Layovers are generally not fun. The last thing you want to do when travelling is sitting for hours and hours at the airport, that while being extremely exhausted.
However, layovers can be fun and even be the best experience ever. For the first time in my years of travelling, I actually got to do a 20-hour layover in Seoul, South Korea, on my way from Australia to the UK and it was well worth it.
Let me tell you about it and hopefully, you’ll see layovers differently!
I landed at 5:30 pm on Saturday in Seoul and was taking my plane back at 1:15 pm on Sunday. Quite a short amount of time but enough to do a few things.
I had two options: either stay at the airport the whole time - there is a hotel there, free showers, lots of entertainment OR go out and explore a new country, new city and new culture in Seoul in few hours.
As you can guess, I chose option 2 and it was totally worth it.
All you need is a bit of research and organisation
I organised my layover only two days before arriving. I originally didn’t think I would have as much time but I suddenly thought “I can’t waste this opportunity on seeing a new place!”
All I researched was how to get from Incheon International Airport to Seoul centre, accommodation for the very-short night, and essential attractions to see.
Transportation from airport to city
For only AUD$8 one way, the AREX express train was the most seamless and cheapest way to go from Incheon International Airport to Seoul Station. I just couldn’t believe how easy it was with such great comfort, nice views on the way and only 43 minutes to ride to the city. The train is every half hour. On the way back, make sure to go directly into the big Seoul Station and ask for information on where is the train. It is massive so I admit I got a bit lost!
Also, allow plenty of time to come back to the airport and clear immigration. Although it went extremely fast for me, there might be times where lines are long so you don’t want to miss your plane!
Accommodation in Seoul
Although I wanted to explore the city, I also wanted to have a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed in between my planes. I booked K-POP Hotel right next to Seoul Station (the name made me laugh a lot, apparently it’s a chain of hotels) as this was super convenient location and not too far from the centre. And this was such a good deal for only 40 dollars the night, with a super clean, comfy and cosy room (small though but I didn’t care), a rooftop, a kitchen with free breakfast, and even laundry facilities. Just what I needed for my layover.
Transportation in Seoul
In Seoul, Uber isn’t very present yet so I had to hail taxis to get to the places I wanted. Be aware that taxi drivers in Seoul don’t really speak good English, so my technique was to show them on my phone where I wanted to go. Which worked pretty good although there were a few times where I had no idea if they understood haha! I didn’t have any data either so I was using the offline version of Maps.me for Seoul. Also, taxis are so cheap you can really use them every day. I didn’t try the train or buses though but they would probably be even cheaper.
You can have a glimpse of Seoul in just a few hours
Since I arrived the Saturday evening and was leaving Sunday morning, my time was extremely limited but enough to at least have a feel of the city and the Korean culture.
I read a bit before arriving about the essentials I should visit and got great information from my Korean friend who wasn’t there, unfortunately. It was great to know as well that as a woman alone, I could walk around the streets at night without having to worry. And she was right, it was super super safe!
I settled in my hotel and drafted my plan:
Saturday evening: go to the Seoul Tower and look at the city views
Saturday night: go to Myeongdong district with all the shops
Sunday morning: sunrise on the rooftop of my hotel & sneak peek at the Temple
Sunday morning: stroll around the traditional neighbourhood
Sunday lunch: back to the airport
The Saturday night was extremely fun although I was on my own! After realising the taxi couldn’t take me up to the tower, I had to take the Nasnam Cable Car up to the Hill of Seoul tower. Although cheap, it was quite a long wait for a busy Saturday night and I wondered once up there if it was really worth it. But as it was night already, it would have been hard to walk up but it’s possible.
It was however extremely fun to observe Korean families and experience the atmosphere once up there. Lots of young couples, friends and families were enjoying their night up there. The view itself isn’t crazy but interesting to see the big city from up high.
After that, I got back down with the cable car again and went to my favourite part of the night: exploring the streets of Myeongdong. The stores were pumping with music, markets and all kind of people roaming around. I also accidentally stumbled upon a cat cafe in the middle of Myeongdong and since I was a bit hungry, it was perfect. From 10 pm to 11 pm (their closing time), I got to play, observe and photograph at least 15 very fun cats all alone with the staff! This was so far such a good moment.
On the Sunday morning, it was a bit of improvisation and a trek to see the things I wanted. I wanted to go to the Temple but since I started visiting at around 7am, everything was closed of course. I still saw the doors haha!
After getting lost for quite a bit trying to find the traditional neighborhood Samcheong-dong, I finally caught another taxi who got me there. I didn’t even know what it was called exactly as there are a few different ones and the distances are massive! But the taxi driver understood when I said “traditional houses” so phew, I got there! This was a definite highlight of my visit to Seoul. I loved being alone so early in the morning in those tiny streets, observe the traditional houses, take pictures, observe the few locals around, look at the only souvenir store opened so early in the morning and try to talk with the owner, get a fresh juice from the only food place opened as well.. I’d love to go back there.
If you have a few extra hours, the airport itself is amazing
Finally, if you have time on this layover or for the next one, make sure to explore Incheon International Airport. Quite an amazing airport with so many facilities.
The best was the free shower, almost like in a hotel with a really nice Italian-style shower. I re-lived in between my flights! You also have classic music performances, traditional Korean performance, rest lounges and even a nap room.
And even better: the airport offers a FREE service for tours! You just have to make sure you are in the right hours and tours are from 1 to 5 hours, visiting nearby the airport or directly into Seoul. That’s a super quick experience but perfect if you really don’t want to hassle or organising. Check the Incheon International Airport website to know more about it.
Finally, I flew over with Korean Air the whole way to Europe and back to Australia. It was the first time I was flying with them and really enjoyed the experience. The food was really good and served regularly, drinks are regularly served as well, the staff is super nice. Only the entertainment system is a bit old and there are not that many movies to choose from.
So did I convince you to take a layover next time? And maybe in Seoul? Let me know about your layover experiences below!
And if you want to check more of my pictures of my Seoul layover, have a look here!