Seoul Incheon Airport Layover Sightseeing

seoul incheon airport layover sightseeing

In recent years, Seoul Incheon Airport (ICN) has rivalled and surpassed some of the leading Asian airports in terms of centrality, comfort and extravagance. Layovers within ICN are impressive – however if you find yourself with a layover in Seoul that is over five hours, you might as well go and explore the real deal. Plenty of historical, cultural, commercial and entertainment destinations are sure to keep you occupied as you explore this fascinating and rapidly developing Asian city. Conveniently, Seoul Incheon airport cleverly packages all the city’s best sights together in a series of free tours geared towards transit passengers. Might as well put your feet up and enjoy taking in the sights between flights!

Airport Overview

Seoul Incheon International Airport has almost become a microcosm of all that is South Korea. Layovers of five hours or less quickly fly by in this epic airport. In fact, you may just board your connecting flight wishing for just a few more moments sampling food and browsing handicrafts on the Korean Cultural Street. Indoor gardens, spas, museums, galleries and shopping only further add to the Incheon experience. It is no wonder that this is one of the world’s leading airports! For more information on the airport itself, check out our Seoul Incheon Airport Guide.

Sightseeing Options

Below are a few essential sights.

Transit Tours

Seoul Incheon Airport offers a series of free sightseeing tour options offered throughout the day to transiting passengers. Different tours focus on the cultural, culinary, historical and commercial facets off the city. The airport recommends a minimum of a 2-hour layover for the tour. Interested passengers can sign up at the transit tour main desk, outside of immigration.

Gyeongbok Palace

gyeongbok palace

Constructed in 1395, Gyeongbok (or Gyeongbokgung) Palace was for many years the most powerful place in South Korea. Today, it is used for entirely touristic purposes – and has been voted to be one of the most stunning locations in the city. Within it, you can visit the National Palace Museum of Korea and a series of traditional folk Korean gardens. Wander through the classic architecture, checking out ancient artifacts, cultural depictions and educational information. The president’s Blue House, the National Folk Museum, and the impressive US Embassy are also within walking distance from here.

Time Required: The Palace can take anywhere from one – five hours to explore, depending on the time you wish to spend in the various exhibits. Note that this does not include travel time to and from the airport.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.

Insadong

If your primary goal for your mini-vacation is art and culture, you’d be wise to head over to Insadong, Seoul’s current art district. Here, visitors are likely to find a number of traditional arts and crafts including ink drawings, antiques and celadon pottery. The main traditional street is the most famous and popular area, however the area itself encompasses nearly 13 hectares in total. Galleries are plentiful along these streets, as are tea houses and hanoks – traditional style house restaurants. Tapgol Park is also within walking distance from here, for those who wish to explore a hugely historically saturated pagoda.

Time Required: Spend as long or as little time as you wish exploring the shops and galleries that stipple Insadong. We would recommend budgeting a minimum of an hour here – though more if you are more serious about shopping and art. Note that this does not include travel time to and from the airport.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.

Myeongdong

If you’re visiting Seoul to fully immerse yourself in the city’s intensity, you will certainly want to head to Myeongdong – the city’s busiest area. Here, you will find a wide variety of local and international shops, in addition to a ton of restaurants and cafes. Street vendors galore will give you a taste of local fare for a modest price, while Lotte Department Store will give you some of your best people watching. That said, do be warned that the shopping here is hardly cheap. Myeongdong was in fact ranked in the top 10 most expensive shopping districts in the world in 2013!

Time Required: As with other shopping destinations, the amount of time you wish to explore here is entirely dependent on your preferences and availability. We would recommend no less than 1.5 hours. Note that this does not include travel time to and from the airport.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.

Transportation

Incheon Airport is located on a small island roughly 30 miles from the city center of Seoul. This makes accessing the city center somewhat more difficult and time consuming.

Public transit options include:

  • Railroad Express (AREX): A new train that connects downtown Seoul with the airport and 9 other stops along the way that lead to further metro access. For rates and schedules: Airport Express Train.
  • Public Bus: Departs from multiple locations outside the departures lounge for areas throughout Seoul.

Private transit options include:

  • Taxi (1F outside Arrivals Hall): Multiple stands located between platforms 4D and 7C.
  • Call Van (Exits12 and 13 in Arrivals Hall): Fixed fare van shuttle service
  • Rental Car

Before You Go: Layover Tips

Now that you are motivated and excited for your mini layover vacation, just make sure to check a few final logistical concerns off your list before you fully commit.

  • Do you need to organize a visa to leave the airport? Requirements change frequently and for each nationality, so be sure to seek out current details on the availability, cost and procedures of obtaining a transit visa.
  • When is your next flight’s check-in time? Make sure you double check with your airline exactly when you need to be at the airport – and plan your layover accordingly.
  • What are security wait times like at the airport? Some airports are notorious for long security wait-times, so be sure to do a bit of research in advance and factor that into your overall time-budget.
  • What’s happening with your luggage? When you check in to your first flight, be sure to confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights. Visit out Seoul Incheon Airport Guide for information about Luggage Storage.

Other Useful Resources

Finally, here are a few handy resources to help you plan your layover even more thoroughly:

buy a lounge pass