While I was in the overindustrialized swamp that is Hong Kong
, my friend was kicking it in Seoul on a 13-hour layover. Seoul Incheon Airport has been named best airport in the world every year since 2005 and with good reason. My friend took copious notes about her experience at the airport and on their free city tours so I could share it with you. Here is what you can expect if you’re so lucky to travel through the Seoul airport.
Tour options and logistics
There are a total of 9 available transit tours
from the airport ranging in length from 1 hour to 5 hours. If you have enough time, you can do more than one. The transit tours include an English speaking guide and transportation to and from the airport and the tour stops. Here’s what my friend had to say about the experience:
I thought they would have more questions at immigration because I wasn’t ticketed yet to leave but the woman took one look at me and said “Transit tour?” I was like “Yup” and she printed a slip and waved me through.
The woman at the counter was helpful and spoke English, and she was able to look everything up and give me options of stuff I could do in that time. I wish they had a few more times squeezed in so I could do a temple tour too. But the times overlapped.
The “free” tour costs $10. You pay up front for a meal and entrance to Gyeongbokgung Palace, which was part of my tour. Obviously, I didn’t mind since I would pay for that anyway.
Luggage stays with them at the desk. I was worried I would have to take it on the bus and freak out that it would go missing at some point. But these ladies stay here all day with it.
The 5-hour Tradition tour
I got a button when I checked in for the tour at 7:45 am. It looks like different colors for different tours.
They do a roll call since a few different tours start at the same time so they make sure you’re getting on the right one. Tour starts at 8 am and she said to be here by 7:50 am. She called us and we’re walking to the bus at 7:55 am so 100% don’t show up at 8 am. (Bus actually rolled up at 8:02 so you could be that asshole if you wanted.)
There were 14 of us. The bus was half full when it arrived, probably the people they picked up from the other terminal.
He passed out a list around for us to check off our lunch preference. Options were Korean beef stew or a bibimbap bowl. I had the beef stew and it was really good. The bibimbap also looked really good.
The English guide warned us to be very punctual because they will leave you behind if you’re not at the meeting point on time. People have flights to catch and they don’t fuck around. He said a cab back to the airport would be $80-100. He also just told us Westerners to keep it down because the Asians are quiet people and someone could be napping. He’s not wrong.
They have jackets on the bus for people who aren’t prepared, which is great because I obviously didn’t pack for 45 degree weather.
The bus has WiFi! You can entertain yourself because it took an hour to get to the palace. Then we get an hour there.
If you’re on the 8 am tour, you get to see the procession before the changing of the guard. It’s cute. But you leave in the middle of the guard change.
They take you to a restaurant for lunch, where your preordered meal is waiting for you. You sit family style with randoms from the bus. There’s a button on the table to press if you wanna order other things. Once you’re done eating you just get up and leave to explore the Insadong area on your own. You have an hour total including lunch. It’s a cute little street with shopping.
Some people chose to stay behind. So that’s an option if you wanna self-tour for a while longer; you just gotta tell the guide. And there’s a train you can catch to get back to the airport. It’s a nonstop train that runs every 30 minutes, and the ride takes about 45 minutes and actually goes to the terminals. If you miss it you can take a regular train that takes about 20 minutes longer with some stops.
Terminal 1 & 2 are super far from each other. So coming back you def don’t wanna make the mistake of getting off on the wrong one. The airport has shuttles to get between the two but why bust that mission for no reason.
How was the Seoul airport itself?
The WiFi at this airport is great. They don’t make you fill any bullshit out. I just join “Free airport WiFi” and I’m living my life.
After the tour, I was able to shower in their free private showers, which gave me life. It had a locker inside, hangers, toiletries, and a hair dryer. The water pressure was amazing. I haven’t felt pressure like that in a long time. You just walk right in. There’s a basket of towels and a light outside is red when it’s occupied. There we’re at least 8-10 of them. And at the other end of the same terminal, there is another transit lounge with the same facilities.
Also in the transit lounge, there’s a small cafe and a massage parlor, which isn’t free but reasonably priced. There’s also a digital gym with a large trampoline and basketball hoops. Then there’s nap rooms, which are semiprivate lounge chairs and dim lighting.
The airport also has robots that you can interact with and can help you find things like your gate. Aside from being extra comfortable, it comes with built in robot friends.