What to Do in Seoul on a 12 Hour Layover

With so much to see and do, 12 hours is much too short for a trip to Seoul. However, if you can only spare one day from your busy schedule or somehow find yourself there with just a day to experience the city, then don’t despair. You can still see some of the best spots and get a quick peek into South Korean culture. This one-day itinerary shows you what to do in Seoul if you have a whole day before your connecting flight.

Some people choose to stay at the airport between flights and that’s fine too, since Incheon airport has a lot of things to keep you from getting bored or hungry. But why stay inside when you can do a bit of exploring outside?

This itinerary is based on a layover tour I did back in 2012 when I arrived at 5:30 AM and my connecting flight was at 5:10 PM. Adjust according to your arrival and departure time.

What to do in Seoul when you have 12 hours to kill:
Arrival: 5:30 AM

Most establishments are still closed so use this time to get some rest. Incheon airport is clean, spacious, and a good place for a short nap. Other people usually won’t mind you.  If you don’t like sleeping at airports, you can get a room at a motel for a couple of hours.

It might also be a good idea to grab breakfast before exiting the airport because you might have difficulty finding a cafe open so early. You’ll need your energy for this itinerary so sleep and eat at the airport. Because sleepy + hungry is not a good state to be in when doing a quickie one day tour. There are also showers available if you prefer to freshen up before going through immigration.

If you have luggage with you, you can leave them at airport lockers to make moving around easier.

7:30 AM

Take the airport train to Seoul Station.

Namsan Mountain – Take the Namsan Sunhwan Shuttle Bus to Namsan Park, unless you’re in a mood for a morning walk up the mountain. In that case, you can join the other people climbing on foot.
Took the shuttle to Namsan Mountain from Dongguk University

At 9 AM, there are already a lot of people at the park. Locals like taking a jog and enjoying the clean air, while tourists try to get there early for better photo opportunities. There, you can find a large pavilion that offers a nice view, as well as Bonghwadae or beacon mounds used in the olden days for communicating outside the walls, with costumed guards marching about.

Palgakjeong Pavilion

There’s also an area where couples hang their “love locks” so if you’re traveling with a significant other then it might be fun to lock your love on top of the mountain, overlooking the city. Then, of course, there’s the famous N Seoul Tower. N Seoul Tower opens at 10 AM and offers a spectacular view of Seoul.

The city view behind locks of love

11:00 AM

Namsangol Traditional Village

Just at the foot of Namsan Mountain is Namsangol Traditional Village. Here, old Korea comes alive before your eyes. Walk around traditional hanoks (houses). Most of them have doors and windows open so you can peek inside. Some even have activities for you to try, like mini hanbok making and kite making.

A traditional hanok and a persimmon tree

Pots used for fermenting kimchi

1:00 PM

Myeongdong shopping district – For some people, the question of what to do in Seoul has only one answer..shopping! There are literally travelers from Japan and China who come to Seoul just to buy cosmetics, and the place to find them is Myeongdong.

3:00  PM

Take the train back to Incheon airport.

Layovers can be long and boring but they don’t have to be. Knowing what to do in Seoul when the wait for your next flight is too long can turn an otherwise waste of time into a day of adventure and new memories. Just a quick reminder, though, not everyone can enter Korea visa-free so be sure to check if you can.

Have you ever tried doing a 1-day layover tour? Where did you go?

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