Choosing between Seoul and Tokyo has always been a difficult situation for tourists worldwide. These two big, futuristic cities with deep roots in their tradition have a lot to offer. But all they have in common are their urban allures!
If you don’t know which city to go for yet, get to know them more below and you’ll soon figure it out!
Picture a technology-forward powerhouse set in a megacity cradled by mountains. That’s Seoul, a futuristic city that remains deeply traditional in its food scene and culture. This world-class city has everything you’d need for a memorable trip, and there’s a plethora of ways for you to get to know Seoul.
What Makes Seoul Unique?
Seoul Keeps Korean Culture and Traditions Alive
When you think of Seoul, you may picture a dense urban sprawl of high-rise buildings. While that may be true, old historic landmarks exist in this futuristic city. And because you have the best of both worlds in Seoul, you’ll have countless sightseeing opportunities!
Get a blast from the past with Seoul’s Five Royal Palaces. The city has five palaces as the Joseon Dynasty rulers had to move several times due to wars and other crises. Thus, each palace in the city has stories for you to discover.
You’ll find all five palaces in the heart of Seoul, located next to a subway station. But if you can’t visit them all, you have to visit the first two palaces. These must-visit palaces are Gyeongbokgung and Chandeokdung.
Gyeongbokgung was the first royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. It’s the largest among the five and is widely considered the most breathtaking.
Meanwhile, Changdeokgung was the second palace of the dynasty. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the most well-preserved of the bunch.
If you want to experience traditional Korean life, continue your exploration at the Bukchon Hanok Village. This charming pocket of Seoul hasn’t kept up with the city’s rapid modernization. Here, you’ll find traditional Korean houses called “hanok”.
With their ornately designed exteriors, these houses are an architectural marvel. But what’s more to this village is that it’s a wanderer’s wonderland. Go through narrow passageways and discover a wealth of shops, art galleries, and traditional teahouses!
Immersing yourself in Seoul’s traditions and culture goes beyond sightseeing though.
For example, visiting the city’s temples is a must-do in Seoul. But you can take it a step further and stay in one with a temple stay program. With this, you can learn more about Korean culture from Buddhist monks.
And in Bukchon Hanok Village, you can rent a hanbok while exploring its labyrinth of narrow alleyways. Doing so gives you a more immersive experience touring the place. Plus, this makes for such beautiful pictures!
Discover Seoul’s Diverse and Charming Neighborhoods
Like many big cities around the world, Seoul has famous neighborhoods, each with a distinct vibe. They offer unique atmospheres across the city, giving you the perfect hangout spot depending on your likes. With this, it’s a delight to wander around the city as you’ll never know what you’ll come across!
One of the neighborhoods that you may have heard of is Myeongdong. This dynamic tourist hub sees over 2 million people daily, thanks to its wealth of allures.
Myeongdong is a shopaholic’s paradise, as it has everything you’d need. It’s also the best place to shop as a tourist as you’ll find endless floor spaces here with employees that are fluent in foreign languages.
Another tourist hotspot here is Itaewon. This well-visited and beloved neighborhood feels like a foreign country within the city. As such, it’s one of the most unique places you could ever visit in Seoul!
Exploring the World Food Culture Street is the best way to get a feel of Itaewon’s diversity. You’ll find cuisines across the world here, from Asian to Eastern European flavors!
If you’re an art lover, art is everywhere in the streets of Seoul. But no area in the city has the raw, creative flair that Mullae-dong has. So it’s worth going off the beaten path and exploring Mullae Artist Village!
This village was once filled with abandoned ironworks. But artists turned these vacated spaces into vibrant workshops. With this, the area turned into an artist village with murals, art installations, and more, sprinkled everywhere!
Go on an Adventure in Seoul’s Great Outdoors
At a glance, Seoul may seem like a concrete jungle. But amid its sea of buildings, huge crowds, and vehicles lie gorgeous green oases scattered across the city and beyond. Here you can relax and have a picnic, enjoy some outdoor recreation, or simply take in nature’s beauty as you escape the bustle of Seoul!
One of the city’s most accessible parks is Namsan Park. Here, you can walk through greenery-fringed paths that wind around a mountain. Once you reach the peak, you’ll find a gorgeous panoramic view of the city.
Seoul has loads more parks, each unique and known for its distinct attractions.
Visit Seoul during spring and head to Yeouido Park for the beautiful Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival. Ttukseom Park is where you can try watersports, enjoy the city’s biggest skatepark outdoor swimming pool, and more! Seoul Forest is perfect for animal lovers as it has a greenhouse filled with insects like butterflies and a deer enclosure.
There’s also a park here that’s much like New York’s High Line Park! Seoul transformed this disused overpass into a lush sky garden filled with greenery of all kinds.
If you want to escape into the wilderness, all it takes is one local subway ride. Surrounding this megacity are tall, emerald-clad mountains. They offer exciting hiking adventures, rewarding you with incredible views at the top!
Thrilling escapades are only a 45-minute subway ride away from the heart of the city. Head to Bukhansen National Park and hop on the Bukhansanseong path. On this trail, you’ll conquer the tallest mountain near the city, Baegundae!
Enjoy the Best That a Modern, Vibrant City Can Offer
One of the most exciting things about Seoul is that you can get a taste of the old and the new in one day. The city’s wealth of historical landmarks and cultural experiences are enough to keep you busy. But Seoul’s extensive collection of urban allures offers a memorable experience too!
Meet Seoul’s Sleek Buildings
Like megacities around the world, Seoul has no shortage of stunning architecture.
Head to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, where you’ll get a good look at Seoul’s extravagant urban development. Made with concrete, steel, stone, and aluminum, this striking structure is an architectural wonder. Inside, you’ll find a library, exhibition hall, museum, and more!
Then there’s 63 Square, a shiny skyscraper that sticks out of the skyline. It’s the tallest gold-covered building in the world. From here, you can get an unobstructed view of Seoul, and explore an aquarium, wax museum, shopping mall, and art gallery!
The last on the list is an icon of the city, the Lotte World Tower. This rocket-looking skyscraper is the tallest in the country. Inside, you can hang out at the rooftop cafe, marvel at artwork in galleries, conquer the skywalk, and more.
Shop Till You Drop
Each year, millions of tourists flock to Seoul just to go shopping. Everything a shopaholic would want is right here, from luxurious finds to one-of-a-kind bargains. But Seoul is particularly famous for its fashion scene and skincare and makeup products.
Seoul is one of the most fashion-forward, avant-garde cities in the world. From fashion week to the trendiest street style, this is a thriving industry. Other than that, the city is a worldwide trendsetter in makeup and skincare.
If you’re looking for the latest trends in both, explore the city’s countless shopping malls and districts to see what they have to offer. You can shop as much as you’d like here tax-free! Some stores allow immediate tax refunds in-store, but you can also get a tax refund at the airport with your receipts.
Come Out and Play After Dark
Seoul is a city made for party animals and night owls. When you’re here, you’ll experience one of the most electrifying and dynamic night scenes in Asia. From high-end clubs to American-style pubs, there’s plenty of fun to be had in Seoul at night!
Three of the city’s most popular neighborhoods are incredible nightlife hubs.
Head to Hongdae for a wild night out with a younger crowd. Party in Itaewon, where a diverse demographic comes together to party in this cultural mecca. Or enjoy sophisticated loungers and high-end clubs at Gangnam.
Let Seoul’s Renowned Food Scene Tickle Your Tastebuds
From fresh seafood, succulent barbecues, and a wide variety of noodles, there’s plenty to sample here in Seoul. The city’s food scene offers a burst of flavor like no other, whether you’re snacking on street food or devouring a traditional dish. A trip to Seoul isn’t complete without a culinary tour, and there’s a feast to enjoy here no matter your budget.
At the heart of Seoul’s food scene is its famous and ever-zinging street food scene. There are countless vendors here serving up some serious eats, from sweet to savory and spicy! Some of the best-loved, tasty delights to try are the following:
- Mayak kimbap: A treat made with seasoned white rice with thinly cut carrots, pickled radishes, and more. It’s then wrapped in seaweed, making it the perfect, bite-sized snack!
- Bindaetteok: A savory pancake that’s made with ground mung beans, meat, and veggies of all kinds.
- Tteokbokki: This is the country’s most famous and best-loved street food. Enjoy a plate of these chewy rice cakes covered in sweet and spicy sauce.
If you don’t know where to get some delicious street food, all you have to do is find a food market! The century-old Gwangjang Market is one of the best places to start. But there’s also the Myeongdong Street Food Alley, Dongdaemun Night Market, and more!
Upscale dining is aplenty in Seoul too. The city is home to 35 Michelin-starred restaurants and 57 Bib Gourmand restaurants! The best part about them is that they create a unique twist on traditional Korean food while offering cuisines from around the world!
Ultramodern yet old-school, casual yet formal, Tokyo is a city of juxtapositions. But this is what makes it so delightfully fascinating. You’ll find these contrasts in all its allures from day to night, making Tokyo a city that’s so endlessly addicting to explore.
What Make Tokyo Unique?
It’s Where Shiny Skyscrapers and Centuries-Old Temples Coexist
People from around the world have two images in mind when they think of Japan. One is an ultramodern and futuristic city, and the other is a charming city of temples, historic palaces, and wooden houses. Both of these attract tourists worldwide, and in Tokyo, you’ll get to experience both.
At a glance, you’ll find that Tokyo is a sprawling concrete jungle with a never-ending buzz of a megalopolis. Going around the city is a feast for your eyes with Tokyo’s sheer amount of unique structures! And in a city that’s famous for its architectural prowess, you’d expect nothing less.
The most beautiful buildings here are full of character.
Picture a shiny, blue crystal popping out of the ground, that’s The Iceberg. Imagine a building covered with a wooden lattice structure, that’s Sunny Hills. Or think of a building covered in wooden panels that form waves, that’s the Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building.
If you love sleek and future-proof architectural designs, there’s no place to be than Tokyo. Despite its reputation as a design powerhouse, Tokyo still has a wealth of centuries-old wonders.
Dotted across this urban vastness are several brightly painted temples and shrines. And they’re the place to be to get a feel of old Japan.
There’s no better place to start a historic tour of Tokyo than the Sensoji Temple. This is the city’s oldest shrine, a quiet spot that serves as your retreat from such an energetic city.
The Kaminarimon Gate bears one of the icons of the temple, a massive red paper lantern that greets you when you enter. Check out its famous Incense Vat, which locals believe drives away ailments. This is why you’ll see people cupping the smoke and rubbing their hands on the body part that needs healing.
A taste of old Japan goes beyond Tokyo’s beautiful temples though. You can always visit Yanesen, a pocket of the city that remains untouched by modernization.
This is a collective term for three of Tokyo’s districts: Sendagi, Nezu, and Yanaka. And here you’ll find peaceful historical landmarks that preserve the antiquated beauty of the Edo period.
Immerse Yourself in Old Japan’s Fascinating Traditions
Tokyo’s traditional culture is as famous as its endless urban allures. While you can visit the city’s many historical landmarks, there’s more to the city than sightseeing. Here, you get to experience centuries-old traditions too!
Watch a Sumo Show
Be one with the crowd as you watch an exciting tournament of Japan’s national sport! Sumo wrestling dates back over 2000 years ago as a form of entertainment, and it continues to do so today.
You can watch one of the three biggest sumo tournaments held in Tokyo yearly. If you can’t, you’ll still catch a show in a smaller setting with a Japanese meal in the same place. Plus, you can learn some moves, too, and practice them in a sumo suit!
Enjoy a Geisha Performance
The elusive geishas are an icon of Japan’s culture. It’s hard to spot them in the streets, but you can see them in action with a show. With these performances, they’ll entertain you through song, dance, and other performances!
Rent a Kimono or Yukata
For a more immersive historical tour of Japan, why not take it up a notch and look the part? In Tokyo, you can rent a kimono and yukata, which are traditional clothing. These two look the same, but the materials vary.
Kimonos are only made of silk, while yukatas use lighter fabrics such as linen and cotton. You can even have a professional style your hair and put makeup for you to complete the look! Then you can have a photoshoot, too, for a unique and memorable souvenir.
Experience the Art of Traditional Kintsugi
A more rewarding souvenir you can take home is one that you’ll make yourself. With this Kintsugi experience, you’ll put back broken pieces of ceramics. Stick them back with shimmery gold dust, creating a beautiful end product that you can take home!
Dine Like Royalty in This World-Renowned Food Capital
Known far and wide for its delectable cuisine, Tokyo is one of the proud food capitals of the world. The city prides itself on its high-quality artisan delights that bring out rich, authentic flavors. And it’s this commitment to quality that gifted Tokyo with over 200 Michelin-starred restaurants, the most of any city in the world.
Being an archipelago surrounded by rich waters, seafood is a staple of Japan’s cuisine. With this, fish markets are the best way to discover what shaped the country’s famous food fare.
In Tokyo, Tsukiji Fish Market is among the best of its kind. Enjoy the freshest seafood here, from sushi to sashimi rice bowls, and more!
For a more authentic dining experience, head to a geisha restaurant and sample some kaiseki cuisine. The best places to look for one are in Tokyo’s geisha districts, Asakusa and Kagurazaka.
Kaiseki cuisine consists of several courses, which include an appetizer with some sake on the side. But simmered dishes, sashimi and grilled foods, and rice are staples here. You’ll also have some matcha tea and sweet delights at the end of your meal as geisha entertain you!
A gastronomic adventure in Tokyo isn’t complete without sampling its incredible street food. The city has plenty of incredible street food hubs to choose from. Some of the popular ones are Sunmachi, Hoppy Street, and Togoshi Ginza!
Dive Into Tokyo’s Famous Pop Culture Scene
Tokyo is a city that goes in its own sweet way. This, combined with its playful character and wild creativity, resulted in a pop culture scene that garnered fans from far and wide!
This scene has created some of the coolest districts in Tokyo.
In the Harajuku district, you’ll find a sea of people dressed in the most avant-garde fashion styles. This is the Harajuku style, which is a fashion that focuses on freedom of expression and community! It doesn’t refer to a single look, but a collection of various styles in this vibrant area.
Some of the popular styles here are Lolita, Kawaii, and Goth. You’ll even find loads of youngsters here cosplaying, dressed as characters from anime and manga!
At Akihabara, the future awaits you. This is the electronic district of the city, where you can deck out on new, cutting-edge gear. But it’s also famous as a hub for anime, manga, and video games!
You don’t have to be in either district to get a taste of Tokyo’s pop culture though.
If you’re a fan of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, head to the Ghibli Museum. This whimsical wonderland incorporates the studio’s iconic characters into its design. Plus, you get to bring home some souvenirs from the incredible gift shop!
If you love Pokémon, you’ll get spoiled to the fullest here.
Eat at the Pokémon Cafe, where you can grab a plate of a Pikachu dish, Snorlax hamburger, or Eevee-shaped burger! This cafe is near the Pokémon Centre Tokyo DX, a paradise for all Pokémon-related goods. Even more fun is the Pokémon Center Mega theme park, where you’ll find life-sized Pokémon statues!
The thrills don’t stop there though. If you want an adrenaline rush, you can zoom around the city on a go-cart! Plus, several operators, such as MariCAR, have costumes of your favorite characters on hand for you to wear. With this, you can go around this megacity looking like Pikachu or Mario!
The Fun Doesn’t Stop Here After Dark
The endless buzz of this busy city continues even after the sun sets. Once the neon lights are on, Tokyo exudes a different vibe from its daytime character. At night, it becomes a glitzy, carefree, and fun-loving city filled with allures that’ll last you until the sun is up.
Start your night out early on rooftop bars and restaurants to get a good view of the twinkling skyline. Tokyo has many of these, giving you endless views of this thriving megalopolis as you sip on your cocktail. If you’re looking for the best ones, head to Ginza or Marunouchi.
Once you’ve had your fill of good food and drinks, it’s time to party until dawn!
You can stay in the glamorous district of Ginza, as it has a wealth of chic bars, late-night clubs, and upscale host bars. But you can always switch venues and head to Shibuya or Roppongi, two of the city’s incredible nightlife hubs!
Shibuya has a younger crowd, thus, you can expect a wilder, more energetic vibe here. From nightclubs to bars to dance lounges, you’ll have everything you need here to let loose!
But for tourists, Roppongi is the best place to be. With its wealth of foreigner-friendly pubs, bars, and clubs, you’ll have no trouble getting around here in English.
Should I Go to Seoul or Tokyo?
Both cities are modern, busy, and have all the big city allures you need. But these two cities have different vibes, and the pick between the two will depend on your preference.
One of the biggest factors to consider here is if you’re more interested in Japanese or Korean culture. These two cities have their old traditions deeply intertwined with their attractions and allures. Thus, you have to pick which flavor you’d want your allures and attractions to be in.
If you have no preference, then Tokyo may be a better choice for you.
Seoul has the food scene, shopping scene, fun landmarks, and more, to keep you busy. Despite this, Tokyo has more depth to it and more variety across all its attractions, from food to fashion. There is a lot more going on in Tokyo in everything, from old traditions to counterculture and subculture.
Seoul is a sleek, clean, and highly organized city with stunning buildings. But it pales in comparison to Tokyo’s cityscape, as it’s more varied. Tokyo also does a better job of integrating its centuries-old landmarks with the city.
Seoul also has an incredible food scene, and it has better street food and cheaper meals compared to Tokyo. But the food quality in Tokyo is second to none. It’s the city with the most Michelin stars in the world, which speaks for itself.
Is Seoul Cheaper Than Tokyo?
Seoul is a much cheaper city to visit than Tokyo across the board, making it a better choice for budget travelers. When in Seoul, your daily cost is around 91 USD. But in Tokyo, you may spend around 148 USD per day.
Keep in mind that these are averages and your expenses will still depend on your lifestyle. But if you want a breakdown of these costs, you’ll find them below.
Accommodation for solo travelers in Seoul is only 46 USD, while it’ll be around 70 USD in Tokyo. If you’re traveling as a couple, a hotel will cost around 92 USD in Seoul and 140 USD in Tokyo.
Getting around Seoul is cheaper too, as it costs around 13 USD per day. But in Tokyo, this will be around 18 USD.
A day’s worth of food costs about 25 USD in Seoul and 35 USD in Tokyo. Alcoholic drinks are also cheaper in Seoul, costing around 10 USD for a day’s worth of drinks. But in Tokyo, this will be around 30 USD.
Entertainment costs, like ticket shows, entrance fees, and more, cost around 22 USD daily in Seoul. And in Tokyo, will set you back around 65 USD!
Seoul vs. Tokyo for Nightlife
Both Seoul and Tokyo are exciting cities for party animals as they boast electrifying nightlife.
South Korea is one of the countries with the highest alcohol consumption in the world, and Seoul is no different. Pair this with its fun-loving alter ego at night and you’ll find a youthful vibe here when the sun sets. There are countless clubs and bars here with varying music tastes and atmospheres to fit everyone’s taste!
Seoul has three nightlife districts to choose from. Hongdae is where the young party, while Itaewon is where foreigners from around the world have fun. Meanwhile, Gangnam is the place to be for a more sophisticated night out!
Tokyo may not have the wild and young vibe of Seoul’s nightlife. But Tokyo has a wider diversity of late-night establishments for you to choose from! From vibrant clubs, Japanese gastropubs, American-style pubs, and more, there’s a venue here that’s right up your alley.
Like Seoul, Tokyo has incredible nightlife districts too.
Ginza is much like Gangnam and is famous for its string of upscale bars and venues. Shibuya and Shinjuku offer a diverse variety of late-night entertainment. Meanwhile, Roppongi is the most foreigner-friendly nightlife district in the city!
Tokyo vs. Seoul Size
Comparing the land area of Tokyo and Seoul is quite complicated. This is because Tokyo is both a city and a prefecture, as the city part of it merged with the prefecture back in 1943. Naturally, the entire Tokyo area would be bigger with a land area of 847 square miles (2194 square km).
The city proper part of Tokyo is only around 240 square miles (622 square km) though. This isn’t significantly bigger than the city of Seoul, which has a land area of 233.5 square miles (605 square km).
Tokyo to Seoul Time
The time it takes to travel from Tokyo to Seoul is around 2 hours and 45 minutes on a plane.
Tokyo to Seoul by Ferry
There is no direct way to travel from Tokyo to Seoul by ferry. But if you wish to travel to Seoul on a ferry, You’d have to travel to Fukuoka from Tokyo first.
A train ride from Tokyo to Fukuoka takes around 4 hours and 57 minutes on the Nozomi bullet train. This costs around 170 to 230 USD.
Once in Fukuoka, you need to make your way to Hakata Port International Terminal. From there, you can get a ferry headed to Busan in South Korea. Around two ferries run on this route daily, and tickets cost around 74 to 118 USD.
Once you’re in Busan, you need to travel to Seoul by train. On the SRT Busan train, you’ll reach Seoul in around 2 hours and 17 minutes. Trains leave Busan every 30 minutes, and they cost around 40 to 42 USD.
Seoul to Tokyo by Train
It’s not possible to travel from Seoul to Tokyo by train as you’d have to cross the waters to travel between them. With this, you’re only two options when traveling between the two are planes and ferries.