Guest Blogger: Melanie, her husband, and their spunky toddler, Miss C, are American ex-pats who live most of the year in Thailand. Like We Go With Kids, they recognize that having children doesn’t mean you lose your desire to travel and have reimagined traveling with kids to include destinations around the globe! Melanie’s journeys can be found on her blog, Adventure Family Life, and on Instagram.
South Korea is a vibrant, modern country with plenty to offer any traveler. This is no less true for those traveling with kids. Last October, we traveled to South Korea with our 21 month old Miss C, accompanied by friends and their nine-month old baby. Our group of six traveled by bus from city to city and used the city train and bus system within Seoul. For those who have never been to South Korea, we were pleasantly surprised by how child-friendly South Korea is and encourage you to put it on your list of places to visit with kids!
South Korea’s train system is one of the most affordable and comfortable ways to travel the country. Children under four travel free on trains when accompanied by an adult and children, and children ages four to 13, travel at half price. The train stations in larger cities such as Seoul, Yongsan, and Busan, have fabulous nursing rooms and the high-speed KTX train even has baby-changing and nursing rooms right on board. Most of South Korea is stroller-friendly, and subway stations have escalators and/or elevators that allow stroller users to easily navigate the station.
Buses are plentiful within major cities and, as an added bonus, children under age 7 can ride the bus and subways for free.
Shops and department stores are extremely child-friendly. Many department stores and mega stores, like E-Mart and Lotte Mart, provide strollers for guests to borrow for free. Many stores also have children’s play areas for when children to use to burn off some energy.
Children’s items, especially clothing, can be very expensive in department stores. However, I found some great deals on some super-stylish children’s clothes the last time I was at Namdaemun Market, so it never hurts to look.
Most restaurants have high chairs, but you will need to ask for them when you are being seated as they are not brought out automatically. If your child is not proficient at chopsticks, you can ask for a fork. More and more restaurants offer play areas for children, making dining out even more enjoyable for parents!
Things to Do:
Throughout the country, you will find many different attractions that are geared towards children. Most of the popular attractions in Korea welcome children to come and play and learn. Here are a few of our favorite things to do:
#1: Theme Parks
There are a number of theme parks across South Korea that are perfectly suited for children of all ages. We visited Everland, one of the largest theme parks in the world, located about 25 miles away from Seoul in Yangin. The park is fun for the whole family, and there is plenty of tasty food for everyone to enjoy. There are activities for even the youngest visitors. As an added bonus, Korea’s theme parks have nursing rooms that are often even stocked with baby wipes and diapers just in case an emergency arises! My friend was able to nurse her nine-month old in public throughout our trip without any issues.
#2: Stay in a Traditional Korean Homestay
One of the most memorable experiences we had in South Korea was staying in a traditional Korean homestay, a hanok. There are many homestay options available in the older section of Seoul, and the some homes can be hundreds of years old! Most of the homes that are available for booking have been renovated to include indoor plumbing, but you can expect to find paper pasted walls, old-style furniture, and traditional decor (most homes do offer television and WiFi!). We originally booked our homestay online via booking.com. I simply read reviews and booked the one with the best reviews. We arrived at our original booking at around 9pm and the owner told us that our room was “broken,” but that his cousin had room for us, so we took a quick ride over to Gongsimga, which is where we ended up staying.
At Gongsimga, each room had private, en suite bathrooms and there were five or six separate bedrooms with private baths that each family could stay in. The rooms had WiFi and a small tv, but there was no furniture other than the bed on the floor. The family we stayed with absolutely adored our daughter. It was cold when we were there, but the rooms are heated via the traditional ondol method of floor heaters, and we slept on a mat on the floor, which kept us nice and toasty. While it may not be an option for everyone, if you happen to co-sleep already at home or when you travel, this may be an ideal set up for you because the rooms are designed for all guests to seep together in one bed on the floor.
Each morning, we had breakfast together with the hosts and other guests. Our hostess was very kind and prepared a special meal for Miss C every morning and made sure she had a comfortable place to sleep. They also helped us locate an open restaurant when we arrived late, without having eaten dinner. The homestay experience is definitely rustic and not for everyone, but we had fun. The only draw backs that I can think of are that the plugs were all Korean plugs (versus a modern hotel which would have traditional plugs) and although there was a small courtyard on property, it was not really a great place to relax. Also, the kitchen is not really open for use as the family lives/sleeps in the kitchen, so you definitely felt like you were invading their private space if you needed something from the kitchen. Luckily, we did not spend a ton of time there as we are pretty active travelers. For sleeping and breakfast, the homestay suited us just fine.
#3: Seoul Children’s Museum
The government-owned Seoul Children’s Museum is located within the National Museum of Korea and offers various cultural activities and programming for children. There are more than 100 interactive displays spread over three floors where kids can have so much fun that they won’t even know they are learning! As an added bonus, children under three are free.
#4: Enjoy the Outdoors
The Korean countryside is incredibly beautiful and has a lot to offer visitors by way of scenery. The time of year greatly affects where you will want to go and what outdoor activities you will want to engage in.
During the summer, head to the beaches. In the wintertime, check out the ski resorts. During the fall (when we visited), head to Sokcho, where you can visit Seoroksan National Park and catch some of the most incredible fall foliage in Asia.
If you plan to spend all of your time in Seoul, you will have plenty of opportunities to experience nature as there is plenty of green space right in the city. One of the best views of the city can be enjoyed by taking a cable car to the top of Namsan mountain, also known as Seoul Tower.
#5: Visit the DMZ
Korea’s Demilitarized Zone (“DMZ”) is a popular tourist attraction, but only children over age 10 are allowed to visit the Joint Security Area (“JSA”).
Although we were not able to visit the JSA because we were traveling with a toddler, there are numerous attractions in the DMZ area that you can visit with kids, such as observatories and infiltration tunnels. In an effort to save money, we tried to take a public city bus to the Mount Ohdu Unification Observatory, but ended up getting lost. It was pouring rain outside and we ended up at a random shopping mall, the Paju Outlets, which is located ridiculously close to the DMZ. Unfortunately, we were too tired and wet to continue trying to get to the Observatory and, by that time, my toddler was DONE! We did see some guard towers and barbed wires and, at one point, even glance into North Korea for a split second. In retrospect, I wish we had booked a tour instead of trying to save money and do it ourselves.
All things considered, visiting South Korea with children is a no-brainer as you would be hard pressed to find a destination anywhere on the planet that is more child-friendly. Koreans loved our daughter and spoiled her everywhere we went, thus giving her ample opportunities to experience Korean culture. As an added bonus, we were able to relax and enjoy the experience as it was so easy to get around and incredibly friendly to those of us traveling with young children. We spent a total of 10 days in South Korea, three in Seoul, four near Sokcho, then another three in Seoul. The language barrier in Seoul was not bad, and although bus drivers either did not speak English or were not willing to speak English, we had no difficulty getting around. I purchase a SIM card at the airport so I could use Google Maps to figure out the bus routes. There was less English spoken in Sokcho, but it did not prove to be that much of a problem as I had the SIM card.