CONTRIBUTED BY CHRISTINE BRUNS
My family loves to explore Korea and go to events. What we don’t enjoy doing is driving in Korean traffic (and I’m from New York!). We learned early on how to use the Seoul Subway and have fully embraced it for our traveling needs, even with a pre-schooler in tow and when in different cities. It is very easy to use, the different lines are designated by color or name, and the operation hours are from 5:30 to approximately 24:00. I’ll try to share the basics here, to help anyone who is trying the subway for the first time or has been apprehensive about using it in general.
1) Where are You Going?
The first thing you need to do is figure out which stations to use. There are two different methods for that. If you’re like me, and like researching things on a larger screen with your computer before a trip, there is a handy website called Cyber Station:
It’s easy to find at: http://www.smrt.co.kr/program/cyberStation/main2.jsp?lang=e
Once on the main page, you simply click on the two stations you’d like to travel between, and the site will tell you the best lines to use, how long it takes, and if there are any transfers needed. You can also click on “Train Time”to see a full schedule.
Here is a screen shot of a trip from Samgakji Station (by Yongsan Garrison) headed to the awesome Children’s Grand Park Station. You’ll see there is a transfer needed at Isu Station.
The second method for finding subway routes and times is a smartphone app called “Subway Korea”(it was called “Jihachul”until a recent update).
It is available in English, for both iPhone and Android devices, and provides the latest subway maps for Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, and Gwangju. All subway maps provide real-time transit info, timetables, transfer information, station/area guides, and more.
2) Buying a Ticket
Once you know where you’re going, it’s time to pay for your fare. You can buy a single-use ticket at any station, using the automated “Ticket Vending and Card Reload”machines (English screen options are available). Select your destination, pay your fare using won or coins, and collect your ticket.
You can also use a T-Money or Cash Bee transit card, which can be reloaded at the same ticket machines and gives you a slight discount in fare. You will find these cards or cute key chain options at most convenience stores. We bought our cards at the Dragon Hill Discover Seoul desk on post when we first arrived.
– Single-Use Ticket: 1,150 won (age 19+); 1,000 won (age 13-18); 500 won (age 6-12)
– T-Money Card Fare: 1,050 won (age 19+); 900 won (age 13-18); 450 won (age 6-12)
– Children under 6 years: Free
– Total distances over 10km (within Seoul): 100 won for each additional 5km
– Total distances over 40km (within Seoul): 100 won for each additional 10km
– Total distances over 30km (outside Seoul): 100 won for each additional 5km
3) Boarding the Train
Now that you have your ticket, head on over to the entry points that usually have
a turnstile that looks like this:
Swipe your T-money card or single-use ticket across the white square reader and head down to the train. You will also need to swipe the card as you exit on the other end of your trip, so keep it handy. AND if you use a single-use ticket, you can get a 500 won refund at a Deposit Refund machine by turning in your ticket.
Most of the subways in Seoul have safety doors along the platform – a great feature, especially when you have little ones with you.
If you are on a central platform, where the trains load on both sides, be sure to consult the line direction maps on a nearby column so you jump onto the train going in the direction you want. If that means you miss a train that is sitting at the station while you confirm your side, don’t worry – there will be another train coming along in a few minutes.
4) Other Features and Amenities
Once you’re on the train, there will be route maps above the doorways for you to keep track of the stops and video and/or voice announcements for each approaching station (in Korean and English).
Each train car will have an area designated as seating for handicapped, elderly, and pregnant passengers. There will also be hanging straps for standing passengers.
Each platform and station has a variety of vendors and machines for the busy traveler, as well as neighborhood maps to help you navigate the area. There are large lockers available that you can rent to store items at each station – so the shopping can continue! Some stations even contain large underground markets and direct access to attractions.
You’ll notice that Korean subway cars are very quiet places – lots of passengers using their smartphones – and each station is decorated differently (more on that at a later date!). When exiting a station, look for the exit signs with numbers and nearby attractions listed – this will help you be closer to where you want to go.
I hope this write-up has helped demystify the system a little and I encourage you to take advantage of this great travel option in Korea. Happy Traveling!