Tourist Tips: From The Airport to Seoul (and Back) + Other Areas in Korea

For part two of my tourist tips, I’m going to tackle the various transportation options for Seoul. There are two main airports in Seoul, Gimpo and Incheon.

Looking for where to stay in Seoul? What to do on a short layover? Click those links.

Gimpo Airport is the domestic airport with 100+ flights per day to Jeju alone, as well as other cities in Korea. Note that with travel to cities like Busan, it’s almost easier to just take the KTX since you have to arrive early to the airport AND the main tourist areas are further away from the airport.

Gimpo Airport also has international flights to/from Tokyo, Osaka, Taipei, Beijing, and Shanghai. If you’re flying internationally, you’re in for one of the easiest, pain free experiences of your life.

Incheon is the main international gateway and definitely the shining star. It’s roughly one hour from Seoul. I could write a whole post on Incheon airport amenities….but, later! There are some domestic flights from Gimpo, BUT they are only available for connecting passengers from other countries and must be bought together. You cannot fly from Incheon to Jeju at this time.

Gimpo Airport

Gimpo Airport has literally five gates in the international terminal and barely any traffic. While there may even be a wait at immigration, it takes longer to get your bags :-). When departing from Gimpo Airport, DO NOT arrive two hours early. You will be so damn bored. Gimpo only has a few flights a day, so you can show up right before check in closing (I always say 1 hr and 15 mins), have no wait for check in and security….and STILL have 20 minutes to sit and wait. I’ve shown up 1 hr and 5 mins before departure…no wait…no stress from the staff either. Totally relaxed. There are really no big facilities inside the airport…but there is a recent renovation with new paid Sky Hub lounge if you need it.

Gimpo is very well connected by subway, but has very few limousine buses. Perhaps the best connection is Subway Line 9 with the Express train…you can be in Gangnam in 30 minutes! Subway Line 5 and the AREX All Stop trains also stop at Gimpo. To navigate the subway from Gimpo Airport, download Kakao Metro. It is the BEST subway app – tells you exactly which car and door to use so that you can be nearest your exact exit number or transfer direction….that way you walk less with bags inside some of the larger stations!

Going to Jeju? You’ll leave and arrive from Gimpo. Domestic terminal is separate, but generally just as easy to navigate. It’s busier as there are 100+ flights to Jeju a day alone, but you can arrive as late as 20 minutes before departure and check in

Incheon Airport

Which Terminal?

There are two terminals at Incheon Airport.

When departing from Incheon, pay attention carefully!

Terminal 1 = ALL airlines (Gates 1-50 or so)

EXCEPT

Terminal 2 = Korean Air, Delta, Air France, and KLM  ONLY (Gates 200 and up)

Flights also arrive at the Concourse Terminal (Gates 100-130 or so)…..The Concourse Terminal is home to foreign LCC budget airlines, some Korean LCCs, and Chinese/other SkyTeam airlines (to be close to T2).

If you arrive at the Concourse Terminal, you will take a train to Terminal 1 and arrive there for Immigration, Baggage Claim, Customs and transportation to Seoul.

You cannot freely switch between T1 / Concourse / T2. If you are transiting to other airlines, you must have a boarding pass and scan through a security gate (or have itinerary to show staff at transfer desks).

If you are departing and go to the wrong terminal, you can take a free shuttle bus between the two, approximately 20 minutes one way.

How Much Time To Get To Seoul?

My experiences are only with Terminal 1 (Gates 1-50 or so) and the attached Concourse (Gates 100-130 or so) you reach by train from T1. I have not yet used Terminal 2 (Gates in the 200s) home to Korean Air, Delta, Air France, and KLM)…but I have heard and seen that it is an empty, easy to use terminal since only four airlines are there!

As everyone arrives at different times throughout the day, it’d take years to explain and provide the best advice. But plan it this way:

Arrival time is when you touch the ground at the airport. Plan for 30 minutes to get to the gate, get off the plane, and walk/train to immigration depending on where you are.

Immigration lines can vary wildly. There’s really no good guess, just only knowledge of the busy times which are: super early morning 5-7 AM when many flights from SE Asia arrive and late afternoon 3-5 PM when alllllll the flights from Europe and America arrive. I have Smart Entry Service, so I use the automated kiosks, but I’ve seen lines with no one and lines with TONS of people at all times over the years. So to be safe, plan for 15 -30 minutes in line at the worst.

That’s because you’ll have to get bags. Even if there is no immigration line, by the time you get out to collect bags…and wait for them…it will still be 15-30 minutes until you’re out the door.

At the simplest: if you arrive at 6 PM, expect to be out of the airport with bags by 7 PM, and into Seoul by 8 PM. So, plan for two hours from the time your plane lands until you arrive in central Seoul.

How to Get to Seoul?

Terminal 2 has its own access with limousine buses to the entire city and train. Terminal 2 and Terminal 1 are six minutes apart by train. So just take AREX train from Terminal 2. Express train stops only at T2 and T1 and then are nonstop to Seoul Station.

If you want to go to any other station OR transfer on the AREX line, take the All Stop Train.  There are many limousine buses based on your exact destination, so check them carefully with your hotel. You do NOT have go to T1 if you are at T2 to take any buses/trains (or vice-versa).

For those on a short layover in the same day, I ALWAYS recommend taking the AREX train to avoid any surprises with traffic.

I also only recommend the bus in the early morning (before 8 AM), after rush hour (10 AM – 12 PM), and mid-afternoon (3-5 PM).  Rush hour traffic can be toooooooooooo messssy and unpredictable and you could really be screwed and wasting time.

Staying in a Myeongdong/Central Seoul hotel? There are MANY MANY limousine buses. Check with your hotel directly. They will know the best way. There can be many small changes to limo bus routes/schedules that I don’t know about, so I’m certainly not going to write a Bible about all the buses here.

Limousine Bus vs. Train?

I always prefer to take the train TO Incheon Airport since I am always departing during rush hour. The roads during rush hour, particularly the expressway, can be VERY clogged. On a good journey you can be at Incheon in 40-45 mins, but a bad one? 90+ minutes.

I also take a lot of weekend trips, so I do not have many big bags….

BUT

If you have large bags, I always recommend the limousine bus over the train. The train stations do have escalators and elevators, but they’re not always right where you need them to be. That means carrying large luggage around.

Also, the train station at Incheon Airport is about a 10 minute walk from arrivals to the platform. The limousine buses are literally right outside the door. You can take a luggage cart to the bus. The staff will load your bags onto the bus with a luggage tag to check.

The limousine bus has very wide, spacious seats. Very easy to nap as it’s pin drop quiet on the bus. On the AREX Express train, you are guaranteed a seat….All Stop is like a normal subway, so don’t expect a seat.

AREX –  Express vs. All Stop Train?

The Express train leaves from one side of Incheon Airport Train Terminal building, with the All Stop train on the other side.

From KTO: AREX Time/Price Details

The Express train is priced around 9,000W (1,000W = 1 US $ roughly). Takes around 50 minutes or so. It is a proper train with proper seats and free wi-fi. It ONLY goes to Seoul Station and nowhere else. You cannot transfer at any other station to subway EXCEPT from Seoul Station.

The All Stop train is around 4,000W and takes around 60 minutes. You can transfer at many stations and get off at places like Hongik Univ. Station.

The Express train only comes every 20 minutes – check the timetable carefully when you arrive. If you wait more than 10 minutes for the Express train, you’ve lost the time savings compared to All Stop and are essentially wasting the extra cash.

Late Night / Midnight Arrivals and Departures

The last train from Incheon Airport to Seoul is at 11:40 PM. BUT don’t worry! There is a Midnight bus to Seoul. There are two that leave every hour, one to Gangnam and the next one the next hour to Seoul Station.

Don’t wait two hours for the Seoul Station bus. Go to Express Bus Terminal and take a taxi from there. Just around 8-10,000W from Gangnam to Central Seoul area hotels.

Details about the late night bus times and destination can be found here.

The last BUS FROM Seoul to the airport is around 8 PM.

The last TRAIN is around 11:40 PM.

Late at night, the airport is DEAD. You absolutely don’t need to go 3 hours early because there’s nothing to do.

Airport Sleeping Options / Overnight Accommodations

Some people prefer to stay in the airport or nearby.  To be honest, I personally wouldn’t do this.

If you have a SUPER early flight, there’s always a bus to take if you want to stay out. If you are going to get accommodation, ok sure. Staying near the airport can be simpler. But I know most want to enjoy everything to the last minute!

There are three options inside the airport

  • Transit Hotel – located airside near the gate, don’t need to exit the airport…can just follow transit signs
  • Capsule Hotel – in the train terminal building – you must clear immigration to get here so be careful about visas
  • Spa on Air – Traditional Korean Sauna in Basement Level of Terminal 1 ONLY

If you are looking outside the airport, check the area around Unseo Station on the AREX line. Many hotels also offer free shuttles to the airport.

Taxis/Private Car

For many large families visiting, a taxi or private car is simply the best way to go.

You can get a Jumbo Van directly at the airport when you arrive. ALWAYS USE THE COUNTER. DO NOT EVER EVER EVERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR take a taxi or ride from anyone walking around the terminal that stops you randomly. DO NOT.

If you have a problem with your taxi driver or feel you were cheated/ripped off, ALWAYS get a receipt and call 1330 IMMEDIATELY. This is the tourist help line. They can report and investigate. They take it seriously. Any cab driver who is found to have done wrong pays like 300,000W fine and will lose their license after three violations.

The safest way is to use the government sponsored International Taxi for a flate rate. Click here for the rates and details.

If you want a private driver on your own, there are MANY companies like Korea Travel Easy and Trazy that offer their own drivers and arrangements. Prices vary based on size and needs. Click here for Korea Travel Easy’s page to see an estimate of price.

How to Get to Busan/Gyeongju/Other Cities?

There are buses available to EVERYWHERE in Korea. Check the airport website for your terminal and timetable and destination…..

You can also take the AREX train to Seoul Station and catch a KTX high speed train from there if you like. Tickets are available here.

 

 

 

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