Subway Secrets

  • Photo by Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist

    The calm before the commute. Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist

  • Photo by Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist

    Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist

  • Photo by Photo by Ruth Youn for Seoulist

    The Seoul Metro Art Center at Gyeongbokgung Station is open and free to the public. Photo by Ruth Youn for Seoulist

  • Photo by Photo by Ruth Youn for Seoulist

    A worn, nondescript sign points to the little-known subway cafeterias. Photo by Ruth Youn for Seoulist

  • Photo by Photo by Ruth Youn for Seoulist

    These triangles facilitate efficient transfers between lines and designate a rendezvous point. Photo by Ruth Youn for Seoulist

Coming a long way from the initial launch of subway line 1 in 1974, the ever-expanding city of Seoul is now connected by 13 metro lines and over 300 subway stops. Not satisfied to simply support the growing mass transportation needs of the urban population, Seoul’s metro companies endeavor to offer the little touches that make commuting more efficient, comfortable and up to date with offerings such as full Wi-Fi access within all subway train cars by the end of 2011. Here at Seoulist we’ve gathered some tips and items of interest as well as Korean terms to give you an edge in making the most of your commute in Seoul.

Major Seoul lines, barring line 9, have made provision especially for commuters who wish to take a bike along to their final destination. All passengers with bicycles must enter either the first or last car of the train, and are limited to bringing them on Sundays or holidays. The only exception are folding bikes, which are welcome to board any day of the week.

Photo by Ruth Youn for SeoulistMeals
Tucked in a hallway to the left of the washrooms at exit 5 in Sinchon Station (신촌역, line 2), this little break room-cum-cafeteria (구내식당) offers a simple homemade Korean meal to metro employees and is also open to the public. A variety of kimchi and side dishes are served buffet-style, while the soup and main protein options are changed two times a day, accommodating those who frequent the restaurant for both breakfast and lunch. The restaurant is owned by a cheery husband and wife team who warmly welcome outside visitors and foreigners. The buffet is only 4,000 won (to be paid in advance, or seonbul [선불]) and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day except Sundays. In-station restaurants are also present in other major stations including Seoul Station, Hongik University Station, Sin Yongsan Station, Cheongnyangni Station and Seolleung Station. The hours are the same at these non-buffet cafeterias, but the cost is 3,500 won per meal.

Want ingredients to cook your own meal? Be sure to drop by Cheongdam station on line 7 where an entire stretch of unused cars is dedicated to hosting a metro market most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. In addition to this unique underground shopping experience, you’ll also find smaller kiosks with other vendors selling everything from rice cakes to books at various stations on 5678 line.

Photo by Ruth Youn for SeoulistRight on time
Trains run according to strict schedules, which can be found online. You’ll have to go to three separate sites since the major lines are owned by three different companies: lines 1–4 are run by the Seoul Metropolitan Subway Corporation, lines 5–8 by the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit and line 9 is managed by Metro 9. Timetables for all lines are also posted within the subway (in black for weekdays and red for weekends/holidays). The final train for the evening will be labeled “막차” (mak-cha). Out of sheer curiosity, we used an atomic clock to time two different trains arriving on line 6. The verdict? Both arrived with doors opening precisely on the mark, as promised. Tip: Line 9 timetables must be read carefully, as they may show times for express trains and regular trains running on the same track.

If you have a smartphone, be sure to download useful subway maps and time schedules. A few that come highly-recommended include Seoul City Metro and Jihachul. Even if you’re not using an iPhone, rest assured that most Korean phones have a built-in subway map (although it may not be so current if your phone is older).

Photo by Ruth Youn for SeoulistThose triangle things
You may have seen triangles marked with dashed numbers like “3-1” or “5-2” lining the subway platform. More than distinguishing exit/entry points, these serve a dual purpose: to facilitate an efficient transfer between lines, or designate a rendezvous point partway through a commute. For the former, check the map showing a single metro line (it’s normally posted on the platform screen doors). At each possible transfer point will be a triangle marked with a dashed number, indicating the train entry point. Tips: If there are two triangles for one transfer point, you must choose based upon the direction for which you are bound. For example, on line 3, you are either Daewha-bound (대화행) or Ogeum-bound (오금행). If meeting someone on the platform, make sure to note the numbered triangle before stepping into the train, as there are no numbered indicators within.

Photo by Ruth Youn for SeoulistFinely-tuned comfort
Have you ever noticed that some train cars seem significantly warmer than others? In the center of each train, there are a select few cars labeled yak naengbang (약냉방), meaning that the air conditioning is purposely less strong. If you tend to freeze indoors even in summer, head to these cars for a more comfortable ride. Some of these moderately cool cars are indicated by an ironic snowflake on the windows.

Take the easy way out
If you happen to take the wrong direction on the subway, simply come up to the end of the turnstiles where the gate is and push the “호출” (ho-chul) button for assistance. When an attendant responds via intercom or approaches to help, tell them very nicely, “jalmot deureo watseo yo” (잘못 들어왔어요, or “I came in the wrong way”). Usually the station manager will let you out and in through the opposite turnstiles, avoiding extra charges on your T-money card.

Lost and found
If you’ve inadvertently left something behind, make sure to contact the correct lost and found center, as the lines are operated by different corporations. If possible, note the time and dashed number in front of the train door upon exiting to better locate your belongings. The following sites will be helpful for information regarding lost and found items: lines 1–4 | lines 5–8 | line 9. If you’re bored or curious about what’s left behind and underground, Seoul Metro’s lost and found page is updated in real-time with photos.

Photo by Ruth Youn for SeoulistArt and culture at Gyeongbokgung Station
Kept cool in the summer and toasty in the winter, the Seoul Metro Art Center at Gyeongbokgung Station on line 3 offers an opportunity to pause mid-ride to take in the creativity of artists and designers from around the country. Open and free to the public, the space constantly features new work ranging from traditional calligraphy, pastels done by schoolchildren, to sculptures by university students and professionals.

Tell us your subway secrets in the comments below!

Ruth M. Youn

About Ruth Youn

Ruth M. Youn is easily bored, which has led to the study of five foreign languages, an internship in Lebanon and a short stint in Irish fiddling.

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