How to Move Around South Korea

south korea public transportation

Public transportation in South Korea is fantastic. The famous KTX bullet trains transform long distances into short journeys and, in general, the train and bus networks are efficient and affordable.

This guide will help you to travel around South Korea by explaining the different methods of South Korean public transportation which are available to visitors in South Korea including train, buses, ferries, and even taxis.

Trains in South Korea

Traveling by train in South Korea is a pleasure. The country has an excellent railway system which is quick, reliable, efficient, and affordable. It makes moving between towns and cities convenient and simple.

South Korea’s famous bullet trains (KTX) are rapid, you can get from Seoul to Busan in just 3 hours. Smaller cities have their own rail lines, which connect numerous destinations to the centralized networks.

The first railway line was built in the 19th century, linking Seoul and Incheon. More lines were built throughout the 20th century and some are even connected to the Trans Siberian Railway. Nowadays, trains are one of the main methods of transportation Koreans use for domestic long-distance travel.

KORAIL is the national, and only, rail operator in South Korea. It’s managed by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transportation. Passengers can buy tickets on the KORAIL website or at any major station. It is advisable to book tickets in advance, especially during busier periods.

KTX bullet trains

The Korea Train Express (KTX) can reach top speeds of 300 km/h which means that traveling by train is often quicker than catching flights (when you consider the times for queues, waits, and delays).

The KTX operates on 2 lines: the Gyeongbu line and the Honam line. The most expensive fairs are Seoul to Busan (44,000 won) and Yongsan to Mokpo (38,000 won).

South Korean subways

The following cities have their own subway systems: Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Gwangju, Incheon. The subway systems of Gwangju and Daejeon are still under construction. The subway systems have their own websites but the information is not available in English.

Seoul subway

The Seoul subway has the reputation of being one of the best inter-city transport systems in the world and it’s the most convenient way to move around the capital. At first the map looks complicated, because it’s such a large city, but it’s easy-to-navigate once you familiarize yourself with it.

Korean Bus Services

If you can’t reach your destination by train, you will probably need to catch a bus. They a relatively slow compared to trains but they are cheap, efficient, and rarely crowded (outside of the big cities).

The Seoul Express Bus Terminal and the Central City Terminal (also in Seoul) are busiest bus stations and connect to most parts of the country. Express buses are comfortable (featuring recliner seats) and are normally air-conditioned.

Local buses are not as comfortable as express buses but the standard is still very high compared to most countries. It can be difficult to navigate local buses using only English. It helps to understand some basic Korean and there are various maps and apps which can assist you.

If you do take local buses, take smaller bills and coins with you as bus drivers don’t appreciate providing change.

Korean Ports and Waterways

South Korea has an extensive network of ferries which connect major destinations such as Busan, Incheon, Jeju, and Mokpo as well as islands and international ports. There are 4 major ports for ferry services in Korea, in Busan, Mokpo, Incheon, and Pochan. It’s a good idea to book your trip through a reputable travel agency.

Taxis in South Korea

Taxis in South Korea are safe and inexpensive and the drivers are generally very friendly (though some don’t speak any English). Taxis are generally fitted with taxi-meters but if you find a driver who is running off-meter, it’s best to find one that does.

If you have trouble hailing a taxi, you should go to the nearest subway or train station where there are normally taxi stands. You can choose between 2 types of taxis: ilban and mobeum.

Mobeum are painted black, the drivers speak English and cater to business travelers, but they are twice as expensive. You can call mobeum or hail them and they accept most major credit and debit cards.

If you’re planning on visiting South Korea and you’re not from a visa-exempt country, make sure you obtain your visa for South Korea before you set off.