seating is available for travelers with disabilities, and train cars with wheelchair spaces are marked with a large green wheelchair sign on the floor.
Priority seating is also available on all of Seoul’s buses, almost all of which have a ramp or a floor that can be lowered for those with mobility needs. For more information about accessible sightseeing and calling wheelchair-accessible taxis, check out Seoul Danurim, an accessible travel organization. For more information on accessible travel, see Lonely Planet’s free accessible travel resources.