Welcome to my comprehensive guide on using the Seoul Metro! If you’re planning to explore Seoul, the subway is the most convenient and efficient way to get around the bustling city. In this informative blog post, you’ll find everything you need to know about the Seoul Metro, from its functioning to practical tips for navigating the system.
The Seoul Metro has some unique features and surprises that I’ll reveal to you here. This guide aims to simplify the vast Metro network, allowing you to effortlessly explore the city’s exciting attractions and neighborhoods while answering all your burning questions about Metro usage.
Useful Information about the Metro in Seoul
The Seoul Metro is one of the most modern and efficient subway systems in the world and one of the best ways to explore the vibrant city of Seoul. With approximately 2.5 billion passengers annually, it is one of the most heavily used metro systems worldwide. With its extensive network and reliable trains, the metro is the preferred mode of transportation for both locals and tourists alike. Not only is the Seoul Metro known for its efficiency and punctuality, but also for its cleanliness and user-friendliness. The stations are well signposted and easy to navigate, making it easy for even first-time visitors to find their way around. The signage and announcements are usually in Korean and English.
How Does the Metro in Seoul Work?
The metro in Seoul is easy to use. At the stations, you will find clearly marked entrances and exits that help you navigate. When entering the metro stations, you need to scan your ticket or T-Money card at the readers to access the platforms. You do the same before exiting the metro station.
Lines and Stations
The Seoul Metro consists of several lines that cover the entire city area. Each line is marked with a color and has a unique number. The line colors and numbers are clearly visible at the stations, making it easy to orient yourself.
Entrances and Exits
Usually, it is unnecessary to mention this point, as everyone should know how a metro entrance works. However, here it is interesting because each exit is numbered. You can find the number of the entrance/exit both outside and inside the station. If you use the “Naver Maps” app for navigation, you can already see where exactly this entrance/exit is located, allowing you to save time by coming out at the right place.
Especially at large metro stations, it makes sense to check the exit in advance, as the exits can be up to 5 minutes apart. Outside, you will find the exit number in large illuminated letters on the columns right next to the entrance. This is not the number of the metro line. The column usually also displays the bus lines near that exit. Inside the station, you will find many signposts with the numbers that guide you to the appropriate exit.
Transfers and Transfers
At certain stations, you can transfer between different metro lines to reach your destination. The transfer areas are well signposted, and you can follow the instructions to find the correct platform for your onward journey. Note that for some transfers, a short walk may be required. Here, the use of the numbering system is especially advantageous. Read more below in the post under the heading “What do the numbers on the floor and doors in the metro station mean?”.
How Many Lines Are There and When Does the Metro Run?
The Seoul Metro consists of an extensive network of lines that cover the entire city area. There are a total of nine lines that connect different areas of the city, along with additional providers of different train systems. The lines are color-coded and easily recognizable. The metro usually operates from early morning until midnight, although exact operating hours may vary depending on the line. There is also a central connection line that links Seoul Station with other major train stations and transfer points. The inner-city lines are particularly important for tourists and locals who want to get around Seoul. Here are some of the key inner-city lines:
Line 1 (Dark Blue) – West/East
Line 1 runs from Incheon in the west to Cheongnyangni in the east and is the longest line in Seoul. It connects many important stations and attractions such as Gyeongbokgung Palace, Dongdaemun Market, and Seoul Station.
Line 2 (Green) – Circle Line
Line 2 is a circular line that encircles the center of Seoul. It connects many important districts such as Gangnam, Hongdae, and Myeongdong. This line is particularly convenient for exploring the downtown area and is well connected to other lines.
Line 3 (Orange) – North/South
Line 3 of the Seoul Metro is a significant connection in the city, stretching from Daehwa in the north to Ogeum in the south. It mostly runs along the Gyeongbu Expressway and provides access to various neighborhoods and attractions.
If you’re looking for a central accommodation in Seoul, I recommend renting an apartment along this line. Especially the Chungmu-ro, Euljiro 3 sam-ga, and Jongno 3 sam-ga stations are, in my experience, the best starting points to visit most of the city’s attractions. Additionally, Line 3 also provides a connection to the south, allowing you to quickly reach the southern part of Seoul without any transfers.
Line 4 (Light Blue) – West/South
Line 4 runs from Incheon in the west to Gwacheon in the south, connecting many residential areas with the city center. This line is also important for accessing popular attractions such as the Seoul National Cemetery and Seoul Grand Park.
This line is also suitable for choosing a central accommodation as it is connected to the Central Station in Seoul and has a connection to the south.
What Do the Numbers on the Floor and Doors in the Metro Station Mean?
In Seoul's metro stations, you may notice numbers on the floor in front of the entry doors and on the doors themselves. These numbers serve an important function and are designed to facilitate boarding and alighting from the trains. I wondered what these numbers were for during my first week until my Korean teacher explained it to me. When I understood it, I couldn't help but smile because it is clear that something like this had to be invented in South Korea. At the same time, I think it's brilliant!
But what do the numbers mean exactly? To take advantage of these numbers, you first need to use the "NaverMaps" or "Kakao Maps" app and their navigation function. When using NaverMaps (Kakaomap) as a navigation aid, you not only get information about the next station and the correct exit but also about which door is the fastest option for a quick transfer or smooth exit. And that perfectly corresponds to the South Korean cliché of "pallipalli."
Nice to know: What Does Pallipalli Actually Mean? 빨리빨리 (pallipalli) translates to "Hurry up!" and is a common expression in South Korea. 팔 (pal) is also the number "8" and 이 (i) is the number "2" in Korean, both pronounced the same way. Since everything needs to be done quickly in South Korea, even the term 빨리빨리 (Hurry up!) is abbreviated to the number 8282. Crazy, right?
Naver Maps is a popular navigation app in South Korea that provides specific information for metro navigation, and I highly recommend using this app because Google Maps is completely useless in South Korea (you cannot navigate with Google Maps in South Korea because of governmental restrictions). So, if you need to make a connection from one line to another, Naver Maps will show you which door is best suited for the quickest transfer to another line. The app even indicates the exact position of the doors you should use to make your transfer as smooth as possible. This is particularly helpful at busy stations with multiple transfer options.
Additionally, at some stations, the paths can be quite long, and without this information, you might miss your connecting metro. Furthermore, Naver Maps also indicates which door is best for the quickest exit to the stairs at your destination station. For example, when you reach your destination and want to exit, the app will show you the door that leads directly to your desired exit. This saves time and allows you to travel more efficiently.
You can see the recommended door in the app screenshot in the gallery (Fast transfer 7-2).
Using NaverMaps in conjunction with the numbers on the doors and floor of the metro stations allows you to reduce your transfer times and make your journey on the Seoul Metro even more "pallipalli" (quickly). Initially, with my European calmness, I more or less chuckled at it. But after a few weeks in Seoul, I was fully into it and used this option almost every time (except when there was too much crowding at the door, especially during rush hour). In my opinion, using the NaverMaps app is definitely worthwhile.
Fun Fact: In Seoul, I discovered what feels like the longest metro station in the world. It stretches for about 500 meters to 1 kilometer, covers 3 stations, and takes forever to traverse. You can find this long underpass between Euljiro 3 (sam)-ga and City Hall Station.
Metro Usage: How Do I Find the Right Side in the Station? (An Example)
In the beginning, it can be a bit overwhelming as Korean characters stand out everywhere, and you may not know every station. Fortunately, everything is also signposted in English at every station, following a mostly consistent principle. If you use the NaverMaps app, you have the advantage of seeing the station that is also indicated on the signs inside the station.
This way, you can avoid searching for the correct side to enter the metro, which may not always be immediately apparent. I will describe the following example using the Chungmu-ro station (Line 3) as I lived there for 6 weeks and used the station every day. As you can see in the image below, four station names are listed: Jongno 3 (sam)-ga + Daehwa and Seoul Nat'l Univ. + Ogeum.
On the left side, you see the next station, Jongno 3 (sam)-ga, and the corresponding final destination, Daehwa. The same on the other side with the nearest station from Chungmu-ro, Seoul Nat'l Univ., and the final destination, Ogeum.
Tip: At the staircase, you will usually find only the final destination on the sign, so remember the final destination associated with your direction. If you use NaverMaps, it is also displayed in the app. In the screenshot, you can see the text "Ogeum Bound," which means that in this case, I should take the metro in the direction of "Ogeum." Believe me, this saves you a lot of time at the station. Therefore, the app is definitely worth recommending.
How Much Does the Metro Cost and How Do I Buy a Ticket?
Usually, in Asian countries, I also like to use ride-hailing services like Uber and Grab. However, in South Korea, it is only worthwhile to a limited extent. The cost of using the metro in Seoul is surprisingly affordable and offers various options for purchasing a ticket. There are different types of tickets, including single-use tickets and rechargeable cards such as the T-Money card, Seoul Tour Card, or cashbee CU card. You can purchase the tickets at the machines in the stations or convenience stores like CU.
Contactless Payment: You can also use contactless payment methods such as credit cards or smartphones with NFC functionality. However, this is only possible if you have Samsung Pay through Android. Unfortunately, South Korea is not yet advanced in terms of Apple Pay, and I suspect it's due to the competition between Samsung and Apple, as Samsung wants to maintain a monopoly in South Korea. Although Apple Pay has been introduced in some places in South Korea after the last update, you can only use it in combination with a South Korean bank account, which is impossible for tourists. You also cannot use a physical credit card for payment as that is reserved for South Koreans (or permanent residents), as it also requires a South Korean bank account.
The fare prices for the metro in Seoul vary depending on the distance and number of stations you travel. The prices are calculated based on a zone system, where each zone has a specific price. The minimum price is always 1,250 Won (1,350 when purchasing a single-use ticket). You can find the exact fare prices at the machines in the metro stations or on the official metro websites.
The T-Money card is a rechargeable transportation card that you can use for the metro, buses, and other public transportation in Seoul. With this card, you can conveniently and flexibly pay without having to buy a single-use ticket every time. You can purchase the T-Money card at the machines in the metro stations and recharge it at many other locations throughout the city. The card itself costs about 5,000 Won (without any balance). It is advisable to buy a T-Money card as it is the most affordable and convenient option. You can also use the T-Money card as a payment option in many stores.
Cashbee CU Card
The Cashbee CU card is another rechargeable card that you can use for the metro and other transportation in Seoul. It works similarly to the T-Money card and offers the same advantages. You can purchase the Cashbee CU card at the machines in the metro stations and recharge it at many other locations. I used the Cashbee CU card back then because I went to the CU store at the airport. You can also use the Cashbee card as a payment option in many stores.
Ticket Vending Machines
Not necessarily recommended as they are more expensive, but for the sake of completeness, I will describe the purchase of a single-use ticket. At the ticket vending machines in the metro stations, you can buy single-use tickets or recharge your card. To purchase a single-use ticket, simply follow the English instructions on the screen, select your starting and destination points, and pay the corresponding fare. Note that the machines usually only accept cash (Korean Won), so make sure to have enough cash on hand.
Please note that each guest needs their own card as you need it to enter and exit the metro. You cannot share it with another person.